October 6, 2022 | Flash Brief

North Korea Conducts Provocative Missile Launch

October 6, 2022 | Flash Brief

North Korea Conducts Provocative Missile Launch

Latest Developments

North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan on October 3 for the first time in five years. Pyongyang has returned to its robust testing pace of 2017. This latest escalation could signal dictator Kim Jong Un’s intention to carry out further provocations, such as an intercontinental ballistic missile launch or a seventh nuclear test. The United States has called for a UN Security Council meeting, but China and Russia will block any serious actions. The Biden administration should reinvigorate America’s once-robust sanctions on North Korea, whose enforcement has atrophied since 2018.

Expert Analysis

“North Korea’s provocative missile launch highlights that the negotiations-only approach of the Trump and Biden administrations is not working. The Biden administration should increase diplomatic, military, and financial pressure on Pyongyang, including by sanctioning Chinese, Russian, and other individuals, companies, and banks that aid North Korean sanctions evasion.” Anthony Ruggiero, Senior Director of FDD’s Nonproliferation and Biodefense Program, Former National Security Council (NSC) Director for North Korea (2018–2019), and Former NSC Senior Director for Counterproliferation and Biodefense (2019–2021)

Ignoring North Korea Has Consequences

Washington’s approach to North Korea has ebbed and flowed between robust engagement, severe sanctions, and a laissez-faire attitude. North Korea greeted the Trump administration with an unprecedented pace of missile launches and conducted a nuclear test. President Donald Trump responded with “maximum pressure,” but then embraced summit diplomacy with Kim, and the sanctions pressure that brought Kim to the negotiating table withered. President Joe Biden has continued his predecessor’s approach while also adding the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” policy, which allowed Pyongyang to develop its prohibited programs with little interference.

Pyongyang Responds to Pressure

President Barack Obama acknowledged the error of his policy when he increased sanctions on North Korea at the end of his presidency. Biden has been distracted by other foreign-policy priorities and has stated he is willing to meet with Kim, an offer the North Korean dictator has rejected.

The Biden administration’s North Korea sanctions have been inadequate. Last year, the administration issued only one sanctions package. This year, the administration has levied multiple sets of sanctions against Pyongyang but has proven unable or unwilling to attempt to dismantle sanctions-evasion networks — a hallmark of the U.S. approach from 2016 to early 2018.

Biden Should Use His Robust Sanctions Authorities

Following the latest North Korean missile test, the National Security Council rightly declared that the administration seeks to “limit [North Korea’s] ability to advance its prohibited ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction programs, including with allies and UN partners.” While Pyongyang is unlikely to denuclearize in the short term, the United States and its allies can make it harder for the Kim regime to advance these programs.

They should start by sanctioning the Russian, Chinese, and other companies, individuals, and banks that aid Pyongyang’s sanctions evasion, using the robust authorities provided by overwhelming bipartisan congressional majorities in 2016, 2017, and 2019. The allies should then target the Kim regime’s sources of revenue, including its sales of coal and exportation of laborers, both of which are prohibited by UN Security Council sanctions.

Meanwhile, the United States and its allies should strengthen their military pressure on and deterrence of Pyongyang. This should include additional U.S.-South Korea-Japan military exercises like the one held last week.

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