North Korea is building nukes and ICBMs to prevent the United States from attacking. Meanwhile, the United States does not want to attack North Korea. And yet we find ourselves at the brink of nuclear war while not actually having a root problem on which we disagree. They don’t want to be attacked and we don’t want to attack them. Doesn’t that seem solvable?
The problem, as I see it, is psychology more than weaponry. As long as North Korea sees the United States as a military threat, expect North Korea to keep upgrading their nuclear arsenal.
So what would it take to “reframe” the situation from two mortal enemies on the brink of war to something less dangerous?
Perhaps we should look at the same reframing strategy President Trump is using to apparent success with ISIS. The president reframed our involvement from temporary to permanent. Then he added a momentum change courtesy of General Mattis. Under President Obama, ISIS probably saw the U.S. military involvement as a temporary problem because that’s exactly how it was framed. Now they see it as permanent . . . and they observe themselves losing. The “permanent loser” frame is a different framing than before, and it might be the reason we see more surrenders. (Or we might be seeing more alleged surrenders because exaggerated reports of that type would be good persuasion too.)
At the moment, North Korea sees the economic sanctions as temporary. They also see our threats as temporary until they have full nuclear deterrent. The temporary frame is a losing frame for the United States.
On top of the temporary frame, things look personal between the U.S. and North Korea. Dignity is in the game. Ego is in the game. Those things need to be reframed out of the situation to get any kind of solution.
So consider the following reframe. Imagine depersonalizing the North Korean situation by pushing for a United Nations rule that any not-yet-fully-nuclear country building nukes and ICBMS is permanently barred from any form of global commerce. Ever. Period. And it’s not personal to North Korea. It’s just the new rule.
It’s the “ever” part, along with depersonalizing things to a generic rule that creates the new frame. In this frame, there is no winning to be had for North Korea. They can build their nukes, but only at the expense of permanent and total economic collapse, courtesy of the the rest of the world as expressed by the United Nations.
I don’t think total economic ruin of North Korea was ever a realistic strategy option until recently. But China seems to be onboard. And President Trump is unlikely to take his boot off Little Rocket Man’s tiny wallet anytime soon. I can’t imaging President Trump backing off until he gets what he wants. But we haven’t framed it as permanent. And we could, with the help of the United Nations.
Let’s call this the “I’ll just take my ball and go home” strategy. And it works best if we reduce military presence to something more obviously defensive. In this model, it’s not personal. It’s just a rule the UN agreed on.
There is great persuasive power in saying something is a general rule as opposed to a specific action against one player. It takes ego out of the game and it has a non-negotiable feel from the start.
Note: My main topic for this blog lately is persuasion. I’m not an expert on North Korea or international affairs. I don’t expect anyone to take my noodling on this topic today too seriously. If you learned something about persuasion by reading this far, that’s all I’m hoping to achieve here.
You might want to pre-order my book about practical persuasion, Win Bigly, at this link because that’s how you get a free bonus chapter by email.