Is Trump ready to deal with the North Korean threat?

We sat down yesterday to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities and options for the Trump administration to deal with provocations from Pyongyang. Bush, director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies, asked Revere, nonresident senior fellow with the Center, for his thoughts on recent suggestions that the United States talk with North Korea and the likely outcomes of such an approach. We also covered the significant roles of China and South Korea, as well as their respective views and interests.

Revere stated that North Korea already has missiles with a range that puts targets in Japan and Korea, including American bases, within striking distance. He added that it may be three to four years away from being able to strike the United States with a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile.

As for policy options, Revere emphasized: “We need to adopt an approach that we haven’t tried before, and we’ve tried all the others.” Responding to Kim Jong-un’s January 1st claim that North Korea was in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the United States, President Trump tweeted, “It won’t happen!”

However, as Revere grimly concluded: “All of these issues that we have been struggling with, the many crises that have come up over the years, it’s all going to come to a head on this president’s watch.”

So what can the United States do? Revere underscored that we need to do something we’ve never done before; specifically, put at risk the one thing the North Koreans regard as more precious than their nuclear weapons: the stability and survival of their regime. The United States can do this non-kinetically through applying an overwhelming and intense package of sanctions, issuing new financial and trade measures, launching human rights cases, applying military pressure, seizing assets, encouraging dissent and disaffection by North Korean elites, and taking steps to cut off the regime’s financial lifeblood. The goal, Revere concluded, is to convince the North Korean leader that the pursuit of nuclear weapons and missiles is actually undermining the very existence of the regime.