Michael Mazza

Michael Mazza


North Korea has tested a 3rd nuclear device. In your view, should the world consider North Korea a full-fledged nuclear power? How close in your estimates is North Korea to deploying a workable nuclear warhead for military application?

Given the secretive nature of the Kim Jong-un regime, it’s difficult to know just how close North Korea is to marrying a nuclear warhead to a missile. But it is almost certainly closer to achieving that goal than it has ever been before. The North’s successful missile launch last December proved that Kim’s scientists have more technological prowess than we often give them credit for. Kim drove home that lesson once again with this latest nuclear test, which produced a more powerful blast yield than the second test device (which likewise showed improvement over the first device). It’s not clear when or if U.S. and allied intelligence agencies will be able to verify or discredit North Korea’s claim that Tuesday’s test was of a miniaturized device, but it’s increasingly difficult to argue that such miniaturization is simply beyond the North’s means.

As such, it’s important that the United States recognize North Korea for what it is: a country that is (a) hostile to America and her allies and (b) has a nascent and growing credible nuclear deterrent. Such recognition will both limit and clarify U.S. policy options going forward.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

The DPRK is one of the most heavily sanctioned nations in the world, yet, the hermit kingdom still tests nuclear weapons and rockets. In your view, have sanctions been effective in isolating the regime? Would more sanctions help? Less?

Sanctions have certainly been effective in isolating the Kim regime, but that isolation has not succeeded in convincing Kim Jong-un (or his father before him) to give up his nuclear or missile development programs. Arguably, this is because the Kims and their cronies have determined that nuclear weapons are more valuable to them than joining the “world community,” as President Obama puts it. Still, sanctions do have a role to play and additional measures are needed. The international community may not be able to coax the DPRK into abandoning nuclear ambitions, but it may be able to starve Kim of the resources he needs to make those ambitions a reality.

In 2005, the U.S. Treasury Department designated Macao’s Banco Delta Asia (BDA) as a “primary money-laundering concern.” Eventually, the Bush administration prohibited American financial institutions from doing business with BDA. Many foreign banks, concerned for their access to the U.S. financial sector, voluntarily cut ties with BDA. North Korea’s funds at the bank were frozen, which hampered the DPRK’s ability to conduct the illicit activities it depends on for its livelihood. The United States should return to this effective strategy, which was unfortunately later abandoned during the six-party talks. Washington should designate as a “primary money-laundering concern” any bank—including those in China and Europe—found to be providing financial services to North Korea. Preventing the DPRK from doing business with foreign entities and freezing its assets will make it difficult for the regime to pay for its destabilizing nuclear and missile programs.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief