North Korea is in trouble. The COVID-19 pandemic, isolation, self-imposed lockdown, crop failure, sanctions, and more have put the economy in a precarious state, a fact Kim Jong Un himself acknowledged. It seems that the government planning mechanism is disrupted, foreign exchange holdings are declining, state revenues are shrinking, foreign trade numbers have collapsed, and growth is declining. The measures the regime has taken so far to deal with the crisis appear unlikely to change things. In fact, things could get worse, especially if Pyongyang pursues its plans to divert scarce resources to expand its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
Despite the difficulties, Pyongyang does not count outside of it. For decades, the North Korean regime demonstrated remarkable determination, diplomatic skill, and breakthrough survival skills. The DPRK has the support of China, which is ready to live with Pyongyang’s nuclear situation and is committed to maintaining the regime on “life support.” North Korea is on the decline, but it’s barely out.
Amid this economic crisis, Kim Jong Un is betting that expanding his nuclear and missile arsenals will persuade the United States to engage in “arms control talks” that would tacitly accept the DPRK as a nuclear power and give Pyongyang the sanctions relief. Need.
But the economic crisis in North Korea is a major weakness for Pyongyang. It represents an opportunity to exert overwhelming pressure on the regime across a broad front and convince Kim Jong Un that his pursuit of nuclear weapons could end his regime. Previous efforts to do so were lukewarm and failed to change Kim’s accounts. The current crisis may be the last chance to try.
Today, prospects for North Korea’s denuclearization have faded. But this goal may still be achievable if the United States, its allies and partners realize that Kim Jong Un and his regime are on shaky ground, and it is now time to convince Kim that the shivering he is feeling is a sign that the days of the regime can be numbered.