Just hours after President Donald Trump denounced North Korea’s continued missile tests in his first speech before the United Nations General Assembly on September 19, Sasakawa USA provided context and analysis to the Washington, D.C. journalism community at a private roundtable event at the National Press Club.
Sasakawa USA Chairman Admiral Dennis Blair and prominent North Korea scholar Dr. Marcus Noland, Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, offered a historical look at how the United States has dealt with the Kim regime’s provocations, what has and hasn’t worked, and how the country should proceed in this period of increased rhetoric.
Adm. Blair drew on his background as Director of National Intelligence and Commander of U.S. Pacific Command to remind attendees that the DPRK has had the capacity to deliver a crude nuclear weapon via unconventional methods other than an ICBM since the 1990s. And for more than 50 years and three generations of dictators, the North Korean regime has maintained its strategy of brinkmanship — provoking the international community with actions that, while outrageous, are not enough to trigger a major military conflict.
Adm. Blair asserted that North Korea’s recent missile launches and claims of superior nuclear technology remain consistent with that strategy.
Likewise, in that same time period the United States has successfully deterred any major military conflict. While rhetoric and hype surrounding North Korea’s most recent provocations may suggest otherwise, Adm. Blair argued there is no reason to think deterrence can’t continue to work.
Kim Jong Un is not suicidal, Adm. Blair said, and knows that crossing a line that would trigger military conflict would ultimately lead to his end.
Dr. Noland agreed with that statement, and focused his analysis on the economic aspects of the situation, including sanctions and North Korea’s internal political economy. While the country wants to be modern and prosperous, it wants to do so on its own terms, he said — and that includes the possession of nuclear technology as central to the Kim regime.
It is for this reason, Dr. Noland argued, that both sanctions and engagement aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear capabilities have historically been, and will continue to be, ineffective. While the international community should be modest about its expectations related to sanctions, he said, there is little choice but to keep them on the table while striving for a diplomatic solution to the threats posed by the North.
While answering questions from those in attendance, Adm. Blair said the international community should focus on the “longer game” related to the DPRK, including an information campaign to inform the citizens of North Korea about the outside world as well as the truth about their own country’s dictator. The combination of unified deterrence, continued pressure, a show of strong trilateral cooperation among the United States, Japan, and the ROK, and an information campaign, can help to bring an eventual end to the Kim regime. Although this will take time, Adm. Blair said, it is much lower risk than a military option.
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This event was one of Sasakawa USA’s occasional Media Roundtable series, aimed at offering journalists expert analysis, background, and context on important issues in the news related to areas in which we specialize. If you are a member of the news media and would like to be invited to future roundtable events, please email Communications Manager Christa Robelin Desrets at .