Squeezing North Korea will not result in revolution

Author: Andrew David Jackson, Monash University

Given the alternatives, economic sanctions seem like the most risk-free method of dealing with North Korea. But are they really the only viable option?

North Korea is one of most heavily sanctioned nations on earth. But its economy appears to still be holding up and Kim Jong-un has shown no sign of slowing the country’s missile and nuclear development program. Increasingly harsh financial sanctions are seemingly having little impact, partly because it has encouraged a rise in informal cross-border trade with China.

People pull and push a cart through the streets of central Wonsan, North Korea, October 2016 (Photo: Christian Petersen-Clausen/Handout via Reuters).

Andrei Lankov once claimed that the true aim of sanctions — and the aim that is never openly admitted — is to squeeze the North Korean population hard enough to make them rise up against their political masters. If true, this means that both champions and opponents of economic sanctions share a common view — an assumption that sanctions will engender sufficient anger to start a revolution.

But links between angry populations and revolutions have been long challenged by researchers. Anger, hunger and deprivation may be features of revolutions, but they are not their sole cause. If they were, revolutions would be a great deal more predictable. The ‘paradox of revolution’, to borrow Jack Goldstone’s phrase, …continue reading