North Korea expert Sue Mi Terry on the future of the Kim Jong Un regime – “Intelligence Matters”


In this episode of “Intelligence Matters,” host Michael Morell speaks with Sue Mi Terry, former senior CIA analyst and current Director of the Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy at the Wilson Center, about North Korea’s record-breaking spate of missile tests in 2022 and its overall approach to the Biden administration. Terry and Morell discuss the stances struck by Russia and China to Pyongyang’s newly aggressive behavior, as well as the prospects for changes in the Kim regime’s behavior. Terry also identifies some burgeoning fissures in North Korean society and discusses growing concerns about leader Kim Jong Un’s health.

Highlights

  • Ineffectiveness of sanctions: “I think 2017 was a very different period and China, to everybody’s surprise, was actually doing its part after years of dragging its feet. And now I just don’t think China is going to do that. So sanctions are not going to be as effective because they’re not going to be implemented properly. ”
  • Growing complacency with North Korea’s nuclear weaponization: “Even just recently with this intermediate range ballistic missile test, even the media doesn’t care. The Americans don’t care. The South Koreans don’t care. We are now sort of living with it. So the more they do this , the more they condition the international community to accepting North Korea, like we did with Pakistan. So I think that’s the goal, and that’s the play: They test. We sit down with the North Koreans, have some sort of a freeze deal, and then we lift the majority of sanctions and accept North Korea’s nuclear weapons power. And they, in return, they promise not to make more. “
  • Emergence of internal fissures: “[T[here’s a lot going on internally in North Korea, a lot on the ground; private markets, information seeping into North Korea that’s really chipping away at regime myths and bringing about some change. So if we stay the course and aid that effort, you just never know, right?  And also, Kim Jong Un is not healthy. And if something were to happen to him, to Kim, that’s a real wild card. Because he doesn’t have a successor lined up. His kids are at elementary school level. He has his sister, but it’s uncertain what’s going to happen. So there is a lot going on internally in North Korea, there are still very much wildcards.”

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INTELLIGENCE MATTERS – SUE MI TERRY

PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS

MICHAEL MORELL: Sue, welcome back to Intelligence Matters. It’s great to have you with us again.

SUE MI TERRY: Thank you for having me on.

MICHAEL MORELL: So, Sue, a relatively quiet 2021 from North Korea. No nuclear tests. Only a few missile tests. Now, just in January of this year, we’ve had seven missile tests of varying types. I think we set a record for missile tests in one month, including the last one, which was an intermediate range ballistic missile test. What explains the relative quiet of last year and the sharp turn we’re seeing this year?

SUE MI TERRY: First, you’re right, this is a sort of record-setting. Kim has now carried out more missile tests this month than in any month since coming to power a decade ago. I think in the past year, it’s the first year of the Biden administration, and perhaps North Koreans were sort of seeing where the Biden administration would go.
So now it’s been a year into it, and they, Kim Jong Un, has made a calculation that by just sitting around the Biden administration is not going to really offer them anything that they were looking for, like sanctions relief or anything else.

I also think last year was a unique year in the sense that North Koreans are still very paranoid about COVID. The borders still remain closed. They were the first country to close the border with China in January 2020, so it was an unusual year. As you know, they normally greet a new U.S. administration with a barrage of missile tests. They did so with Obama. They did so with Trump. They didn’t with Biden – again, special year with COVID. And I think they were just trying to see where the Biden administration was going to go.

MICHAEL MORELL: And do you know if there was any outreach from the Biden administration to North Korea during that first year, if there were any talks going on of any kind?

SUE MI TERRY: I don’t think there were any talks. I know that the Biden administration tried. They also said that they were going to be happy to sit down with the North Koreans at any time without preconditions. But the North Koreans were not interested, and I don’t think they were interested because they knew just by sitting, just meeting them in that way, they’re not going to really get anything from the Biden administration that is different, like significant sanctions relief. Also, I think the COVID issue does matter. They are very, very paranoid about COVID, and it probably was not an ideal time to also have meetings.

MICHAEL MORELL: So I wonder what you think they’re trying to accomplish now with this barrage of tests? Both diplomatically, politically and militarily.

SUE MI TERRY: Right, so there is, I think, multiple aims, goals. First, I do think they are genuinely trying to modernize their weapons system, right?

So you just mentioned that they tested intermediate range ballistic missile Hwasong-12. This test follows a barrage of other tests, right, there were three hypersonic missile tests really showing that North Korea is developing missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads that would be easier to hide, harder to intercept.
And those hypersonic missile tests follow other tests like we’ve seen in the recent months, like the new train-mounted ballistic missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles, short-range missiles, long-range cruise missiles. And they’re all in line with North Korea’s broader attempts to diversify its missile arsenal, evade missile defense systems, so they’re on track of doing that. Mounted ballistic missiles, for example, makes sense for North Korea because North Korea is very mountainous. They have thousands of underground bunkers. They can hide these missiles before rolling them out.

And Kim Jong Un has told us he’s going to do this, right. He said in January of last year – if you remember the Party Congress – that he was going to double-down on nuclear program, that he’s going to strengthen their nuclear deterrence. He listed a whole lot of other weapons that he has not yet tested, which concerns me.
So there is a genuine reason in terms of, they want to modernize and expand and diversify and so on. And then I think, you know, obviously there’s also showcasing strength and showing defiance to us and internally – because they have a lot of challenges internally. They have food shortages, ongoing food shortages, economic issues. And so this also works domestically.

And then when they do ever sit down with Americans, you know, they get more leverage, right, because they have expanded and modernized their program. So there are multiple reasons. I think it’s hard to say exactly one reason is behind the recent testing. But I’m concerned that they’re going to do more. That we’re just seeing the beginning.

MICHAEL MORELL: So Sue, the U.S. has responded to these tests in January by trying to get the United Nations Security Council to pass additional sanctions, but those have been blocked by Russia and China. In fact, the Russian and Chinese have argued that we should actually roll back some of the sanctions on North Korea. What’s going on on that front and how does Kim Jong Un read all of that?

SUE MI TERRY: Well, Kim Jong Un, first of all, with the way he reads it, is that this is very good for Kim Jong Un, right? He knows that there’s not going to be any kind of real, coordinated international response, any kind of response from the international community. You know, China and Russia have moved on.

We saw China and Russia actually implementing sanctions, more importantly, China, in the fall of 2017. But since then, since the whole shift to summitry and diplomacy and Trump meeting with Kim, Xi Jinping met with Kim Jong Un five times. There is no interest on implementing sanctions or even coming up with new sanctions. And the North Koreans know that.

So there is no there’s going to be no real repercussion for the North Koreans as they continue on this testing campaign. You can you can be critical of the Trump administration and its North Korea policy on a whole lot of levels. But one thing that was working, you could say, is that he did pursue maximum pressure and in the fall of 2017, we saw China actually implementing sanctions, and they’re not going to do that anymore. And the North Koreans know that.

MICHAEL MORELL: You said you think we’re going to see more here. And I actually wonder to what extent we might be on track for this year, 2022, to be another 2017, right, where a series of shorter-range missile tests culminated in nuclear weapons tests and ICBM tests? Is that something you’re concerned about?

SUE MI TERRY: Yeah, no, I’m very concerned about that. We all saw in 2017, when they tested Hwasong-14 and 15 ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles. And then later, a couple of years later, it was the October parade in 2020, they displayed this new untested ICBM new strategic weapon they called the Hwasong-16. That’s the largest, liquid-propellant, road mobile ICBM, not only in North Korea, but anywhere in the world, right, with capacity to hold as much as triple payload.

So there are these kinds of missiles that they would certainly want to test. And I think that’s where they are headed. And right now we have the Beijing Olympics and there will be – I don’t think they will test anytime soon, until the Olympics is over. South Korea’s presidential election is not as big of a factor, but maybe they wait. And after the presidential election in South Korea on March 9th, then we will have Kim Il Sung’s 110th birthday coming up in April. So I’m very worried that on that timeline they are going to go for something that’s much more provocative than intermediate range missile tests.

MICHAEL MORELL: So, Sue, do you think nuclear tests and ICBM tests would change the dynamic for the Russians and Chinese, or not?

SUE MI TERRY: You know, they may get on board with some sort of resolution condemning the, you know, saying, ‘This is very provocative and destabilizing for the region.’ And perhaps they would begrudgingly sign on to a few more sanctions.

But I just don’t think the level of — they’re just not going to implement sanctions like they did in 2017; 2022 is not 2017, it is a very different year and a lot has happened. And I think it will be very, very difficult for us to get that kind of support that we got from China and Russia.

You know, by late 2017, we had, like, 90 percent of North Korean exports were illegal, right? We had nine UNSC resolutions, and they had already been, you know, most of North Korea’s exports – coal, seafood, textiles and everything else. But they’re only effective if they are enforced.

And again, this is what I’m saying. I think 2017 was a very different period and China, to everybody’s surprise, was actually doing its part after years of dragging its feet. And now I just don’t think China is going to do that. So sanctions are not going to be as effective because they’re not going to be implemented properly.

MICHAEL MORELL: And would nuclear tests and ICBM tests – you know, certainly a military purpose to them and possibly a domestic political purpose to them. But would they also be designed to try to get us back to the negotiating table? Or not?

SUE MI TERRY: Yeah, no, I mean, they are designed because, ultimately, they do want to have some sort of a deal with the United States. The reason they’re not sitting down with Americans right now, besides COVID and all that, is because they know that they’re not going to get anything from the Biden administration.

But with another nuclear test, an ICBM test, the situation, the crisis is more heightened, there’s a more heightened sense of crisis, and right now the Biden administration is just completely distracted with a whole host of issues. And that way, you can sort of get the attention back to North Korea and sit down properly for yet another round of negotiation and some sort of deal. It’s not going to be a denuclearization deal, but some sort of a deal that perhaps they would be willing to freeze their program.

MICHAEL MORELL: I know this is a hard question. What do you think Kim’s script is, right? His realistic script. How would how would he like this to play out over the next several years? 

SUE MI TERRY: I don’t think Kim Jong Un’s goal has changed, which is: ultimately get the international community to accept North Korea as nuclear weapons power and just live with it. And more and more we are doing that.

Even just recently with this intermediate range ballistic missile test, even the media doesn’t care. The Americans don’t care. The South Koreans don’t care. We are now sort of living with it. So the more they do this, the more they condition the international community to accepting North Korea, like we did with Pakistan. So I think that’s the goal, and that’s the play: They test. We sit down with the North Koreans, have some sort of a freeze deal, and then we lift the majority of sanctions and accept North Korea’s nuclear weapons power. And they, in return, they promise not to make more.

MICHAEL MORELL: And you mentioned this a little bit, but how do you think he sees President Biden as a person, as a counterpart? How do you think they read this administration and its foreign policy? How do you think they read the withdrawal from Afghanistan? How closely are they following the Ukraine crisis? How do you think they think about all that?

SUE MI TERRY: Well, I think first of all, they realize that the Biden administration, they’re not going to have any kind of real big breakthrough as currently is. The Biden administration is distracted.

And even though the folks that are in the Biden administration, a lot of these people were in the Obama administration, the North Koreans know who these people are, there’s not anybody that’s going to come in and have any kind of different North Korea policy.

Under Trump, at least, there was just the extremes that were more outside of the box, you could say, right? Whether it’s ‘fire and fury,’ ‘Rocket man on a suicide mission,’ to love affairs and beautiful letters, there was this at least true maximum pressure and sort of true engagement. And the North Koreans know that that’s not happening with the Biden administration.

In terms of a lot of other issues, I don’t know what they make of the withdrawal from Afghanistan – I don’t think they’re necessarily saying that this then means that the Biden administration can make the same kind of play with South Korea. Afghanistan is a very different story and issue. So I don’t I don’t know if they are drawing any kind of clear conclusion from that.

They could also say, you know, the Biden administration is trying to focus in Asia and focus on China by withdrawing from Afghanistan. So it’s hard to know because, obviously, North Korea is such a reclusive place and we don’t have any kind of information coming out of North Korea.

The only thing I can say is that probably they know that Biden administration is extremely distracted by other issues, and they need to sort of make this kind of big splash. Otherwise, you know, nobody cares about North Korea, so they have to resort to provocations. And if I’m Kim, I would draw the same conclusion: that by sitting around and not doing anything, there goes the entire the rest of the Biden administration, just another other several years.

MICHAEL MORELL: So, it’s interesting, right, that the Obama administration basically tried to ignore North Korea; didn’t work. They pushed their strategic weapons programs forward.

The Trump administration, you know, maximum pressure and then actually did exactly what the North Koreans have said for years, which is, ‘Sit down and talk to us, leader TO leader and we can work this out.’ That didn’t work. They moved their programs forward.

With Biden, they seem to think, you’re saying, that they have Obama 2 here, and they’re going to have to wait this out. So to get to what Kim wants, right, which is this negotiation with freeze, sanctions go away. That’s going to take a little time, it sounds like, from their perspective.

SUE MI TERRY: Yes, but in a way, it’s working out for them, right? So in the past decade, under Kim Jong Un, he conducted four out of six nuclear test, 130 missile launches and three ICBM tests later. And he’s right now making impressive progress on the nuclear missile program, and this is since the Hanoi summit.

They’ve got nuclear warheads and nuclear weapons power. The number, I think, ranges from 30 to 40, some say, possibly up to 60. They are producing enough fissile material to make another half dozen bombs a year.
All indications are they are they’re moving forward. In the last round of testing, as we just talked about earlier in the show, with this hypersonic missiles and everything else, they are headed in that direction. And so now if the test of Hwasong-16 or even tactical nuclear weapons, which which Kim Jong Un himself said he’s developing – and there is no response. I mean, we can’t even get UNSC to come up with a condemnation of these missile tests.

So there is no response and the North Koreans know that there’s no military response that’s feasible for North Korea. So we are kind of paralyzed. And meanwhile, they’re making progress. So in a way, if they just stay on course, they’ll get what they want, which is international acceptance of North Korea’s nuclear weapons power.

MICHAEL MORELL: And maybe the sanctions get negotiated away. Maybe they just get slowly eroded away. Right? Maybe he can get to what he wants either way.

SUE MI TERRY: Right, so if China does not implement sanctions – because that’s the key – then they’ve been living with it for how many years? So it’s really China that has to implement sanctions. But again, you know, I go back to the same point that China today is very different. And even 2017, there was one exception. We’ve seen China not implement sanctions for decades. So I think they will get there.

MICHAEL MORELL: So Sue, I think this is kind of a key question, which is, do you think that Kim Jong Un believes that he can actually use his nuclear weapons in some way, someday? Or are these just the ultimate deterrent against a U.S. invasion and U.S.-led regime change. How do you think he thinks about these weapons, particularly when we start talking about tactical nuclear weapons?

SUE MI TERRY: I don’t think Kim Jong Un thinks that he’s going to use these weapons. I don’t believe that because I think what’s established is Kim Jong Un is a rational actor, and he knows if you use the weapons, that’s the end of the regime. And ultimately, that’s the whole purpose, right? That’s the goal. That’s the strategic game, is regime survival.

But the concern for us is that once we get to that stage where we accept North Korea as a truly nuclear weapons power, even though they already are, then it has complications. The implications of that is, you know, we have potential regional proliferation. South Korea is already making -some conservatives are already making noises about bringing tactical nuclear weapons back, to South Korea pursuing nuclear weapons and so on.

And if South Korea goes nuclear, Japan, at least the Japanese are saying, you know, that’s the one reason that they would have to revise our constitution and go nuclear, too – so regional proliferation.

And then, you know, there’s always a global proliferation risk, too, because that’s how they make money. They sold ballistic missiles and so on. So we are concerned about that. I don’t think the concern is actually over North Korea using nuclear weapons. I don’t believe that personally.

MICHAEL MORELL: Do you think there’s a chance he could sell weapons?

SUE MI TERRY: I think they know that’s a true, true red line, but yes, I mean, why not? I mean, when you look at past behavior, North Korea has sold everything under the sun except nuclear weapons.

But they have, and they built their nuclear reactor in Syria that the Israelis bombed. That’s how they make money. It’s a serious risk, and I think that no one can deny that’s a serious risk, right?

They also said they would mass produce nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles and so on. So how can you say this is not a serious concern? They have a lot of stockpiled weapons, materials and everything else, and they have a relationship, they have a long relationship with Syria, with Iran, Myanmar. It’s a very concerning issue.

MICHAEL MORELL: And how do you think the Chinese think about the risks associated with North Korea having nuclear weapons?

SUE MI TERRY: I don’t think they want nuclear weapons, I think that much is clear, but that whole phrase, ‘no war, no instability, no nukes and in that order.’ So they don’t want North Korea to have nuclear weapons because they don’t want missile defense. They made a huge deal out of South Korea, bringing THAAD missile defense to South Korea.

And they worry about regional proliferation, too. But do they worry about nuclear weapons to such a degree that they don’t mind causing instability in North Korea? No, they want more of a status quo, more stability. They want the regime to be intact. They want North Korea to exist. So they’re not going to do anything to cause regime instability, which means we can’t get China to really act on cutting off North Korea, which might bring North Korea to the table.

That’s the one thing that might make North Korea reconsider some of these just-developing weapons, but China is not going to do that, so there is the problem.

MICHAEL MORELL: Yeah, and China certainly doesn’t want a united Korea aligned with the United States on its border.

SUE MI TERRY: Certainly not, and so if you’re going a little bit more into why China does not want unstable North Korea or the regime to fall is because they are worried about unification, there will be, you know, a united Korea, that’s going to look like a giant South Korea, basically – even though China is South Korea’s number one trading partner and they have a strong economic relationship, they do not want a pro, unified Korea that still has U.S. forces in Korea.

So yes, I do think keeping North Korea as a buffer is still very much important for China. So stability, keeping North Korea as a buffer, these are more important for China than seeing North Korea give up nuclear weapons.

MICHAEL MORELL: So Sue, maybe the most difficult question here is, if you were calling the shots with regard to U.S. government policy toward North Korea, what would you do about this problem, which seems so intractable?

SUE MI TERRY: It’s so hard, because I think you talked about this a little bit earlier, of what happened under Obama and Trump, but this goes back to the Clinton years, right, in the early 1990s. And we have now tried bilateral negotiation and we had an agreement with North Korea in 1994, an agreed framework. We had multilateral negotiations with Six Party talks process. Well, we had another agreement with North Korea.

So I think it’s easy for people to forget that it’s not that we didn’t try to have diplomacy and engagement. We did, for many, many years, and we have had agreements with North Korea. And even after having agreements with North Korea, they all fell apart over verification.

So it’s now 2022. North Korea is a different country than in the early 1990s. They have these nuclear weapons. So I don’t think we have a whole lot of other options except to do what we continue to do. And it’s very, very dissatisfying for us to say that. If we want to sort of criticize, for example, this Biden administration to say, ‘You’re not doing enough, you’re not doing more.’ But when you really think about what you would do, that’s so different, it’s really hard to come up with what that is.

I, personally, I’m a believer that we should have stayed on with maximum pressure, minus the whole talk about preemptive strike, necessarily. So I am one of those people who believe that just there’s no other option but to continue pressuring the Kim regime like we did in 2017, again, even though it’s now harder to do that because China is not quite on board.

You know, Iran, it took three years of very tough sanctions for Iran to come to the negotiating table. So even for us to have any kind of leverage when we do sit down with the North Koreans, we do have to continue with sanctions and shore up defenses and deterrence.

And you know, I’ve talked to you several times about this before. Really, we need a long-term plan and I’m a very huge proponent of aiding an information penetration campaign, trying to get information into North Korea because I think ultimately the only solution is when the North Koreans bring up the change, they need to. I mean, the country has to change. So, you know, we had many conversations about this.

MICHAEL MORELL: So Sue, a great transition because I wanted to talk a little bit about domestic issues in North Korea. What’s happening there as it relates to COVID, as it relates to food availability? What’s the domestic situation like?

SUE MI TERRY: The domestic situation is pretty horrible, because, you know, North Koreans closed the border with China. As I said, it was the first country to do so. Very paranoid about COVID and it remains closed.
So in fact, you know, this closure has achieved more than what the sanctions could have in terms of really shutting down North Korea’s economy. So they continue to face food shortages. They have nothing really coming in. And you know, when you have China providing 80 percent of North Korea’s consumer goods and 45 percent of its food and 90 percent of its energy, and so on. But so there’s Sino-North Korean trade, it’s almost like 90 percent of North Korea’s global trade, but nothing is really coming in.

So the food situation is bad. The internal situation is bad. In terms of the leadership, there’s continuing concerns about Kim Jong Un’s health.

In fact, the North has recently just had some sort of – they’re making some statements sort of showing that they’re concerned about Kim Jong Un’s health. So there’s its own admission that something is going on with his health, right? He lost a lot of weight. We still don’t have any explanation of what happened and what’s happening there.

So there are some challenges, and then they continue to go and spend all their money building their nuclear and missile programs, so it’s not a good situation for North Korea.

MICHAEL MORELL: Any any sign of any leadership challenges? Any sign of discontent among the elite?

SUE MI TERRY: No. I mean, by the time if we know that, then something would have already happened. By the time we think a coup happened, then – I mean, just he got rid of everybody he could potentially get rid of this way, you know, from his uncle Chang Song-thaek, to his half brother, Kim Jong Nam to, you know, a hundred defense ministers, right? So he got rid of everybody that could potentially pose a challenge to him.

I’m sure there is some disgruntlement, but it’s impossible for us to know. And you know, it’s still ruling by terror, right? So Kim Jong Un has really cracked down even more so than his father. There are less defectors leaving North Korea not only because of COVID and the border closure, but even before that, the whole ideological campaign, he has upped it. I read some article that says that Kim Jong Un, now in high schools, there is an eighty-one hour long course devoted to Kim Jong Un’s own life, and so on.

So I just recently wrote a piece calling North Korea a completely failed state. Except with nuclear missile weapons, it is a failed state. It ranks the board at the bottom of the world’s GDP. Johns Hopkins had a report that said, in terms of global health, it ranked 293 out of 295. It was tied to Yemen. Only Somalia did worse than North Korea. I mean, it has a hard time feeding its own people. How can you not call this country a failed state, except again, its nuclear weapons and missile program?

MICHAEL MORELL: So Sue, you talked earlier about how, probably the only way this strategic weapons program evolves in a way that the world would like to see, is if the regime changes, if politics in North Korea changes significantly. How would that happen? What would it look like? What would have to happen?

SUE MI TERRY: I don’t think we can force regime change. Meaning, except – if we had, in an ideal world, we were able to truly implement sanctions and pressure the Kim regime and the elites get absolutely nothing, too, then maybe the elites will finally do something about it.

But I don’t think that’s likely because we just talked about how China is not going to implement sanctions and not going to cause instability. So then – this is my whole point about the people have to bring about that change. And of course they can’t, because it’s a closed society. And this is where my whole point of why we need to continually help bring information into North Korea because that’s the only way that the country will change, right?

I know a lot of people think that’s going to be still impossible because Kim is going to continue to terrorize his people, and of course he will. But I think it’s important to remember, things happen that we couldn’t have predicted, right? Like the fall of the Berlin Wall, the demise of Soviet Union. You know, like these dictators do, dictatorships do collapse and sometimes these moments do happen.

But I do think we are seeing changes on the ground that are very subtle that a lot of people are not seeing. Like there are private markets, like people are surreptitiously watching South Korean soap operas and DVDs. And you know, there are a lot of defectors, they all testified to the fact they’ve all listened to foreign broadcasts, even though the regime cracks down on it.

So if we can somehow take steps to loosen the regime’s grip on its people by presenting an information campaign that aims to get information into North Korea and then also allow North Koreans to safely communicate with one another – that’s another important factor, because they can’t. There’s no internet, there’s no nothing. So they can’t really even safely communicate with each other. So if somehow we can do something about the information blockade – but this is a long term solution. It’s not anything that’s near-term, of course.

MICHAEL MORELL: So what do you think that the average North Korean thinks about North Korea, in relation to the rest of the world?

SUE MI TERRY: So they were taught and indoctrinated to think that, you know, North Korea is sort of the paradise on the planet, right? And for some time, for a period of time that worked under Kim Il Song; less and less under Kim Jong Il.

I think more North Koreans now know the reality, right, that North Korea is not the paradise on Earth. They are watching South Korean soap operas and whatnot, so they are more aware of of their situation.

But this is why Kim Jong Un has to blame the United States and have this kind of, ‘US is a hostile power that’s causing all kinds of problems in North Korea,’ because Kim Jong Un needs the United States, to point to a country that he can blame all his problems on, why his people are not being fed. You can blame the sanctions and U.S.’s hostile policy and so on.

This is why I think it’s really hard. It’s going to be hard for North Koreans to truly make peace, the North Korean regime to make to make peace with the U.S.. Because how can they then justify the deprivations in all of those of these people, right? Why are they the 198th ranked economy in the world, if there is peace with the United States and you can no longer blame the U.S. for their problems?

MICHAEL MORELL: Sue, you’re terrific. I could talk to you all day. My takeaway from this discussion, as pessimistic as it sounds, is that, 10, 15, 20 years from now, we’re going to have a North Korea that has nuclear weapons and ICBMs. You know, most of the sanctions will have eroded away. And South Korea and Japan will have nuclear weapons as well. Am I right about that or not?

SUE MI TERRY: I think that’s the worst case scenario, but it’s possible; it’s certainly plausible. But I do think this is why it’s very important for us to still not give the North Koreans what they seek, which is the international acceptance of North Korea’s nuclear weapons power. So it does so it does not lead to South Korea and Japan trying to get nuclear weapons and so on.

It’s important for us to also maintain sanctions, even with China not necessarily doing its part, it’s still important for us to, I think, maintain pressure and maintain sanctions.

MICHAEL MORELL: The maximum pressure campaign you talked about.

SUE MI TERRY: Yes, the maximum pressure. I’m not one for a preemptive strike, but something that we saw in 2017. Until of course, the North Koreans are willing to, you know – you still have to give an exit ramp to the North Koreans.

And again, there’s a lot going on internally in North Korea, a lot on the ground, private markets, information seeping into North Korea that’s really chipping away at regime myths and bringing about some change. So if we stay the course and aid that effort, you just never know, right?

And also, Kim Jong Un is not healthy. And if something were to happen to him, to Kim, that’s a real wild card. Because he doesn’t have a successor lined up. His kids are, you know, at elementary school level. He has his sister, but it’s uncertain what’s going to happen. So there is a lot going on internally in North Korea, there are still very much wildcards. So, stay the course.

MICHAEL MORELL: So, other scenarios to the pessimistic one I laid out there.

SUE MI TERRY: Yes.

MICHAEL MORELL: Sue, thank you so much for joining us. It’s always great to have you on the show.

SUE MI TERRY: Thank you. It’s always good to have this conversation with you, even though not much changes, and I can’t really offer any brilliant solution.

MICHAEL MORELL: Thank you so much.


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