In the Right Direction

By announcing talks on normalizing relations between the United States and North Korea, is the Bush Administration taking the advice Ian Bremmer gave in the January/February 2007 issue of The National Interest?

By announcing talks on normalizing relations between the United States and North Korea, is the Bush Administration taking the advice Ian Bremmer gave in the January/February 2007 issue of The National Interest?

But what of our efforts to bring "rogue" states to heel? In coping with the challenges posed by North Korea and Iran, the United States has followed similar scripts.

If only Kim's government would completely, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear program, the United States would support the DPRK's reintegration into the "family of nations." Until the regime takes these steps, Washington will do all in its power to isolate North Korea. . . .

Why should we assume this approach will work? Efforts to "punish" these states by cutting diplomatic relations or imposing sanctions usually have the opposite of their intended effect. They bolster the stability of these regimes by giving their leaders the isolation they need to survive.

After all, the governments of closed states already expend so much time, energy and capital on keeping them closed. . . .

Kim Jong-il's neo-Stalinist regime will survive only for as long as it can hide North Korea from the outside world-and the outside world from North Koreans. Decades of disastrous economic policies and political repression have crippled the country's ability to provide its people with enough to eat. As many as two million North Koreans are believed to have died of hunger and related diseases since 1995. Very few North Koreans know this, and Kim keeps it that way by isolating the country. Threatening Kim Jong-il or Ahmadinejad with isolation is like threatening a drowning man with a lifeboat.

U.S. policies toward Iran and North Korea are failing for precisely the same reason that Bush Administration policy toward China shows more promise: The isolation of authoritarian states is self-defeating. If the aim is to undermine a dictatorship, one should open it to the outside world.

Is it realistic to expect the U.S. government to respond to Iran's uranium enrichment and North Korea's nuclear test by engaging these countries and by promoting investment in their economies? If enabling growth (and greater openness) in China makes good sense, why not pursue the same strategy in other politically repressive states?

Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, is a contributing editor to The National Interest. For the complete article, click here.