Key Points

Washington should continue enforcing sanctions and remain willing to walk away from future dialogue if Pyongyang’s intransigence persists. Just a few months ago, after receiving a private letter from North Korea’s Kim Yong Chol that berated the United States for its stance, President Trump made the right choice to cancel Secretary Pompeo’s trip to North Korea. The Trump administration should consider walking away again to enhance its diplomatic leverage over Pyongyang.

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Washington needs to remind Kim that he also needs to deliver with concrete and credible actions. South Korea and the United States can provide incentives and opportunities that test him. Until Pyongyang delivers, Trump should continue to contain and pressure North Korea by enforcing sanctions to prevent all North Korean illicit activities and sustaining a strong U.S.-South Korea alliance — all while working with South Korea to test Kim’s sincerity as appropriate. Ultimately, as long as the Kim family regime exists, the U.S.-South Korea alliance must maintain a sufficient level of deterrence and defense to guard against any provocation, contingency, or hostile action initiated by the North.

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Yet Singapore must not fall back and drag its feet on sanctions enforcement as it has done in the past. For example, in 2017, a Singaporean court reversed a criminal charge against Chinpo Shipping, a Singaporean company involved in illicit arms trafficking. Washington should urge Singapore and other allies to maintain all avenues of pressure on North Korea to push it toward fully verified denuclearization.

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After Secretary Pompeo’s latest trip to North Korea, Pyongyang’s media outlets suggested U.S.-North Korea relations are improving. Of course, these latest designations, as well as ongoing U.S. diplomatic efforts to ensure international compliance with UN sanctions, could stir further tensions. Despite these risks, the sanctions send a useful message to Pyongyang that the Trump administration will not back down until the Kim regime meets its core demands.

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While North Korea has yet to unleash a large-scale crippling attack on Washington or Seoul, its persistent offensive cyber campaigns demonstrate that Pyongyang’s cyber capabilities improve day by day. North Korea has shown it can penetrate network defenses and even destroy compromised computers. And while North Korea’s cyber army is still a long way from posing an existential threat to the U.S. and its allies, treating cyber as an afterthought could be something Washington and Seoul may later regret.

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EVENT: The Battlefield of Today and Tomorrow: Cyber-Enabled Economic Warfare

November 13, 2018 | 10:00

EVENT: North Korea's Smile Diplomacy: Breakthrough or Déjà Vu?

June 4, 2018 | 12:15