Arms Control Economic Sanctions Economy & Business Korea Nuclear Nonproliferation

Issue Brief

March 4, 2021

It’s time to get serious about a pressure strategy to contain North Korea

By Andrea R. Mihailescu


As North Korea continues to expand its nuclear stockpile and modernize their missile technology, the new Biden administration must react accordingly. An optimal strategy would continue dialogue with Kim Jong-un’s government, backed by a variety of pressure and enforcement tactics, in order to strive for the goal of arms reduction.

The pressure strategy to contain North Korea consists of four interwoven components to advance serious diplomacy: the enforcement of existing UN Security Council resolutions and US laws; diplomatic engagements with third countries to put pressure on Kim’s regime; identifying new authorities, designations, and pressures on cyber, financial, trade, and human rights; and conducting ongoing research within US intelligence agencies to review what has and has not worked.

The key to many of these pressure tactics will be to isolate North Korea from the foreign revenues they currently obtain from either cybercrime or illicit trade. China and Russia, the largest foreign supporters of the North Korean government, are key to the Kim regime’s survival and must be a part of the negotiations as well. Targeted objectives for the Biden administration should be clear, efficient, and specific. This ranges from increasing security for global financial firms to preclude the laundering of North Korean money, to updating sanction restrictions on the export of luxury goods that benefit top officials in the Kim regime.

Containment of the Kim regime and its military developments will likely outlast any present-day US presidential administration, but American leadership is necessary in the global effort to isolate and put pressure on the nuclear ambitions of Kim Jong-Un.

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