North Korea has more nuclear weapons than ever. What should Biden do?

WASHINGTON – Since North Korea began building nuclear weapons in the 1990s, United States policy has been clear: abandon those bombs or face international isolation.

After three decades of sanctions, threats of violence and diplomacy – including President Trump’s theatrical summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – North Korea now has more nuclear weapons than ever before, as well as ballistic missiles that intelligence officials claim could be a warhead ship to the US Due to the global pandemic, the Hermit Kingdom has closed its borders and stopped imports of food and medicine in a way that is more punitive than international sanctions could ever be.

This dangerous security threat is now on President Joe Biden’s lap and his administration is expected to soon announce the results of a policy review regarding North Korea. Experts and those who have been briefed believe that while Biden will not officially abandon the goal of “full denuclearization”, he will seek to achieve the limited goal of reducing North Korea’s nuclear threat while reducing the visibility of one delicate foreign policy problem that has no proper solution.

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet on June 30, 2019 at the demilitarized zoning of North and South Korea.Dong-A Ilbo / via Getty Images

“Realistically, the government’s North Korea strategy is likely to be open to (an) approach where North Korea’s capabilities are limited or limited,” said Eric Brewer, who worked on North Korea policy on the Obama administration’s National Security Council NBC news. “Even if denuclearization remains part of the strategy, I find it hard to believe that they are not open to further interim solutions that will reduce the threat.”

The administration is also planning to revive so-called trilateral relations between the US, South Korea and Japan, according to a former consulted official in the Trump administration.

Whether there are direct talks with the North Koreans depends on the behavior of the North, this person said.

While denuclearization would remain a long-term goal, the US could try to convince North Korea to agree to restrictions on its nuclear weapons delivery systems in order to significantly ease economic sanctions, Brewer said. If this option is not enabled, these delivery systems, including solid fuel missiles, ICBM warheads, and multiple re-entry vehicles, could allow North Korea to launch attacks faster and potentially evade U.S. countermeasures.

Brewer recently co-authored an article in Foreign Affairs with Sue Mi-Terry, who worked under President Obama on the National Intelligence Council and served as a CIA analyst, advocating a “realistic deal” with North Korea.

The two, who are now both high-ranking scholars at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote that the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the regime’s economic problems and could mean that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be open to to make a cut deal.

“Kim has not been easily swayed by economic pressures in the past,” they wrote, but it is possible that he is desperate enough for sanction relief – and confident enough in his existing nuclear and missile capabilities – that he has some limits on his weapons would trade programs for a substantial reduction in penalties. “

In an interview, Terry told NBC News, “Right now we’re trying to get back to North Korea in some form.”

Victor Cha, who oversaw Korean policy in the George W. Bush administration, agreed.

Joe Biden welcomes South Korean President Park Geun-hye to lunch at the Naval Observatory in Washington on October 15, 2015.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

He noted that North Korea has completely closed its borders to curb the spread of Covid-19, including imports of food and medicines from China. In this way, it has imposed a blockade that is more draconian than sanctions, which normally do not 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 assistance as a gesture of goodwill.

Even with a less ambitious goal, arms control negotiations with North Korea would be “really, very difficult,” Brewer said, especially since Pyongyang tended to be fiercely opposed to any inspection or review mechanism. And any restrictions on the North’s weapons systems would have to be checked on-site, not just through surveillance by US intelligence.

Intelligence officials say North Korea has no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons and the Biden government faces a number of uncomfortable options. They range from trying to resume talks that have failed in the past to a military strike that could have catastrophic results.

“North Korea will be a threat to weapons of mass destruction for the foreseeable future because [Kim Jong Un] The country remains deeply committed to the country’s nuclear weapons, is actively involved in ballistic missile research and development, and Pyongyang’s (chemical and biological) efforts are continuing, “said an unclassified intelligence assessment released Tuesday by the director’s office of the National Secret Service was released.

North Korea has more nuclear weapons than ever. What should Biden do? 1

After two failed presidential summits with Trump, North Korea greeted the incoming Biden team with a series of provocations, including tough rhetoric and a short-range missile test. So far, however, the regime has not taken the far more provocative steps to test a long-range missile or a nuclear weapon, which both have done before.

However, there is always the possibility that Biden’s offer to negotiate will fail and North Korea will resort to its pattern of aggressive and attention-grabbing behavior, including threatening its neighbors and testing dangerous weapons. In this case, the only real options outside of war – aside from covert CIA operations – are more economic sanctions, experts say.

Critics point out that years of sanctions of various kinds have not persuaded the North to denuclearize. However, observers say the U.S. never ran the kind of sustained and biting sanctions campaigns against North Korea that the Obama administration pushed Iran into negotiations, resulting in a 2015 nuclear deal that Trump stepped down from, but Biden did seeks to restore something.

North Korea has more nuclear weapons than ever. What should Biden do? 2

“It took three years of really tough sanctions for Iran to come to the negotiating table,” said Terry.

These sanctions included fines against European and other banks accused of breaking the law by doing business with Iran. So far, no government has been ready to impose similar “secondary sanctions” on Chinese banks that keep North Korea afloat.

“The US fined British and French banks $ 8 billion to $ 9 billion for money laundering for Iran, but Chinese banks fined $ 0 for money laundering for North Korea,” said Bruce Klingner, former CIA -Analyst and Korea expert on the inheritance foundation.

Klingner and other North Korea experts cite one exception to this rule: an action against an obscure bank in Macau that they say could be a blueprint to put pressure 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 withdrawn from doing business with North Korea and put its finances at risk. Even many senior US officials were surprised at how harsh the sanctions had bitten.

“You Americans have finally found a way to hurt us,” Cha, then chiefly responsible for Korea policy, recalls a drunken North Korean diplomat who mumbled during a toast at a negotiation.

Two years after sanctions were imposed on the bank – including the freezing of $ 25 million in North Korean assets – the US returned the money, paving the way for North Korea to re-enter the international banking system. It was part of an agreement that should lead to the dissolution of the North Korean nuclear weapons program.

That did not happen, of course, but no similar sanctions have been imposed since then.

Joshua Stanton, who runs the blog OneFreeKorea and is one of the leading sanctions experts in North Korea, argues that the United Nations reports on sanctions compliance prove regularly That could be used to penalize companies, but the US has rarely responded to this material.

“Why are we more tolerant of Chinese banks that violate North Korean sanctions than Barack Obama of European banks that violate Iranian sanctions?” asked Stanton.

One reason, Cha and others say, is that the US has long sought help from China to put pressure on North Korea.

“We always made sure to look for Chinese,” said Cha. “It’s a balancing act – there is a desire for Chinese cooperation in the negotiations.”

For diplomacy to work, it must be backed by a credible threat of violence, say the former Trump administration official and other experts.

“The only way to get the North to agree to anything is through sanctions plus a military threat and diplomatic pressure,” said the former official.

When asked by NBC News, a National Security Council spokesman replied, “The review of North Korea is in its final stages and we will not be ahead of it.”

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