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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi on March 2, 2019. Photo: Jorge Silva/AFP/Getty Images

Prohibitive risks may have deterred further nuclear and ballistic missile tests by North Korea, even as it has continued expanding its arsenal. While that freeze remains in place, the regime may opt to accelerate its use of cyber weapons.

The big picture: A nuke test would infuriate China, and launching an ICBM could precipitate a U.S. military strike. But cyberattacks offer a high-impact, low-cost and comparatively low-risk way to generate cash and intimidate other countries.

Where it stands: King Jong-un's testing freezes have a way of thawing out. In the meantime, however, he could pose other nuclear proliferation threats — as when he assisted Syria with a nuclear reactor — or deploy new cyberattacks.

The catch: Countering the risks of North Korea's nuclear and cyber weapons has proven incredibly difficult.

  • When trading concessions for restraint, Kim Jong-un often makes a series of escalating demands to hold the line.
  • Easing sanctions can leave the regime stronger and better funded, rather than end its threatening behavior.
  • More aggressive options like military strikes, or even regime change, carry catastrophic risks, such as the type of nuclear disaster Washington hopes to prevent.

What's needed: A "coercive containment" approach that enforces sanctions, strengthens defenses and denies North Korea access to servers beyond its borders could create sufficient constraints to keep the regime's weapons programs in check.

  • Such containment is a tall order, and would require unprecedented cooperation between Washington and Beijing, but there's some evidence of its promise.
  • The testing freeze Kim announced in early 2018 followed a ramp-up in sanctions enforcement by China, including an oil export ban.

Go deeper: Read the Asia Society Policy Institute's report on expectations for North Korea.

Daniel Russel is vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute and a former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Go deeper

Rep. Rice demands Cuomo resign after third woman accuses him of misconduct

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a February news conference in New York City. Photo: Seth Wenig/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) on Monday evening called for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to resign, after a third woman accused him of inappropriate behavior.

Driving the news: Anna Ruch told the New York Times Monday that Cuomo asked to kiss her at a New York City wedding reception in September 2019.

Scoop: Inside the GOP's plan to retake the House

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Republicans will reclaim their majority in 2022 by offering candidates who are women, minorities or veterans, a memo obtained by Axios says.

Why it matters: The document, drafted by a super PAC blessed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, names top Democrats to target — Jared Golden of Maine, Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania and Ron Kind of Wisconsin — and the type of Republican candidates to beat them.

Scoop: Trump talked out of early Ohio endorsement

Jane Timken at a 2017 Trump rally. Photo: Kyle Mazza/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Donald Trump had to be talked out of making an early endorsement in Ohio's 2022 U.S. Senate race, a sign of his eagerness to reengage politically, people familiar with the conversations tell Axios.

What we're hearing: The former president discussed endorsing former state GOP chair Jane Timken last week during a meeting at Mar-a-Lago with RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, but top advisers — including Donald Trump Jr. — urged him to wait.