Addressing North Korea with Dr. Adam Mount

The World Affairs Council and the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Seattle welcomed Senior Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists for nuclear and defense policy Dr. Adam Mount on November 30, 2017 for a discussion on nuclear proliferation and growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. World Affairs Council President and CEO Jacqueline Miller moderated the conversation.

On November 29, 2017, North Korea’s state mediaIMG_8921 released an announcement regarding the successful test of a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the US mainland. Dr. Mount attested to the progress North Korea has made in developing a credible nuclear war fighting strategy and creating a diversified missile force. The launch of the Hwasong-15 missile reached the highest altitude ever recorded by a North Korean missile. According to Dr. Mount, the HS-15 missile has higher tolerances as an extremely capable program and has not shown any signs signaling a slowing down of improvements.

The United States has several options to respond to potential aggressions from Pyongyang. As far as sanctions go, Dr. Mount suggested that while sanctions are applied on paper, their real world applications may not be carrying out their intended effect on the North Korean economy. Macroeconomic indicators have not shown a major slowdown so far. Sanctions alone, though, do not offer a promising approach to bringing North Korea back to the negotiating table.

China, a major player in the North Korean economy, also has a role to play in responding to nuclear threats from Kim Jong Un. However, while the Trump administration makes regular emphasis to Chinese President Xi, no real progress has been made. Although China has restricted fuel exports to North Korea and closed down access to a bridge that connects to North Korea for renovations, Beijing remains vocal about how little control they have over the Kim Jon Un’s regime. Dr. Mount asserted that while he believes that China is sincere about the denuclearization of North Korea, the country is primarily concerned with stability.

IMG_8917In previous works, Dr. Mount emphasizes the importance of deterrence as the strategy with the most potential in approaching North Korea. Dr. Mount discussed the importance of using deterrence as not only a strategy for addressing nuclear missiles, but also for conventional aggressions as well as cyber security. The administration’s explicit support for deterrence could, according the Dr. Mount, bridge the gap between bringing attention to the strategy and actually expanding our capabilities. Defensive military forces, anti-submarine capabilities and counter-cyber capabilities are attainable and effective approaches.

Ultimately, Dr. Mount believes that the primary concern of the North Korean regime is security and survival. But, Kim Jung Un seems to be trying to see what he can get away with in terms of provoking U.S. responses and fracturing the South Korea, Japan, and U.S. alliance. In order to address these aggressions, the United States needs to respond with greater calculation to threats of an intercontinental ballistic missile and attacks on Guam. Dr. Mount suggests that responding to provocations in one domain (conventional, nuclear, cyber or maritime) with cross-domain deterrence is key.