January 3, 2017 | Policy Brief

North Korea’s New Year’s Message

January 3, 2017 | Policy Brief

North Korea’s New Year’s Message

The year 2017 started with new threats from North Korea. In his New Year’s Day address, North Korean leader Kim Jung Un noted that preparations for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test had reached the final stage.

As recently as March, Kim threatened to strike the United States with a nuclear weapon. Under the Obama administration, however, Washington rarely paid attention to threats from the regime in Pyongyang. Indeed, it only seemed to focus on North Korea when Pyongyang conducted a nuclear or missile test. Officials even seemed to minimize those, insisting that it was just the work of “crazy Kim” again.

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted about Kim’s New Year’s Day message, demonstrating that the incoming administration may take Kim’s threats more seriously. If it does, there are four core policies it should consider.

First, we must support our key allies in the region. This, of course, includes South Korea and Japan, but also Australia and other Southeast Asia allies who can help us contain the threat from North Korea. We need to work with these partners to use the Proliferation Security Initiative, a coalition of 105 members dedicated to interdicting WMD materials, or other mechanisms to stymie North Korea’s proliferation activities. The U.S. should further conduct additional high-profile military exercises with these allies as a deterrent to North Korea.

Second, it is time to introduce new sanctions and strengthen existing sanctions on North Korea. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) on Monday noted the importance of “secondary sanctions” and measures to address North Korea’s cyber activities, which would be seen as consequences for North Korea and those that help Pyongyang.

Third, it is time to get tough with China. A ground-breaking study by C4ADS and the Asan Institute for Policy Studies showed that China is turning a blind eye to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. We must treat China as part of the problem until it shows it can be part of the solution. The incoming Trump administration has already vowed to get tough with Beijing. This is an important place to start.

Finally, we should be willing to talk to North Korea anytime and anywhere. Of course, we know that Kim has no interest in giving up his nuclear weapons. And we know he sees renewed negotiations with the West over his arsenal as an opportunity to extract new concessions. We should therefore not engage in negotiations that yield concessions without verifiable changes in behavior from Pyongyang. But it is useful to talk to North Korea directly or in a multilateral format to explain U.S. policy. Pyongyang needs to know what to expect in response to its continued aggression.

It is time to take the North Korea threat seriously. Kim reminded us of this fact with his New Year’s speech. Washington should not wait too long to respond.

Anthony Ruggiero is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


North Korea