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How to Defeat North Korea

April 12 (Bloomberg) -- Let’s start with the bad news: The North Korean problem has no simple or quick solution. The North’s weapons-grade plutonium and nuclear devices have already been manufactured, and are now safely hidden in underground facilities. China, and to a lesser degree Russia, remains unwilling to support a truly rigorous (read: efficient) sanctions regime. More narrow financial sanctions that target the money used to reward regime insiders with perks, like bottles of Hennessy cognac and Mercedes cars, won’t have much impact. Most of the North Korean elite believe that regime stability is a basic condition for their survival. No doubt, they would be willing to put up with locally produced liquor and used Toyotas if the alternative was being strung from the lampposts.

More international aid would be most welcome in Pyongyang, no doubt -- but not enough for the regime to give up its nuclear program. Once the money was spent (and it would be spent quickly), a nonnuclear North Korea would be just another impoverished country, competing for attention with places such as Sudan and Zimbabwe. A U.S. security guarantee -- another carrot held out by some in Washington -- wouldn’t be any more enticing. North Koreans don’t believe in the value of foreigners’ promises, especially when such promises are made in democratic systems where leaders and policies change every few years.