Addressing Threats to National Security: North Korea

A President’s strategic options against North Korea are limited to some mix of accommodation, engagement, containment, or rollback. Accommodation, engagement, and containment have all been attempted, while rollback has been rejected as too dangerous. In the short to medium term, containment—with deterrence and the weakening of the Kim regime as its essential elements—is probably the only prudent course. Over the longer term, as South Korean leaders such as President Park Geun-hye develop a concrete geopolitical program for a unified, free Korea, U.S. statesmen may be in a position to explore rollback through unification. Short-term containment and long-term unification are, taken together, the best of a range of unsatisfying choices available to the next President. This approach to North Korea should be complemented by a renewed focus on human rights. That focus could achieve an improvement in the conditions under which North Koreans live, possibly provide some with means of escape from Kim’s tyranny, as well as delegitimize Kim’s rule.

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