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North Korea has been expanding its nuclear arsenal for decades. Here's how the US could respond.



President Trump may be headed to Europe to attend the annual G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, but that doesn't mean he can escape the international uncertainty fueled by North Korea's recently increased nuclear capabilities.

As Americans were occupied celebrating the 241st birthday of the United States, the reclusive regime launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) - fortifying the country's ability to strike the U.S. mainland with a nuclear missile.

Since then, the U.S. and South Korea sent a clear message to North Korea by conducting a missile exercise along the territorial waters along South Korea's east coast.

The threat of nuclear destruction at the hands of North Korea's government isn't anything new.

In fact, four presidential administrations have attempted to curtail the regime's nuclear activity. If history is any predictor of future behavior, the Trump administration has four options on the table to respond to the regime.


Since 2006, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed 16 resolutions against North Korea. Some stressed nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, while others imposed sanctions of the regime.

So far, the U.S., in conjunction with the U.N., seems to be pursuing this path. On Wednesday, the UNSC held an emergency meeting after US, South Korean and Japanese officials urged the international body to gather and craft a concerted response.

But, at the end of the day, the U.N. is an international body innately subjected to bureaucratic rules and regulations - meaning the process can be slow. What remains further unclear is the UN's ability to create a diplomatic response that differs from the unsuccessful ones pursued in the past.

As North Korean experts Wendy Sherman and Evans Revere recently noted in Time, "The main reason we are where we are today is because North Korea has walked away from every denuclearization agreement ever reached."


Throughout the years, the U.S. has enacted dozens of sanctions, which are managed by the Treasury Department. The sanctions aimed to pressure North Korea from engaging in future nuclear activity by further isolating it from the world through economic means. As a result, the U.S. imposed trade, business and property restrictions on the regime.

Similar to the U.N. resolutions, sanctions have largely remained ineffective. That's because China continues to funnel money to the North Korean regime through back-door channels.

U.S. officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have repeatedly condemned the laundering of money to North Korea.

Just last week, Mnuchin blacklisted China's Bank of Dandong, as well as two individuals, for continuing to support the regime.

"This action reaffirms the Treasury Department’s commitment to ensure that North Korea is cut off from the U.S. financial system."
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin

President Trump has also called out China's connection to the regime - taking to Twitter before he departed for the G20 summit.


Any type of formidable action, such as the deployment of special forces or direct strikes, are likely to escalate explosive U.S.-North Korean relations, former chair of the U.S. National Intelligence Council Gregory Treverton noted.

"...the rub with preemption is that for the limited purpose of taking out the country’s nuclear program, it isn’t likely to work, and for the grander goal of decapitating the regime, success could create more problems than it solves," he said.

Considering the proximity of U.S. allies like Japan, South Korea and Guam to North Korea, the regime could take retaliatory measures, especially since it has already demonstrated its ability to successfully launch projectiles reaching those locations.


A lack of sound military options makes the "acceptance" of North Korea's nuclear arsenal as the "least bad" path forward.

Every option the United States has for dealing with North Korea is bad. But accepting it as a nuclear power may be the least bad.
Mark Bowden

This approach, though, yields a "high risk, high reward" scenario. The U.S. would need to perfect its intelligence capabilities so as to detect, destroy and intercept any missile headed for the U.S. mainland.

And, considering Trump's brash leadership, it's an option likely to be pushed to the side. Before he assumed office, Trump tweeted:

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