North Korea recently launched its sixth nuclear test. The size of the explosion was much larger than previous tests, suggesting a faster-than-expected pace of the country's nuclear programme. Moreover, the state news agency KCNA released pictures of the bomb small enough to fit a missile tip, signalling the state's capacity to mount it on long-range missiles. If North Korea now has a weapon almost ten times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped in Hiroshima that can be fired across continents on missiles, what on earth can we do about it? Quite bluntly, the world is quickly running out of options to transform North Korea from the outside. I suggest we turn around the table, and change North Korea from one place on earth they can never nuke: from within their own country.
Although previously I argued that Kim Jong-un is unlikely to press the red button , the small chance that he might do so will be enough to deter many of the options currently on the table. For instance, South Korea's plans to carry out air-strikes on Kim's military headquarters will become too dangerous with the nuclear threat. Even Trump's tweets (whatever strategic purpose that serves) may require some moderation, because, as history has seen during the Cuban missile crisis, the smallest of misunderstandings can bring the world to the verge of nuclear Armageddon.
Then what? Do we just stand by and do nothing, while tens of thousands suffer under this horrendous regime? Of course not. We just a need a new strategy. North Korea must transform from within.
There is strong evidence that North Korean citizens are secretly tuning into outside media. According to a survey conducted by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), foreign media is the second most important source of information within North Korea, the most important being 'word of mouth'. Similarly, Jieun Baek, a Ph.D. student at Oxford University, tellingly describes the importance of foreign media inside North Korea in her book titled North Korea's Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground is Transforming a Closed Society.
While North Korea's nuclear development may challenge our other options, it leaves this route of influence relatively intact. No matter how harsh the domestic challenge, nuclear warheads are useless for targeting individual dissenters within one's own country. Kim simply cannot nuke individual 'bad guys'. Also, while foreign media broadcasting into North Korea may be a nuisance to the regime, it is not enough of a provocation for Kim Jong-un to pull out his nuclear card.
Currently, there are many foreign media outlets broadcasting into North Korea. For example, in the UK, the British Broadcasting Corporation is soon to launch its Korean Service, whose goal is to provide BBC World Service contents to all Korean-speaking people around the globe - including North Koreans. Although both the U.S. and South Korea are becoming less likely to engage in dialogue with Kim Jong-un, speaking to ordinary North Korean citizens is an entirely different strategy. If the former is becoming increasingly infeasible, the latter is now one of our strongest cards. It is crucial not to confound the two.
So, if your government is sponsoring a broadcasting service into North Korea, I urge you to lend your support. Otherwise, in the heat of this mutually hostile atmosphere, states might end up liquidising these efforts to focus on more militarised options.
In Korea, we often use the Chinese proverb 轉禍爲福 (jun hwa wi bok), which means 'turning misfortunes into opportunities.' Though North Korea's course of actions is certainly disappointing, maybe we could take this as an opportunity to focus on the one strategy that is immune from nuclear weapons: changing the hearts and minds of ordinary North Koreans.