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Testimony

Countering the North Korean Threat:  New Steps in U.S Policy

Testimony for House Committee on Foreign Affairs
7th February 2017

Download the full testimony here. 

My testimony will review the accomplishments of the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, outline four core elements to create a more effective North Korea policy, clear away myths about North Korean sanctions, and provide recommendations for Congress and the Trump administration.

The Kim family dynasty continues its 25-year drive to develop a nuclear weapon that it has already used to threaten the United States and its allies in Japan and South Korea. None of the last three U.S. presidents, Republicans and Democrats, were able to develop an effective strategy to prevent North Korea from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And now Kim Jong Un has threatened to test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to target the United States. We know that North Korea has proliferated ballistic missiles to Iran, Syria, and other nations, and secretly built a nuclear reactor in a location in Syria that has since fallen under the control of ISIS.[1] Pyongyang is likely to proliferate any technology it develops to other problematic regimes, such as Iran.

As we look at the North Korea problem, it is hard to find anyone who argues that the status quo is acceptable. That can be frustrating, because there is no simple, ready-made solution. One expert has predicted that North Korea could have an operational ICBM by 2020.[2] It is plausible, even likely, that by 2020, North Korea will have a miniaturized nuclear device that could survive reentry on an ICBM. It is important to note that North Korea could have that capability now or soon.[3]

An equally concerning scenario has emerged now that South Korea may soon elect a president that, at one time, questioned the deployment of THAAD, a U.S. anti-ballistic missile system designed to shoot down short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase.[4] (The presidential candidate, Moon Jae In, has subsequently back-tracked on this statement.)[5] Moon has also advocated negotiations with North Korea that would include offering the Kim regime financial inducements that would undermine the financial pressure of UN and U.S. sanctions, and which could violate recent UN Security Council resolutions.[6] This scenario is concerning, as history has clearly shown that this approach will not resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis. The United States has tried altering Pyongyang’s behavior through economic engagement for 25 years, and we have tried disarming it through bilateral and multilateral negotiations on multiple occasions, resulting in three separate agreements with Pyongyang to freeze or dismantle its nuclear weapons. This approach failed, and it failed miserably.

The approach I outline out below lives in the area between these two scenarios, where we preserve our dedication to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula while acknowledging that North Korea is not ready to negotiate away its nuclear weapons. Given that reality, we must use all of the tools of American power to protect ourselves and our allies while we simultaneously begin to roll back the North Korean threat. Although Pyongyang is not yet ready to give up its nuclear weapons, the Kim family must know that the United States will not accept it as a nuclear state, or back down against its aggressive actions.


[1] David Albright, Serena Kelleher-Vergantini, and Sarah Burkhard, “Syria’s Unresolved Nuclear Issues Reemerge in Wake of ISIL Advance and Ongoing Civil War,” Institute for Science and International Security, June 30, 2015. (http://isis-online.org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/Syria_June_30_2015_Final.pdf)

[2] John Schilling, “North Korea’s Large Rocket Engine Test: A Significant Step Forward for Pyongyang’s ICBM Program,” 38 North, April 11, 2016. (http://38north.org/2016/04/schilling041116/)

[3] Jeffrey Lewis, “North Korea’s Nuke Program Is Way More Sophisticated Than You Think,” Foreign Policy, September 9, 2016. (http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/09/09/north-koreas-nuclear-program-is-way-more-sophisticated-and-dangerous-than-you-think/)

[4] James Griffiths and Joshua Berlinger, “What is THAAD?” CNN, September 9, 2016. (http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/13/asia/what-is-thaad/)

[5] Dagyum Ji, “S. Korean presidential candidate Moon reverses position on THAAD deployment,” NK News, January 16, 2017. (https://www.nknews.org/2017/01/s-korean-presidential-candidate-moon-reverses-position-on-thaad-deployment/)

[6] Kent Boydston, “Moon Jae-In on North-South Integration,” North Korea: Witness to Transformation, September 8, 2015. (https://piie.com/blogs/north-korea-witness-transformation/moon-jae-north-south-integration