Friday, October 20, 2017

North Korea Threat Assessment Recap - Update from Jim Rickards

On Thursday October 19th, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies hosted an event featuring CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Lt. General H.R. McMaster. This was an invitation only event that people like Jim Rickards attended. Jim kindly provided an update on his North Korea analysis for readers here after the meeting held yesterday in Washington. (see below).

The event was broadcast live (see archive here) so I was able to see what Director Pompeo and Lt. General McMaster were willing to say about North Korea in a pubic forum such as this. Below I have listed some bullet point from each speaker on this topic:

Director Pompeo

- North Korea is continuing to move towards having the capability to launch a nuclear weapon that can reach the United States

- The US believes that in the next few months North Korea may well reach the point where they could launch such an attack (although a distinction was made between the ability to launch one weapon vs. the ability to launch a more robust attack)

- President Trump has given a clear mission to the CIA and all US agencies tasked with preventing such an attack on the US -- the US is dedicated to preventing North Korea from reaching the capability to launch a nuclear weapon that can reach the US (or its allies)

- Diplomatic efforts continue and will continue to try and persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. At this time, it is the assessment of US intelligence agencies that North Korea does not intend to abandon the program and views it as critical to survival of the current North Korean regime

- the US is encouraged by some of the efforts China is making to defuse the situation and will monitor closely what happens next with China

My overall impression of his public comments: Pretty much in line with what Jim Rickards has told us here earlier. The US will continue to do what it can to avoid a war, however, the time is running out to solve the issue diplomatically and we can expect that a military option could be implemented in less than a year from now if nothing changes in North Korea. I did get the sense in this discussion that the US does not view the regime in North Korea as crazy, but rather that they are pursuing a strategy they believe is in the interest of their national security. The US just believes they are miscalculating with that strategy.

Lt. General McMaster

In the Q&A portion of his session, Lt. General McMaster confirms that the US is "running out of time" to solve the issue without a military option, but does express hope that "unprecedented world cooperation" can still stave that off. He repeats that if North Korea does not change, US policy is clear that the US will not allow North Korea to obtain a nuclear weapon that can threaten the US.

Jim Rickards Updated Analysis on North Korea just provided this morning (10-20-17):


Here is my updated assessment of the North Korea situation based on the meeting with Pompeo and McMaster:

Four possibilities:

1. Death of Kim Jong Un and regime change before a war: 20%
2. Sanctions work, and Kim Jong Un verifiably gives up his weapons programs and begins to denuclearize: 20%
3. Preventive attack by the United States before March 31, 2018: 60%
4. U.S. accepts a nuclear armed North Korea: 0%

I hope that's helpful.

All best,

Jim's Twitter feed

Note (10-20-17-7pm): In this just released new interview with Alex Stanczyk, Jim goes into more detail on his new updated analysis for North Korea shown just above. To go directly to the information on N. Korea, skip to the 25:35 minute mark of the interview. It is clear that his analysis is directly informed by senior US defense and intelligence officials.

Added note: CFR President Richard N. Haass seems to agree with Jim 


  1. 1. Death of Kim Jong Un and regime change before a war: 20%

    Interesting. As 2 and 4 look extremely unlikely to me.

    1. Director Pompeo was asked a question about this possibility and he attempted to deflect it with humor. But I note that Jim carved out a specific probability for it in this updated analysis.