What Donald Trump Should Have Done With North Korea And What The Next President Should Do
Writing in The National Interest, Michael O’Hanlon argues that “there is a way ahead. Rather than pursue complete elimination of all of North Koreas nuclear capabilities, the Trump administration would aim for a more modest trade as at least an interim step. It would require North Korea to verifiably dismantle all capabilities it possesses to make more bombs in exchange for a partial lifting of the sanctions which have driven North Koreas economy into the tank.”
President Donald Trump recklessly risked war over North Korea in 2017, but then appeared to make relatively good use of that scare by starting a negotiation process with Kim Jong-un the following two years. Unfortunately, the momentum is now gone, and we are back to almost where we started three and a half years ago. At least North Korea is not testing nuclear weapons or long-range missiles right now, but it could resume those testsand it has never stopped building more nukes. The next president, Biden or a reelected Trump, needs to break out of this logjam.
There is a way ahead. Rather than pursue complete elimination of all of North Koreas nuclear capabilities, the Trump administration would aim for a more modest trade as at least an interim step. It would require North Korea to verifiably dismantle all capabilities it possesses to make more bombs in exchange for a partial lifting of the sanctions which have driven North Koreas economy into the tank.
Pyongyang Isnt Crazy Just Focused On A Credible Threat
North Korea continues to enhance its ballistic missile capability and possesses the technical capacity to present a real danger to the U.S. homeland as well as our allies and partners across the Indo-Pacific, Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently told Congress. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made a similar point: We also face challenges from North Korea, a country with the ambition to be capable of striking the U.S. homeland.
Its true that the North is continuing to enhance its military capabilities. Before agreeing to meet with then-U.S. President Donald Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un brought his nation within striking distance being able to target the continental United States. Although more testing is needed to perfect a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles, Pyongyang could hit American dependencies, such as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as Okinawa, Japan, which contains a Marine Expeditionary Force and many U.S. bases.
North Koreas quest for nukes has helped make it an economic disaster, turning it into a global pariah and diverting resources from economic investment. Thats one reason the country, as Kim admitted in public recently, is facing another critical food crisis. However, it now is an unofficial member of the worlds exclusive nuclear club.
That is a prolix way of saying Pyongyang needs the bomb to protect itself from Washington.
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He said the tyrant deserves credit for ruthlessly executing his generals, one of which was own uncle.
Speaking at a Republican rally in January, Mr Trump said: Youve got to give him credit. How many young guys he was like 26 or 25 when his father died take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden you know, its pretty amazing when you think of it. How does he do that?”
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Trump And Kim Have The Ability To Start A Nuclear War Will They Walk Back From The Brink
So how scared should we be?
That, more than anything else, is the question thats been on my mind for the weeks Ive spent reporting this story. The good news is that the experts I spoke to dont think war is inevitable, or even probable. Most, like Jung Pak, a former North Korea analyst for the CIA, believe that Kim is a rational leader who has been careful during his years in power to walk right up to the edge without going over it.
People say hes young and untested, but hes not that young anymore and hes not that untested anymore, she said, noting that Kim has led his country since 2011 and has managed to massively expand his nuclear arsenal without triggering a war with the US or South Korea. Hes a brutal dictator that is aggressive and vindictive and prone to violence, but hes a rational leader making fundamentally rational choices. He knows how to dial things up, but he also knows how to recalibrate and dial them back down.
But heres the bad news, and the reason hours of conversations with some of the people who know North Korea best have left me feeling profoundly unsettled: Its easy to imagine a misunderstanding or accidental run-in between the two skittish countries leading to a full-blown war.
He then asked Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who was testifying at the session, if the US and North Korea had any direct lines of communication that could be used to defuse a tense situation before it spirals out of control.
The Costs Of A Korean War Are Nearly Inconceivable
It is not yet clear that North Koreas missile program is a direct threat to the US homeland. The missiles theoretically have enough range to go as far as the Eastern Seaboard, but its not clear if North Korea has the technology to attach a nuclear warhead to these missiles. Its also not clear how accurate its missiles are.
Whats more, virtually every expert on North Korea agrees that Kim Jong Un is rational: that he wants nuclear weapons not to wipe out an American city, which would clearly lead to retaliation that would decimate the country, but to protect the North from foreign invasion or regime change. Theres still a risk of a nuclear strike in a tense situation a Korean equivalent to the Cuban Missile Crisis that goes wrong but on the whole, theres no reason to think that North Korea is significantly harder to deter than the Soviet Union was.
So the threat posed by North Koreas ICBM program, while not insignificant, is not fully established. But we what do know is that war with North Korea today would probably kill hundreds of thousands if not millions.
The estimates of a conflict involving the Norths nonnuclear arsenal alone are hard to fathom. My colleague Alex Ward spells some out:
Heres an even grimmer statistic: A South Korean simulation conducted in 2004, before the North had developed nuclear weapons, estimated that there could be up to 2 million casualties in the first 24 hours of a conflict.
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N Korea Threatens To Build More Nukes Cites Us Hostility
SEOUL, South Korea North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened to expand his nuclear arsenal as he disclosed a list of high-tech weapons systems under development, saying the fate of relations with the United States depends on whether it abandons its hostile policy, state media reported Saturday.
Kims comments during a key meeting of the ruling party this week were seen as applying pressure on the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has called Kim a thug and has criticized his summits with President Donald Trump.
The Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim as saying the key to establishing new relations between and the United States is whether the United States withdraws its hostile policy.
He again called the U.S. his countrys main enemy.
Trump And Biden Spar Over North Korea Threat In Final 2020 Debate
President Trump and former Vice President Biden sparred over the best way to respond to the threat posed by North Koreas nuclear and missile programs Thursday night in what was the only discussion of growing nuclear threats by the candidates in either of this campaign seasons presidential debates.
Moderator Kristen Welker, an NBC News White House correspondent and weekend morning show co-anchor, noted that the country has been a persistent threat. Under both the Obama-Biden and Trump-Pence administrations, North Korea has continued to increase the size and sophistication of its nuclear arsenal and the missiles that could be used to deliver nuclear weapons to other countries, including the United States.
But much of the discussion focused on whether it is a good idea to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump has had two summit meetings with Kim, in Singapore in 2018 and Hanoi in 2019, as well as a brief subsequent meeting in the Demilitarized Zone between South Korea and North Korea.
Nevertheless, North Korea recently rolled out its biggest ever intercontinental ballistic missile and continues to develop its nuclear arsenal, as Welker put it, referring to a military parade earlier this month.
What did the candidates say?
Welker asked Trump if he considered North Koreas recent actions to be a betrayal of his relationship with Kim, which he has described in glowing terms.
Why does it matter?
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New Satellite Image Raises Concerns Over North Koreas Nuclear Program
Brewer recently co-authored an article in Foreign Affairs with Sue Mi-Terry, who worked on the National Intelligence Council under President Obama and served as a CIA analyst, arguing for a “realistic bargain” with North Korea.
The two, who are both now senior fellows at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote that the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the regime’s economic woes, and could mean North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be open to cutting a deal.
“Kim has not been easily swayed by economic pressure in the past,” they wrote, but it is possible he is desperate enough for sanctions relief and confident enough in his existing nuclear and missile capabilities that he would trade some limits on his weapons programs for a significant reduction in sanctions.”
In an interview, Terry told NBC News, “Right now, we are looking to re-engage with North Korea in some form.”
Victor Cha, who oversaw Korea policy in the George W. Bush administration, agreed.
He noted that North Korea has shut down its borders completely in an effort to tamp down the spread of Covid-19, including imports of food and medicine from China. In so doing, it has imposed a blockade on itself more draconian than sanctions, which don’t usually cover humanitarian aid.
“This is about as maximum as the sanctions can be and it’s all self-imposed,” said Cha, who said Biden may want to offer pandemic-related aid as a gesture of goodwill.
‘your Move Mr President’: North Korea Sets The Stage For Biden
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un celebrated his birthday with a long wish-list of new weapons.
It included more accurate long-range missiles, super large warheads, spy satellites and a nuclear-powered submarine.
The military plans announced during one of the biggest political events in North Korea in the last five years may sound threatening – and it is indeed a threat.
But it’s also a challenge. The timing of this message is key as it comes as US President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office.
Mr Kim, who has also now been promoted to Secretary General , is struggling to be heard outside his own country amidst the current tumult in the US.
But if the incoming US administration harbours any hopes of preventing Mr Kim’s nuclear ambitions, now might be the time to listen.
“Kim’s announcements no doubt are meant to emphasise to the incoming US administration that a failure to take quick action will result in North Korea qualitatively advancing its capabilities in ways deleterious to US and South Korean interests,” said Ankit Panda, author of Kim Jong-un and the Bomb, adding that Joe Biden’s administration should take this seriously.
Mr Kim and Donald Trump met three times, but they failed to reach any agreement to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme or the current crippling economic sanctions imposed on Pyongyang by the US and the UN.
So there is wiggle room if Joe Biden wishes to use it.
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A Different October Surprise
Regardless of another Trump-Kim summit, there is growing evidence that North Korea is preparing a different kind of surprise for October, when it marks the 70th anniversary of the ruling Workers Party of Korea. Pyongyang typically marks these kinds of key dates with military parades, and this years Oct. 10 anniversary may not be an exception.
Satellite imagery of the Mirim Parade Training Ground in Pyongyang released by North Korea-watching website 38 North last month shows that construction activity, including a massive vehicle storage area that could house large pieces of military equipment, such as transporter-erector-launchers for North Koreas longest-range missiles, has neared completion.
The site has in the past been used as a staging point for vehicles ahead of military parades, and the North could use it this time to unveil its long-anticipated new strategic weapon or new mobile launchers for its long-range missiles that are capable of evading prying U.S. eyes.
Kim said in his annual New Years address in January that the North would further refine its nuclear program and introduce the new weapon in the near future. But he also left room for dialogue with the United States after Washington ignored a year-end deadline he had set for progress in talks.
I would expect to see something new in October, said Joshua Pollack, a North Korea missile expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California.
Sister Of Kim Jong Un Warns Us Against Military Drills In North Korea
“It took three years of really hard sanctions for Iran to come to the negotiating table,” Terry said.
Those sanctions included penalties against European and other banks accused of violating the law by doing business with Iran. So far, no administration has been willing to levy similar “secondary sanctions” against Chinese banks that keep North Korea afloat.
“The U.S. imposed $8 billion to $9 billion in fines on U.K. and French banks for money laundering for Iran, but $0 in fines on Chinese banks for money laundering for North Korea,” said Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst and Korea expert at the Heritage Foundation.
Klingner and other North Korea experts cite a single telling exception to that rule: An action against an obscure bank in Macau that they say could be a blueprint for putting the squeeze on North Korea.
The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Banco Delta Asia in 2005, accusing it of laundering money for the North Korean regime. Soon, more than two dozen financial institutions had pulled back from doing business with North Korea, imperiling its finances. Even many top U.S. officials were surprised at how hard the sanctions had bitten.
“You Americans finally have found a way to hurt us,” Cha, then the point person on Korea policy, recalls an inebriated North Korean diplomat mumbling during a round of toasts at a negotiation.
That didn’t happen, of course, yet no similar sanctions have been levied since.
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