The Concentration Camp System of North Korea

Anonymous Author/ August 30, 2017

How Can One Influence North Korea/ The Leaders in Pyongyang?

It is important to keep in mind that the influence of China as a protecting force, economic supporter and strategic ally of North Korea cannot be overestimated. As long as the Chinese government is willing to support North Korea to the extent that it does, any possible political solution for the existing tensions and problems must include Beijing as much as Pyongyang. Still, China certainly does not unconditionally support the regime in Pyongyang. On the other hand Kim Jong-un, unlike much of his country’s population, possess knowledge about the world outside North Korea. Therefore he is most certainly aware of the possible consequences an attack against any nation, and especially an attack against South Korea where about 30,000 US soldiers are stationed, would have on his country and his own person.

Still, what can be done? “Wandel durch Annäherung” (change through rapprochement), the famous concept developed by Egon Bahr and implemented politically by Willy Brandt from 1969 onward, earning the latter the Nobel Peace Price in 1971, could be an example of how rapprochement with Pyongyang might be achieved.

The main goal of this approach was the improvement of the situation of people in communist Eastern Europe, and in particular that of the people of the GDR, by accepting the political status quo. Acceptance here did not imply an absence of willingness to challenge and eventually change this status quo, but rather to accept the political situation as it was and to act within the framework of possibilities that were available within this particular situation.

Image by Uri Tours (, retreived from Wikimedia Commons: Female Soliders in North Korea Military Parade; 2013

This acceptance of the status quo was a necessary condition for the improvement of the situation of ordinary people in the GDR and the later reunification of Germany, because it involved stepping back from ambitious but unrealistic aspirations to bring about the reunification immediately under the Western-dictated conditions which pressured the Eastern German leaders.

In the international context of the late 1980s, most prominently the programs of “Perestroika” and “Glasnost” under Gorbachev in the USSR, and the severe economic conditions in the GDR as well as in the USSR, it was possible to unite the two halves of Germany by diffusing the former East into the West.

If this is perceived to be the long-term aim for the two states of Korea, a look back into history could be helpful.

Steps should be taken with a clear goal in mind, which was for Brandt, and should be for the responsible leader today, the acknowledgment of human rights and the actual implementation of these human rights by the responsible persons in the state of North Korea.

Roman Harkan (Wikimedia Commons, 2010): North Korean Women Workers

To achieve this goal, implying the improvement of the living conditions of the people in DPRK (not to mention the dissolution of the camps) one should look back at the above-mentioned approach of Brandt in the 1960s and 1970s. With a number of agreements with different Eastern European countries, most importantly the USSR and the GDR, the policy of “Wandel durch Annäherung” eventually led to the OSCE (back than CSCE) Negotiations and the acknowledgment of basic civil rights by the countries of the Warsaw Pact. These rights might not have been implemented to a satisfying extent, but the agreements did give the growing opposition movements in these countries, as well as Western states, the possibility to remind the ruling parties that they signed these contracts and as a result were accountable. From this the possibility of Blame and Shame arose, which constituted the first step in a series of potential ways to exert pressure, and should be considered and remembered when dealing with North Korea today.

It is not merely the content that is important but rather the procedure and the symbolism connected to these approaches towards North Korea. Communication and dialogue with the country must be kept alive by any means necessary. Democratic states and their leaders that have an interest in helping the people of North Korea need to make a gesture towards the country, and offer support and assistance instead of increasing pressure and deterrence which, as the past has shown, has not led to positive results.

Given the severe economic situation in the isolated country, and the opening-up of capitalistic markets in a number of already-existing special economic zones in the country, it may only be a question of time until the atavistic state slowly but surely erodes. And if that were to be the case, the international community should pave the way towards a peaceful transition in the country (or towards a possible reunification of the two Koreas).

Header: Flickr; satellite image of North and South Korea by night.