North Korea’s test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on the Fourth of July is forcing the Trump administration to more seriously consider options for addressing the aggressive regime, as the president meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit in Germany this week.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley in an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council said North Korea is “quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution,” U.S. military action is an option, and the U.S. will act alone if necessary. Mr. Trump last week said the time for “patience” with North Korea is “over.” 
But any military conflict in North Korea would “probably be the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes,” Defense Secretary James Mattis told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” in May, and security experts warn North Korea could easily and immediately kill hundreds of thousands of people in nearby Seoul, South Korea. So, what are the options for addressing the “problem,” as Mr. Trump has put it, of North Korea and its leader, 33-year-old leader, Kim Jong-un?
Security experts say the options are limited.
“Those who say there are no good options are absolutely correct,” said Christopher Hill, former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea who led the U.S. delegation in 2005 talks with North Korea about curtailing its nuclear program. He is now the dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.
“I consider this a very dangerous time,” Hill said.
The key is is to work in the “narrow” space between war and peace, the former ambassador said. The U.S. needs to cooperate with the Chinese on slowing the North Korean missile program. One way to do that is through cyber interference that disrupts the Korean regime and its missile system in a “clandestine” way, Hill said.
“Obviously the trouble with cyber is, the more you do it, the more prepared they are for the next attack,” Hill said.
Harry Krejsa, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) working in the Asia-Pacific Security Program, said the solution “boils down to finding some sort of diplomatic solution through hard-nosed dialogue or sanctions.”
Direct sanctions aren’t really possible with North Korea, said Bruce Bennett, a senior international and defense researcher at the RAND Corporation in California.
“Almost everything they do they do internally,” Bennett explained.
Secondary sanctions — economic sanctions on a third-party nation, like China — are the probably the “next frontier,” Krejsa said. Roughly 90 percent of North Korea’s trade is with China. But the only thing China wants less than a nuclear-capable North Korea is a unified Korea, which could send refugees and an American military presence at its doorstep, Krejsa said.
“We’re in this kind of catch-22 here,” Krejsa said — America needs to encourage China to confront the crisis in North Korea, while pressuring its economy.
“I think there’s little that we could do to encourage China to see things our way,” Krejsa added.
There is probably nothing the U.S. or other nations could offer that would make North Korea voluntarily give up its weapons system, Krejsa said, so any dialogue must be paired with coercive pressure. Negotiation attempts with North Korea have a “really, really poor history behind them,” Krejsa said. Every time the U.S. has reached some agreement with North Korea on scaling back or freezing their missile program, North Korea has walked away or violated the agreement.
“Almost all of our agreements have led to reversible conditions,” Bennett said.
That’s partly why agreements in the past have failed — the agreements have been reversible, Bennett said. The U.S. and other nations need to threaten North Korea to give up at least some of its nuclear weapons or face the peaceful dismantling of its regime, Bennett said.
What about the IAEA?
Bennett suggested demanding that North Korea give up some weapons to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an entity that could designate North Korea as a nuclear power — something the regime wants — while providing the U.S. and its allies with valuable intelligence about North Korea’s capabilities.
The U.S. and its allies also have to threaten North Korea with information, Bennett said. For instance, if North Korea fails to hand over its nuclear assets, the U.S. should drop information such as commercials on South Korean soap opera DVDs showing the failures of the North Korean regime. South Korean soap operas are extremely desirable in North Korea, he said.
“They’re realizing that this is the normal lifestyle in South Korea, so it’s kind of this fairyland,” Bennett said.
The U.S. should also be prepared to threaten North Korea, should it launch a missile, with dropping leaflets offering to give $500,000 to North Korean defectors who come to South Korea, a move that would make North Korea’s leader “furious,” Bennett said.
“We need to be looking at ways that leverage him, the decision-maker, and don’t just hurt the people of North Korea,” Bennett said.