December 09, 2020

Sharper: North Korea

Analysis from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges for U.S. foreign policy.

By Joshua Fitt, Jason Bartlett, Chris Estep, Cole Stevens and Kristine Lee

For decades, North Korea's authoritarian dictatorship has threatened Northeast Asia's regional stability, challenged U.S. interests, and subjected its own citizens to an unparalleled generations-long human rights crisis. Pyongyang's illicit pursuit of a nuclear weapons arsenal is just one example of the regime's efforts to destabilize the region and threaten the security of the United States, its allies, and partners. CNAS experts are sharpening the conversation about how to manage the challenges to U.S. interests the North Korean regime poses. Continue reading this edition of Sharper to explore their ideas and recommendations.

Reports

Exposing the Financial Footprints of North Korea’s Hackers

“North Korea conducts intricate and sweeping cyberattacks against the United States and its allies to acquire funds to support its illicit nuclear proliferation efforts,” Jason Bartlett warns in a CNAS policy brief. “North Korea’s malicious cyber activities are a direct threat not only to U.S. national interests, but also to global security and the integrity of the entire international financial system.”

Renew, Elevate, Modernize: A Blueprint for a 21st-Century U.S.-ROK Alliance Strategy

In a CNAS report featuring a foreword by Ambassador Mark Lippert (Ret.), authors Kristine Lee, Joshua Fitt, and Coby Goldberg explore how the Biden administration can reinvigorate the crucial alliance between the United States and South Korea. As Seoul adopts globally oriented policies, buoyed by its position at the leading edge of several technology areas and its successful COVID-19 pandemic response, the United States should parlay these efforts into a more concrete role for South Korea as a partner on the world stage.

Risk Realism

For a generation, policymakers judged that a nuclear North Korea was a threat the United States could not accept. To decide otherwise, it was thought, would imperil U.S. allies, increase the proliferation of nuclear weapons, damage the sanctity of the nuclear taboo, and eventually threaten U.S. territory. In a CNAS report, Van Jackson argues that although a non-nuclear North Korea is ideal for the national interest, it is no longer realistic for the near-term future, and continuing to pursue this objective is neither cost- nor risk-free.

Energy, Economics, & Security

Exposing the Financial Footprints of North Korea’s Hackers

How North Korea conducts intricate and sweeping cyberattacks against the United States and its allies to acquire funds to support its illicit nuclear proliferation efforts....

Indo-Pacific Security

Renew, Elevate, Modernize: A Blueprint for a 21st-Century U.S.-ROK Alliance Strategy

The U.S.-South Korean alliance has the potential to play a central role in bolstering a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond....

Indo-Pacific Security

Risk Realism

In a new report, Dr. Van Jackson argues that while pursuing North Korean denuclearization is ideal for U.S. national interests, it is no longer realistic for the near-term fut...

Commentary

North Korea Needs to Extort Democracies to Survive

As Pyongyang revisits an old playbook, Washington should also return to the fundamentals that undergird U.S. policy in Northeast Asia—that is, alliance management," Kristine Lee writes in Foreign Policy. "As North Korea probes for new pressure points in the U.S.-South Korea alliance, it has never been more imperative that Washington carefully steward its ties with Seoul."

Busting North Korea’s Sanctions Evasion

"North Korea is the most sophisticated, creative, and dangerous actor when it comes to stealthy and skillful methods of financing illicit nuclear and missile proliferation," Elizabeth Rosenberg and Neil Bhatiya warn in a CNAS commentary. "While North Korea’s Supreme Leader has outwardly professed a desire for reduced tensions on the Korean peninsula and a new relationship with the United States, he has overseen a vast criminal enterprise unrivaled in its efforts to evade financial controls, primarily financial sanctions, meant to limit North Korea’s access to funds for bomb building."

Indo-Pacific Security

North Korea Needs to Extort Democracies to Survive

Pyongyang has made clear this week that its patience for business as usual with Washington and Seoul is wearing thin. Cutting off all official communication lines, including m...

Energy, Economics, & Security

Busting North Korea’s Sanctions Evasion

North Korea is the most sophisticated, creative, and dangerous actor when it comes to stealthy and skillful methods of financing illicit nuclear and missile proliferation. Whi...

Do Not Forget Korean-Americans With Family Stuck in North Korea

Expert Joshua Fitt writes in The National Interest, "The 70th anniversary of the North Korean invasion south of the 38th parallel also marks seventy painful years since now elderly siblings, spouses, and parents last saw each other. The current status quo’s inertia suggests that North and South Korea can remain divided far beyond anniversaries and longer than the average life expectancies on the peninsula, but the aging members of divided families cannot."

Why Is North Korea So Good at Cybercrime?

"Despite U.S. and U.N. sanctions designed to stop the illicit financing of nuclear weapons, North Korea continues to baffle the world with its unprecedented success in sanctions evasions and cybercrime. As countries scramble to find consensus on cybersecurity protocols, North Korea has moved quickly to expand its cyber capabilities both at home and abroad," Jason Bartlett writes in The Diplomat.

Indo-Pacific Security

Do Not Forget Korean-Americans With Family Stuck in North Korea

It is important to reflect on the still-divided families which have suffered for decades and for whom time is running out....

Energy, Economics, & Security

Why Is North Korea So Good at Cybercrime?

North Korea continues to exploit vulnerabilities in cybersecurity to acquire funds for its dangerous nuclear weapons development program....

Breakthrough or Crisis? How Will Coronavirus Impact Tensions with North Korea?

"The virus has worsened existing geopolitical rifts among Northeast Asian countries, which will also overshadow or interrupt attention to the North Korean nuclear issue," Duyeon Kim observes in The National Interest. "The virus is also exacerbating domestic political battles in South Korea, the U.S., and Japan that will further consume leaders’ attention. These strains will make policy coordination and consultation even more difficult among key countries, let alone face-to-face meetings because of viral infection and transmission concerns.

Confronting Reality: The Bitter Medicine That North Korea Policy Needs Now

"If eliminating North Korea’s nuclear and missile arsenal is the ultimate benchmark for success, then the United States lost as early as 2006, when North Korea first detonated a nuclear device," Van Jackson argues in War on the Rocks. "What I prescribe takes a clear-eyed view of what has the best chance of working. Only through a more realistic North Korea policy can the United States do what matters most — manage the risks of nuclear and conventional war."

Indo-Pacific Security

Breakthrough or Crisis? How Will Coronavirus Impact Tensions with North Korea?

The novel coronavirus pandemic has accelerated geopolitical tensions first in Northeast Asia, with the original outbreak in China, and now around the world as the United State...

Indo-Pacific Security

Confronting Reality: The Bitter Medicine That North Korea Policy Needs Now

My entire career, I’ve watched policy officials make the well-intentioned choice to seek North Korean denuclearization. In the early 2000s, it was a smart and necessary goal. ...

In the News

Featuring commentary and analysis by Duyeon Kim, Kristine Lee, and Van Jackson

Indo-Pacific Security

Trump will leave office foiled by the North Korea nuclear problem. Will Biden fare better?

President Trump’s cool-headed nuclear envoy told the North Koreans it was “a window of opportunity.” Here was a U.S. president willing to venture far outside traditional diplo...

Indo-Pacific Security

North Korea Promises to Advance Nuclear Weapons as It Turns Back to Foreign Affairs

North Korea, on the second anniversary of the historic Singapore summit between Kim Jong Un and President Trump, said relations with the U.S. had “shifted into despair” and pr...

Indo-Pacific Security

US policy toward North Korea under Joe Biden: pageantry out, pragmatism in

US President Donald Trump’s unorthodox approach to North Korea saw him threaten “fire and fury” and ramp up sanctions, then meet dictator Kim Jong-un and exchange “beautiful” ...

About the Sharper Series

The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.

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