Opinion | North Korea Is Not Done Trolling Trump


Pyongyang will never denuclearize voluntarily. Ever. It, too, says that it supports “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but for the North Korean government that is code language for an end to Seoul’s defense treaty with Washington and the withdrawal of American troops and missiles from South Korea. Pyongyang wants nuclear weapons and ICBMs, and lots of both, because these are the indispensable instruments for achieving the unconditional unification the North has been relentlessly pursuing since its surprise attack against the South in June 1950.

If we are to protect ourselves and our allies from North Korea’s evermore credible nuclear blackmail, we must respond now — with an aggressive long-term program to reduce its killing power overseas and eventually neuter the Kim threat. Many of the pieces for such a program are already in place. What is needed now, in the words of David Maxwell, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is “Maximum Pressure 2.0.”

North Korea’s weapons programs are built on a precarious and highly vulnerable economic base. The country arguably is the world’s most distorted and highly dependent economy. It is desperately in need of foreign subsidies and illicit revenue from abroad, and now it is in a sanctions vise. The United States and the United Nations have enacted broad and punitive strictures that are already beginning to throttle Mr. Kim’s war economy, forcing Pyongyang to spend down its foreign currency reserves and strategic stockpiles of food and energy.

The beauty of this trap, from an American standpoint, is that these sanctions cannot be relaxed unless Washington says so: Only Mr. Trump can alter America’s, and the United States can veto any resolution to water down the United Nations sanctions. China and Russia are currently lobbying for relief, but America can brush this off.

Moreover, with our unique resource — the dollar, still the world’s main reserve currency — we can force reluctant sanctioneers to get religion on squeezing the North if they hope to have access to trade and finance in the dollar zone. We have much more leverage on China than many realize, by the way: Numbers from the International Monetary Fund earlier this year show that China transacts a higher share of its trade in American dollars that do Indonesia or Brazil.

Yet with all its summit-chasing over the past year and a half, Washington has been unfathomably lackadaisical about implementing its own sanctions: Since the first Trump-Kim meeting in Singapore in June 2018, the number of people and entities officially designated as sanctions-busters has plummeted. We urgently need to make up for lost time.

Getting serious about paralyzing North Korea’s economy also means cutting off its illegal revenues — from terrorist states and organizations in the Middle East, from cybercrime and from the rackets that its embassies run all over the world with diplomatic immunity. The United States and its allies should also be on a permanent hunt to freeze and seize North Korean assets that are stashed or hidden overseas. The Otto Warmbier North Korea Nuclear Sanctions and Enforcement Act that Congress recently passed and the $500 million court judgment in 2018 against North Korea for Mr. Warmbier’s death bolster our license for this dragnet.

By Nicholas Eberstadt

2020-01-01 11:00:08

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