Writing at The Diplomat, Potter takes on the futile task to navigating between pro-engagement extremists like Mike Bassett, Felix Abt, and someone named Joe Terwillager, on one hand, and anti-engagement extremists like me, on the other. Potter proposes this third way:
Sanctions of the right kind can ensure that the Kim dynasty never becomes wealthy enough to close the markets down, but removing them entirely could empower the Kims and make the regime less likely to tolerate change. As for engagement, pointing it towards the people of North Korea and working to empower their underground economy could allow those market forces to develop further. This combination of sanctions and support for the developing markets is perhaps the only truly different policy option that has not yet been tested, and it is one that could mobilize the two existing highly divided constituencies. [Robert Potter, The Diplomat]
I enjoyed Mr. Potter’s piece so much that I hardly have the heart to point out that I’ve advocated the same ideas for years. As I must occasionally point out, however, I’m not opposed to engagement, I just think we’ve been engaging the wrong people.
Nor have I ever believed that sanctions alone could transform North Korea. They can only do that as part of a broader strategy, along with subversive information operations and competent diplomacy that seeks international consensus toward forcing real change. Sanctions can target the regime’s military, elites, security forces, and border control. If sustained, they would shift the balance of economic power toward the common people, and toward a nascent middle class that the regime has done its best to tread down.