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Lee Sigal on "The Dog that Hasn't Barked"

October 11, 2012

In The National Interest, Lee Sigal writes that North Korea would likely not take a chance on reforming its economy without having improved relations with the U.S., South Korea, and Japan first. He argues that Pyongyang's failure to conduct a third nuclear test after its April satellite launch is the "dog that hasn't barked," and that continued restraint from North Korea could indicate that Pyongyang still wants to improve relations with these countries.

No substantial change of course in North Korea is likely without a more conducive international climate, which would allow Kim to reallocate industrial production from military to civilian use, open the way to investment from outside and reduce his growing dependence on China.

North Korea has gone down this road before, Kim knows. When his father embarked on economic reform in 2002, he reached out to South Korea and Japan, only to be stymied by U.S. efforts to impede the allies’ engagement. That history makes Kim unlikely to risk reform without clear evidence of rapprochement with all three countries. If so, he will have to curb his nuclear and missile programs.