- Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The threats posed by North Korea are at their greatest level in two decades — and there isn’t clarity about what geopolitical responses should be planned, experts told a recent panel discussion held at The Washington Times.

One measure — leveraging American banks’ control over U.S. currency transactions, including the dollars used by North Korea to conduct its business — looked promising. But the mercurial nature of the nation’s supreme leader, Kim Jong-un, who is backed by one of the world’s largest military forces, makes the communist nation’s actions particularly difficult to predict — or prepare for, said panelists, including former California Rep. John Doolittle; Jenny Town, assistant director of the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (USKI); Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation; and Bill Gertz, national security columnist at The Washington Times.

The March 16 briefing, hosted by The Washington Times Foundation, was moderated by Alexandre Mansourov, professor of security studies at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a visiting scholar at USKI.

The panelists gave the current threat assessment posed by North Korea — including its missiles, nuclear tests, satellite launches, miniaturization efforts for nuclear weaponry, special operations, midget submarines and cyberwarfare.

They discussed current and potential responses for several kinds of worst-case scenarios as well as the desired outcomes. South Korean young adults, for instance, appear to be growing less interested in the kind of reunification that their elders have craved.

Of special note this year is the Workers’ Party Congress, which is being held in May. Such events are rare — the last one was held in 1980 — and typically used to announce major leadership or policy changes, said Ms. Town, who is part of a team that reports on North Korea activities at USKI’s web journal, 38north.org.

Cheryl Wetzstein is manager of special sections at The Washington Times.

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