OPINION | A cold war strategy to defeat North Korea

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North Korea is in a cold war with the United States and South Korea. Despite Pyongyang’s nuclear saber-rattling and the failure of diplomacy for over two decades, we have restricted ourselves to two options: economic sanctions and military means, such as deterrence, missile defense and threats of preemptive strikes. But there is another option: to eliminate the North Korean threat by means of the same cold war techniques that worked against the Soviet Union.

Pyongyang’s actions come straight from the communist Cold War playbook: nuclear intimidation, arms agreement violations, weapons proliferation, assassination, counterfeiting, espionage, cyber aggression, subversion, deception and propaganda, including psychological disarmament propaganda associated with détente policies. But we have not responded in kind.

{mosads}What would an effective strategy against North Korea entail? First, strategy requires a goal. In North Korea, the problem is not nuclear weapons, but the regime that controls them. Therefore, our goal should be regime change. The next principle of strategy in war, including cold war, is to target the enemy’s “center of gravity.”


North Korea’s center of gravity — that upon which it depends for its survival — is its internal security system. The central political reality of any illegitimate regime is its fear of its own people, hence North Korea’s need for totalitarian internal security. This system keeps the people in a state of psychological subjugation and atomizes society by separating individuals from each other, leaving them alone against the omnipotent party-state.

Key nodes of that system that must be disabled for regime change to become possible — a change that can only be finalized by the North Korean people themselves. The key nodes include the regime’s communications monopoly, which prevents the people from transmitting and receiving alternative information and ideas.

They include the ideological party line, which serves as the vehicle for thought, speech and behavior control and enforced conformity, and is the legitimizing instrument that supplies the reasons why the regime deserves to be in power.

They include pervasive propaganda and the methods of mass mobilization, which shape people’s minds and contribute to the psychological state in which the regime seeks to keep them: a state of “futile resignation” in which people accept their lot because resistance is futile.

Finally, the key nodes of North Korea’s totalitarian internal security include the system of secret police informants that is so pervasive and fear-inducing that nobody can trust anyone else, and thus organize collaborators into resistance cells.

The principal way to attack this center of gravity is to break the monopoly of communications, ideas and information, and thus erode the atomization of society. Breaking that monopoly requires vastly enhancing our broadcasts over the Voice of America, Radio Free Asiaand associated television broadcasts and internet sites.

This means broadcasting over more frequencies for more hours and avoiding being jammed. It means harnessing the digital revolution by deploying “digital radio mondiale” (DRM) technology, which broadcasts not only sound, but also text and video with a shortwave signal that is as clear as a local FM signal. This requires us to manufacture and flood North Korea with DRM receivers.

While the internet and social media appear to be the most effective communications media, this is not so in a totalitarian system which monitors and impedes internet usage. In contrast, radio and television can be received anonymously.

Broadcasts must harness the power of truth to combat the regime’s lies. They must supply alternative ideas, especially democratic ideas that delegitimize the regime (and which communist regimes fear more than anything), and honest history, which restores the country’s distorted national memory.

Broadcast must use music and dramatic fiction unavailable on local communist media to provide subjects of interest that can bind secret listeners together and help combat atomization. These broadcasts enable us to connect with people and let them know that they are not alone.

If we supply a reliable broadcast signal, and simultaneously help establish “underground” lines of communication to dissidents, they will be able to communicate with large numbers of their own people. This, in turn, will give them an incentive that they do not have today: to organize resistance cells.

This incentive emerges when they can use truth and the instantaneity of information to inform a mass audience of current civil disturbances before the regime crushes them, thus inspiring oppositionists to join the resistance. This is what occurred overnight in Poland when millions joined the Solidarity Movement.

We must flood North Korea with fax machines, printers, copiers, including mimeograph machines, and paper (over which the regime maintains a monopoly) so that people can print their own newsletters. We must flood the country with USB sticks and literature with subversive content.

These are the methods of public diplomacy, political action, ideological and cultural warfare. These are key ways of defeating an enemy without using force. They are remarkably inexpensive. They are methods recommended by North Korean defectors themselves. And they can be used against other powers that are conducting cold war actions against us.

It will take time to penetrate the North Korean system, to overcome the brainwashing, and to help build people’s courage to resist. And the decision to rise up against tyrants is the North Korean people’s, not ours. In the interim, we must deploy missile defenses, protect our electric grid from electromagnetic pulse, and utilize good old-fashioned deterrence.

John Lenczowski, Ph.D., is founder, president and professor at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. He served as Soviet affairs adviser to President Reagan.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags broadcast Cold War Diplomacy Foreign policy international affairs Kim Jong Un National security North Korea Nuclear weapons Propaganda Radio Soviet Union Television United States
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