Addressing the North Korean Threat

On August 24, 2017 FDD hosted a breakfast panel discussion titled “Addressing the North Korean Threat.” Moderated by Josh Lederman, from The Associated Press, the discussion featured experts who discussed the rising tensions in East Asia due to recent threats from North Korea and China’s role in sanction evasion.

Tom Malinowski, former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Dr. Jonathan Pollack, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Dr. Samantha Ravich, former Deputy National Security Advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney and senior advisor at FDD’s Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance; and Anthony Ruggiero, former Treasury and State official and FDD senior fellow all offered valuable insight on how to address North Korea’s growing cyber threats, counter its nuclear program, and tackle the regime’s abhorrent human rights abuses.

Pollack noted he doubts any chance of a meaningful discussion between the U.S. and North Korea under the “right conditions.” Specifically, Pollack revealed his skepticism about the chances of talks because of the fact that North Korea would not agree to abandon its nuclear weapons program as a part of a negotiated solution.

Malinowski backed up Pollack’s point by touching on the pressure campaign and how “it’s not going to denuclearize North Korea, but it will make it harder for them to modernize…” Rather than trying to directly change North Korea’s behavior, he emphasized the importance of change from within North Korean society. “There is now a growing subculture in North Korea, not only of consuming this kind of information… but also increasingly includes more sophisticated political information.” Malinowski calls this trend part of a development of a civil society network and advocates for the U.S. to continue creating conditions under which societal influence and change could happen.

Ruggiero further expanded on the pressure campaign to argue that aside from denuclearization, containment itself was not an appropriate strategy. He pushed for the U.S. to move towards the source of the problem: Chinese banks. If Chinese banks do not cooperate, he suggested the U.S. must go after Chinese banks as a pressure measure because of North Korea’s extensive operations inside China. While the increased pressure campaign would not denuclearize North Korea, it could help slow or prevent modernization of weapons systems.

In addition to the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, the panelists segued into confronting the rising cyber threats. North Korea has managed to become a major cyber power and Samantha Ravich added that the ramp up of cyber security is reminiscent of the ramp up of nuclear capabilities almost a decade ago. Ravich highlighted that North Korea’s growing cyber capabilities have made it a “very capable cyber adversary,” and encouraged the U.S. to “be forceful and aggressive in this space” to counter their multi-lateral efforts.

Among other topics, the panel focused on addressing and analyzing the influx of North Korean threats, how sanctions can be used to stem North Korean weapons growth, how to confront the possibility of future peace talks, and whether the U.S. could deter the Kim regime.

You can view the full event video here.

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