Peter Brookes: On N. Korea, U.S. has to assume worst case scenario

Peter Brookes

It’s said that victory is rarely final – whether it’s sports, politics or war.

That old adage certainly applies to headlines about North Korea this week as Team Trump had both some really good news and some really bad news come out.

Let’s start with the good news: last weekend, the U.S. State Department secured unanimous support for a U.N. Security Council resolution that slaps punitive economic sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Russia and China miraculously signed onto the measure.

The economic sanctions go after North Korea’s foreign trade – especially coal, which is its No. 1 export. The resolution also restricts commerce in iron/iron ore, lead/lead ore and seafood, according to a State Department fact sheet on Resolution 2371.

The United Nations also targeted North Korean laborers who are sent abroad to earn hard currency to line Pyongyang’s pockets; the resolution bans countries from allowing in more of these forced laborers.

These measures, along with others (such as banking restrictions), could cost Pyongyang $1 billion of its $3 billion in hard currency revenue from foreign trade annually.

By cutting cash to Kim Jong Un & Co., the sanctions could cripple Pyongyang’s ability to fund its nuclear and missile programs – and to satisfy his communist comrades’ big appetite for foreign luxury goods.

The challenge with economic sanctions, of course, is implementation. If there is “leakage” – which North Korea will look for – the punitive measures won’t be as painful for Pyongyang as they were intended to be.

North Korea already uses its embassies overseas, shell companies and “friendly” agents abroad to evade the multitude of economic sanctions placed on it since the Korean War.

Unfortunately, the euphoria over our diplomatic win at the U.N. was short lived.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency believes North Korea is capable of putting a miniaturized nuclear weapon atop one of its ballistic missiles, including ICBMs.

The newspaper also cited another U.S. intelligence assessment that claims that North Korea may have as many as 60 nukes in its growing arsenal.

If true, none of this breaking news is welcomed – and once again highlights the scary “progress” North Korea is making on its weapons-of-mass-destruction programs.

But there are still key questions: has the miniaturized warhead been tested? Can it withstand the temperatures, pressures, G-forces, and so on of intercontinental flight? How accurate are its ICBMs?

The United States, of course, has to assume the worst-case scenario – and can expect that North Korea will continue to work to perfect any shortcomings in its ballistic missile and nuclear weapon programs.

That said, the U.S. – with our allies and friends – must use all of our diplomatic, informational, economic and military tools (including missile defense) to prevent Pyongyang from holding us hostage to its nuclear know-how.

Beyond the new economic sanctions, the president’s unvarnished statement to Kim invoking possible “fire and fury” will hopefully not only deter him, but help calibrate the regime’s wrongheaded thinking about picking a fight with us and our allies.

If there’s one thing that dictators really care about, it’s the survival of the regime – and attacking us would severely put those prospects at risk for Pyongyang.

It’s important that Kim fundamentally understands that.

This article first appeared in the Boston Herald. Dr. Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and a Fort Valley resident.

 

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