But this is not merely some geopolitical game; North Korea is more than a nuisance in international policy. It is home to some of the most widespread human rights violations in the world today. Nearly every freedom enshrined in the free world -- speech, religion, assembly, movement, dissent, and more -- does not exist north of the 38th parallel. Those perceived as disloyal are sent to a network of concentration camps claiming more than a quarter million prisoners. Public executions serve as a chilling effect for dissent and misbehavior, and tens of thousands of North Koreans fleeing to China and Russia face torture if captured and repatriated.
Simply put, North Korea represents the very worst of humanity -- a nation ruled with impunity, where several thousand key leaders live at the great expense of 24 million or so others. It represents atrocities and human suffering on a staggering scale.
The international community is thus presented with a rare opportunity. The next year, beginning now, is likely to bring a carefully coordinated show -- a show of paternal generosity and domestic strength, while Kim Jong Un showers his people with gifts and begins to consolidate more completely his authority -- and perhaps a show of friendliness and hints at reform internationally, à la Saif al-Islam Qaddafi.
The international community cannot be fooled again. Before Jong Un is able to solidify his rule; before the people of North Korea lose the glimmer of hope sparked by rumors of revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria; before they resign themselves to another generation of yet another Kim enslaving them; the world must act quickly, deliberately, together.
A coordinated effort can open North Korea, weaken the regime, and lead it to a soft landing that benefits all of its regional neighbors, while helping the North Korean people to rise up and take ownership of their nation.
If Qaddafi's assault on Benghazi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's attack on his own people precipitated international sanctions, diplomatic isolation, and condemnation, why should North Korea not receive the same or more many times over? A collaborative slate of full sanctions, particularly targeting luxury goods, technology, weapons proliferation, offshore bank accounts, and key regime figureheads would cause critical damage to North Korea at the precise moment when it most needs financial stability. Key to this effort are two pieces: first, finding and freezing the labyrinthine network of offshore bank accounts the regime has developed throughout decades (at least $4 billion dollars are reportedly in Luxembourg alone). Second, full compliance and sanctions by China and Russia are necessary to ensure North Korea does not have a backdoor undermining the rest of the world's efforts.
The United States, European Union, South Korea, and Japan should lead a diplomatic offensive seeking global isolation of Pyongyang -- beginning with breaking bilateral ties across the board for those that have them. The United States should stop pursuing a reboot of the repeatedly failed Six Party Talks -- a useless effort of talk for only the appearance of progress. It's clear that North Korea will never, ever give up its nuclear capacity -- its leaders have seen what happened to Hussein and Qaddafi and will not make the same mistake.
That said, pressure is still the key. Western nations, in conjunction with China and Russia, should overtly offer senior DPRK leadership asylum in exchange for defection, while pursuing action at the International Criminal Court against senior leadership implicated in crimes against humanity. Although distasteful, efforts should be made to pledge immunity from prosecution for key leaders in exchange for going into exile.