JOHN TIRMAN: I'm John Tirman from the Center for International Studies, and welcome on behalf of the Center and the Security Studies Program. Before we begin, I want to and will announce upcoming events. A couple of particular interest, one is the Starr Forum on Syria. We're having the last US representative-- sorry, the last US Ambassador, Robert Ford, and a National Security Adviser on the Middle East, Steven Simon, when he was in the Obama Administration discussing Syria. And I think they don't agree on Syria. So it should be interesting. It's on Thursday, October 19th, at 4:30, in Building Three, Room 270. That's the 19th of October.
We also have what we call a Dissident Speaker Series, a film, Nemtsov, about a Russian dissident who was assassinated. And the filmmaker, Vladimir Kara-Murza, will be here to speak. That's on October 25th, in Building Six, Room 120, at 4:30 in the afternoon.
And then finally, a Starr Forum featuring Richard Clarke, the former-- I don't know what-- was he referred to Terrorism Czar. I'm not quite sure, that doesn't sound quite right. But he was National Security Advisor on terrorism in the Clinton and Bush administrations, and an MIT grad, will be here with our own Joel Brenner, who is a former Head of Counterintelligence for the National Security Directorate. And that is on Wednesday, November 1st, 4:30, Building 10, Room 250-- 10-250 on the 1st of November.
So today we have a familiar cast, familiar to us, all MIT professors, to discuss Korea. And they will all go about 15 minutes each approximately. And then at the end of their remarks there will be an opportunity to ask questions from these two microphones. So at the end of the remarks, please line up at those microphones, and we'll have time for discussion.
The three are-- and I'll just briefly introduce them, because they're easy to find and figure out what they're up to today. But they're all in the Security Studies Program in the Department of Political Science. They are Associate Professor Vipin Narang, who will go first. Jim Walsh, who's a researcher, Senior Research Associate in the Security Studies Program. And Taylor Fravel, who is Associate Professor in Political Science and Acting Director of the Center for International Studies. So first, please welcome Vipin Narang.
VIPIN NARANG: Thanks John, thanks everybody for coming. Is this-- can everyone hear me? I thought what I'd do is set the stage by talking about what was a very exciting and disturbing summer in the North Korean nuclear program. I'm going to walk through basically why this summer was so significant from North Korea's nuclear development program and their nuclear strategy.
I'm going to say, we'll save the tweets and the bluster for question and answer. I don't want to focus on-- it's too easy to focus on President Trump's tweets over the weekends. But you know, it's a weekly affair, between President Trump and Kim, it's been a busy summer on North Korea. So I'll walk through the capabilities and the strategy, the nuclear strategy that North Korea has been signaling for a while, and some of the achievements that we saw this summer. There's some bad news and good news in terms of how to deal with North Korea going forward. And that should hopefully set the stage for Jim and Taylor.
So North Korea's Summer of Hwasong, which is a very bad pun for those who get it-- apparently not, OK. Very quickly, my talk will cover the three D's of the summer with DPRK. First point-- Damn, this program is real. They've made a lot of progress in a very short amount of time. An ICBM capability, going from a fission to thermonuclear device, or a purported thermonuclear device. We have to believe it's a thermonuclear device.
The bad news is that denuclearization is probably now a fantasy. Denuclearization, either it's unlikely that Kim is going to willingly give up his nuclear weapons, and denuclearization by force is an experiment I don't think we want to run. And I can talk a little bit about that.
The good news, that I'll close with, is deterrence can work. We know how to do and practice deterrence. And there's no evidence as of yet that North Korea wants anything besides regime insurance, insurance against invasion and disarmament. And we know how to practice and exercise deterrence with other states. We did it with China. We did it with the Soviet Union.
All the things we say about Kim now, that he's crazy, that we don't want North Korea to have nuclear weapons, we said about Mao. And we were able to successfully establish a deterrent regime with China and the Soviet Union. And there's no reason it can't work with North Korea. So I'll close with that.
So we started the summer with-- when the summer started it was the disco ball. This is an undated picture of a mock-up of North Korea's fission device. Now this is a device they're trying to signal is on the order of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yields 15 to 20 kilotons, a simple fission device. This picture was released last year, but it's an undated photo.
So we don't know when the mock-up was, when the picture was actually taken. But when it was released, it was North Korea's attempt to signal that they have a fission, a compact fission device. And that's important because they were trying to tell the world that they could fit a simple fission device inside a warhead that could be made a ballistic missile.
When you start seeing the pictures of the re-entry vehicles, it was very clear they were trying to signal that they had developed a compact device. And that was really important because it was designed to signal that they could deliver this fission device with some of the missiles they had already developed and tested. So that's what we are in April, May 2017.
Then we start seeing a series of tests of short range systems. This is a multi-rocket launcher system that North Korea has developed and tested. They have several variants of these. There's the North Korean designation of the Hwasongs. And the US Intelligence Community uses the CAN designation. There is a family of MRLSs that are designated the CAN 19. This is not the CAN 19. But they started developing and testing more short-range systems.
Why? Because they wanted to be able to hold targets in South Korea at risk, American forces and bases along the Korean peninsula, US ship assets. So there was a test of kind of like a short-range cruise missile that was believed to be their version of a ship killer. They did a variety of Scud tests. The Scuds are probably the most reliable missile in the North Korean inventory. They're developing maneuverable warheads for the Scuds, the idea being able to specifically target US bases in the region.
And then we started seeing solid fuel tests, which suggests an advancing program. And the reason why North Korea wants to test solid fuel missiles, anyone know? Why would you want to test solid fuel missiles as opposed to liquid fuel missiles?
AUDIENCE: More maneuverable and [INAUDIBLE] survive.
VIPIN NARANG: Easier-- right, more survivable, more responsive. It takes two to three hours to fuel liquid fuel missiles. And that generates signatures. Otherwise, you have to fuel them horizontally in a shed, which is not the greatest idea. Kim Jong-un smoking next to a volatile liquid fuel. Clearly, literally playing with fire. So we started seeing-- this is the Pukkuksong 2, which is the land-based variant of the-- they have a canisterized SLBM that they've tested. They're working on another variant. I wouldn't be surprised if that test is coming up soon, this fall.
But solid fuel systems, which are hard. Casting solid fuel is not easy. So they're trying to signal, and work at the same time as they're working. And they have these liquid fuel variants for the short-range systems. They're trying to develop land and submarine-based, or ship-based solid fuel missiles as well, to enhance survivability. It's a small peninsula. They know we're watching them. All of this enhances responsiveness and survivability. This program is for real.
Everyone know what this is?
AUDIENCE: Hwasong 12.
VIPIN NARANG: 12-- there are two major developments in the intermediate range and ICBM range class for North Korea's missile defense program. This is the Hwasong 12. They were playing around with the Musudans earlier in the year, and seemed to have chucked it in favor for the Hwasong 12, which is liquid fuel, intermediate range ballistic missile, which can target-- what's the most important target for the Hwasong 12?
VIPIN NARANG: Guam, because that's where Anderson Air Force Base is. And Kim has signaled his intention and irritation with the B1 bombers that come out of Guam. He calls them the air pirates of Guam. And so the Hwasong 12 is really important to North Korean nuclear strategy because it puts Guam within range. It's becoming more reliable.
The first stage of the Hwasong 12 provides the basis for the Hwason--
VIPIN NARANG: --14, which is the ICBM. The ICBM was tested twice, July 4th, happy Independence Day, and a couple of weeks later on July 28th. The Hwasong 14 is believed to be a two-stage system. First stage-- and the engines on the Hwasong 14 and 12 are believed to be similar, if not the same. We can talk about the design and maybe the help that they have gotten in the past on design basis. It's now believed they can produce the engines themselves, as well as the fuel themselves, which means the program is becoming more diversified and indigenous.
They can build the missiles themselves. They can build the nuclear weapons and manufacture the nuclear weapons themselves, which means sanctions make it very difficult to slow down the program. So the Hwasong 14 is important because it can start putting the US homeland at risk. At least-- estimating the range on the Hwasong 14 is difficult because it depends on the payload.
So depending on the weight of the reentry vehicle, the range is-- the upper limit on the Hwasong 14 range, David Wright, here at Cambridge, estimated to be somewhere around 10,500 kilometers, which would put at least Chicago in range with 1,000 kilogram warhead, a one-ton warhead. If they cannot deliver a fission or thermonuclear device to the US homeland yet, we have to assume that they soon will be. From a policy perspective, we have to assume that they can. We don't know for sure though.
And then came September 3rd, 150 kilotons, universal language, seismic signature 6.2 I think was the final Richter scale reading on the test. And it's been notoriously difficult to estimate the yield of the underground test because of the geology of the Punggye-ri test site. But we know that this was a big test. And there are going to be debates about-- we don't know what they tested.
On the day before-- the day of the test, they released this picture of the mock-up what is clearly signalling-- what they're trying to signal is a two-stage thermonuclear device, with a the fission primary igniting a secondary comprised of fusion fuel. But we don't know if this is what they tested. They could have tested a boosted fission device. That could have tested a compact thermonuclear device.
Maybe they tested a thermonuclear device that was much bigger. This is designed to signal that it can fit in the re-entry vehicle of a ballistic missile. But we don't know what they tested on September 3rd. But this is what they want to signal that they did test. 150 kilotons, 200 kilotons, it could be consistent with a boosted fission device. It could be consistent with a two-stage thermonuclear device.
So they'll be debates about this. And we weren't able to, at least in the open source, get radionuclides in the air after the test to be able to distinguish between the two. Maybe the intelligence communities have been able to. But if they don't have a two-stage device now, we have to assume that they will get there. Like most nuclear states, it takes some time to get there, five to seven years after you test a fission device.
But this is important because the larger the yield, the less accurate the ICBM has to be. And this is clearly for the Hwasong 14. And at 150 kilotons plus-- you know, you can jack up the yield by putting more fusion fuel in-- but it really doesn't matter where the Hwasong 14 hits in a city. It's just which half of the city do you want to lose. So the bigger the yield, the less accurate the missiles have to be.
And this fits and completes what North Korea has signaled is its nuclear strategy from earlier this year, in previous years as well. And they sprinted in the last several months to fill out their entire nuclear strategy, which I've called in my own work asymmetric escalation. And this looks very much like NATO's strategy during the Cold War, Pakistani strategy now against India.
The short-range missiles are designed to hold targets in the peninsula, Japan, Okinawa, Guam, which is out here, at risk. And that's what the short and intermediate-range ballistic missiles are. The Hwasong 12 was really important because it started putting Guam in reach. The theory of survival that Kim Jong-un has, the acquired nuclear weapons to deter an American led invasion, or a regime change. And the idea is he can't survive the conventional onslaught unless he degrades allied ability to support the conventional attack against him, which is why being able Guam at risk is important. Being able to hold American bases in Japan and South Korea are important.
But then the question is, how do you deter American nuclear retaliation? You're a smaller force. How do you deter-- use nuclear weapons against Guam? America is going to annihilate you, right? Well, that's why the ICBM is so important. The American deterrence calculation changes-- and these targets are-- this is from the-- the map is from the Washington Post, but it was based on the so-called map of doom, that was released, that showed targets on the US homeland after a North Korean missile test.
San Diego, which is important because of the 7th Fleet. Whiteman Air Force Base, Nebraska, Washington, DC, and then Barksdale Air Force Base, these were the targets that were indicated. But they have also shown San Francisco in videos. They've also shown New York. Haven't shown Boston yet, but we go before New York I imagine. We have to assume that the bulk of the American continental United States, and Hawaii, are all potentially at risk to at least a fission device, because it's probably a lighter warhead and re-entry vehicle. And if not now, probably someday, the nuclear device as well.
So the North Korean nuclear strategy is we have to degrade the American ability to sustain the conventional attacks. We have to use nuclear weapons to generate a pause in the conventional attack. They use a nuclear weapon and the theory as the world comes to a screeching halt, and the allies will stop their attack on Kim Jong-un. And they deter American nuclear retaliation by being able to hold American cities at risk. So the ICBM is not designed to be a first-use weapon, according to this theory. It is to be able to deter the American nuclear retaliation against it.
And so that's why the ICBM is so important in North Korean nuclear strategy. And it's not irrational. I wrote an article in the Washington Post saying that this is a rational nuclear strategy because it's exactly what we had in the early Cold War. It's exactly what Pakistan has against India. It's not irrational. It's risky. But it's not irrational.
So the bad news is that given how far North Korea has come, the estimates on the North Korean nuclear inventory are upwards of 60 nuclear warheads, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency. And that means or suggests that they probably have blended pits and a growing inventory of fission and potentially thermonuclear devices. So denuclearization is probably a fantasy at this point.
The reason US nonproliferation policy has spent so much time trying to stop states like Iraq and Libya from acquiring nuclear weapons is because once they acquire them, it becomes very difficult for states to convince states to give them up. There's only been one state that's willingly given up nuclear weapons over which they had sovereign control. Anyone know which one?
AUDIENCE: South Africa.
VIPIN NARANG: South Africa. We can talk about Ukraine, but South Africa is pretty much the only case. And South Africa was different for a lot of reasons. So at this point, what incentive does Kim have to give up nuclear weapons? He saw what happened to Gaddafi and Saddam once they did. So convincing Kim to give up nuclear weapons willingly seems like that horse has left the barn. Denuclearization by force is the other option. And this is what President Trump has referred to and General Mattis, at some point also, effectively a counter-force strike against the North Korean nuclear arsenal.
It's small, but there's the intelligence problem. Can you get them all? Do you know how many they have in the first place? Do you know where they are in real time? Once you start going after them, how do you avoid North Korea using a nuclear weapon in the process? They probably designed their command and control to account for this possibility and to deter decapitation and counterforce strikes against it. So we have to assume, whether it's true or not, but we have to assume, unless you want South Korea, or Japan, or Guam to eat a nuclear weapon, that they've designed their command control to fail deadly and not fail safe. It would be irrational for them to do that.
Remember, North Korea has a small arsenal. And new nuclear states with small arsenals often have very itchy trigger fingers, because they don't know how long their arsenal will survive in a conventional counterforce attack against it. It's what's known colloquially as they use it or lose it dilemma. North Korea has to use its nuclear weapons before it loses them if it's their only hope of survival. So denuclearization, especially in this phase, by force, is a very, very risky proposition. And not experiment I would suggest we try to run. So that's the bad news.
There is some good news. And then I'll close. Deterrence can work. We know how to practice deterrence. We are-- the United States is the most conventionally powerful state in the system. It has the most sophisticated, and largest, and diverse nuclear arsenal, and responsive nuclear arsenal in the world. We know how to practice deterrence against new and emerging nuclear states and established nuclear states, like the Soviet Union, Russia, and China.
There's no reason it can't work with North Korea. There's no evidence that North Korea wants to reunify the peninsula on its terms yet. North Korea acquired nuclear weapons to deter an American or allied attack against it. And the reality is, once a state acquires a nuclear capability, it's bought itself that insurance. But we can still practice deterrence.
There's the argument, oh, Kim's crazy. Nothing he's done suggests he's not means-end rational. Everything he's done this summer suggests he's means-end rational. And we said it about Mao. But we're able to practice deterrence with China. It's not a perfect solution. There are always risks we run. But right now, Kim is actually-- we can talk about some of the clever deterrent threats that Kim has made over the summer.
I think the Guam enveloping threat was really clever. He was very clearly signaling he did not like the B1 bomber runs out of Anderson Air Force Base, because they give him an itchy trigger finger. That's going to be the-- the B1 flights are, he believes-- they're not nuclear capable, he believes they are. They would be part of he believes any potential surprise attack against him.
And so when we run up against the North Korean military airspace with the B1 bombers, it makes North Korea really, really itchy and wary of US intentions. And so there was a very clever deterrent threat that he was trying to issue with the Guam enveloping threat in August. And he's done it again. The threat to shoot down B1 bombers or shoot at B1 bombers as they approach North Korean airspace are very clearly trying to signal that these irritate and scare North Korea.
We, on the other hand, have not been practicing deterrence particularly well. Because there is a lot of confusion in the administration. There is not one voice. The advantage that Kim has is his single voice. He's not undermined by his cabinet. Or in this case, the cabinet is not undermined by the president. But deterrence requires several features.
I learned from the best, Professor Scott Sagen. Here are the four Cs of deterrence. I didn't get all of them here, but capability-- there are five. Capability, North Korea has it, we have it. But clarity, consistency, coherence, and communication. We have been unclear about what precisely we are trying to deter North Korea from doing. Are we trying to deter Kim from making outlandish threats? Are we trying to deter them from testing missiles? Are we trying to deter them from testing nuclear weapons? Are we trying to deter them from attacking South Korea? It is completely unclear.
And at various points, the president and the cabinet have said various things that undermine each other. And it isn't ambiguity. There's an argument ambiguity enhances deterrence. That's true. But the enemy of deterrence is confusion. And right now, we have massive confusion among the administration. So we need to tighten our message and be consistent, and coherent, and clear about what it is we want.
There's also the issue of communication. Deterrence requires credibly communicating a threat, that if you do X I will do Y. But we have-- so Secretary Tillerson says we have several channels open to North Korea, which we do. And then at the same time, President Trump says we shouldn't be negotiating with them. You always have to keep channels of communication open in order to issue-- and issue very clear threats about what it is, and lines about what it is, you don't want your adversary doing. And we know how to do that.
So deterrence requires dialogue and communication. And to say we're not going to have any communication, just for crisis management purposes also, to avoid miscalculation and the risk of war by miscalculation, which is right now I think probably the biggest risk of conflict breaking out, we need to have those channels open. And so we can do this. And we're not doing a very good job at the moment. But it doesn't mean that we can't get the message right and a strategy.
Secretaries Madison, Tillerson, outlined a very clear, and I thought smart strategy in the Wall Street Journal. But if the President isn't on board with that strategy, it's just a proposal. Until the President gets on board with the strategy of deterrence and that you can-- denuclearization is off the table, but we can still practice deterrence, then the cabinet is still, I think, reaching for-- we're in a state of confusion until they can convince the President that this is a viable strategy. So I'll stop there. And I'll look for to questions. Now I'll turn it over to Jim.
JIM WALSH: Friends-- oh let me turn on the microphone. I probably don't need a mic, at least some people would say. Good afternoon. Thank you for taking time out. It's the end of the day and you're still here to do more. I'm honored to be with my distinguished colleagues and learn from them every day. And I expect I'll learn from you in question and answer. What I'll be doing is looking briefly at three things.
One, sort of putting this in a political context or historical context, just very briefly. I'll quickly review some of the options, some that Vipin did not mention. And then, let's face it, most of you are here because you want to address this question, are we going to have a war? Right? Is that not the most important question that we face? And so I'll spend a little bit of time on that.
But let's begin-- let's see. Oh, dear-- there we go-- or not. Where should I point it. Maybe I should put it-- I'm pushing the wrong one. How many of you are here are from MIT or affiliate. Then you all know the big secret that the rest of the world doesn't know, is that our technology sucks. You know that.
So let's start with some basics. We sort of are leaping into what are the capabilities and what are the dangers. But we might also ask ourself the question why is it that North Korea behaves the way that it does. And maybe if we understand our adversary, we would be able to design better policies to deal with it.
So let's take a history lesson here. People always talk about North Korea and China, and there's a lot of talk about China. But who is North Korea's most important, historically speaking, most important ally? It's Russia. It was Russia that founded North Korea, not China. And other than the founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the second most important date in North Korean history is the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In breathtaking speed, they lost their main economic ally, the one that gave them aid, that gave them trade. There's a lot of trade between North Korea and the CoCom countries of Eastern Europe. That all goes away. As well as the security umbrella that the Soviets had supplied to them, as you had this standoff off during the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union.
And any time something sort of rose to the level of crisis-- let's say, if North Korea attempts to assassinate a South Korean president, or shoots down a civilian airliner, those crises would be tamped down, because neither superpower wanted to see them escalate to the point of full blown global nuclear war. Well, that umbrella, in addition to all the economic foundation for North Korea, goes away very quickly.
And of course, North Korea quickly descends into famine in the early and to mid-1990s. And while this is happening, while you've lost your most important ally, your erstwhile friends are cozying up to your enemy, your sworn enemy. The Russians recognized under Yeltsin, the Russians are signing trade agreements with the South Koreans, recognizing South Korea. The Chinese are doing the same. So you are sinking like a rock and your friends are embracing your enemy.
And then of course, that only exacerbates-- and by the way, this is a picture I took when I was in the DPRK. And when I was there, what they told me-- what did the North Koreans tell me? They said, we are a mouse surrounded by elephants. Japan is a great power. The US is a great power. Russia is a great power. China is a great power. And we are alone. We are alone and we are in it.
So while nuclear weapons would not have been the strategy I would have advised to them at the time, it's not completely irrational, that if you think you're alone, that you can't trust any great power, that you think the Chinese and the US are going to cut a deal and leave you to hang out to dry, then you're probably going to look for alternatives.
Let's talk a little bit about thesis. This is a bit outdated. But it's CSI's list of missile and nuclear tests. And I put it up there because I think it's pretty striking, or at least two features of it are striking. I just finished talking about how do we situate North Korea in a regional security context and what are the problems they face. And so that's really sort of a structural explanation for why they behave. But it's pretty clear that as you go from one leader, to the next, to the next, there is big variation here.
And basically, with the arrival of the young Chairman Kim, you see a dramatic increase in missile and nuclear testing. And so I would say that leads me to conclude that while the structural features are important, leadership matters, personalities matter, Kim matters. And we'll have to see if Mr. Trump matters.
The other thing that strikes me about this is this. What the hell is going on there? We got test, test, test, test, test, test, and then that. That my friends, is the agreed framework. That was a diplomatic agreement in which the North Koreans agreed to dismantle their plutonium reactor, and stop producing bomb material, and to suspend long-range missile tests. Not bad, if you ask me, to get that for eight years. And I wouldn't mind having a little bit of that over here.
But when people-- and we'll get to this in a minute-- when we talk about diplomacy you often say, well it's dismissed, because you can't talk to them, or they cheat, or whatever. I will say that we have actual historical evidence that sometimes nonproliferation agreements actually advance our security. So let me talk a few minutes about options.
Sanctions-- this is America's favorite foreign policy tool, bar none. On Capitol Hill, but everywhere, if you are Russians and you do bad things, sanctions. If you're Libya and you do bad things, sanctions. For every conceivable issue, that I don't like you because you're wearing orange and I hate orange, sanctions. And I'm here to tell you that while they are quite attractive for a variety of reasons, they are not the answer to our problem.
First of all, as the panel of experts, the UN panel of experts for North Korea has amply documented, and documents every year, North Korea is not the priority for us that it is for some other countries. In some of these countries, countries with modest infrastructure or developing countries, really don't put DPRK enforcement of sanctions at their number one top national security priority. And instead, they're sort of enforced by some and not enforced by others.
In addition, I just think there are some structural issues here. The US is a very, very lucky place. We are bordered by two big oceans and with apologies to Canadians and Mexicans in the room, two big, friendly, weak neighbors. It's a great deal. You know what's not a great deal, Poland. Poland is not a great deal, where you're stuck between Germany and Russia. Tibet, also not a really great deal.
But who comes in number two? I would say it's North Korea. Because you have a Stalinist sclerotic system, but you are smack-dab sharing three provinces, 800 kilometers, with the biggest growing economy in the world. You don't have to do a lot right just to benefit from sitting next to China. And in a world in which we have globalization, where production is decentralized, and there are lines of manufacturing logistics that go from one place to another, that's great if you want to beat sanctions. That's an awesome, awesome combination, being next to a really, really rich growing country in a world of globalization.
So I think we face some structural issues. I also think there's a disconnect here. Yes, we can impose costs on the North Koreans. We can do that, but the question here is timing. I think they've demonstrated, as that previous chart should have made clear, they can build missiles and test nuclear weapons faster than we can impose sanctions that would matter. We pass a sanction, it worked, great. Well, they've already had four tests since you've done that. And so we are losing that race. I don't think that's a race we're going to win.
And I do worry. I worry, and my colleague at Harvard, John Park, and I have written a study about North Korea sanctions, where we interviewed North Korean defectors who worked for state trading companies. These are the businessmen and women whose job is to beat sanctions. And I worry that we can squeeze, and we can cut off things, but at the end of the day in this society, I think Chairman Kim and the military, they're going to get the last gallon of gasoline. And they're going to get the last bowl or rice.
And the people who are going to lose it first are those women and young children, not on the border provinces, and not in Pyongyang, but who live in the countryside that my humanitarian relief friends tell me live in food insecurity. They will be the ones who will pay the price first. And so I do think there's some ethical issues here that one has to struggle with.
And then finally, the North Koreans, the main takeaway from our studies, the adversary gets a vote. This is an iterative game. The North Koreans, we impose sanctions, the North Koreans just don't sit there and not do anything. They respond, they do countermeasures. And we keep doing the same thing over and over again, same song, different verse, a little louder, and they innovate and get around our preview sanctions.
And so some of the things they've done is, in the old days, they used to send a North Korean businessperson or official over across the border for a day, sign some deals, come back to North Korea. They have now embedded in China. They've taken their families. Their children go to Chinese schools. They're like any expatriate business community. They have embedded in China.
And more importantly, who's doing the procurement? It's not the North Koreans. It's the Chinese firms they pay to do the procurement. So if you're a European company with a manufacturing line in China, you want to sell stuff, and a Chinese client comes up and says, I want to buy X widgets, you think you're selling to a Chinese client. No, two days later, that's ending up in Pyongyang. So they have essentially bought the services of traders who are far more sophisticated than they did.
We found that actually what happened was, as we imposed sanctions, the cost of doing business because of risk went up for the North Koreans. They responded to that risk by monetizing it. Paid fatter commission fees, and as a result, drew more sophisticated Chinese partners. They got better. So I'm not a big believer that sanctions are going to solve this problem.
I'm going to have to get this to Vipin again. Tech man. You know, maybe I just have to do it manually. Yeah, let's talk a minute. And Vipin touched on this, so I won't spend too much time on it, preventive war. So I just want to understand what you're saying here when you're arguing for preventive war.
We're going to attack a nuclear weapon state. We're going to attack a country that possesses nuclear weapons. Normally, that has not what we have chosen to do. We've waged preventive war, the Israelis have waged preventive war, other states. But we have tended to avoid attacking a country that already has nuclear weapons for obvious reasons.
And Vipin says, we don't know if we're going to get everything. And certainly, the North Koreans know we're thinking about it. God knows, we talk enough about it. I'm guessing that they're probably preparing for that. And they have thousands of artillery tubes pointed at Seoul, a city of 20 million people. And let me jump a little bit and remind you, you heard Lindsey Graham say, well let's fight them over here rather than fighting them here.
There are 30,000 US troops and their families in Seoul, plus thousands more American civilians. There are 80,000 troops in Japan, thousands more. We are there. If that war happens, we're not fighting it in San Antonio, we're not fighting it in Seattle, but we're fighting it in Seoul, and we have lots of people at risk, as well as the 13th largest economy, a treaty ally, a city of more than 20 million people.
So if we go after them, I'm pretty sure those artillery tubes, maybe they're old, maybe they don't all work, maybe we can get to them with counter-battery, but they're going to drop a lot of explosives on Seoul. And I do think that there's a question of ethics here. A preventive war is a war of choice. It's not a war of necessity.
You're deciding, well, I just don't like the capabilities that this sovereign state has, so I'm going to kill a bunch of people for it. And while international law permits preemptive attacks if you think an attack on you is eminent, it's not so kindly about the idea of just deciding to up and kill millions of people because you don't like the other country's capabilities.
Let's talk about diplomacy. I'm old school. I say hold your friends close and your enemies closer. We should be constantly talking to them, if only for intel reasons, if only to get a better bead on what they're thinking, and how they're feeling. But no, we don't have diplomatic relations. We don't talk to them very often. We think of diplomacy as a reward. If you're nice to us we'll talk to you.
We didn't have that view towards the Soviet Union. We had diplomatic relations with the country that had 20,000 nuclear weapons aimed at our cities. Why? Because it was in our national security interest, that's why. That was the lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis. You better damn well talk to those people who can do you harm. So I'm a proponent of diplomacy. And I think it's been successful. It got Otto Wambier home, and as you know, I think the agreed framework was a success.
And it helps keep our partners on board. You know the Chinese want us to-- we want the Chinese to do a bunch of things. Well, maybe we should do some things that they're interested in to keep them on board. Now, there are difficulties. It takes two, or four, or six, depending on what you're talking about in the Korean context, to tango. They did cheat on the agreed framework. We did not keep all our promises either. So the record there is not perfect. And it's a murderous regime. But again, the more murderous, and the more dangerous, it seems to me, the more reason to be talking.
So the final question that everyone is interested in-- I need to get a bit of water here-- is there going to be a war? This is the dramatic pause point. I want to start with the good news. And Vipin pointed this out. No one wants a war, so why would we get a war? The North Koreans know they're going to lose. They will absolutely lose. And it's the end of their regime if there's a war.
And if there's one thing the Kim's want, it's they want to hold on to power. Certainly, China and South Korea don't want a war on their own backyard with all the implications that has. I think the US doesn't want a war. I'm pretty sure about that. Big wars are rare. You know, we don't fight the Korean War, and World War I, and World War II every day. Big nasty, ugly, wars, low probability event.
We have someone in the audience who has spent a lot of time on high consequence, low probability events. This is one of them. And I would say inadvertent war, when you get war even though no one wants war, that's even more rare than purposive war. So there's the good news.
But of course, you knew that there was bad news, didn't you? You knew that was coming. Because I think you can get inadvertent war, you can get war even when people don't want war. As Vipin said, there's lots of bluster and bluffing, where people make threats they don't mean. So when you want to make a threat that you do mean, is your adversary actually going to know that you're serious about it this time?
We have contradictory signalling, poor lines of communication, inexperienced leadership, poor understanding of the adversary. News reports are that the North Koreans are trying to consult with Republicans to try to understand Donald Trump. On the one hand, good luck with that. And I support you on that. But two, that probably means that they feel like they don't understand him, that's what that means, if that's true.
And the South Koreans have an excalatory doctrine. Their military doctrine is leaning forward. And they have a public policy of decapitation. Now I'm all in favor, if you're a military person, you want options for everything. And yes, you probably want to have a decapitation option. But you don't want to put it in your defense white paper and talk about it a lot, that we have big, robust plans, we're going to hit you in a surprise attack, you, weaker adversary.
And I worry about constraints. With Kim, there's a higher rate of purging than with his father. And you wonder if there's going to be a sort of Saddam before the Kuwait war thing, where with a lot of purging, who is it in the room that's going to tell Chairman Kim that what he just said is a bad idea? Who's going to raise his hand and say, boss, I think you're wrong? I think that's a permissive environment for mistakes.
And one might say, based on some things that have happened in the administration, for example, having a speech vetted before the UN and then changing it the day after, after it's all been approved, and inserting lots of language you were warned by the CIA and your national security advisor not to include, there might be some issues there too. And of course, the personalities of the leaders. So those are conditions. Those don't give you probabilities, but I would say that that's a cause, that's a whole lot of them all in one place.
But Jim, if Kim knows he's going to lose, why would he fight? And I would say there's a difference between general deterrence and crisis stability. If we finally find ourselves in a crisis, where one or both of the parties think now that the likelihood of war has increased, they think something might actually happen, then the incentives begin to shift. If Kim thinks that an attack is imminent, he does have, as Vipin has said, I think, could conceivably believe that he has an incentive to strike first.
He's overmatched. He knows it. The clock is ticking when he thinks something has started, maybe they're coming after me, I've got five minutes, half an hour to decide, or I might lose my military assets. So that puts a lot of time pressure on a guy who already might be thinking that we're coming after him. And they can't fight a long war, so they really would need to escalate with the hope of sort of cutting it off before things got really, really bad.
Now, why would Kim think we would attack him? Because we keep saying that over and over again. And because South Korea has a policy of decapitation. And those flights that Vipin referenced, we had stealthy flights, which I'm guessing the North Koreans did not see, but read about in the paper. So what's their conclusion? We can't see them. They want to come and hit us. We don't know when it's going to come.
There's a crisis. I hear-- there's a report that something's happened, itchy trigger finger. Oh, I went too fast. Again, though, the fundamentals here are big wars don't happen very often, inadvertent wars are even less likely. At the end of the day, I think we can take solace that this is still an unlikely event. It's still unlikely, because people don't want to commit suicide. But I would remind you that improbable events do happen, they just happen less often.
And certainly, you could say that about an election that was held last year. But for those of you who are from Massachusetts, there is probably a more salient example, that the Patriots in game probability of losing the Super Bowl with two minutes left was 92%. In social science, that's considered truth. 92%, and yet they won. So I think a lot of us think, oh, 90% chance of something isn't going to happen, that means it's impossible. No, it doesn't. It is possible. It happens one out of 10 times.
So the big picture, I've spent most of my career, or good part of my career, battling threat hypers. People exaggerate threats saying the US faces all sorts of things. And it's particularly the ones that do it out of ideology or possibly for financial gain. I think in general, we're a very safe country. And sometimes our worst enemy is ourselves.
Often our worst enemy is ourselves as the most powerful country on the planet. But I am more worried than I have been before. And I don't know what the probability is. I could not assign a number to it. The Thing about the Patriots game, we had tons of data. We had film on every player, film on every game, film on every coach. The betting markets had a tremendous amount of information. There were huge amounts, millions of dollars were at stake. People worked this hard and that was still the outcome.
We don't know anything. And that uncertainty gnaws at me. And it makes me more nervous. And so I think this-- I can think of no point in my lifetime, maybe since the mid-1990s, that war with Korea seemed more likely. But of course in 1994, North Korea didn't have nuclear weapons. So do I think it's going to happen? No. Am I worried? Yes. So I'll stop there.
TAYLOR FRAVEL: Unlike my dear colleagues, I won't be using any PowerPoints. There will be no technological failures before we get started.
JIM WALSH: You were smart.
TAYLOR FRAVEL: But I am going to set a timer, because I realize some of you probably will want to ask questions. I'll try to be brief. My purpose here today is to talk about China's role. And there's sort of a fourth option, I guess, that Jim and Vipin didn't talk about for dealing with North Korea, which is, China, you deal with it. Right? That seems to be the President's initial reaction, or is probably the consensus in Washington, that if only the Chinese would step up and do more than the problem would be solved.
So I want to go through three questions about China's role. Why is China not doing more? What is it in fact doing? And will it change? So let me start with the first question, why China's not doing more, either to halt the pace of testing, or to achieve denuclearization. I think there are four main reasons.
The first is geostrategic. When China looks out at the problem in North Korea, it sees it through the geography of the Korean peninsula. There are three sort of stylized features. The peninsula could be reunified under Seoul, and remain allied with the United States, with US troops on the peninsula, adjacent to China. It could be unified, but neutral, and effectively under a Chinese sphere of influence. Or it could remain in its current state, which is divided between North and South.
Now it's unlikely that China would be unified and neutral-- sorry, that the Korea peninsula would be unified and neutral under a Chinese sphere of influence. I can't see Seoul or Washington moving in that direction, which means that China is sort of stuck between choosing between a divided peninsula or one that's united under an American alliance and umbrella.
And so, the main reason I think why China hasn't pushed so hard in terms of sanctions or other pressure that it might apply-- it trades tremendously with North Korea, its biggest trading partner by far, so it has a lot of latent leverage that it could use-- is because it doesn't want to bring about the collapse of North Korea, and thus create a unified under Seoul and allied with the United States. So the status quo is preferable to the alternative. I think a lot of it just boils down to that simple calculation.
And Kim, I think, knows this. And so he can actually push China pretty hard. Because he knows, ultimately, they're not going to come down that hard on them. He's given them so many opportunities to apply pressure, or to apply greater pressure, which they have not pursued.
The second reason just has to do with more general fears of instability on the peninsula. This could be brought about by sort of an internal collapse of the regime, whether or not that's the result of US sanctions or somehow occurs for other factors. China worries greatly about the flow of refugees from North Korea into China. Why? Because there are lots of ethnic Koreans who are Chinese citizens who reside right across the border.
And China is a multiethnic state, although 92% of the population roughly is Han Chinese, 8% of the population is not. And most of that 8% lives in border regions. And Chinese leaders worry a lot about maintaining the territorial integrity of this multiethnic state. A massive influx of Korean refugees into a Korean dominant area of China would I think create internal instabilities in China that they would prefer to avoid.
And likewise, if the regime in Pyongyang appeared as it was collapsing, there would be great uncertainty in China about what the future would look like. And China might believe it would have to risk great actions to maintain its interests. And they would prefer not to have to make those choices. So keeping North Korea alive, allowing it to prosper economically, and to actually consolidate, is in Chinese interest, and the second main reason why I think they don't push as hard as many would like China to push.
The third one, actually has to do with legitimacy, and the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. Because there are only four other communist led countries in the world. North Korea is one of them. China is trying very hard to prove some sort of model, by which a Communist Party can stay in power, even if it sort of tries to harness market forces. And so the collapse of any more communist countries in the world would actually, I think, be of great concern for China's leaders as they're trying to protect and maintain their own model.
So China works hard to keep the other communist countries alive. And despite all the territorial disputes that it has with Vietnam, for example, China ever pushes Vietnam that hard, because its always trying to keep in power that faction of the Vietnamese leadership that wants to maintain good ties with China for the same reason, because they're trying to ensure the survival of the workers party in Vietnam.
The second reason has to do with the Korean War. Jim said, who is North Korea's great ally. It was Russia, but who paid in blood and treasure to keep North Korea alive? It wasn't Russia. It was China. Hundreds of thousands Chinese died in the Korean War to keep North Korea independent and sovereign. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese were killed or wounded in the Korean War. Ten times the number, at least 10 times, the number of Americans. So they paid a heavy price in their own history.
And in China's own history, victory in the Korean War over the Americans is something that they discuss routinely. Now of course, it wasn't really a victory, but the fact that they fought a much stronger power to a stalemate was a victory of sorts at the time. And so this is very hard within the highest levels of the Communist Party to decide that now is the time to abandon the country that you fought to keep alive and paid a high price for.
The fourth reason has to do with China's own beliefs about nuclear weapons. I think China believes that the North Koreans are developing nuclear weapons for perfectly reasonable reasons. To keep their countries sovereign and independent and to defend against potential attacks from the United States. This is exactly the same reason why China developed nuclear weapons.
So they've mentioned, oh, we've got lots of experience deterring China, so therefore we can deter Korea. It's also true-- or the flipside is also true. China has worked very hard to be in a position where it can deter the United States from using nuclear weapons against China first. And it took China a lot longer than it's taking North Korea.
But be that as it may, I think China looks at the situation, and says, yeah, you know, it's not bad for North Korea to have nuclear weapons, given that they want the regime in North Korea to survive. It probably is an insurance policy, and one in which they can see in their own history. So if you look at why China hasn't done more since the first test in 2006, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the Chinese believe the North has perfectly good reasons for developing nuclear weapons.
So a second question, what is China doing? China does just enough to appear to be doing something, but not so much that it will bring about serious political change in Pyongyang. So it's their min-max approach. The minimum that they can do to demonstrate that maximally somehow they're actually taking action. But it's never that much. It's never what Washington would like, or others who would like to tighten pressure on the North would like.
China is not going to go so far as to implement sanctions on its own that are so widespread and so robust that it would have the possibility of bringing about the collapse of the regime, and thus having the regime in Pyongyang. Think twice about its nuclear program. So China's not going to halt oil.
They might tweak the oil now and again to express displeasure. They might even reduce it somewhat, but they're not going to halt it. If you look at trade patterns over the last seven years, it's grown quite substantially, which I think points to the limits that China would place economically.
Now China's policy is for a dual freeze. So this would be a freeze of the DPRK's nuclear program in exchange for a freeze of US ROK exercises. This is a complete effort to deflect any responsibility away from China on to the United States, because who would have to make the first move here? Washington would have to say that it would no longer continue exercises with an ally that it's had for decades. So that's a nonstarter.
What China's not doing, for example, is emphasizing the goal of denuclearization from the September 2005 agreement in the Six Party Talks. Of course, this was before the first nuclear test, but it is an agreement that China helped bring about, and is one goal that many people would like to see is denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
So China's really just focused at a tactical level diplomatically and then the sort of more general exhortations to pursue a diplomatic approach. But that makes sense, if you buy my argument as to why they don't want to do more for geopolitical reasons, legitimacy reasons, and so forth.
Third question is will China's approach change? I think it's unlikely to change substantially, but there have been some very interesting signs in the last couple of years, and in fact, in the last few months, that there is certainly a great debate going on within Beijing among scholars, foreign scholars, and informed analysts about what kind of relationship China ought to have with the DPRK.
There is no love lost. These two countries really have no natural affinity for each other. And this goes all the way back to perhaps the 1930s, when Kim may have been rolled up with a gang of pro-Japanese guerrillas, or the Chinese Communist believe were pro-Japanese guerrillas, and also killed. But even in the Korean War, Kim's grandfather did not ask for Chinese assistance until October 1st, until really it was way too late. So there's no love lost between these two.
Now the upcoming 19th Party Congress in China, this is the National Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, reinforcing my point earlier about China's legitimacy concerns, is going to commence on the 18th of October. This is an extremely important event in the Chinese political calendar. This is when we will see whether or not Xi Jinping has been able to consolidate power by who is appointed and who is not appointed to the Politburo Standing Committee, and how large a committee will be, and so forth.
But this political process, which reflects a year or two of negotiations behind the scenes, has induced a lot of caution in the Chinese system. So there is a chance that once Xi's position is more set-- and I don't mean on October 19th, this would still take several months to play out. But if you had stronger, or if you had a consolidated leadership, or more consolidate leadership in China, you might see a willingness to entertain greater action, or perhaps even some kind of tacit cooperation diplomatically with the United States that has not yet been pursued. I'm not holding my breath. But it could happen. And conditions would certainly be more ripe for that to happen after the 19th Party Congress.
And then the debate that I mentioned, where you have people, ironically enough, writing in Western media outlets. So one article appeared this summer in Foreign Affairs by a Chinese scholar named Zhu Feng, entitled something like North Korea, China's Liablity, basically suggesting that China and the United States ought to collaborate to figure out how to deal with North Korea, which would be a huge change in China's approach. And then about four weeks ago, [INAUDIBLE], another Beijing based Chinese scholar, published an article in an Australian blog calling for joint China-US contingency planning.
So these were remarkable articles. They could not be published in China. They were published outside of China, but immediately translated and re-circulated within China, sparking a great debate. And these two individuals have faced, as far as I know, no repercussions for advancing these arguments, that are certainly on the face, contrary to the preferences and policies of the government in Beijing. So there is a debate. The last thing, I how that unfolds, I don't know. But that's a sign that something could change.
And then finally, I think, if you by my assessment that China is quite concerned about the future of the Korean peninsula, the best hope, if some sort of diplomatic approach were pursued, or some sort of joint US-Chinese approach were pursued, would be to contain real assurances about upholding the division of the Korean peninsula and securing the regime in Pyongyang, which I think many Americans would not want to do. And I don't think even this White House would want to do. But I think those are the kinds of assurances that China would be looking for if it were to apply more pressure to bring about change.
The last point I wanted to make is that I think, if one thinks, or looks forward to the evolution of the region over the next five to 10 years, China's approach is probably backfiring quite considerably. So two outcomes are kind of possible. The first would be a tightening of the US alliance system under the rubric of missile defense. We've already seen this with the deployment of a Thaad battery to South Korea earlier this year. And we could certainly see deployment of similar systems to Japan, or even a deepening or enhancement of the systems that are in South Korea, which not only enhance US missile defenses, but are a way in which the US can greater integrate the alliances in the region, and integrate them together, and be in a much stronger position than China wants.
Or South Korea and Japan could decide that they need to have their own nuclear weapons, which is also what Beijing doesn't want. So in some ways Beijing's reluctance to do more is creating a set of futures that it is actually harmful to Beijing's longer term interest. But that potential harm does not seem to outweigh the imperatives that China has identified in keeping the peninsula divided. Thank you.
JIM WALSH: So we're now in the question and answer period. We have microphones on either side of the aisles. People are free to line up behind them. We would encourage one question per customer, hopefully a question rather than a lengthy statement. But that's probably as likely as Kim giving up his weapons. So--
AUDIENCE: Thank you. My name is [INAUDIBLE], and I'm a second year master's student at Fletcher School. So the analysis made by Professor Narang, from the denuclearization to the deterrence, I think it's a perfect policy goal change, more realistic at this point. Also, it's in a good standing with the US vital interests in securing the survival of its allies.
On the other hand, I think another vital interest of the US is to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, not only from North Korea, but also in countries in East Asia, including South Korea and Japan. And I would argue that in South Korea, the nuclear fervor of South Korea going nuclear, it's getting stronger and stronger. [INAUDIBLE] opposition party with one third of national assembly almost officially endorsed that South Korea should go nuclear.
JIM WALSH: Is there a question here?
AUDIENCE: Correct. So the question is, is the US willing to let South Korea or Japan go nuclear for the sake of-- for protecting-- for continuing its deterrence policy against North Korea?
VIPIN NARANG: These are old problems. We had to deal with this with West Germany in the 1950s, and France in the 1950s and '60s. The strategic aim-- I mean, there's a political aim that Kim Jong-un has the nuclear weapons also, which is break our alliances. And it's an old problem, known as decoupling, which really confronted Western Europe when the Soviet Union was believed to be able to hold the US homeland at risk.
And de Gaulle famously asked, would the United States trade Washington DC for Paris. And it was one of the reasons that motivated France to acquire nuclear weapons on its own. But Germany was also seized with this fear. And we went to great lengths with nuclear sharing and dual key control to prevent West Germany from going nuclear. And it was the same kind of raising the temperature that Adenauer did in order to get those assurances.
So this is kind of a game that the allies play also, which is they raise the heat to get greater reassurance from the United States on extended deterrence. So this isn't an old problem, and we know how to do it. Now it could be that President Trump has a more relaxed view of horizontal proliferation. We don't know. I mean, it would be a break in US policy to say we are comfortable with the allies acquiring nuclear weapons.
There is a very real strategic reason why the United States doesn't want the allies to acquire nuclear weapons, which is the US doesn't want the allies to start a war that the US has to finish. And having a single finger on the button, so to speak, is much easier from an alliance management and nuclear command control perspective. And I think that those are very strong arguments in favor of continuing extended deterrence.
Extended deterrence is one of the greatest nonproliferation tools the United States has had. And I don't see it-- Japan has a very strong hedge already. And it's South Korea that I think has a longer way to go. And so we'll see how this unfolds.
But I think Kim sits there seeing President Trump tweeting about chorus and South Korea appeasement, thinking my strategy is working. I'm breaking the alliances and causing discord between Seoul and Washington, and Washington and Tokyo. And we have a very odd alliance structure. As you know, it's two bilateral relationships instead of a trilateral relationship. So we'll have to figure this out. But we know how to do this also.
AUDIENCE: I have a question about [INAUDIBLE] US-China [INAUDIBLE]. So it's not working.
JIM WALSH: Yeah, can--
AUDIENCE: Oh, there its, OK, great. So I have a question about the US-China contingency plans. As Professor Fravel was saying, that under certain circumstances, such that the US and China can work something, such that in return, China agrees a unified Korean peninsula, but is neutral, and without US military forces?
TAYLOR FRAVEL: That might be China's aim in offering some sort of coordination. But I'm not sure that the United States and South Korea would agree. So I think the US concerns, and even the South Korean concerns, and I think a growing awareness in China as well, regarding coordination, simply has to do with what happens if there is a crisis or an event on the peninsula that required-- that engages the interests of China and the United States at the same time.
So in a regime collapse scenario, who secures the North Korean nuclear materials, which are located pretty close to the border with China, but the US still might be able to get there faster. What happens if your forces are in close proximity to each other from both countries. So it has more to do with, I would say, operational or tactical questions, and strategic questions, as to what the future of the peninsula should look like. But those tactical and operational concerns are getting more and more important every day, especially if you believe that Kim might be emboldened somehow with his possession of nuclear weapons to initiate some kind of conventional provocation that elicits a US and South Korean response.
JIM WALSH: Can I just briefly add an addendum? So I can understand, and I support it, that people want the US and China to work closely together. But as I said in my talk, this is exactly what North Korea fears and expects. And as we push China, understandably, to squeeze North Korea, if that relationship deteriorates, who is the great power guarantor for an agreement? Who is it that North Korea trusts when an agreement is signed to make sure the US follows through on its promises?
Now, the more-- you know, China's in the classic situation of both trying to reassure and squeeze at the same time. But if that relationship unravels, why in the world with North Korea ever agree to anything with the other parties? It's the weakest player.
AUDIENCE: Should US station nuclear weapons in North Korea like they do in Germany?
VIPIN NARANG: In South Korea?
AUDIENCE: In South Korea.
VIPIN NARANG: No. There's no deterrent reason for it. I mean, we're the stronger, conventional power, which is not the case in NATO. So this argument about deploying tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea, they become ripe for inadvertent escalation. It's just more targets on the ground that could-- we have sufficient standoff capability. We have SSBNs, a responsive air leg. There's just no reason I can conceive of from a deterrent standpoint as to why that would make sense. But I can think of a lot of downsides. So I don't see the argument for it, other than for reassurance, but there are other ways to reassure.
AUDIENCE: It might signal to the North Koreans that the US are really serious about--
VIPIN NARANG: I don't think the North Koreans are worried about our seriousness.
JIM WALSH: I agree.
AUDIENCE: Would it be better for-- sorry, I'm [INAUDIBLE] from [INAUDIBLE]. Would it be better for the international community to acknowledge North Korea's program, and try to limit it where it is, rather than allowing it to get in touch with nuclear aspirants, given North Korea's past record of nuclear sharing with other states, particularly leaking information to Iran and [INAUDIBLE].
VIPIN NARANG: I've written this also-- giving up on denuclearization does not mean you give up on non-proliferation. Non-proliferation objectives can occur, and have. Arms control agreements with the Soviet Union and China have been reached while we're practicing deterrence. I'm just saying, give up on the dream of denuclearization, but that doesn't mean you can't work on vertical proliferation limits and horizontal proliferation.
Very worried about North Korea-- the more sanctions you put on North Korea, the more incentive it has to sell nuclear technology and knowledge for hard cash. So we obviously have interests in preventing North Korean assistance of nuclear technology and knowledge to other countries. And we also had incentives to try to limit the vertical proliferation of the program also.
And we can do that simultaneously. It's exactly what we do with the Soviet Union. And India and Pakistan, maybe, one day, can also have some discussion about vertical limits on their programs also. But there are things that I think North Korea signalled that we can even talk about now. Even if we're not talking about negotiations, there are things that can be put on the table.
B1 flights in exchange for no more nuclear testing. B1 flights in exchange for no more ICBM tests. I mean, there's a lot of scope for quid pro quos that don't involve give up their nuclear weapons, which seems to be our opening bid, at least publicly, and that's a nonstarter for North Korea.
JIM WALSH: I would say that in the policy world, the language here is important. I mean, we had a Iran nuclear deal, but we never accepted Iran's self-described right to enrichment. And I think that we can negotiate with North Korea and reduce the risk. But I don't think-- and obviously, we accept the physical fact that they have nuclear capabilities, but I don't think we should welcome them as a nuclear weapon state.
I didn't think we should have done that with India, and that's why I was opposed to US-India nuclear deal. And I don't think we should do it in this case. But for some, that might seem too much parsing. But in the policy world, that stuff matters.
VIPIN NARANG: They can't legally be a nuclear weapon state, because the NPT only identifies five. So they can be a nuclear weapons power, without being a nuclear weapons state, which is kind of the language we used for India.
AUDIENCE: Question about US left of launch strategy-- US left of launch sabotage strategy. There was some talked about this earlier in the year. It seems to have not been effective.
VIPIN NARANG: Do you see any evidence it's working?
AUDIENCE: Yeah. Was it ever working, and if so, why did it stop?
VIPIN NARANG: It's great psy-op. I think-- Jim, sorry--
JIM WALSH: No, no, please.
VIPIN NARANG: It's great to have these stories out there. Because it just generates fear in North Korea that we're messing with their supply chain. And there's just no evidence it's working. The missiles that have been failing are kind of untested, unreliable, Musudans, which are stitched together. But everything else seems to be working OK.
And we can get into the supply chain. And they always have to worry about it. It's kind of the instead of doing B1 flights, one possibility is we just release stories that we flew B1s and scare them would ghost stories. I mean, all of the psychological operations are useful, but at least so far, it's hard to say that there's been any evidence it's worked.
It doesn't mean we aren't trying. It doesn't mean-- there's a lot of things we can do to try to enter ourselves into the supply chain. But it gets back to-- the reason why-- I don't know if you guys have been following-- there's a big debate about the providence of the engines on the missiles, and whether North Korea, as front page of The New York Times story, whether North Korea could purchase its own UDMH, the liquid fuel, the storable liquid fuel for the Hwasong 12 and 14.
Those are important, because if we can mess with the supply chains, if they have to get them from outside, or if they're dependant on foreign suppliers, it limits the amount of supply they have. If they can make it though, and they're doing indigenously, they can't have better operational security for it. And the limits on how big the program can grow are much higher then. And we may not be able to insert these kinds of left of launch measures that we may be working on.
JIM WALSH: We're going to continue to follow this process, but I do want to signal that since we do have one of the world's leading scholars of nuclear issues in the room, if he doesn't want to get in line, he can still raise his hand and we will entertain his question. Yes sir.
AUDIENCE: I'm [INAUDIBLE], from Northeastern, sophomore. And how [INAUDIBLE] the idea that a nuclear [INAUDIBLE] on North Korea and a free pass on humanitarian issues?
JIM WALSH: Can you say that one more time? I know that mic is screwed up, and you're bending over.
AUDIENCE: How [INAUDIBLE] the nuclear option with North Korea, and a free pass on humanitarian issues.
JIM WALSH: Yeah, I'll take that one. I definitely hear-- well, obviously, it's a murderous regime that is one of the worst with respect to the treatment of its own people, and oversaw a famine which it bungled. And so this moral question of how do you deal with evil when it's a threat, are you giving them a pass on that? And I'm sympathetic to that.
The humanitarian consequences of a nuclear war would be far more substantial. I think we need to put that on the ledger. And I don't think that just because we entertain the possibility of having agreements that reduce the chance of conflict, that that requires that we're any less critical or work any harder on the humanitarian issues. When it comes to humanitarian relief, I would argue, the sanctions regime has made helping those women, and children, and elderly in the burn out cities and in the hinterlands, more difficult.
The Eugene Bell Foundation, because of national sanctions enacted by North Korea, was prevented for a while, until it was resolved, from going in to do tuberculosis work. There's a bad diseases, communicable diseases, that could have outbreaks in North Korea. And so I don't I don't see these things as mutually exclusive.
But I get the notion that all we do is talk about nuclear, and that's the first priority, no one ever talks about the other stuff. I hear you, but I think there's more-- I think it's not either or.
AUDIENCE: I'm [INAUDIBLE] from Stanford, and I hope you don't mind me jumping the queue, but these were advisee of mine. So your thesis advisor, undergraduate honors advisors may come back.
VIPIN NARANG: I'm going to use this as precedent to come after these guys.
AUDIENCE: Like Jim, I'm worried about this, even though I think this is unlikely, but war could occur. One thing I would say to people is if the United States starts evacuating non-essential personnel, that's really, when you should be worried about things. This weekend, there was an announcement that all American non-essential personnel should be prepared to evacuate.
JIM WALSH: I did not see that.
AUDIENCE: Within hours, it was released that this was false information, this was not real and the US government issued something directly to the troops saying don't believe this. Who possibly had an interest to do that? Thoughts? Worries? Why would this have happened?
VIPIN NARANG: I wouldn't have done this 20 years ago when Scott was my advisor. I somewhat disagree on evacuation order being a signal, because if it's going to be a surprise attack, we can't issue an evacuation order, and a surprise attack has to be the way we do this. And so my concern is actually that we're putting American forces and personnel up on a platter if we start a war. And we wouldn't have any indicators, because we can't give Kim any indication.
And so I saw the story, and it came from a South Korean outlet. I don't know what to make-- where it came from or why. But I immediately thought there's no way we would issue, because we just wouldn't issue an evac order in the first place. So my worry is war by miscalculation. The way I think all of us kind of see how a B1 flight be misinterpreted as go day. I would not expect an evacuation order.
TAYLOR FRAVEL: I'll just say in all matters of fake news today, the Russians.
JIM WALSH: Good one. I'm not so confident and sanguine about it. But I think what it does is point to this-- we now have another path to war that we did not know of before, which is, for lack of a better term, fake news and manipulation of reporting. And I think that's very disturbing.
And we know that certain leaders of the world pay more attention to news reports than they do to their advisors. Why are you laughing? Or their intelligence community, or their--
VIPIN NARANG: [INAUDIBLE] about the Iran missile test, which was not real.
JIM WALSH: Yes. So I think that this is another path. You know, I used to say, we're one dead fisherman from some sort of conflict. That is to say, what is the thing that we're not looking for that leads people to misinterpret. And you-- and I have not thought about this before, and you have now identified a whole new category. Yes sir--
AUDIENCE: So, it appears, whether it's reality or not, but that North Korea is extremely paranoid that they're going to be invaded, et cetera, or whether or not that's just Kim-- is what he's selling to his people to remain in power. Do you think that, although we would have to have diplomatic relations, which we don't currently have with them. But if we ever offered to end the armistice in an official peace treaty and formalize it, that might give him sort of a olive branch to grab and say this is what I did for America, and we can actually have some real negotiations? Or do you think it would even make a difference?
JIM WALSH: For years, and years, and years in Trac 2s, that is what the North Koreans have been asking for, is a peace treaty. And there's any number of Americans who served officially in government who opposed it when they were in government and then endorsed it once they got out of government. I can think of at least three. I think it's worth pursuing.
I think people should just show up at the table without precondition. That's how you do negotiations. Right now, both sides are saying I want to talk, I don't want to talk. And in our case, we're saying we want you to denuclearize as evidence of your good faith before we sit down to talk about denuclearization. So I don't know why you'd have the negotiation, if they'd already done what you asked them for to begin with.
But my own view is parties just need to sit down. They need to show up every Wednesday in Geneva and sit, and every party gets to say what they want to say. And they keep doing it. And then you see where it goes. And peace treaty should certainly be part of that. But I don't sense there's those same-- that that has the same salience or juice that it had in past years. And of course, peace treaty means very different things to the parties.
AUDIENCE: When you say that, meaning to North Koreans?
JIM WALSH: Yeah, the North Koreans. We always sort of reject it out of hand, which I always thought was a dumb idea. But the North Koreans, they still talk about it. But they don't talk about it as much. They talk a lot more about Pyongyang policy of we're a weapon state and we're going to develop our economy. But I'd be happy to bring that back as an oldie, but goodie.
AUDIENCE: I clearly understand the reasons that you all mentioned for why they rationally want nuclear weapons. But isn't it sufficient to have the conventional deterrent, especially with their proximity to Seoul and the terrain with the hardening and the hiding of armaments, and I'm just wondering why they didn't stay on that path.
JIM WALSH: Spectacular question, fantastic question. I think that's a real puzzle. And I don't know the answer. I mean, it could be that there are other motivations for the nuclear program. Some people thought it was their new look. They couldn't afford to maintain a conventional, so they went nuclear. Some people think it's about internal legitimacy and prestige.
I don't know, but I think maybe it isn't as good as we think. But they seem to have worked really hard on that too. But I love the question. And I have no idea. Do you guys have a crack at this?
VIPIN NARANG: I think those are all what Jim said. There are not mutually exclusive reasons. But I still think there is a security argument, which is if you're North Korea, and you believe that the US is willing to sacrifice Seoul anyway, how do you change the US calculation. If you want to break the alliances, then you don't have the conventional reach to really hurt the US without nuclear weapons. I think that's kind of-- that would be the security-ish argument.
But it's true, I mean, we're still talking-- we're still talking about a population of 20 million people within 30, 40 miles of the DMZ. And you're going to have significant casualties even without a nuclear weapon. South Korea's been living with this conventional [? internment ?] for so long. So North Korea's nuclear weapons actually don't affect South Korea as much as it affects Japan and the United States.
I think we're seeing that. I think there's a little more-- the South Koreans say this doesn't really change our political strategy with North Korea. It changes yours. But I think that kind of division between the alliance is exactly what Kim is trying to achieve in developing nuclear weapons also. But there's a very strong political argument here, which is break these alliances apart.
The final point I would add, I do think-- I can't prove this, but my intuition is that there's nothing to do with the domestic political legitimacy as well. I mean, so many pictures of Kim standing and observing a test and exercise, smoking around a missile before it was launched. That he seems to be using that. It could be a second order reason, not a first order reason. I think the ones that Vipin mentioned are probably the primary ones. But he could certainly be using it to bolster what looked like a pretty weak position when he came into power, along with shooting his uncle, and a bunch of other people.
JIM WALSH: Are we supposed to wrap up soon?
JOHN TIRMAN: One question.
JIM WALSH: I'm going to ask that the line be broken, because we haven't had one female questioner the entire time. And I'm going to give that question to you.
AUDIENCE: So I'm from Brooklyn High School. And I want to ask about the roles of the international bodies, such as United Nations, can play to solve the North Korean problem. And is there any resemblance of North Korean case to the cases of Iran or Pakistan.
JIM WALSH: Well, I think it's a good question. You know, we've seen in the news recently that the Europeans-- so what are other diplomatic alternatives, or people who could be conveners, or help nudge the parties along. The Europeans are actively trying to do that, according to some recent reporting, based on the embassies in Pyongyang. You know, certainly the UN Is involved in humanitarian assistance in the DPRK. But also they're involved in these human rights investigations, which drive the North Koreans crazy, absolutely crazy. And it's the UN that has imposed all these sanctions.
So as a neutral interlocutor, it's tough. And of course, what is the UN? It's a membership of sovereign states. So I totally get the idea that would be nice to have some other way to get at this. And so we need to think creatively about that. And so that's part of that process, is to think about what the UN or what others might do.
But at the end of the day, the principals will-- if others can clear the ground or provide encouragement-- the principals are still going to have to make some tough decisions themselves. But that's a great question.
VIPIN NARANG: Just last thing to add on the UN, with China and Russia both on the Security Council and exercising a veto, that quickly serves the political calculations of the five permanent members. If they are not in agreement as to how to proceed, then I think it limits what the Security Council can do. Now there are UN bodies playing other roles, but in terms of the Security Council, remember it's a reflection of the politics of the permanent members.
JIM WALSH: Boss, do you want to take us out here? One more? Sure, we get one more. This is your bonus question. Look how fast that guy-- your good.
AUDIENCE: This is a question about North Korea's deterrence strategy. Given the potential impact of an EMP strike on the US power grid, do you think that's part of their nuclear deterrence strategy?
VIPIN NARANG: I just don't know why you'd waste a nuclear [INAUDIBLE] on an EMP. I mean, if you're going to target the US homeland, you target the US homeland. I mean, the EMP concern right now, I think, is this discussion of an atmospheric nuclear test. And if you do that over the Pacific, there will be EMP effects within a certain radius, depending on the yield.
And shipping-- I don't know how civilian airliners are hardened against an EMP. I mean, we don't know. Right now, I think the immediate threat is if they go forward with an atmospheric nuclear test on a ballistic missile, which they've signaled they're considering. But I would be surprised if that's their lead-off hitter. I think we'd have to-- there'd have to be an escalation in the crisis.
Or we have to keep saying we don't believe you have the ability to deliver a thermonuclear weapon on Hwasong 14. And that's what drove the Chinese to do the [INAUDIBLE] test in 1966. It's why the Navy tested [INAUDIBLE] in '66, because to show-- or '62, to show the Air Force that they could do it. And so if we keep saying we doubt the North Korean ability to deliver a warhead, the way the State Department spokesman said the other day, they may just show us that they can do it.
And then if a missile goes awry, I mean-- how do you clear out. They probably can't give advance warning. Things have to be-- they'd have to do it without a lot of notification to airmen or Mariners. So you'd probably have-- you could have some effect on shipping and civilian airliners. That I think could be a very significant pathway.
If a civilian airliner goes down, I don't know enough about how hardened civilian airliners are against a high altitude EMP effect. But that would be very, very, very risky.
JIM WALSH: I have a big bias. I never got the EMP thing. It seemed to me that you got--
VIPIN NARANG: Certainly not in the US homeland.
JIM WALSH: I mean, you get all the downsides of a nuclear attack without any of the benefits. Your adversary sees this nuclear missile coming towards you. They don't know that it's an EMP. And they think, oh, we're under attack. So you know, we're going to shoot our nuclear missiles at you. So I've never really gotten that one.
AUDIENCE: What is an EMP?
JIM WALSH: So you launch a nuke. You put it in the atmosphere and it fries the electrical grid. But I know people care about it, so-- and that's good too.
VIPIN NARANG: Certainly not on the US. I mean, the only scenario I think that that is a risk is what a test over the Pacific. That would-- then you'd have localized EMP effects.
AUDIENCE: You see that that's less of a threat than say a direct nuclear attack?
VIPIN NARANG: Yeah, I mean, if you're going to--
JIM WALSH: Yes.
VIPIN NARANG: If you're North Korea, you're going to use one, you use one.
JIM WALSH: You're all in or you're not. This halfway thing only gets you killed without accomplishing any of your goals.
JOHN TIRMAN: Let's thank our panel, and thank you.