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Video: 'North Korea Isn't in the Fighting Business. It's in the Threatening Business'

by Matt Schiavenza
13 September 2017

Most experts agree that within a year, the North Korean nuclear program will be capable of striking a major city in the mainland United States. Discerning the intentions of Kim Jong Un and his government, however, is more difficult. North Korea has stated that its nuclear program is merely for defensive purposes. 

But Daniel Russel, a diplomat in residence and senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute who served as President Obama's point person for Asia at the State Department, is skeptical.

"If nuclear weapons in North Korea were purely defensive, why would it need ballistic missiles?" he said today at Asia Society. "Not just one, but dozens. The fact of the matter is, North Korea isn't in the fighting business. It's in the threatening business. And one of the reasons that the sanctions campaign makes sense is that unless or until North Korea is able to derive tangible benefits from that threat, a return on that investment, then all [it] has is a nuclear weapon that it can’t use."

This understanding is essential for informing a smart U.S. policy toward North Korea, Russel added.

"Ensuring that North Korea doesn’t profit from its crime has been and I think needs to continue to be the sine qua non of our combined strategy [with others in the region].”

See Russel's remarks in the video above.

Russel's comments occurred during a discussion of all things East Asia that also included talk of tensions in the South China Sea and U.S.-South Korea trade. The complete video of today's program is below.