The Rising Threat of a Nuclear North Korea
What to Do About... Series: The Rising Threat of a Nuclear North Korea
Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University; Former Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, U.S. Department of State
Cofounder and Principal, Global Alliance Advisors, LLC; Former Assistant Secretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense (via videoconference)
Managing Director, Korea, Bower Group Asia; Former National Intelligence Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; Former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for East Asia, National Intelligence Council
President, Baruch College; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Counterproliferation Policy, U.S. Department of Defense
Experts discuss U.S. policy options toward North Korea in response to the country’s continued development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the threat the Kim Jong-un regime poses to East Asia and the United States.
The What to Do About... series highlights a specific issue and features experts who will put forward competing analyses and policy prescriptions in a mock high-level U.S. government meeting. This series is made possible through the generous support of Home Box Office.
WALLERSTEIN: Good afternoon. I’m Mitchel Wallerstein. I’m the presider today for this What To Do About… forum on the problem of a nuclear North Korea. I know that each of you have at your seats the bios of our three panelists, so I will simply introduce them very briefly.
To my left, of course, is Ambassador Robert Gallucci, who is a distinguished professor of the practice of diplomacy at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University; better known, however, for being former assistant secretary of state for political military affairs, and also the former president of the MacArthur Foundation.
To his left is Mary Beth—I’m sorry, Sue M. Terry—pardon me, Sue—who is the managing director, Korea, Bower Group Asia; former National Intelligence Fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations; and former deputy national intelligence officer for East Asia at National—of the National Intelligence Council.
And in Washington, we have with us Mary Beth Long, the co-founder and principal of Global Alliance Advisors. And she is also a former assistant secretary of defense, from a previous administration of course.
The format today will be a simulated National Security Council discussion. We will try to make it as realistic as possible, knowing of course that the National Security Council principals have just met recently on this very subject. We will—I’ll direct questions to the panelists for about 40 minutes, and then we will open it to the members for further questions and discussion.
I thought first, however, that I would try to set the scene just a little bit. I know, of course, many of you follow this issue closely, but perhaps others less so. So I have just a few remarks to make just to make sure everyone is sort of up to speed on not only where we are, but how we got here.
Of course, the challenge of dealing with North Korea has existed since the armistice of 1953, but the situation has growing progressively more dangerous as the North has advanced technologically. The situation reached an initial crisis in the early years of the Clinton administration, when North Korea stopped abiding by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and began reprocessing plutonium, presumably for use in developing a crude weapon. However, through some adroit diplomacy—which was led, I would note, by the gentleman seated to my left—the Agreed Framework was reached that temporarily suspended the North’s reprocessing in return for a—and reestablished the right of U.N. inspectors to enter the country in return for shipments of heavy fuel oil and some other quid pro quo benefits. Unfortunately, the Agreed Framework was abandoned by both sides during the first year of the George W. Bush administration amidst mutual allegations of secret—that the North was secretly pursuing a second channel through uranium enrichment, and that the U.S. and its allies had failed to deliver on a number of the benefits that had been promised. Also at this time, the North Koreans formally withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
While there have been various Track II contacts and other backchannel government-to-government approaches during the intervening period, formal diplomatic efforts to negotiate an end to the North Korean nuclear program, which often had been referred to as the six-party talks, have remained in a state of suspended animation since that time. The Obama administration pursued a policy of strategic patience, under which the U.S. chose neither to confront nor engage the DPRK while still signaling its willingness to pursue a diplomatic solution, hoping that the Chinese in particular would convince the North to return to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, as we all know, that policy did not produce the desired results.
Particularly since the succession of Kim Jong-un, the North has taken advantage of this partial diplomatic vacuum to push aggressively to advance both its nuclear weapons capability and its long-range missile delivery capability. There have been three additional nuclear tests, including one that the North claimed was a thermonuclear device, although there are doubts about the veracity of that claim. Clearly, they are striving to engineer a smaller device that will fit atop a warhead and can successfully survive reentry. And despite the U.N. sanctions, the DPRK has conducted numerous missile tests, including just last week a four-missile salvo into the Sea of Japan. They have also tested a rudimentary submarine launch ballistic missile, a road-mobile missile, and a two-stage solid fuel missile.
All of these capabilities taken together would significantly reduce the launch warning time, and therefore make overall security on the Korean Peninsula less stable and more prone to misjudgment and fear of preempted. And perhaps most worrisome, they now appear to be making progress on an engine for a long-range missile known as the KN-08. And there is evidence that they may be preparing for a first test. This would be initially an intermediate range missile, capable of reaching all of the Northeast Asian states, as well as U.S. territories in the Pacific. But the range could then be later extended to make it an intercontinental missile, capable of reaching CONUS.
For the purposes of our simulation, this is probably more than enough background on how we arrived at the present, dangerous state of affairs. As I hardly need point out, the situation is dynamic. And it has potential to deteriorate rapidly into a military confrontation. So with that background, and since we are simulating an NSC discussion, let’s start with the obvious question. Do we agree that given the recent North Korean nuclear and missile tests, if the North is successful in testing a long-range missile delivery system capable of ranging CONUS, we will have reached a critical national security threshold that requires a different kind of political-military response from the United States?
I would invite each of our NSC representatives to address this question and to provide their overall assessment of the level of threat currently posed by the North Koreans. Mary Beth, we’ll start with you in Washington.
LONG: Can you hear me?
WALLERSTEIN: Hold on, no sound. OK, now? Try again.
LONG: Great. Can you hear me now?
WALLERSTEIN: Yes. Thank you.
Taking all that you said, and taking I’m representing in this National Security Council meeting, I think, the Defense Department, where I was the assistant secretary as part of this portfolio, I think there’s two things that I would add, Mr. President or National Security Advisor, to put into that equation.
And the first, of course, is the secretary of state’s visit to the region, which is critical at this particular period of time. And he’ll be meeting with our Japanese and other allies. And we need to be able to convey something to them, that of course will have a Chinese and a North Korean audience as well. And so I think the timing is important, that we have a policy that we articulate from the White House. The second thing I’d like to take into consideration is there’s a—I think there’s a matter of urgency here that is sort of opaque, but just to be very clear that in 2016 there were a grand total of about 21 ballistic missile tests by the North Koreans that were in violation of U.N. resolution. And this year alone there have been five in the 69 days that have demonstrated an increasing tempo and an increasing range, that we need to act, I believe, upon immediately.
And the first thing I think we need to do is have a policy that talks about a declared collective security declaration, that will provide assurances both to South Korea and to Japan. Having this declared declaration will also give a framework within which we can talk to both the Chinese and the North Koreans, as far as what we’re going to do militarily and diplomatically. Since my bailiwick is more the military, I think it’s—everyone can conclude there’s been no demonstrative improvements whatsoever by approaching this from a diplomatic perspective. The one consistency in the last 40-plus years has been we have never taken any kind of defense of aggressive movement toward North Korean testing. I think it’s time to do so.
One of the things, of course, as we all know, is the Terminal High Altitude Area intercept, the missile defense apparatus that will be placed in South Korea and operational in about April. I think in that respect, that is signaling to the North Koreans, the South Korean, the Chinese and others that we’ll be able to take active measures. But I think we need to have a dialogue with the Chinese to make sure that they understand that that is going to go into place and operational, and its intent is to intercept only the North Koreans. I think we need to have a dialogue with the Chinese, that we wouldn’t be in this position if China had been serious about stemming its support to North Korea. It has not done so. And thus, they’re as responsible for the THAAD having to be taken into place as anyone else is.
And I think we need to reexamine whether we declare that we will intercept on—while it is on the pad or in flight any further missile that is launched by South Korea, particularly any of those with the range or the payload beyond the scud that we’ve all been living with. And I believe we need to do so at an increased tempo, Mr. President, because of Tillerson’s visit. It’s time to lay down the groundwork and a framework, and some—I hate to use the term—but redlines through which this administration will therefore go forward and approach this particular problem.
Over to you, my colleagues from the interagency.
WALLERSTEIN: Thank you, Madam Secretary. Let me now turn to—since Secretary Tillerson is expected to make a visit to the region shortly, let me call upon our State Department representative, Ambassador Gallucci.
GALLUCCI: This this is an NSC meeting, it is highly classified and I can speak freely. (Laughter.) Of the many good ideas that the representative from the Defense Department, Mary Beth, put out, was the exciting one of shooting down a long-range ballistic missile test by the North Koreans. I like that, as a diplomat, if it were to work. And I don’t if it were not to work. (Laughter.) So I’d really like to hear what the odds are that we would succeed at shooting down a missile, rather than demonstrating that we can’t. So that—and if we could have a high chance of shooting it down, then I might be interested in that and think that would be a neat thing to do.
I would make a really sharp line—red or other color—between shooting down a launched missile and shooting down a missile, quote, “on the pad,” or, as I think we are calling it these days, left of launch. That’s a bit more exciting. And it’s not a preemptive strike, it’s a preventive strike, in the arcane technology—linguistics of this. And I think we should have a full and thorough conversation with our allies, who are likely to bear the brunt of a response were we to do something that exciting.
But what I’m really trying to say here is that the first part of Mary Beth’s suggestion I don’t have any—I don’t take exception to whatever at all. The second part, about what we actually do, if we do something more exciting I’d like a lot more conversation about how that actually goes down, what we anticipate as a response, where our allies are on this, and whether we’re prepared to get civilians out of that country—because it takes a long time to do that—and are we ready to go to war. And if we’re not, what the hell are we talking about?
WALLERSTEIN: Thank you. It is worth, of course, noting that Seoul is 26 miles from the demilitarized zone, and easily within range of both multiple-launch rocket systems and long-range artillery, not to mention shorter-range ballistic missiles.
Let me finally turn to the representative of the intelligence community and ask that you provide some perspective along those lines.
TERRY: Well, I think what’s been missing in this conversation is whoever Secretary Tillerson’s going to meet in South Korea is not going to be the next leader of South Korea. South Korea right now is going through enormous political turmoil. I’m sure we both—we know Park has been impeached. And South Korea will hold an election in 60 days, where they will elect a new leader. And it now looks like it’s going to be a progressive candidate, Moon Jae-in or another gentleman named An Hee-hung, who is going to take over, who’s rising in the polls. But there is no conservative candidate who will take over, because former secretary-general of the U.N., Ban Ki-moon, has dropped out of the race.
So what I’m saying is while we deal with these various options, what we have to think about is how are we going to get South Korea, a very different Blue House that’s going to pursue a different North Korea policy, on board, because obviously we have to coordinate with South Korea. Is South Korea going to be OK with our various proposals that we’ve just been talking about? I mean, Jae-in has said—not only did he say that he might reconsider THAAD deployment, he said he will reopen Kaesong Industrial complex, the joint complex the North and South ran until President Park closed it last year. And he has also said that he will probably pursue a policy—sunshine policy version number two, which is seeking engagement with North Korea.
So I think while we have these discussions, I think it’s very important to keep that in mind, and consider how we are going to do alliance management, because it’s been easy under President Park. President Park and we have been on the same page for a while. Under President Lee Myung-bak also we’ve been on the same page. It’s been now about nine and a half years that we’ve been on the same page. And it’s so important when we’re talking about North Korea policy that there’s no daylight between our allies and us. And every time—and this is what North Korea loves to do, brilliantly, is to divide and conquer. Look at what they’re doing right now between China and South Korea over THAAD deployment. So I just think the alliance issue is something that we have to think about very carefully.
Just one other thing, since giving—I’m giving an intel briefing, that we are very concerned about this long-term—I guess, not so long-term—is potential for nuclear proliferation once North Korea achieve this capability. Already U.N., just this month, came up with a report saying—and I think Wall Street Journal just reported it last week as well—that North Korea tried to sell this lithium metal, lithium-6, which is a key material used in the development of miniaturizing nuclear weapons. So this is something that we have to consider, what we can do as his stockpile grows, and has increasing confidence or bloated sense of self-confidence after he achieves this capability to attack New York or Washington with intercontinental ballistic missile, armed with a nuclear warhead. So nuclear proliferation is another thing that we have to think about as we come up with various policy options.
WALLERSTEIN: It’s kind of a perverse outcome of the sanctions as well, that if other avenues of generating important change are cut off—
TERRY: Particularly when the money dries up, there is a concern for—North Korea is a serial proliferator. We know that. It has proliferated everything and anything under the sun for money. So this is not a far—you know, this is a real—very real scenario that we have to contend with.
WALLERSTEIN: Right. While you have the floor—I’m sorry, Mary Beth, did you want to comment?
LONG: No, go ahead. I think actually that proliferation problem is worth commenting about. I mean, I know I came out swinging, but this is a new administration. And I’d be very interested from my colleagues for alternatives. You know, we’ve basically—the status quo isn’t working. Two weeks ago North Korea proclaimed that it launched an anti-ballistic missile—or, excuse me—that was capable of a nuclear warhead. The launches appeared to fall, or be capable of falling, within 200 miles of Japan. This is not just about what South Korea’s government, if it ever gets itself together in the next couple months, is willing and able to do, nor Japan.
We already have forces in the area, in the arena, in the region, that are at risk today or next week. What are we willing to do to protect those forces as a U.S. decision? And arguably, North Korea is within months—and at this pace even more rapidly—of being able to reach our West Coast. Are we going to wait until California gets a direct hit for us to ask the Blue House to come up with a policy that we all can live with? I mean, I just think some alternative to a kinetic solution that isn’t status quo is warranted. And I haven’t heard anything.
WALLERSTEIN: Fair point, and one that we should pursue further in this discussion. Bob, you look pensive.
GALLUCCI: Pensive? Fine, I’ll accept that. On the proliferation point, and drawing redlines point, and your initial question—you don’t remember it—but your initial question was whether this was sort of a new game, when the North Koreans come to be able to attack the continental United States with an ICBM, with a nuclear warhead aboard. Is that—does that change everything, was I think the way you—and you want to talk more about that. And I want to put out two propositions. One that, it doesn’t—it’s a change, but it doesn’t change everything.
That we have lived with exquisite vulnerability for 70 years to ICBMs. We’ve never been able to shoot down an ICBM, and we still can’t. And we’ve lived with 30,000 Soviet warheads aimed at us. And we have lived with Russian warheads still aimed at us. And we live with Chinese warheads aimed at us. And a beginning proposition is we can live with North Korean warheads aimed at us. We’ve never been able to shoot them down. Still can’t shoot them down. So the discussion, if it’s going to go kinetic, is going to be: What do you do to stop them from launching this? And that—it’s hard to imagine something kinetic that does not mean war. And I want to keep using that word so that we don’t clean that up at all.
So I want to put—begin to answer your question by saying, one can say that we think deterrence worked for 70 years. We never know when deterrence works. We only know when it fails. But we think it works, right? And it may even work on Kim Jong-un. It may. And that’s maybe all that we can do with ICBMs. I’m not sure we can do much with IRBMs and MRBMs. But we certainly aren’t in the ICBM business, I don’t think, right now.
Second, there is something that we need to worry about, where deterrence cannot be expected to work. And that’s your point, Sue. And that is what the North Koreans did in Syria, where they transferred a plutonium production reactor. Now, that plutonium ends up with ISIS or someplace else, if it had gotten—you all know that, about this transfer? The Israeli version of a nonproliferation policy stopped that program. And there is no Syrian plutonium production reactor. But there would have been. And the material would have been available to terrorist groups. And we don’t have a way of deterring attacks from terrorist groups. We just don’t. The only way we’ve got to provide for our security is defense and a classic denial posture. And that’s hard to do, we discovered at 9/11 and other times.
So I would say, if we’re thinking of redlines, my redline would actually be drawn over something that the North Koreans have already done, and we failed, I think, to convey to them the depth of our concern about that. And I would prefer to begin there and say: The transfer of nuclear weapons-relevant material—and I got to look harder at the lithium issue. It is relevant for multistage thermonuclear weapons, but I just got to look harder at that. But the only one I’m most aware of is the Syrian case.
And in that case, I think we need to—we should have been and still can make the point that that is an unacceptable trigger to a unilateral U.S. action. And I want to say that rather than redline, because it’s not a trigger to going to the Congress. It’s not a trigger to being appalled. (Laughter.) It’s a trigger to a kinetic act which the United States would take independently and unilaterally. It’s that kind of a threat to our security that we cannot really manage any other way. The missile test is another matter. And I remain concerned about what we might decide to do, if we decided to do it without the proper preparation.
WALLERSTEIN: If I can just clarify one point you made. You seem to be drawing a distinction between responding to an ICBM threat versus an intermediate-range or short-range missile threat. Clearly, from the standpoint of our Northeast Asian allies, they are—they have to live with the intermediate and short-range threat today. So how do we avoid making it look like it’s only about when they can reach CONUS?
GALLUCCI: So as we say on Long Island, where I come from, yeah but. (Laughter.) Yeah, but for the threat to Japan and to the ROK from MRBM, we have an obvious answer. And that answer is deterrence. And they don’t have any reason to question any more than the Europeans had all those years that we could respond that way, right, to a North Korean act, when the North Koreans can’t reach us. Extended deterrence becomes an interesting proposition when we, ourselves, who propose to extend deterrence, vulnerable to attack. Prior to that point, we are much more easily thought credible than afterwards. Once we become vulnerable—if you want to know what changes, it is the credibility of our assurance. And that’s the sense in which I mean it.
WALLERSTEIN: An important clarification. Other thoughts from our other panelists about whether Kim Jong-un is susceptible to classic deterrence approaches? We don’t know very much about his thinking, do we?
TERRY: Well, no. Honestly, from an intelligence perspective reading intentions, just in general for any country, is one of the hardest things to get at. But as you know, on North Korea, let’s face it. The truth is we don’t really know what’s in Kim Jong-un’s head, right? We don’t have that kind of intel at all. And so I remain very concerned that he doesn’t understand how we normally understand deterrence and nuclear deterrence, and that the value of having nuclear weapons is in its strategic non-use.
So I’m very concerned about Kim Jong-un potentially miscalculating, and that leading to further escalation and conflict. Jeffrey Lewis wrote a very scary foreign policy piece very recently saying Kim Jong-un is preparing for nuclear first strike offense capability and program. And so that was a very scary wake-up call. But because in a crisis kind of conflict, he—Kim Jong-un may calculate that overwhelming first use, and inflicting massive casualty on us, would somehow deter us from invading North Korea. So I think this is something that we do have to think about.
I would just say one thing to Mary Beth’s comments, just to clarify, on the South Korea comment. It’s not that I disagree with what Mary Beth suggested. It’s just that we have to think about whether we want to do this unilaterally or you’re going to South—because I see next Blue House—having extreme difficulty getting next Blue House on board with any kind of kinetic effort, because it’s Seoul that’s going to be devastated. That’s a really hard sell, even for a conservative government. So that’s what I’m saying is something that we have to decide early on what we’re going to do about that, if South Korea protests very heavily.
WALLERSTEIN: Thank you. Mary Beth, did you want to weigh in on the deterrence point?
LONG: No. I just—I don’t disagree with anything either of my colleagues submitted. On the deterrence, I do think, you know, there’s a—there’s a great CFR publication by an independent taskforce, “A Sharper Choice on North Korea,” that came out this summer. And I happened to be one of the participants in that. And I think of all the members of the group, the one thing that I think we can conclude is North Korea, writ large, that deterrence hasn’t proven an effective strategy on a lot of things, but particularly on its missile and its nuclear programs.
And number two, as to this particular leader, he is a bit ambiguous. But what he has demonstrated is a brutality and lethality that is even—puts his predecessors to shame. And that given the pace of his testing and his defiance of U.N. orders, that the only fair assumption is to make that there’s no indication that he will, A, comply with a general deterrence approach and, B—and I think our intel analyst approach is correct—there’s very little understanding that he even understands the concept of deterrence. So to go forward, again, with more deterrent-related conversations, in light of the fact that we’ve been doing that for four decades, doesn’t seem to be a path to—in this particular point in time—to address the urgency of missiles that are unprecedented in their scope and their—and their reach, literally falling from the skies on a monthly basis, soon to reach not only U.S. allies but U.S. troops. Something in the short term needs to convey a message if you accept the proposition that we’ve been unsuccessful in deterring the current leader from continuing his missile tests.
WALLERSTEIN: Thank you. I want to shift the conversation back to diplomacy for a moment. We probably have general agreement that since the Clinton administration diplomacy has been basically the only way to make progress with the North Koreans, in large part because all of the kinetic solutions, at least that I’m aware of, do carry, as you were implying Mary Beth, a significant risk given the proximity of the two countries, the, I think, it’s 10 million or 12 million people who live in Seoul or to the north of Seoul. So these are enormous risks that would be run if there is a—if we have to resort to a military solution.
Bob, you’ve been a key leader of the diplomatic track for decades now. And I’d pose to you the question: Do you see a viable—emphasis on the word viable—diplomatic and economic option for stopping and potentially rolling back the DPRK weapons and missile programs, given how far they’ve advanced? And mindful of the diplomatic history, which you know better than almost anyone, including the breakdown in the subsequent administration of the agreed framework, what would be the basis for expecting a different outcome this time?
GALLUCCI: I can’t think of anything that would lead you to expect a different outcome. I can think of some things that might lead you to hope for one.
WALLERSTEIN: I have great hope. (Laughter.)
GALLUCCI: So if we can make that small change, and take all the emphasis you put on the word viable out—(laughter)—we’re beginning to shape up a question that I’m prepared to answer. (Laughter.)
WALLERSTEIN: Have at it.
GALLUCCI: So it has always been of interest to me—there are many things about North Korea I don’t know—that happen, that I’d love to understand better. And we did a deal in 1994 that stopped an operating reactor that was producing plutonium, stopped the reprocessing facility that was separating plutonium from the spent fuel, stopped the construction of two other reactors that were under construction that would have produced more plutonium. And we think that if all that had gone ahead and we hadn’t done the deal, they would have had—been producing about 100 nuclear weapons a year by the end of the 2000. Instead, they were producing none and to the best of our knowledge had none.
So we think, wow. We did something in 1994 that actually stopped the program. And then, of course, two years after that, 2002, when the North Koreans were confronted with their what we would call cheating on the deal with Pakistan and the Iranian enrichment, it fell apart and the North Koreans began building nuclear weapons from plutonium and eventually, we think, from uranium through the enrichment program they got from the Pakistanis. All this history’s relevant because you asked the question, you know, what would make you think something different would happen now?
Well, the thing that we think—or some of us think led the North Koreans to make the deal to stop the weapons program when the weapons program was going to give them a deterrent to deal with our propensity, as they saw it, to conduct regime change when we didn’t like a country’s regime—and the North Koreans have said, you did it with the Iraqis, you did it with the Libyans, and we don’t want you doing it to us. So we’re going to have nuclear weapons, so you can’t do regime change, OK? So the question is, what other than nuclear weapons could give them the confidence? What gave them the confidence in ’94?
They thought they were getting a political relationship with the United States of America that would make our effort at regime change not plausible or necessary. They didn’t get that. And they hedged. They started very low-key with the Pakistanis, and just technology really. And then eventually, by the summer of 2002, they were in full-blown get centrifuges, because they were confident—they had just been told they were part of the axis of evil, that the jig is up. There is no confidence in the American assurance they weren’t going to change that regime.
So all this is to say, Mitch, that the only way I think of to have a negotiation that doesn’t look like past failed negotiations is to give the North Koreans something that would give them the assurance that they didn’t have to worry about us changing their regime. And the only thing that would do that would be a new relationship with the United States in which there was not a situation of hostility. And the only way to do that is to have regime change. (Laughter.) A kind of regime change, in which the regime doesn’t look like it looks now. I cannot imagine a relationship with North Korea that is normal, when North Korea is a totalitarian state that tortures its own people. It’s just—so.
Just as 20 years ago we ran away from—we, government-types—ran away from the human rights community over North Korea, we didn’t want to deal with human rights. Nuclear weapons are hard enough, thank you very much, I don’t want to fix human rights. Wrong answer was the one we had then, but it’s the wrong answer now. Now the only way is to get the North Koreans to move in a direction of a normal state that can have a normal relationship with the United States because this condition of hostility is not based—and I say this as a structural realist—sort of a structural realist, this view—there’s nothing about our relationship that’s permanent in the international system of hostility. This is not a geopolitical thing. But it certainly is a political thing. And a normal relationship is not possible absent an evolution in their human rights position. So all this is to—a long way of getting to I can’t imagine actually answering you in the positive if you don’t do something about the human rights policy. And then I could.
WALLERSTEIN: And is any of that possible under the current leader of North Korea, given his recent behavior with eliminating his half-brother and other actions?
GALLUCCI: Let’s say they have some distance to go. (Laughter.)
WALLERSTEIN: OK. We will stipulate that. Mary Beth, if diplomacy fails, or if it becomes impossible even to engage successfully, some time, as I’ve suggested, in the not-too-distant future they are going to cross these critical thresholds. So the question then becomes what is an appropriate graduated military response, where we can perhaps signal through a series of steps what our intentions are and, as Bob has suggested, these redlines and maybe come to some understanding in the diplomatic context. So I would ask that you perhaps give us the benefit of your views on what you see as viable elements of a military response—more THAAD systems, shooting down a test launch outside the borders of North Korea, et cetera. What are your thoughts on that?
LONG: I think, agreeing with Bob, in that, you know, for whatever reason, successive attempts—whether it’s the Six-Party Talks under the Bush administration or the renewed talks under the Obama administration, we have not been able to find a path to somehow a normalization of relations with North Korea. And given the current leader’s assassination of his brother, increasingly horrible human rights track record, and I think a threat against a British politician or someone just recently as over the weekend, that that’s in the offing. So diplomatically I don’t think there are a lot of options left on the table. Without being too glib, it is a fact that in the last 40 years the U.S. has not credibly had all options on the table, in that we have not undertaken any form of graduated or proportionate response to a number of different kinetic or aggressive military-style activities on the part of North Korea.
So certainly having a policy that credibly puts all options on the table would be step one, in conjunction with diplomatic and the other—and the other policies. But tucked up in there, something that’s credible, that puts all kinetic and all responses on the table, proportionate and otherwise.
Secondly, a hardening of our neighbors—our allies, excuse me, the South Koreans, the Japanese. And a very pointed engagement of the Chinese as to how we got here, meaning Chinese continued support of the North Koreans; and what the U.S. considers from a multilateral as well as a bilateral response going into the future, given the fact that at a minimum we have to look at now the imperiled U.S. presence as well as our West Coast in the very near term, which is a different scenario than previous conversations with the Chinese vis-à-vis their North Korean relations and their role bilaterally as well as multilaterally.
There are proportionate responses in the cyber realm that we have not undertaken. It’s also a very important part of what North Korea is doing to not only us but to our allies in the region. There are also proportionate responses in the asymmetric warfare range, where we could do a lot more to signal, again credibly, that we are willing, as are our allies, to have some kind of proportionate response to, for example, North Korean incursions in Korean water and Korean territories. Some of the other—I don’t want to go into it here, I don’t want to get into what’s classified and what’s not classified—but there have not been credible asymmetric approaches there as well.
And then also, as part of a collective security declaration, credibly put on the table the concept that the U.S. will either multilaterally or bilaterally—there’s a lot of water, as we’ve all talked about—take out, and again not preemptive, I agree with Bob about that, a missile in violation—that appears to be in violation of the United Nations’ restrictions, and that credibly threatens U.S. forces in the region, as well as those of our allies. But there are, of course, economic and other restrictions that have not particularly been robustly enforced over the years.
I think there are kinetic ways of interdiction of ships that we’ve only done a little bit of, given the paucity of U.S. and other assets to actually interdict some of the North Korean trade. We could ramp up on those. There are interdiction measures along the lines of the proliferation that we’ve found out about as a—sort of a lessons learned on the Syrian initiative, as well as the recent German and other reports of the lithium. So kinetic-style or law enforcement-style, for lack of a better term, interdiction of those measures. Those can all be escalated to, you know, the ultimate being either the intercept or the strike.
So I think there’s a lot of options on the table that we need to talk about.
WALLERSTEIN: Thank you. In the interests of time, I’m going to turn now to our three panelists to ask for your closing thoughts and recommendations on future U.S. policy. And, Sue, I—because we’re running a little short of time, I was going to ask you to comment on the China angle, particularly some of these—you know, the Chinese cutting off of the coal relationship, whether or not it was a real thing or not, and the proposal last week about a quid pro quo for the cessation of the military exercises. Maybe you can work that into your comments as well. Why don’t I give you the floor first.
TERRY: Well, the issue with China is we know China is—China wants denuclearization of North Korea—in North, but its priorities continues to be different from us, right? So their priority, no war, no instability, no nukes, and in that descending order, means they seek peace and stability and then denuclearization. So and that has not fundamentally shifted. That kind of thinking—90 percent of North Korea’s trade is still with China, international trade. China provides 90 percent of, you know, its imports, all of this. Even with the coal—the ban on coal import, that’s a tactical, temporary move.
And we don’t see that as a strategic shift because—and there’s a number of reasons why China might have done that. One, we have the new administration in Washington and China, Xi Jinping, might want to show goodwill, if you will, with Trump, saying, oh, we can probably work with you on North Korea. There is also the China—various China experts are saying, well, China is shifting away from burning too much coal anyway. And, if you look at the data, China has already imported bulk of North Korean coal. In the first seven weeks of 2017, China imported 2 million tons of coal. So they’ve already reached that maximum that’s allowed for China under UNSC resolution.
So I don’t—I just don’t see China as having really shifted its outlook and policy towards North Korea. It’s just all tactical. Now, we know that Xi Jinping is not happy with Kim Jong-un. And we have an opportunity next month when Xi Jinping comes and meet with the president at Mar-A-Largo, and we’ll see if a deal can be made, because president has said numerous times that we’ll make China deal with North Korea. But if we fail in that, let’s press China as hard as we can. But if we fail in that, I think what we have to think about as another policy option is how—what’s our critical will? How far are we going to pursue in terms of sanctions? Are we going to pursue secondary sanctions, for example, against Chinese entities and other third-party entities that continues to deal with North Korea? And that’s, I think, another option that we have to think about.
Finally, I would just say, since this is a private NSC meeting that’s not going to get leaked to press—(laughter)—I think the thing that we have to think about that we have not talked about when we are talking about all options on the table is the possibility of regime change or why is not that on the table if we’re talking about a lethal strike or military option? Shouldn’t that be a concern? We too—I think too often we think short term. We don’t have any kind of long-term strategy. What is it that we want with two Korean? What is it that we really want with North Korea?
I disagree with Bob in this one sense. I don’t think, honestly—we can do all the pressuring, and I’m a big proponent for pressure and everything else. But at the end of the day, with this leadership, North Korea is not going to denuclearize, it’s not going to give up nuclear weapons, human rights situation is not going to change. He just killed his brother in an international airport using WMD. So I think we are—(laughter)—we are engaging in completely wishful thinking if we think any of this is really going to be possible under this leadership. So since we are putting all options on the table, let’s think about how can we get a different leadership or to unification, which should be a long-term goal of our—for the region and for the United States.
WALLERSTEIN: Thank you.
Mary Beth, we’ll ask you for your concluding thoughts and recommendations next.
LONG: I join my intel analyst colleague. I think realistically there’s not a lot of options on the table. And most importantly, I think China has made the decision—I think she’s right—China’s made the decision to support North Korea. And we can see whether China’s willing to change that, but we can’t have U.S. policy basically held hostage to Chinese long-term and short-term decisions regarding North Korea. Xi has decided and Xi is supporting North Korea. Now, whether Xi tactically wants to give President Trump something to work with, that’ll be interesting. But I’m not sure that it’ll make any conclusive difference with what North Korea is doing.
I mean, right now we’re in a critical time when our president is new and being tested. And he’s going to be tested further by the North Koreans and perhaps the Iranians. But most people’s bet are that the North Koreans are going to continue to test him. So we need to have a policy with options sooner rather than later. And I do think regime change should be back on the table. And I’ll leave it at that.
WALLERSTEIN: Thank you. Bob, you have clean up here. What’s the magic bullet?
GALLUCCI: Well, we in the State Department are used to representing the wishful thinking, and so—(laughter)—I’m happy to—happy take that on. So let me start with, first, I like pressing China. Second, I like tougher sanctions. Third, don’t confuse either of those things with a successful policy. I mean, they’re both good ideas, and I hope Secretary Tillerson does both of those things on this trip. And I’m for both of those things. But as Sue pointed out, you know, we have some history here of what the priorities are in Beijing. And they’re not ordered the way we would like them to be, and they’re not going to change.
And I also—and I don’t think we can force them to change, with all respect to the negotiating capability of the negotiator in chief. And I don’t—I don’t see sanctions, if you haven’t fixed the China problem, as either doing either of the two things y’all want sanctions to do: Stop the WMD program missiles and nukes, you know, or bring down the regime. Not going to happen. Put those aside. Go for them. Do them. But it’s not a solution to this problem.
Kinetic things. My only plea about kinetic things is that we be—have some clarity about, A, the difference between preemption and prevention and that we know whether ethically, morally, and prudentially we want to get into the preventive world. I’m all for preemption. If we think they’re—you know, if Sue runs into the White House and says: They’re going to launch an ICBM and I have reason to believe this is not a test, sign me up for preemption, absolutely, right? If it’s another test, and you want to take out that missile, and you believe it’s a test, it is not preemption. It is a preventive strike. And you’ve decided that’s how you’re going to conduct your foreign policy.
If that’s what we’re going to do, because we can’t think of anything better, then I would suggest we think back about what we did in June of 1994, where we started the cable traffic on getting Americans and those countries with whom we have arrangements with to do for their nationals out of Seoul, because as soon as you start to even talk about that, trust me, you have everybody’s attention—beginning with the ROK, and then the DPRK, and ultimately the Japanese too, not to mention the United States of America.
So I don’t know how many Americans you bring along to going to war on the Korean Peninsula because you couldn’t think of anything else to do to stop their ballistic missile development. I just think before you leap to that, you really have to figure out whether this is something that’s politically viable in the region, with our allies, where they will feel it most, and with the American people, because I don’t think we’ve prepared them for this. That leads us to negotiations and wishful thinking and Department of State. (Laughter.) So I don’t think any of what I said would be easy to do.
You want a prescription at the end here? The prescription for me is without preconditions, get together for discussions about negotiations, right? Not negotiations. Discussions about negotiations without preconditions, in which we express what we need out of this. That we are not going to get into a long-term negotiation with the DPRK unless their nuclear weapons program is on the table, because if we do that and their nuclear weapons program is not on the table, then we have just legitimized their nuclear weapons program. We have just then told Japan and South Korea that we appreciate them committing themselves not to have nuclear weapons while we get into a negotiation with their archenemy on how they can keep their nuclear weapons. Implausible to me to be a credible ally and do that.
So what I’m saying is something very hard. You don’t go into a permanent negotiation with the North Koreans unless you have in principle the objective of North Korean returning to non-nuclear weapon status. And that, for me, is going to have to mean addressing the human rights issue. Now, before you all run out of the room with the human rights issue, this does not mean North Korean turns into a Jeffersonian democracy, OK? I mean, we have relations with countries whose human rights records aren’t, let’s say, ideal. I mean, think Saudi Arabia. I mean, this is a closed meeting. I can say that. Or other countries with whom we have some pretty close relations, and we do not have the same kind of relationship—or same kind of understanding about what human rights standards are internationally.
But we need to make progress there. And if we can say those words, and if we can get a discussion with the North, I think it’s worthwhile. I don’t mean right after a missile test. We might want a decent interval. But it doesn’t have to be very long. It’s mostly for domestic support in the United States, so we are not buckling under to the pressure of the North Koreans. But I see that as a way to go. And if that doesn’t work, then I am deeply committed to containment and our alliances, and making sure that containment works, our alliances work, and we pay proper attention to what’s required for deterrence, because we do not know—as Mitch has said—what the North Korean leader thinks nuclear weapons are good for. We know what they’re good for and their limits. We don’t know what he thinks.
WALLERSTEIN: Thank you, Bob.
Thanks to all three panel members for participating in this simulation.
We now open it up to the members for questions. Let me remind you that we are on the record. And I ask that when you stand, wait for the microphone to be delivered, and give us your name and affiliation. So we’ll start with Winston Lord.
Q: Winston Lord, International Rescue Committee and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.
I think we can all agree there are no good options left and it’s going to be even hard to pursue a tough option, which I would prefer, with the coming situation in South Korea. Having said that, what is wrong with the following policy as being least bad? And I think the State Department position is the second-least bad. But I think this is even less least-bad. (Laughter.) The North Korean high-ranking defector said that China’s the problem, and you could give Kim $10 trillion, he wouldn’t change his mind.
So if you have the following—I’ll make this quick, because you want questions not presentations. But I do—it is a major question. Let’s assume that incentives haven’t worked, we’ve tried them all. Let’s assume sanctions haven’t really been tried, and the Chinese have undercut them. How about a policy which really is regime change, but you wouldn’t call it that, where you ratchet up Iran-type sanctions and secondary sanctions and choking foreign exchange and hitting Chinese interests immediately, not incrementally? You flood the North with outside information as the defector has urged. You set up cyber efforts. You strengthen defense, missile systems. And you do this across the board to get not only North Korean attention, because the only thing they prize higher than nukes is survival; and you get Chinese attention because you really start hitting their interests.
And one of three things might happen. One, as a bare minimum, you complicate their program. You do counterproliferation and all this other stuff, follow up on the U.N. Human Rights Commission, et cetera. Secondly, you might get them back to the table along the lines you wish. And I assume you’re talking about a freeze as well as ultimate de-nukes. And thirdly, you might get regime change—at least you increase the odds for that, which is the only way, in my opinion, to solve not only the nuke question, but the human rights question.
TERRY: Yes. I’m 100 percent in agreement with everything that you said, verbatim. I would just—you mentioned—
Q: (Off mic.)
TERRY: No, no. No, no. (Laughter.) I just—want to just add one more thing, which is the North Korean defector, the high-ranking North Korean defector who defected to South Korea from U.K., Thae Yong Ho, last year, he talk also a lot about elite disunity, that elites are not as tight as it used to be before. He talked about high-level of elite defection to South Korea. That has increased last year, and more are coming. And combine that fact with information flowing into North Korea, it’s not the same situation anymore.
So I think we really need to target two things. Get more information into North Korea to get people—not only get South Korean DVDs and so on for people to watch, but ability for people to get mobilized, because there’s zero capability for North Korean people to get mobilized. And then, also, target the elites. And I think this is very important. Information to target the elites to say two things. One is pursuing this policy will not lead you to stability; it will create upheaval, and for your own life, this is not going to work. Secondly, I think you need to give an alternate pathway to elites to say, should you defect, there is a better life for you waiting, maybe an immunity for some of the things that they have done. And so I think this is kind of—this double campaign to get both the information in and pressure and get a more—you know, and targeting the elites I think would be a very good solution.
WALLERSTEIN: Good. Let me—let me try to get some other questions in. Yes, sir?
Q: Stephen Blank.
Is it possible to push for regime change without actually leading to the collapse of the state? And if the state collapses, what is our views on the future evolution of the peninsula as a whole?
WALLERSTEIN: Who wants to take that on? Sue, you may be best-qualified to do that.
GALLUCCI: I yield.
TERRY: The question is elite—whether it’s—it would lead to regime collapse?
WALLERSTEIN: Regime collapse and then what follows afterward. Would it be reunification or something—
TERRY: With regime collapse. First of all, regime change, it was—it could have been, if Kim Jong-nam and other—this is exactly why Kim Jong-nam has been gotten rid of, because I think it could have been a possibility to potentially have a different leadership headed by somebody like Kim Jong-nam. He’s not the only person, but he has some sort of legitimacy as the oldest son of Kim Jong-il. And Kim Jong-un knew that; that’s why he got rid of him. So regime change and regime collapse is not the same thing.
With regime collapse, of course, there are a lot of studies that have been done that suggest potentially huge consequences for the region, like number one challenge will be finding WMD, securing WMD, humanitarian crisis, refugee flows, and so on. But I think eventually when you go through those challenges, you are looking at a unified Korea. And again, there are a lot of work that has been showing both challenges and potential benefits to unification. And in the end, I think that is the only real long-term solution—which, of course, I mean South Korean-led unification.
Q: Do we have much experience with fine-tuning regime change? (Laughter.)
WALLERSTEIN: Yeah, but none of it good. (Laughter.)
OK. Yes, right here. Then I’ll move to the back.
Q: Bettye Musham.
Since our leader in North Korea is healthy and young, maybe a better thing to do is to look at who’s aiding and abetting his ability to make these weapons and cut off the supply.
WALLERSTEIN: Anyone want to react to that?
GALLUCCI: My appreciation of the North Korean nuclear weapons program and its ballistic missile program is that it’s largely—as compared to some other countries, largely indigenous at this point. I mean, I yield to my colleagues, but I’ve looked at that pretty closely. And we could have other cases in which that’s not true, but in the North Korean case it largely is true.
TERRY: Yeah. I mean, they got a lot of Soviet and Chinese help, but right now they are—they are independent. They have their own capability. So it’s too late.
Q: Too late.
WALLERSTEIN: Back on the side there. Yes?
Q: Thank you. Barbara Demick from The Los Angeles Times.
This is a question, I guess, mainly for Bob Gallucci. There were supposed to be these backchannel talks I think early this month, and then the White House did not give the visas to the North Korean diplomats. I don’t know if you know the backstory behind that. I think you were supposed to be there. But do you know—do you think that the Trump administration has decided there are going to be no direct talks with North Koreans, backchannel or otherwise? Is this famous, you know, hamburger offering, let’s get together over a hamburger, is that off the table?
GALLUCCI: I wondered where hamburger was going from over there. (Laughter.)
That sort of calls for a conclusion of the witness about the Trump administration, I think, and I don’t think I’m up to that. I know what you—or I thought I knew what you said, which is to say I was in Tokyo at the time and I—the first message I got that Friday morning was we’re still going ahead, VX notwithstanding. Second message was we’re not going ahead, and I understood it was the White House that made that call. So I don’t know what the future holds with respect to Track II, as it’s called.
WALLERSTEIN: Further in the back, any questions there? Yes, all the way in the back. Yes, sir.
Q: Thank you. My name is Manik Mehta. I’m a syndicated journalist.
We have seen a lot of activities by North Koreans in the neighborhood—in its neighborhood. Particularly in the ASEAN region, you had recently the of the North Korean leader’s stepbrother at Kuala Lumpur airport. What is your take on that? And where do you think this is headed? Thank you. (Laugher.)
TERRY: Well, we knew Kim Jong-nam was always in trouble. That was a standing order, I think. But what’s really interesting is the timing and—Bob and I were just talking about this right before we got on the stage—of the way in which it was done, because, as an intel person, I’m so used to various North Korean officials getting—you know, disappearing over—just you disappear or you get into “car accidents.” So he could have killed Kim Jong-nam in a very different way. Why at a major public airport using WMD, it’s videotaped everywhere? And I think Kim Jong-un wanted to send a message. He actually wanted to send a message to would-be rivals, competitors, people who have defected like Thae Yong Ho, to send a message that no one is immune and I can—I have this power, I can get rid of anyone, anywhere. And he wanted people to know it. And the fact that he uses VX, very deadly, this is incredible. And again, he didn’t have to do that; he could have just used something else to kill this—kill Kim Jong-nam. So I think he wanted people to know that he had this system, this chemical weapons, and so on. So it’s—I think he wanted to send a message to the world.
And why also Kim Jong-nam? Because, as I mentioned earlier, he’s the one person that has the legitimacy that could potentially perhaps come back to North Korea. I mean, that’s a really far-fetched scenario, but I think Kim Jong-un was paranoid enough to worry about that.
WALLERSTEIN: Yes, on the side.
Q: This is a terrific discussion, and I congratulate all of you. But it fills me with nostalgia.
WALLERSTEIN: Could you identify yourself, please?
WALLERSTEIN: Just identify yourself, please.
Q: Oh. Jerry Cohen, NYU Law School—(off mic)—Council.
WALLERSTEIN: Thank you.
Q: I say it fills me with nostalgia—(comes on mic)—in two respects. One, I was in this room in 2002 when I heard some representatives of the Bush administration talk in a way that made me think they’re going to invade Iraq. This is madness. But when I heard Bob talk, I felt nostalgia for another period: the spring of 1978, when we were contemplating normalization with China. And the question of human rights came up, and the relationship of human rights to normalization. The question was, do we wait for China to improve its human rights situation before normalizing, as many people advocated? Or do we proceed with normalization on the assumption that would inevitably improve the human rights of the Chinese people? Fortunately, we chose the latter choice. So there’s a timing question.
I was interested what Bob mentioned, and I wasn’t clear, and I’d like to draw him out on that. How much progress, if any, do we demand on the part of North Korea with respect to human rights before we take normalization seriously? And if we open up negotiations unconditionally, I take it you still have one condition, that nuclear weapons remain on the table. And what does that mean? Does that mean we still would insist on abolition, or that we would insist on halting further progress with respect to missiles and related technology, et cetera?
Seems to me that’s the crucial thing. We can’t expect too much. I personally believe North Korea will never give up what it has now. The question is, will it go forward, and what use will it make of it?
GALLUCCI: At last an easy question. (Laughter.)
So, first of all, I like the proposition about China, and I think it is useful to point out—I rather think of looking around this room, just about everybody knows more about international human rights than I do. This is not an area of expertise for me, so forgive me.
But the North Koreans have actually responded in a small way to their—some steps and statements that have come out of the United Nations, particularly with respect to the rights of the disabled. They’ve responded to some of this, and they’ve shown sensitivity to international critiques of their human rights behavior. So I’m prepared to believe they could be moved some.
I don’t know whether, you know—(inaudible)—are they going to move all the way to the point where we can have normal relations with them as a normal country? I don’t know. But if you gave me the choice I heard from you and there’s a continuum here, could we get on that continuum with them with the expectation that, by getting on the continuum, they’re more likely to move down the road than in any other way? I like that, and that adds a little bit of plausibility to it. It’s still a hard sell, but I think that’s plausible.
With respect to my sort of hard-ass view on the nuclear weapons issue, I’m really—I’m not going to relent on that except the provision I think that Winston put out before, that it doesn’t prevent interim arrangements in which there’s a freeze on fissile material production that’s monitored, for example. Easy to monitor tests and—monitor ballistic missile tests and nuclear explosives tests; a little harder to monitor fissile material production, but not impossible. And I don’t mind that as an interim step. But at the end of the day, for allied reasons if not for the whole international regime, you must, in my view, have denuclearization, return to the NPT, full-scope safeguards, blah, blah as the goal of this enterprise, or else I think you’re in trouble in terms of what you are accepting and what you’re not accepting.
I will tell you as a little parenthetical, an asterisk here, yes, I opposed the deal with India, so I would oppose a kind of deal with North Korea now accepting where they are. And just as you have, and most people have said to me, they’ll never give up their nuclear weapons. Maybe. Maybe.
WALLERSTEIN: Depends on what they would get in return.
OK. Yes, sir.
Q: I’m Donald Shriver of Union Theological Seminary.
Self-interest in political terms is a kind of an ambiguous idea. A lot depends on what kind of a self you’re interested in. (Laughter.) And I’m not so sure. When I think about that conversation that Fidel Castro on pretty good authority seems to have had with one of the Russian generals in 1962, he suggested that maybe the sacrifice of the Cuban people was a worthy sacrifice for seriously crippling the capitalistic giant to the north of Cuba. I guess my question is, what evidence do we have that this North Korean regime was just so careless of the interest of its own people and on so many dimensions? Is it capable of being intimidated by the threat of absolute destruction by our weaponry?
WALLERSTEIN: Mary Beth, do you want to take that one on?
LONG: I think the answer is not so far, in part because our threats have not been taken as credible. I think it’s fairly well-known that the human rights record of this leader, Kim Jong-un, is probably worse or leaning towards worse than anyone—any of his predecessors, certainly in this amount of time frame, certainly to the extent, I think, the intel analyst actually was quite credible in that he’s willing to take even his aggressiveness abroad in an international context in Malaysia, of all places, with a—with a chemical weapon. So I don’t—I don’t think that part of the problem is his not basically believing that we will annihilate him. Or, more importantly, I think one of the important things is that there has been no reason for any North Korean leader to believe that we’ll do anything kinetic because we haven’t, or anything even approaching kinetic because we haven’t. I think it’s the credibility of the threat that is lacking. And the fact of the matter is, if it does—if it’s not credible and we haven’t demonstrated it to be, it’s not really much of a threat. It’s saber-rattling, which is probably worse.
WALLERSTEIN: Thank you.
OK. Yes, right here.
Q: Hi. Thank you for a terrific discussion. I’m Kimberly Marten. I’m at Barnard College at Columbia University.
My question is for Mary Beth Long. When you talked about cyber options being on the table, I’ve heard people say that the U.S. has a danger in using cyber weapons because we are so vulnerable with our civilian systems. And, in fact, one of our civilian systems appears to have already been hit by North Korea, which was of course the Sony attack. How might we construct some sort of a cyber option, as you suggested, against North Korea without making ourselves vulnerable to the same kind of retaliation that we might have with a stronger kind of kinetic reaction as well?
LONG: I’m so glad you asked that question because there’s a lot of talk about using cyber weapons. We’ve all read newspaper coverage of the weapon that was used against Iran and then arguably components of which were used against us or against allies.
I do think both cyber weapons and sanctions, financial weapons, are a two-edged sword. You know, they work great for you once you believe you have control of them, but woe to the individual that has them turned back on you. There have actually been a number of cases where North Korea has either been allegedly directly or indirectly involved in penetrations of our financial systems, banks for example, insurance fraud. They are well-known to be involved in the illicit smuggling of you name it, everything from cigarettes to pharmaceuticals, et cetera, that leave them vulnerable both from a financial institution standpoint but also from an internet/cyber standpoint. And the trick will be ensuring that that weaponry isn’t turned back against us, or that it doesn’t proliferate much like a missile will, so that the North Koreans can sell it or it can be examined by the Russians, the Chinese, or others that use cyber weapons against us and then turned back at us.
But without going into classified, it’s a—it’s a trick that we don’t have with our conventional weaponry, and one that’s really going to challenge us. Which is why some people would argue that an asymmetric response of some sort is much easier and much more containable than a cyber response, which sounds great but has all the—all the downsides that you’re alluding to.
WALLERSTEIN: Unfortunately, adhering to the Council’s policy that we want to conclude these meetings on time, we’ll have to stop there. Let me note that Daniel Yankelovich, the well-known sociologist and pollster, recently wrote a book called “Wicked Hard Problems” (sic; “Wicked Problems”), and I would say it is fair that this is among the leading if not the leading wicked hard problems. Again, my thanks to the three panelists and to the audience. (Applause.)
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