Bruce Klingner: We should always be very worried about North Korea. As some on the peninsula have said, we're always you know sort of a second away from a crisis. Four US four star generals think North Korea already has, or we have to assume they have for planning purposes, the ability to hit the United States today with a nuclear weapon. Scott Thuman: That sounds daunting.
Bruce Klingner: It is. That's why you have growing discussion or perhaps advocacy for preemptive attacks
Scott Thuman: At the beginning of the year, before his inauguration, President Trump tweeted about North Korea's efforts to build and deploy nuclear long-range missile. He said, quote, it won't happen. Is the President right to make a promise like that?
Bruce Klingner: The problem is, we don't know what he meant. Even Rex Tillerson, his Secretary of State during his confirmation hearings, he was asked, does that mean Mr. Trump simply doesn't think North Korea can do it? And he said, well it could mean that. And then asked Mr. Tillerson, do you think he's drawing a red line that he might use military force? And he said, well I don't think he meant that, but he could mean that, too.
Scott Thuman: So there's no way of knowing if that's a red line?
Bruce Klingner: It's the problem of trying to do policy by tweets. It leads itself to misinterpretation.
Scott Thuman: What have been some of the other administration's missed steps in handling North Korea, and what could President Trump do differently on that front?
Bruce Klingner: Well, I think we first have to identify that there is no administration, no political party has a monopoly on good or bad ideas on North Korea. Experts have been trying to solve North Korea for decades, so we need to realize that North Korea is the problem, it's not a specific US administration.
Scott Thuamn: President Bush's administration removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Bruce Klingner: Correct.
Scott Thuman: That was in an effort to get them to play along a little bit. Is it time they go back on that list?
Bruce Klingner: I, I think it is. There's actually been a, really a long list of actions by North Korea since they were removed from the list in 2008, which I believe, qualifies them for that. There's been shipments of conventional arms to terrorist groups, Hezbollah and Hamas. There have been attempted assassinations, or successful assassinations of North Korean defectors in South Korea and Russia and China and now Malaysia. Also, you know, if we think back to when North Korea conducted the cyber-hack on the Sony Studio, not only was it the hacking, it was the threats of 9/11 styled attacks on any theater and theater goers that went to see the movie, The Interview. That's, that's a threat of a terrorist act.
Scott Thuman: President Obama uh, reportedly on his way out of office, had warned incoming President Trump that this was going to be one of his greatest concerns, if not one of his top priorities. Is that a fair assessment?
Bruce Klingner: I think it's very fair. North Korea really is a, a broad spectrum of military threat. It's got the nuclear weapons, it's got the missile means to deliver them, as well as deliver conventional high explosive warheads. It also has 5,000 tons of chemical agent we estimate. It has a biological weapons program. It has a million-man army, forward deployed near the demilitarized zone, bordering South Korea. South Korea's capital, Seoul, is within artillery range of perhaps 10,000 artillery systems.
North Korea also is the counterfeiter of our currency, it produces and distributes illegal drugs. Money laundering, it really is...
Scott Thuman: It's a long list.
Bruce Klingner: It's sort of Don Corleone with nuclear weapons.