Empowering N. Korean people best path for real change in Pyongyang, top human-rights activist says

America’s decades-long effort to halt North Korea’s nuclear program has failed and the U.S. needs a new approach if it wants to see real change in Pyongyang, a leading human-rights activist and foreign policy scholar said Tuesday.

Katrina Lantos Swett, co-chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea and former Democratic congressional candidate argued that Washington’s often-singular focus on Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions has produced few tangible results.

North Korea has only poured more money into its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenals while its people suffer some of the world’s worst living conditions, said Mrs. Lantos Swett, who asserted that empowering the North Korean people could help lay the groundwork for a popular uprising.

“We cannot ignore the terrifying threat that a nuclear North Korea poses to the world. That is something that we cannot afford to take lightly. But at the same time, we have to face the hard reality…We have abjectly failed to stop the North Korean nuclear program,” she said during an appearance Tuesday on the “Washington Brief,” a monthly virtual forum hosted by The Washington Times Foundation.

“We, I believe, have got to recognize that the way in which one changes regimes [such as North Korea] is by empowering the people in that country to basically destabilize their own authoritarian machine to the point where it collapses,” said Mrs. Lantos Swett, a foreign policy professor at Tufts University.

Tuesday’s event came just days after The Times detailed a secret North Korean cyber hit list, targeting former U.S. intelligence officials, media executives and national security scholars. The revelations put additional pressure on the Biden administration, which over two and a half years has struggled to articulate a clear approach to North Korea and has made little apparent progress in constraining its weapons programs.

North Korea hasn’t tested a nuclear weapon since 2017. But the country has conducted routine, provocative missile tests that have sparked panic in Japan and South Korea.

Those tests have sparked widespread condemnation of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime. However, some scholars believe that approach also is problematic.

“I don’t believe that demonizing North Korea or vilifying the current leadership will do us any good in the pursuit of any policy goals which we have in mind,” Alexandre Mansourov, a professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies and a regular Washington Brief panelist, said at Tuesday’s event.

The event was moderated by Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, a former CIA official and longtime diplomat who represented the U.S. in talks with the North Koreans.

Mr. Mansourov separately blasted the idea of fomenting an uprising in North Korea.

“Export of revolution is a bad idea,” he said. “By the way, we don’t want that to backfire. We don’t want anyone to interfere in our own political processes, in our own elections, and our own political struggles.”

Former President Donald Trump broke from the usual U.S. blueprint and engaged in direct diplomacy with Mr. Kim, though it ultimately failed to produce a denuclearization deal.

Now once again a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump seems to be taking a similar tack. He posted a congratulatory message to Mr. Kim last week after North Korea secured a seat on the World Health Organization’s executive board. Mr. Trump faced widespread criticism for those remarks.

Mrs. Lantos Swett said Tuesday that allowing North Korea a seat “was a terrible mistake.”

“So much of what happens in international geopolitics has to do with the symbolic messages that are sent,” she said.

Key lawmakers say the development undermines the WHO itself.

“The election of North Korea to the Executive Board of the World Health Organization is yet another example of communist influence on the WHO and of the WHO’s failure to uphold its policies and good governance standards,” Rep. Michael McCaul, Texas Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement Tuesday.

Meanwhile, South Korea on Tuesday was elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The seat will give Seoul a greater voice in the international body.

Source: WT