In Foreign Affairs: “North Korea’s Next Dare”

Professor Lee and I have a new piece published in Foreign Affairs, a sequel to his piece, “Pyongyang’s Playbook.” In this today’s contribution, we identify a long-standing historical pattern that few others have noticed — that some of Pyongyang’s most violent attacks against South Korea coincide with its charm offensives, suggesting that talks on civil exchanges and “reunions” are (at best) ineffectual in securing long-term improvements in relations, and (at worst) maskirovka to give Pyongyang plausible deniability. To break the cycle of provocation and payment, the U.S. and South Korea must find and apply more effective, non-military strategies of deterrence, including the more comprehensive and sustained application of sanctions and information operations.


  1. North Korea can only continue to exist because of Chinese aid and trade. China does not care if North Korea builds nukes to kill Americans. The US allows China a 350 billion dollar balance of trade advantage. Give China 3 months to denuclearize the North or cut back 50 billion in trade every year until they comply. Don’t worry China, wall st and walmart will never allow this.

  2. See, I wouldn’t actually go that far. I do believe in engagement — just with the people, not with the regime. Also, if a certain amount of cultural exchange and so forth makes people feel good and doesn’t involve the transfer of funds, or violate labor / human rights standards, I don’t object to that, either. I also believe in keeping channels of communication open. Pyongyang just needs to understand that until it meets the basic standards that the rest of humanity has agreed to, it doesn’t get access to our money or trade. And by “it,” I mean the regime. Humanitarian aid is a different question, of course. If we can ensure with reasonable certainty that it gets to the people who needs it, I’m all for it. But in any other place, the standard humanitarian standard is “no access, no food.” The same standard should apply to North Korea.

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