Thursday, March 30, 2017

Mad rush is the world running out of time to contain North Korea

BY BILL POWELL

One option Trump is considering: expand on the Obama administration’s efforts to disrupt North Korean missile tests using cyberwarfare. A March 4 report in The New York Times says Obama’s Pentagon ramped up such activity aggressively starting in 2014—and had some success in disrupting missile tests. Skeptics of the program, however, say cyber alone probably isn’t enough to derail Pyongyang’s program. They note that by the end of February there had been three successful launches in the last eight months. And on March 6, North Korea tested four intermediate-range missiles—a show of force apparently timed to coincide with long-planned U.S.–South Korean military exercises, which had just begun. Former officials who’ve worked on North Korea policy almost uniformly agree with a former member of Obama’s Defense Department, who says, “There are options when dealing with North Korea, just not really good ones.” In the wake of the VX attack on Kim Jong Nam, it’s almost certain the U.S. will place North Korea back on the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list. (The Bush administration had taken it off in hopes of cutting a nuclear deal in 2008.) But as Bruce Klingner, a former North Korea analyst at the CIA who’s now at the Heritage Foundation, says, that’s mainly part of a “political, naming and shaming policy.’’ It is unclear that Kim would care. Trump is also considering ways to help U.S. allies in  the region bolster their ability to assist the U.S. in interdicting illicit shipments to Pyongyang. As a Council of Foreign Relations report last fall said, North Korea’s skill in evading sanctions and moving forward with its missile program in the face of existing sanctions and interdiction eff orts worries the U.S. and its allies in the region. It’s urgent to figure out ways to make interdiction eff orts in the region more effective, says one Trump adviser, in order to slow down North Korea’s progress.
It’s also almost certain the U.S. will seek to ratchet up international sanctions. Analysts say a likely target is so-called secondary sanctions on the array of Chinese front companies that Pyongyang uses to launder money and import illicit goods for its missile program. But here, as always, the going is likely to get rough. Would the Chinese, Kim’s patron, enforce tightened sanctions that target Chinese companies doing business with North Korean companies? Some note that in the wake of the Kim Jong Nam assassination, Beijing announced a cessation of coal imports from North Korea—a key economic lifeline for the Kim regime. But as usual with Beijing’s policy toward North Korea, it’s not clear how long the coal ban will be in place or what the effects will be. Pyongyang exported a record amount of coal to China in 2016 and doesn’t necessarily need to export more in the near term. Beijing has a coal glut. Whether the ban continues beyond the first quarter will be the true measure of Beijing’s seriousness here.
Cautious optimists say Beijing could go along with the sanctions on Chinese companies doing business on the border with North Korea because not many of them are important, and state-owned, companies. China’s former foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, was recently in Washington pushing for a summit between

Trump and China’s president, Xi Jinping. And while some in Trump’s orbit are skeptical of the early-summit idea, the sense of crisis regarding North Korea makes it more likely that such a meeting will take place.

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