Alternatives to Economic Sanctions in North Korea


SEATTLE — The atomic age is inherently paradoxical. On one hand, it presents multitudinous opportunities for extreme, heretofore unimaginable power sources; on the other, the eradication of the world’s population is a constant possibility. The situation in North Korea is on the tongues of students, academics, world leaders and the general population alike. Many fear that the world is on the brink of war, and the question remains: What can be done to ensure that this terrifying situation is not brought to fruition?

Dwight D. Eisenhower saw the hope and the fear that are intertwined with the concept of “nuclear,” and firmly believed in the peaceful power of nuclear energy to benefit populations. In 1953, he addressed the U.N. General Assembly regarding the nuclear crossroads that existed. The idea he presented came to be known as Atoms for Peace, and a solution was presented by which “the miraculous inventiveness of man would not be dedicated to his death, but consecrated to his life.”

Many leading health experts have argued that economic sanctions are violations of the human right to health, and therefore alternatives to economic sanctions must be found. This proposal, modeled after Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace strategy, involves regulating and setting rules for North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for providing subsidized nuclear energy resources to combat ongoing humanitarian crises in the region.

The Far-Reaching Consequences of Economic Sanctions

The context of the current world climate forces a solution to be created quickly, but not rashly. Consider that the control of Cold War-era nuclear technology was wrought with errors, confusions, near accidents and miscomprehension of leadership. The “most dangerous moments” occurred several times, due to miscommunication and overuse of nuclear deterrents. In the cases where the world almost went to full nuclear war, it was due to poor interpretation of enemy movements and accidental alerts. In 1953, after the U.S. decided to create a hydrogen bomb, the Doomsday Clock was set at two minutes to midnight, signifying the urgency of nuclear dangers. Today, the clock is again set at two minutes to midnight for the first time since 1953.

In the past, economic sanctions have been implemented by the U.N. Security Council in response to North Korea’s provocative actions. They have historically been seen as a policy option to give teeth to international decisions. Unfortunately, they have major humanitarian consequences, and without consultation of organizations that have expertise in this area, detrimental results to a population can occur.

In addition, they are not proven to achieve political change. These sanctions, according to experts, create social disruption and material deprivation, including dramatic declines in resources that are essential for health, such as vaccines, food, water and energy. When sanctions are placed on humanitarian goods, it affects the population rather than the decision makers in power, further handicapping the development of a solution to North Korea’s health crises. It has even been suggested that tight sanctions could encourage an economically battered Pyongyang to sell weapons technology, something that would be detrimental to global security. Due to this reality, alternatives to economic sanctions must be proposed.

The Carrot Versus the Stick

The classic dichotomy between a carrot and a stick illustrates the opportunities presented to world leaders. When a mule refuses to move or pull a cart, one can either hit the mule with a stick to prompt its movement or entice it with a carrot to move forward. The “stick” methods include threats of nuclear annihilation, economic sanctions and general consequences for non-compliance. World powers currently largely rely on the “stick” method.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ self-proclaimed motto preaches that although peace will always be sought out first, the U.S. will destroy the enemy before it can destroy the U.S. Perhaps now is the time when the Trump administration will truly seek out and exhaust diplomatic peace talks, rather than focusing on destroying the enemy. An alternate strategy involves a “carrot”: if North Korea will subscribe and cooperate with the requested regulations, it will be rewarded with nuclear energy sources and subsidies. This will help bring its population out of the humanitarian crisis that has lasted for decades, promote global security and act as alternatives to economic sanctions.

How Alternatives to Economic Sanctions Can Be Applied to North Korea

When constructing a diplomatic proposal, only holistic solutions that could credibly be implemented must be considered. Complete nuclear non-proliferation in North Korea seems to currently be unrealistic. Trading nuclear power for different regulatory standards is, however, within current diplomatic reach and could prove beneficial for the safety of the world. The first step in reassessing nuclear doctrines would be to formally adopt no-first-use policies. This will build confidence and could prevent cavalier threats and rhetoric that should be denounced by the international community.

Reduction of nuclear ambiguity would be the next step. Prohibiting short-range nuclear-capable tactical missiles would also help to undermine the notion of a flexible response that does not preclude nuclear use. By requesting North Korea’s agreement to these rules in exchange for the provision of subsidized energy technology, diplomacy will be able to bring the world back a few more seconds from midnight. It may also be in the U.S.’s best interests to agree to more regulations that would enable international confidence-building. This framework could have massive positive implications for future global peace and security.

– Jilly Fox
Photo: Flickr


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