The following is a notional memorandum written by an anonymous Special Forces officer. This first appeared in The Havok Journal on August 31, 2021.
THE WHITE HOUSE
July 4, 2021
MEMORANDUM FOR THE PRESIDENT (NOTIONAL)
FROM: National Security Advisor
SUBJECT: The United States (U.S.) Policy towards the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
The U.S. remains committed to a stable, peaceful Korean Peninsula. To achieve this goal, current policy has sought to maintain strong solidarity with the Republic of Korea, Japan, and other states with a vested interest in the future of the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. continues to attempt to engage the DPRK in meaningful negotiations on denuclearization and to persuade it to honor its commitments and international obligations. At the same time, the U.S. has worked to ensure the implementation of international sanctions to stem the DPRK’s nuclear, missile, and proliferation networks. The U.S. remains committed to monitoring internal political and economic developments in the DPRK, particularly as they relate to the consolidation of power by Kim Jong-un. Finally, the U.S. remains committed to preventing human rights abuses and providing verifiable humanitarian assistance to the people of the DPRK.
Conversely, the DPRK’s actions have consistently endangered peace and stability through calculated provocations. The decision to attack the South Korean corvette Cheonan in March 2011, the shelling of Yeonpyong Island, and the destruction of the inter-Korean Liaison Office are but a few of the examples of the DPRK’s unswerving disregard for the U.S. and the international community. Meetings with DPRK leaders have yielded little in the suspension of DPRK’s nuclear weapons tests and uranium enrichment and rocket tests substantiate the DPRK’s advancement of its ballistic missile program. Future missile launches and a subsequent nuclear test are also consistent with DPRK’s policy of conducting provocative events in tandem.
Assessment of Current U.S. Policy Goals
U.S. policy is committed to unequivocal support to the Republic of Korea. Slowing the DPRK’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its involvement in other illicit activities; supporting any future dialogue for reunification under a timetable commensurate with the aspirations of the South Korean people, and providing humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people remain valid U.S. goals.
However, current U.S. policy approaches are ineffective in achieving those goals. Over the last two decades, the U.S. has pursued a policy based on the premise of “strategic patience.” The U.S. approach has been characterized by deterrence of aggression through a strong military presence in the Republic of Korea, cooperation with China in an attempt to persuade and influence the DPRK, and economic pressure applied through unilateral and United Nations Security Council-mandated sanctions. Furthermore, U.S. commitment to engaging in meaningful dialogue has led only to the DPRK’s continued defiance. Amid speculation over whether the regime will eventually collapse, the fact remains that the DPRK has survived more than 30 years since the fall of the Soviet Union and regime survival remains its principal objective. Under the current policy approach, the U.S. finds itself continually in reaction mode to events dictated by Pyongyang. U.S strategic patience has evolved into strategic predictability which the DPRK effectively exploits.
The policy recommendation is to enact a rapid new U.S. effort, centered on an indirect approach of “calculated ambiguity.” No longer will the U.S. act and react in a fashion commensurate with Pyongyang’s calculus. This new U.S. approach will require sophistication and be both dynamic and subtle, but inherently unpredictable. This will require a careful, and well-orchestrated, whole of government approach. The goal of this approach is to limit freedom of action by creating permanent uncertainty of U.S. intentions, keeping the DPRK perpetually off-balance diplomatically, militarily, and economically. This approach seeks to modify the DPRK’s behavior without producing regime collapse. Calculated ambiguity is a continuous “constrict and release” approach, using timing and means orchestrated by the U.S.
U.S. diplomatic efforts will focus on recognition of the sovereignty of the DPRK, acknowledgment of its ambitions, and pursue engagement efforts in such a manner as to encourage inclusion in the international community. Concurrently, U.S. military actions will include the episodic posturing of formidable U.S. military strike capabilities within the region, followed by periodic “show of force” exercises. A synchronized informational campaign will seek to overtly reassure DPRK leaders, while covertly conducting operations to gradually influence and inform the North Korean people. An easing of selected economic sanctions coupled with targeted pressure on key economic and financial mechanisms complete the approach. The desired effect is a seemingly uncoordinated and erratic U.S. approach that by design, keeps Pyongyang indecisive and hesitant.
The calculated ambiguity approach will require close coordination with U.S. regional allies and must carefully demonstrate to China that a change in DPRK behavior, including suspension of nuclear and missile programs, complying with international law, and ceasing reckless provocation, is of mutual benefit.
The DPRK’s actions are carefully calculated based on predictable U.S. policy responses. The U.S. should shed the preconceived notions that it is impossible to implement successful policy approaches and regain the strategic initiative. Sending mixed signals is stealing a page from Pyongyang’s playbook. Unpredictability will require the DPRK to continuously reevaluate its plans which may prove arduous and ultimately lead to some measure of accommodation and compliance. Easing some economic sanctions while accommodating the DPRK’s need for international attention is parvum pretium for substantial political gain for the Administration. There is a finite window of opportunity; time now to implement an innovative approach to achieve U.S. policy goals on the Korean peninsula.