Parallel to this effort is shining a light on the country's heinous record. Governments should release better-than-commercial grade satellite imagery of North Korea's vast network of death camps, and support efforts to obtain footage of the same. Such potent evidence will go a long way towards helping public sentiment understand the gravity of what is happening in North Korea, and help strengthen thousands of eyewitness and personal testimonies by defectors, including former prison guards.
A central piece to the puzzle, and to any future destiny of North Korea, is China, its patron state and lone, true ally. China is not married to North Korea's leadership or political system. It is simply looking out for its own interest and leveraging North Korea's misbehavior for increased political capital. The solution here is straightforward: cut a deal with China. Beijing is hedging, in characteristic fashion, much like the Imperial court did centuries before. Whenever China's dynasties invaded a neighboring kingdom, they would simply extract fealty and annual tribute, and largely leave the neighbor alone to its own affairs -- with the collateral of bringing heirs to the throne back to China to intermarry and remain under Chinese protection or control.
China today has adopted the same approach with Tibet and North Korea -- kidnapping the Panchen Lama and sheltering Kim Jong Nam, oldest son of Jong Il, in Macau. Such behavior is an implicit threat -- misbehave too much, and we will install our own puppet king.
Yet China can be reasoned with. With the right inputs, a North Korea free of the Kim regime would bring about increased stability in the region and opportunities for economic development, investment, and trade. United Nations Development Program studies have for years noted the economic benefits that developed North Korean ports, pipelines, and rail could have on the entire region. Guaranteeing that Chinese investments and real estate contracts made there would be honored is critical.
In addition, a pledge by the United States to either leave the Korean peninsula entirely -- or to keep U.S. soldiers no higher than the 38th parallel -- would help. Leaked U.S. government cables confirmed suspicions that China would accept a reunified Korea under Seoul's governance, so long as it was not hostile to Beijing or Chinese interests, even in a "benign alliance" with the United States.
Mass defections are always a precursor to revolution and regime collapse. To help promote change within the country and refugee outflows, funding for radio broadcasts and other communications into North Korea must be improved from the current tragic lows. Beefing up efforts to support external communication to, from, and among the North Koreans would be a critical blow to Pyongyang's control, enabling citizens to organize amongst themselves.
Moreover, there are tens of thousands of North Koreans living in exile, many of whom now have advanced degrees and skills that can translate into leadership abilities. Many of them are already engaged in dissident activity within North Korea, including efforts to smuggle in radios and printed material with outside news, or smuggle out refugees and key defectors. Still others have been able to bring out surreptitiously obtained footage from within, or even bribe guards at concentration camps to win release of family members.
Neighboring nations can be induced to offer safe haven to North Korean refugees and pledge not to repatriate -- Mongolia, for example, years ago entertained the idea of a semi-permanent refugee station for North Korean refugees. In exile, the North Koreans can begin to organize properly, build democratic institutions, and support internal efforts by dissidents to change the system. They will need training, shelter, and protection.