Archive for the ‘North Korea – our past failures’ category

How we got to a nuclear North Korea

October 16, 2017

How we got to a nuclear North Korea, Washington Times, William C. Triplett II, October 15, 2017

Illustration on the history leading up the North Korean nuclear crisis by Alexander Hunter/The Washington Times

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Trump and his Cabinet have said repeatedly that the present state of affairs with North Korea represents 25 years of American foreign policy failure going back over at least three presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Reviewing this disaster, there are at least three major mileposts.

The first of these would be the Dec. 1, 1994 hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Clinton administration’s “Agreed Framework” with North Korea. The regime had agreed to give up its nuclear weapons program and in return, the United States pledged hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to substitute forms of energy for Pyongyang. Late in the hearing, Sen. Larry Pressler, South Dakota Republican, was pressing the Clinton administration’s spokesman, Ambassador Robert Gallucci, over whether the agreement permitted a “go anywhere in North Korea, anytime” inspection regime. It didn’t, as he was forced to admit.

At that moment, Sen. Pressler asked me to flip open a prepared chart standing on an easel. There was an audible gasp in the room because written on the chart was this: “Based on North Korean actions to date, DIA assesses that North Korea will continue its nuclear weapons program despite any agreement to the contrary.” The statement was made by Lt. Gen. James Clapper, then the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. At the time, Gen. Clapper had the reputation as a straight shooter and everyone in the Foreign Relations Committee hearing room knew that the emperor had no clothes: The Agreed Framework was not going to work, ever, because the Kim regime would cheat on it from the get-go.

The Clinton administration then had a choice: It could go with the judgment of Gen. Clapper and mount a worldwide diplomatic effort to shut down the North Korean nuclear program through trade sanctions and other harsh measures, or it could heed the advice of Mr. Gallucci, State Department Counselor Wendy Sherman, U.N. Ambassador and later Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and pretend that the Agreed Framework was fully clothed. Gen. Clapper lost.

The second milepost came in early October 2002. The incoming Bush ‘43 administration had learned disturbing information about North Korea, but the events of Sept. 11, 2001 had distracted top policymakers. They were just then sending out Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific James Kelly to Pyongyang. Mr. Kelly confronted North Korean diplomat Kang Sok-ju about accusations that North Korea was secretly building nuclear weapons. Kang was equally direct: “Not only yes, but hell yes, and you tell that to your president!”

At this point, the Bush ‘43 story gets murky. We know that strong, decisive action was not taken but not why it was not taken. We know that the North Koreans set off their first weapon in 2006 on George W. Bush’s watch. We know that the Bush administration launched new negotiations with the North Koreans under Ambassador Christopher Hill, National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s old colleague from the George H.W. Bush administration. Those negotiations failed spectacularly.

Conversation among former Bush ‘43 veterans suggests that in addition to Mr. Kelly, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and Vice President Dick Cheney’s National Security Adviser Scooter Libby also favored a get-tough policy toward North Korea before the Kim regime passed the nuclear threshold, but Mr. Bush sided with Secretary Rice and Ambassador Hill. We will have to await the opening of the Bush ‘43 files to determine what really happened, but certainly we can say that the pressure of the Iraq War sucked the air out of Bush administration policymakers on North Korea and other pressing matters.

In the case of the third milepost, the warning came from outside the U.S. government. In the early Obama administration, Stanford University professor Siegfried S. Hecker, a proponent of negotiations with North Korea, was permitted to see the inside of the North Korean nuclear weapons production facilities and he was “stunned,” he said, by what he saw. North Korea had graduated from essentially an experimental set-up to a full-scale industrial program, and they did it with outside help. As late as 2012, Mr. Hecker was ringing the alarm: “It is important, therefore, to stop Pyongyang from importing large quantities of key centrifuge materials and components to prevent it from building large additional centrifuge facilities now that it has apparently mastered the art of manufacture and operations.”

For whatever reason, neither Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nor Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman heeded his call. Nor was the State Department alert under Mrs. Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, when the North Koreans managed to obtain a supply of Soviet-era rocket engines that make a North Korean nuclear weapon deliverable to the United States.

At the end of the day, Harry Truman was right: The buck stops at the Oval Office, but in the case of the North Korean disaster, it has had a number of stops along the way.

• William C. Triplett II is the author of Rogue State (Regnery, 2004).

President Trump JUST Drops Executive Order NOW Kim Jong Un Is Panicking(VIDEO)!!!

September 26, 2017

President Trump JUST Drops Executive Order NOW Kim Jong Un Is Panicking(VIDEO)!!!, Global News via YouTube, September 26, 2017

(The title seems excessively dramatic, but Dear Leader Kim will feel the new sanctions China claims to support.  The more interesting segments of the video deal with our military options. — DM)

The blurb beneath the video states,

President Trump drops executive order now Kim Jong Un is panicking. President Trump signed an executive order targeting North Korea’s trading partners, calling it a powerful new tool aimed at isolating the regime. Foreign banks will face a clear choice. Do business with the United States or facilitate trade with the lawless regime in North Korea.

U.S. Threatens to Cutoff China, Russia for Undermining Sanctions Against North Korea

September 12, 2017

U.S. Threatens to Cutoff China, Russia for Undermining Sanctions Against North Korea, Washington Free Beacon, September 12, 2017

(Please see also, UN Passes Mega-Ultra Toughest-Ever North Korea Sanctions, Again.– DM)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attends a meeting with a committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea about the test of a hydrogen bomb / Getty Images

“Unfortunately, I cannot tell the committee today that we’ve seen sufficient evidence of China’s willingness to truly shut down North Korea’s revenue flows, to expunge North Korean illicit actors from its banking system, or to expel the various North Korean middlemen and brokers who are continuing to establish webs of front companies,” he said.

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The Trump administration on Tuesday threatened to cut off from the U.S. financial system Chinese and Russian companies helping North Korea smuggle coal overseas to circumvent international sanctions on Pyongyang’s nuclear activities.

Marshall Billingslea, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for terrorist financing, provided Congress with intelligence images mapping North Korea’s illicit shipping networks used to mask the origin of exported coal to China and Russia.

The images appear to expose China and Russia’s covert hand in undermining international pressure on the Kim Jong Un regime to give up its nuclear ambitions, despite the two nations voting publicly on several occasions at the United Nations Security Council to strengthen sanctions.

“North Korea has been living under United Nations sanctions for over a decade and it has nevertheless made significant strides toward its goal of building a nuclear tipped ICBM,” Billingslea testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, referring to the regime’s pursuit of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States mainland.

“I urge anyone in the financial services industry who might be implicated in the establishment of shell or front companies for [North Korea], and anyone who is aware of such entities, to come forward with that information now, before they find themselves swept up in our net,” he said.

The Treasury Department estimates North Korean coal shipments bring in more than $1 billion in annual revenue for the regime, in part enabling Kim Jong Un to generate income used to fund ballistic missile and nuclear programs. Though the UN Security Council over the past month has passed two separate sanctions packages targeting North Korea’s coal industry, illicit coal-smuggling networks through China and Russia have watered down the impact, according to the Trump administration.

Citing the intelligence images provided to Congress on Tuesday, Billingslea said North Korean shipping vessels routinely shut off their transponders in violation of international maritime law to avoid detection as they move from North Korea into Chinese or Russian ports to offload sanctioned coal.

The Treasury Department is also tracking North Korea’s effort to penetrate the international financial system through shell companies based in China and Russia to help conceal the regime’s overseas footprint. Billingslea warned the Trump administration will punish any company in violation of UN sanctions by choking it off from the U.S. financial market.

Though he lauded China for supporting a recent round of UN sanctions, he said Beijing has not yet shown it is serious about cutting off North Korean funding.

“Unfortunately, I cannot tell the committee today that we’ve seen sufficient evidence of China’s willingness to truly shut down North Korea’s revenue flows, to expunge North Korean illicit actors from its banking system, or to expel the various North Korean middlemen and brokers who are continuing to establish webs of front companies,” he said.

16 Years Later: Lessons Put into Practice?

September 11, 2017

16 Years Later: Lessons Put into Practice? Gatestone Institute, John R. Bolton, September 11, 2017

Sept. 11 should be more than just a few moments of silence to remember the Twin Towers falling, the burning Pentagon and the inspiring heroism of regular Americans in bringing down United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa. We should also seriously consider today’s global threats. Those who made America an exceptional country did so by confronting reality and overcoming it, not by ignoring it.

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Today marks the 16th anniversary of al-Qaida’s 9/11 attacks. We learned much that tragic day, at enormous human and material cost. Perilously, however, America has already forgotten many of Sept. 11’s lessons.

The radical Islamicist ideology manifested that day has neither receded nor “moderated” as many naive Westerners predicted. Neither has the ideology’s hatred for America or its inclination to conduct terrorist attacks. Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution brought radical Islam to the contemporary world’s attention, and it is no less malevolent today than when it seized our Tehran embassy, holding U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days.

The Taliban, which provided al-Qaida sanctuary to prepare the 9/11 attacks, threaten to retake control in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida persists and may even be growing worldwide.

While ISIS’s caliphate in Syria and Iraq will not survive much longer, countries across North Africa and the Middle East (“MENA”) have destabilized or fractured entirely. Syria and Iraq have ceased to exist functionally, and Libya, Somalia and Yemen have descended into chaos. Pakistan, an unstable nuclear-weapons state, could fall to radicals under many easily predictable scenarios.

The terrorist threat is compounded by nuclear proliferation. Pakistan has scores of nuclear weapons, and Iran’s program continues unhindered. North Korea has now conducted its sixth, and likely thermonuclear, nuclear test, and its ballistic missiles are near to being able to hit targets across the continental United States. Pyongyang leads the rogue’s gallery of would-be nuclear powers, and is perfectly capable of selling its technologies and weapons to anyone with hard currency.

During Barack Obama’s presidency, he ignored these growing threats and disparaged those who warned against them. His legacy is terrorist attacks throughout Europe and America, and a blindness to the threat that encouraged Europe to accept a huge influx of economic migrants from the MENA region, whose numbers included potentially thousands of already-committed terrorists.

IGNORING NORTH KOREA

Obama also ignored North Korea, affording it one of an aspiring proliferator’s most precious assets: time. Time is what a would-be nuclear state needs to master the complex scientific and technological problems it must overcome to create nuclear weapons.

And, in a dangerous unforced error that could be considered perfidious if it weren’t so foolish, Obama entered the 2015 Vienna nuclear and missile deal that has legitimized Tehran’s terrorist government, released well over a hundred billion dollars of frozen assets, and dissolved international economic sanctions. Iran has responded by extending its presence in the Middle East as ISIS had receded, to the point where it now has tens of thousands of troops in Syria and is building missile factories there and in Lebanon.

Before 2009, publishers would have immediately dismissed novelists who brought them such a plainly unrealistic plot. Today, however, it qualifies as history, not fantasy. This is the agonizing legacy the Trump administration inherited, compounded by widespread feelings among the American people that we have once again sacrificed American lives and treasure overseas for precious little in return.

These feelings are understandable, but it would be dangerous to succumb to them. We didn’t ask for the responsibility of stopping nuclear proliferation or terrorism, but we are nonetheless ultimately the most at risk from both these threats.

And as we knew during the Cold War, but seem to have forgotten since it ended, our surrounding oceans do not insulate us from the risk of long-distance nuclear attacks. We face the choice of fighting the terrorists on our borders or inside America itself, or fighting them where they seek to plot our demise, in the barren mountains of Afghanistan, in the MENA deserts, and elsewhere.

Nor can we shelter behind a robust national missile-defense capability, hoping simply to shoot down missiles from the likes of North Korea and Iran before they hit their targets. We do not have a robust national missile defense capability, thanks yet again to Barack Obama’s drastic budget cuts.

President Trump appreciates that nuclear proliferation and radical Islamic terrorism are existential threats for the United States and its allies. During the 2016 campaign, he repeatedly stressed his view that others should play a larger role in defeating these dangerous forces, bearing their fair share of the burden. But candidate Trump also unambiguously (and entirely correctly) called for restoring our depleted military capabilities because he saw that American safety depended fundamentally on American strength.

Sept. 11 should be more than just a few moments of silence to remember the Twin Towers falling, the burning Pentagon and the inspiring heroism of regular Americans in bringing down United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa. We should also seriously consider today’s global threats. Those who made America an exceptional country did so by confronting reality and overcoming it, not by ignoring it.

The names of passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93, who lost their lives in the September 11 attacks, as displayed at the National 9/11 Memorial in New York. (Image source: Luigi Novi/Wikimedia Commons)

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John R. Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is Chairman of Gatestone Institute, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad”.

This article first appeared in The Pittsburgh Tribune Review and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

FDR’s ‘Rattlesnake’ Rule and the North Korean Threat

September 6, 2017

FDR’s ‘Rattlesnake’ Rule and the North Korean Threat, Gatestone Institute, John R. Bolton, September 6, 2017

(FDR may have honored his “Rattlesnake Rule” vis a vis Germany. He did not do so vis a vis Japan. We should honor it vis a vis North Korea and its enablers. –DM)

“When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him.” By these words in a Sept. 11, 1941, fireside chat, Franklin Roosevelt authorized US warships to fire first against Nazi naval vessels, which he called “the rattlesnakes of the Atlantic.”

Roosevelt’s order applied whenever German or Italian ships entered “waters of self-defense” necessary to protect the US, including those surrounding US outposts on Greenland and Iceland.

Franklin D. Roosevelt. (Image source: National Archives and Records Administration/Wikimedia Commons)

Uttered 60 years to the day before 9/11, and less than three months before Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt’s words still resonate. North Korea’s sixth nuclear test last weekend, along with its significantly increased ballistic-missile testing, establishes that Pyongyang is perilously close to being able to hit targets across the continental United States with nuclear warheads, perhaps thermonuclear ones.

The Nazi threat to US shipping, both normal commercial traffic and war supplies destined for Great Britain, was undeniably significant, and the Axis powers’ broader totalitarian threat was existential. Nonetheless, right up to Dec. 7, 1941, many American leaders urged caution to avoid provoking the Axis and thereby risking broader conflict. Pearl Harbor followed.

In his chat, Roosevelt observed that others had “refused to look the Nazi danger squarely in the eye until it actually had them by the throat.” We shouldn’t commit that mistake today. North Korea’s behavior, and its lasting desire to conquer the South, have created the present crisis.

Letting Kim Jong-un’s bizarre regime “have America by the throat,” subjecting us and our allies to perpetual nuclear extortion, is not an acceptable outcome.

We have endured 25 years of US diplomatic failure, with endless rounds of negotiations, presenting North Korea with the choice between economic incentives or sanctions. During this time, which certainly constitutes “not looking the danger squarely in the eye,” North Korea has repeatedly breached commitments to abandon its nuclear-weapons program, often made in return for handsome compensation.

Nonetheless, we hear echoes from Roosevelt’s day that “there is no acceptable military option” when it comes to Pyongyang. This means, as Susan Rice said recently, “we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea,” as we did with the Soviets in Cold War days. The US should not accept such counsels of despair, based on dangerously facile and wildly inaccurate historical analogies.

Why accept a future of unending nuclear blackmail by Pyongyang, whose governing logic is hardly that of Cold War Moscow, and which would entail not that era’s essentially bipolar standoff, but a far-more-dangerous world of nuclear multipolarity?

If Washington lets Kim retain his nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, his regime will happily sell these materials and technologies to Iran, other rogue states or terrorist groups for the right price. This is another key difference from the Cold War; Moscow was substantially more worried about nuclear proliferation than Pyongyang now is.

It would be, as Roosevelt understood, “inexcusable folly” to ignore North Korea’s pattern of behavior over the last quarter century: “We Americans are now face to face not with abstract theories but with cruel, relentless facts.” For America in 1941, hope of sheltering behind the oceans was fast disappearing, forcing Roosevelt to extend our maritime defense perimeter effectively across the Atlantic to Europe.

In the age of ICBMs, there’s no “perimeter”; we are at risk in agonizingly short time frames of a missile’s flight launched anywhere, whether from North Korea or Iran. It is completely unacceptable to say we must await a first strike by Pyongyang before we will resort to military force. Roosevelt dismissed such arguments peremptorily: “Let us not say: ‘We will only defend ourselves if the torpedo succeeds in getting home, or if the crew and passengers are drowned.’ ”

The remaining diplomatic options are few, and the time to exercise them dwindling fast. Convincing China that its national interests would be enhanced by reunifying the two Koreas, thus ending what Beijing itself believes is a threat to peace and security in northeast Asia, remains possible. Unfortunately, this is increasingly hard to accomplish before North Korea becomes a fully mature nuclear-weapons state.

We’re moving rapidly to the point where Roosevelt said squarely, “It is the time for prevention of attack.” George W. Bush spoke equally directly in 2002: “Our security will require all Americans to be . . . ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.” The alternative is potentially global proliferation of nuclear weapons, with the attendant risks lasting beyond our power to calculate.

John R. Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is Chairman of Gatestone Institute, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and author of “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad”.

This article first appeared in The New York Post and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.

When nothing deters the clever brutal tyrant

September 5, 2017

When nothing deters the clever brutal tyrant, Washinton TimesWesley Pruden, September 4, 2017

(Words, words, I’m so sick of words.

Yep. But not in the same context — DM)

Kim Jong-Un

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If words were bullets, the crazy fat kid in Pyongyang would have been dead a long time ago, with his ample carcass on display now within a shrine of marble, plaster and tears. But under that goofy haircut there’s a brain that is not so crazy at all.

Words, words, words. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, says North Korea is “begging for war,” which suggests that North Korea will get it if the begging continues. “Enough is enough. War is never something the United States wants. We don’t want it now. But our country’s patience is not unlimited.”

President Trump telephoned President Moon Jae-in in Seoul and they agreed that the fat kid’s explosion of a hydrogen bomb, underground or not, is not only a grave provocation, but “unprecedented,” too.

One after another, diplomats of America’s more or less reliable European allies, Britain, France and Italy, renewed demands for Kim Jong-un to behave himself, or else be sent to his room without supper. They demand that he halt his nuclear weapons program and ballistic missile scheme, or else — “else” being more of the sanctions that so far haven’t worked.

Francois Delattre, the French ambassador to the U.N., proposes “new” sanctions by the U.N., implementing the sanctions already in place, and new and separate sanctions that also might not work by the European Union. Words, words, words.

Sebastiano Cardi, the Italian ambassador, repeats the chorus as if he were singing the grace notes in an aria from Verdi: “Pyongyang poses a clear threat challenging the global nonproliferation regime.” Mr. Cardi is chairman of the U.N. North Korean compliance committee, and observes that North Korea is the only country to have tested a nuclear device in the 21st century. Mr. Cardi imagines this might shame the fat kid, but Kim takes it as a compliment. He has the toys that the other kids can only envy.

Japan and South Korea have unique critical concerns, sharing a neighborhood with the villains in the North. “We cannot waste any more time,” says the Japanese ambassador, Koro Bessho. “We need North Korea to feel the pressure, that if they go down this road there will be consequences.”

All true, all to the point, but Kim can count it all as just more yada, yada, yada from those he torments. He has his neighbors, and the lord protector the United States, backed into a corner, and he has never had so much fun. He doesn’t mind being the international pariah. He knows the United States dare not put the American boot with its hobnails on his neck, where it could squash him like a bug on the sidewalk, for fear of inviting massive retaliation on Seoul, killing upwards of a million innocents.

Nikki Haley suggests spreading the pain of sanctions, punishing nations that do business with Pyongyang, whether in contraband food and oil, or textiles, the profitable North Korean export so far untouched by the sanctions in place. Tighter limits on exporting North Korean laborers to other nations have been suggested, too. Much of the money these laborers earn is confiscated by the Pyongyang government, and important to the North Korean economy.

Russia and China, always eager to be helpful, suggest bartering Kim’s nuclear threat against the American guarantee of South Korean national security. Eliminate both and every conflict would be resolved, every rough place made smooth and plain. Both Russia and China know this is unacceptable to both Washington and Seoul, and it’s not a solution offered in good faith, anyway.

Some diplomats, pundits and other speculators argue that since nothing else works, returning to “diplomacy,” that vague and formless cure-all that usually cures nothing and invites only more yada, yada, yada, is the way to go. “Jaw, jaw beats war, war,” as Mr. Churchill said, but jaw, jaw has its limits, too.

Doing nothing is what brought the United States — and its allies — to the present moment. Bill Clinton, distracted by staining Monica Lewinsky’s little blue dress and spending the rest of his attention on the hot pursuit of other passing skirts, imagined that sending groceries to North Korea would transform the Kim family into small-d democrats, eager to make the world a happy place. They took the groceries and continued work on splitting the atom. Barack Obama, itching to reduce America’s size in the world, was always ready to make another speech, but not much else.

No one disputes that the way forward is hard, but the threat of an out-of-control regime armed with nuclear bombs and the missiles to deliver them to faraway places, is real and the hour is late. The strategy of three presidential administrations seems fashioned by Mr. Micawber, the Dickens character who could never quite succeed at anything but was always sure that “something will turn up.” Something must, and soon.

• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.

Part II: Tough Is Not Enough

September 4, 2017

Part II: Tough Is Not Enough, 38 North, September 4, 2017

(In what fantasy world does the author live? He states,

What sort of deployments (strategic systems, missile defense, precision strike conventional weapons, conventional land, sea, special and air forces) would be a function of both military and diplomatic would need to be hammered out in the National Security Council and with regional allies.

It is inconceivable that the UN Security Council, where each permanent member has a veto, would approve any “deployment of significant and visible assets [which] would make it clear to the DPRK that it cannot compete with the US in the nuclear field regardless of the size, scope, pace and duration of that effort.”  Even were it to happen, North Korea would be told, in advance, how to prepare for whatever America and perhaps our allies will do when North Korea again tests or uses a nuke or missile. 

Please see also, North Korea Nuclear Test Puts Pressure on China and Undercuts Xi. — DM)

North Korea Nuclear Test Puts Pressure on China and Undercuts Xi

In Part I of this seriesI argued that advocates for “getting tough on North Korea” were prone to adopt inappropriate models for a harsher sanctions regime and to ignore the risk of counterproductive North Korean reactions to such sanctions. This is not an argument for no more sanctions. Given North Korean progress on its ICBM and nuclear weapons capabilities, we remain in an ongoing cycle of actions and reactions that may lead to a major war. A very vigorous political/military effort to contain and eventually eliminate the DPRK nuclear threat is essential now before the tensions and ill-considered rhetoric once again create the risk of the US and North Korea bellowing and stumbling their way into a catastrophic conflict. But sanctions should be only one element of the effort. The final push for a stabilization[1] of the North Korean nuclear and missile issue has to include the following components.

Military Deterrence and Defense

The additional deployment of significant and visible assets would make it clear to the DPRK that it cannot compete with the US in the nuclear field regardless of the size, scope, pace and duration of that effort. What sort of deployments (strategic systems, missile defense, precision strike conventional weapons, conventional land, sea, special and air forces) would be a function of both military and diplomatic would need to be hammered out in the National Security Council and with regional allies. The purpose of these forces would be both to provide diplomatic leverage and to prevent Kim from believing a military gamble would pay off.

Sanctions and Targeted Secondary Sanctions

The sanctions campaign should begin with the enforcement of UNSCRs 2270 and 2371. The initial goal would be to get full compliance with some of the difficult-to-enforce provisions, notably the caps on joint ventures and on North Korean labor exports. To this end, the US should target secondary sanctions on Chinese and other third country entities that are violating the UN resolutions. Rather than seeking to squash every sanctions-evading gnat, it should inflict significant pain on one large and vulnerable entity to have a bracing effect on many more. And, it might well create massive ripple effects if it is a key node in North Korea’s sanctions evasion network—for example, Chinese companies outlined in the recent C4ADS report—that are clearly violating UN sanctions and making extensive use of the US banking system. The US may also wish to find a similar target outside the Chinese network of businesses—perhaps one in a friendly Middle Eastern or African country that has chosen to ignore past US efforts to cut connections to Pyongyang. The US should for now avoid steps to coerce others to accept its own definition of sanctions that go beyond the resolutions. It appears that the most recent sanctions by the US Treasury against Chinese, Russian and one Namibian entity, as well as a recent freeze on some aid to Egypt, may fit the model described above.

However, it is unlikely the UN sanctions as currently written will suffice. The US should be building the case now for significant sanctions tightening if North Korea does not shift its current direction. This should best be done in steps, perhaps starting with the change of the labor and investment caps and moving to a full ban as a first iteration with the dusted off version of UNSCR 661 as the final alternative to military conflict. As the risk of conflict moves closer, the US will have to consider when secondary sanctions as a coercive mechanism for third countries needs to be deployed more widely. This is a high-risk enterprise in an already risky situation, but when stacked up against nuclear war in Asia, surely secondary sanctions are preferable.

Many Tracks of Diplomacy

These tough military and sanctions components will do nothing but open the door to miscalculation and war if other “softer” components are ignored or—more likely—mishandled. A stabilization of the Korean nuclear and missile issue is going to require multilateral diplomacy—and only the US has the ability to be at the center of this effort. It cannot subcontract the effort primarily to China. The PRC does not have the entre with some of the players, nor could it speak for the US to the most difficult audience of all: Pyongyang. These rings of diplomatic activity have existed in one form or another for many years, but they will need to be greatly invigorated and placed in the service of a clear set of policy objectives. These rings include:

  • US-ROK and US-Japan: This ring will need to create a solid front on possible military deterrence force deployments and on a sanctions strategy in the United Nations. The Trump administration appears to be in the middle of such an effort.
  • US-PRC: This ring is key. It needs to be removed from undisciplined and uncoordinated public commentary and shifted to sustained bilateral dialogue. Washington will need to enlist Chinese assistance both to create sanctions pressure on Pyongyang and to generate multilateral negotiations and a viable US-DPRK diplomatic channel. The US cannot expect pressure without political dialogue and Beijing cannot expect dialogue without real pressure on Pyongyang. The less we hear about the content of this channel (not to mention the US-DPRK channel) in public the better.
  • UN Security Council: Iraq sanctions failed when P-5 unity in the UNSC failed. The Trump Administration deserves credit for maintaining P-5 unity with the passage of UNSCR 2371, but this will have to be the first of many efforts in the Council.
  • Six Party (US, ROK, China, Russia, Japan and DPRK): At some point this channel will have to generate the political agreements and the framework for a settlement. There is nothing sacred about this particular forum or format, but something like it will have to be active and available for the formal public structure of a diplomatic settlement.
  • A direct US-DPRK channel: With one exception in the second term of the George W. Bush administration, the most rapid and extensive progress I have seen in over 28 years of interchange with North Korea over the nuclear issue has always taken place in a US-DPRK bilateral channel. The potential causes of war lie between Washington and Pyongyang. The US would be well advised to put together a small, tight, empowered negotiating team to create a channel for bilateral discussions. If the leak-prone and undisciplined Trump administration could manage to do so without us all hearing about it, so much the better.

Orchestrating this diplomacy will be one of the most complex challenges of the past 50 years. It is unclear whether the US State Department—suffering from several levels of missing leadership, low morale and persistent and unhelpful interference from the White House—is up to the task. But a way will have to be found to perform it if there is to be success on this issue.

Clarity, Discipline and Accountability in Public Commentary

US diplomacy during the recent dust-up with North Korea over its July ICBM tests was clumsy and amateurish: the incendiary rhetoric coming out of the White House needlessly escalated tensions and the uncoordinated and incoherent public messaging sowed confusion among our allies over US goals and intentions. That said, it did signal that the United States was approaching the limit of its patience over North Korean missile developments. Nevertheless, a policy vacuum continues to exist.

The United States has not made clear to Pyongyang, the American public, or its allies how it would respond to North Korean nuclear intimidation or aggression. There may be a place for strategic ambiguity in deterrence policy under some circumstances but not strategic incoherence. As a result of the loose and imprecise US rhetoric and mixed messaging, all parties are groping for an understanding of what might trigger nuclear conflict in Korea and beyond. To end this confusion and uncertainty, an authoritative figure such as the Secretary of State or Defense should give a policy speech which lays out for the American public, our allies, the Chinese and the North Koreans what American nuclear deterrence policy is vis-a-vis North Korea—and then the White House needs to discipline itself and other agencies to hew scrupulously to this script in all their public messaging on the policy.

The speech or the press backgrounding around it should also designate a single, high level official who would be accountable for the North Korean issue; this is simply not an issue that can survive current White House tong wars, presidential pique or bureaucratic backstabbing. This speech will also be the best place to signal that toughness will be accompanied by dialogue. It needs to open the door to real negotiations with a concrete proposal. This could be done through a proposal to reopen Six Party Talks or through a prearranged signal to Pyongyang that certain words in the speech are an invitation to a private authoritative back-channel discussion.

Goals and Trade Bait

The Obama administration’s efforts on North Korea foundered on a couple of rocks. The first was its inability or unwillingness to commit political capital to an issue that was highly controversial, with a very small (or nonexistent) solution set and a timeline that was less pressing than the Iran nuclear issue. The second was that the only goal for resolving or even trying to resolve the crisis that could garner consensus support was complete DPRK denuclearization. However, given the Obama administration’s unwillingness to invest fully in the issue, the White House’s highly constrained room for political maneuvering and Pyongyang’s commitment to its nuclear strategy, the goal of denuclearization became an obstacle to even starting a process for dealing with Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile progress.

Denuclearization remains a worthy goal and it is the only one that preserves the global nonproliferation regime and the long-term security of the US and its allies. But the first goal of renewed diplomatic engagement needs to be more focused and urgent: to stabilize peace in Northeast Asia and to prevent a stumble into a nuclearized second Korean War. Achieving this goal, by definition, will require North Korea to put limits on its ICBM program, which is the essential immediate need for American security policy. There are interim steps that would be of value in preserving peace and security. The parties might wish to develop mechanisms to prevent accidental war. It might also be a worthy tactical goal to create geographic limits on North Korean missile testing targets, thus putting US territories like Guam and Japanese waters off limits. The US might, at some point, trade off a particular sanction in return for a firm ICBM testing ban or moratorium or a halt to nuclear tests.

At no point should the US take ultimate denuclearization off the table, but it is necessary first to identify immediate steps to stabilize what is a dangerous dynamic. The two great dangers to pursuing more modest, immediate goals will be the accusation the US has “accepted” a nuclear DPRK and the concessions the DPRK may want. Sanctions should be considered legitimate items to trade. Our alliances should not. Our political relationship with the DPRK—including at some point a peace treaty ending the Korean War—should be legitimate points of discussion. Tangible payments to the DPRK should not, given the unfortunate experiences the ROK and US had with such payments in past agreements.

Conclusion

In a policy with any hope of resolving US and global concerns about North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat, sanctions play an important but supporting role. The key to a successful effort to deal with the North Korean threat without war is a combination of military deterrence, sanctions, a complex diplomatic offensive with clear and realistic short-term goals, and perhaps most importantly, a disciplined, clear public elucidation of US deterrence and diplomatic policy for Korea. The “tough” part of this approach (military deterrence and sanctions) is well within the reach of the Trump administration. Whether it has the personnel, structure and capacity for discipline for the diplomatic and public components of the effort is yet unproven.


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    Stabilization is chosen deliberately in this sentence. Denuclearization should be the long term stated goal of the effort but that goal should be placed in the same context as “general and complete disarmament” as used in Article VI of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It is a legitimate goal, but one that is far over the horizon. The key goal at this moment is to halt momentum towards having North Korean nuclear weapons capable of reaching the US homeland.