Senators on Oct. 7 convened a hearing titled “Assessing the North Korea Threat and U.S. Policy: Strategic Patience or Effective Deterrence?” Here are excerpts from four leaders who offered testimony that day.
Sen. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican, chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy:
According to experts, North Korea may already have as many as 20 nuclear warheads, and may have as many as 100 within the next five years. The regime has already tested nuclear weapons on three separate occasions: in 2006, 2009 and 2013, in violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.
In April of this year, Adm. Bill Gortney, the commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), said that North Korea has developed the ability to launch a nuclear payload on its very own KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile that is capable of reaching the United States.
Yet efforts to counter these destabilizing North Korean policies and the imminent threat the Kim Jong Un regime poses to the world have yet to be completely dealt with. The policy of “strategic patience,” in my view, has been a strategic failure.
This past August, I traveled to the region and met with top leaders in Japan and South Korea, including President Park, who will be visiting Washington next week. In these meetings I heard a tremendous amount of concern regarding the growing North Korean threat and the direction of U.S. policy. So if this strategic policy will not change behavior, then I believe Congress needs to change the behavior.
Yesterday, I introduced a bill with several of my colleagues on this committee called the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2015, which seeks to take decisive new action to counter the North Korean threat. This legislation corrects our policy and mandates broad new sanctions against individuals involved in North Korea’s nuclear program and proliferation activities, as well as against officials involved in the regime’s continued human rights abuses and destabilizing cyberactivities. It would also codify two executive orders released in 2015 authorizing sanctions against entities undermining U.S. national and economic security in cyberspace.
We must remember that more than 20 years ago, North Korea already pledged to dismantle its nuclear program, yet we now see a regime that has no respect for international agreements or international norms. The United States should never engage in negotiations with Pyongyang without imposing strict preconditions that North Korea take immediate steps to halt its nuclear program, cease all military provocations and make credible steps to respecting the human rights of its own people.
Dr. Victor D. Cha, Korea Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies:
A caveat: Our knowledge of North Korea leaves much to be desired. It is indeed one of the hardest intelligence targets in the world given the regime’s opacity. I believe the Chinese have lost a great deal of insight after the execution of Jang Song-thaek in December 2013. There are far fewer NGOs operating in the country compared to the past. And overhead satellite imagery provides us with a bird’s-eye view only of happenings on the ground. Thus our assessments are often based on assumptions, judgments, hunches and even guesses with the modest data that is available.
Pyongyang is growing its capabilities every day and is slowly but surely seeking to alter the strategic balance on the peninsula and in the region.
The United States must maintain resolute deterrence and stand ready to respond with overwhelming force to North Korean threats even as Washington seeks a peaceful, diplomatic solution. Diplomacy cannot wholly remove the use of force from the table if there is to be any urgency on China’s part to work with the other parties to denuclearize the North.
The international community cannot countenance further tests and/or provocations, as this would only exacerbate an already acute moral hazard problem in our policy. A battery of financial sanctions on individuals involved in proliferation, cyberoperations and human rights abuses must be applied, the authorities of which were established in the Presidential Executive Orders 13382, 13466, 13551, 13570, 13619 and 13687, but these have yet to be implemented fully.
The North Koreans also must be made to understand the “nonutility” of their nuclear arsenal and that any such use would lead to their ultimate destruction.
The North Korean threat provides proximate cause for a tightening of trilateral political and defense cooperation between the United States, Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK), which has been weakened recently. Allied trilateralism is not just important for deterrence against a nuclear North Korea but for conveying to China the long-term strategic costs of its support of the regime.
The Six-Party Talks need to be modified in the aftermath of the next North Korean provocation to other forms of multilateral coordination, including a five-party format involving the United States, Japan, ROK, China and Russia to include a more open discussion about the future of the peninsula and unification.
Finally, any future denuclearization strategy for North Korea must not ignore the human rights condition in the country. The international mobilization on North Korean human rights lacks partisan coloring, remains resilient and puts as much pressure on the regime as the standing UNSCR sanctions regime.
Ambassador Robert L. Gallucci, former chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea:
Most directly threatening to the United States will be the emerging reality that America’s West Coast cities will be targetable by North Korean nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. Deterrence, and some defense, will mitigate that new reality, but the essential psychological nature of a deterrent begs the question of effectiveness when dealing with what some suspect may be a psychopathic leader.
Perhaps the most dangerous activity that the North has pursued over the last couple of decades has been the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology and ballistic missiles to other countries.
So while there are very good reasons not to be passive in designing policy and strategy to deal with North Korea, the question remains of what might work to reduce this threat. Nine points follow that aim to define a policy and create a strategy to manage and eventually reduce the threat.
First, continued visible security consultations and exercises with friends and allies in the region, Japan and the ROK, most importantly, will serve to sustain deterrence of the North while reassuring allies of the U.S. commitment to their security.
Second, we should continue to maintain a sanctions regime aimed at isolating and weakening North Korea but not delude ourselves into thinking that sanctions alone will bring about the changes we seek in the North’s behavior — not so long as China continues to moderate the impact of sanctions.
Third, we should not resist the urge to remind Beijing of its responsibility to use its influence with its clients in Pyongyang to avoid adventures and enter negotiations when the opportunity arises.
Fourth, we should avoid making the goals of any negotiations with the DPRK preconditions for entering those negotiations. At the same time, any U.S. administration must be wary of entering protracted negotiations with North Korea where they may visibly continue to advance their nuclear or ballistic capability while negotiations are underway.
Fifth, we should not hold preconceived notions of the modality for negotiations. Six-Party Talks may be dead — or not — but the essential participants will be the U.S. and North Korea, whatever the formal structure may be.
Sixth, the days of isolating nuclear negotiations from human rights issues and a broader political settlement are over. We should expect such a settlement to eventually include a peace treaty to formally end a 60-year state of war.
Seventh, notwithstanding point No. 4 above, we should insist that the outcome of negotiations include the eventual reentry of the North into the Non-Proliferation Treaty regime — lest our negotiations legitimize their nuclear weapons program.
Eighth, we should find an opportunity to unambiguously warn the North Koreans at the highest level that the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology to another state or non-national actor cannot and will not be tolerated by the United States — drawing a genuine red line.
Ninth, we should take prudent steps with our allies to prepare for the realization of our ultimate goal of a unified Korea, whether through the slow transformation of the North Korean state or its sudden collapse. It is possible, of course, that negotiations on the terms envisioned here cannot be launched, and we will be left with one or another version of containment.
Jay Lefkowitz, former Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea:
Over the last 21 years, since President Clinton signed a nuclear freeze agreement with North Korea (known as the Agreed Framework), the ironically named Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has become a nuclear state. The consensus among experts is that North Korea now possesses approximately six to eight plutonium nuclear weapons and four to eight uranium nuclear weapons. And earlier this year, U.S. Adm. Bill Gortney, who is in charge of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), announced that North Korea has developed the ability to miniaturize nuclear warheads and launch them at the United States, though there is no evidence that the regime has tested the necessary missile yet.
It is also widely known that North Korea proliferates its nuclear technology. In 2007 Israel destroyed a nuclear facility in Syria that had been the beneficiary of North Korean nuclear technology, and, this past spring, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter stated that North Korea and Iran “could be” cooperating to develop a nuclear weapon. There is no doubt, therefore, that North Korea now poses a grave threat to those well beyond South Korea, next to whose border a significant portion of North Korea’s million-man army is permanently stationed.
We should not be surprised that a government that behaves this way mistreats its own citizens. And, as is by now well documented, there is no nation in the world with a more egregious human rights record than North Korea. Its citizens have no say in their government’s conduct, and they have extremely little say in their own lives. To live in North Korea is to be subjected to the total suppression of freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The regime operates a network of political concentration camps, where as many as 200,000 North Koreans are incarcerated without any due process and subjected to systematic rape and torture, the intentional destruction of families and even executions. Access to outside information is so restricted that citizens must report purchases of radios and TVs, and the police often make inspections to ensure sets are tuned to official programming, with draconian consequences for those who disobey the law. Possession of foreign books, magazines and newspapers also is forbidden, although increasingly news of the outside world filters in through illegal radios and cellphones that are smuggled into the country and used near the borders.
In my role as special envoy, I tried to spotlight the regime’s human rights abuses and, in particular, assist those brave North Koreans who managed to escape and make their way across the border into China. Our administration worked closely with our friends and allies in the region to help accommodate increasing numbers of refugees, and on those occasions when China violated international law by sending captured North Korean refugees back into North Korea, we called them out on their unlawful conduct loudly and clearly. We also worked to expedite family reunifications for Korean families who live on opposite sides of the 38th parallel, and we increased our efforts, both governmental and in support of NGOs, to broadcast news from free nations into North Korea. President Bush also sought to put his personal spotlight on North Korea’s human rights abuses by meeting very publicly with defectors such as Kang Chol-hwan, the author of “Aquariums of Pyongyang,” and Kim Seong Min, the founder of Free North Korea Radio.
What we were unable to do sufficiently, however, and what the Obama administration has likewise failed to do, is link our focus on human rights issues to the broader security dialogue that we were having with Pyongyang. Whereas during the latter years of the Cold War, the United States regularly raised the issue of human rights in its direct dialogue with the Soviets (and even spoke directly to the Soviet premiers about the plight of particular Jewish refuseniks), and Congress in 1974 passed the Jackson-Vanik law, an amendment to the Trade Act that imposed limitations on U.S. trade with countries that restricted freedom of emigration and violated other human rights, the United States has thus far refused to adopt a similar policy of linkage with North Korea. This is regrettable. While changing the human rights situation in North Korea, though clearly a commendable goal, may not be an appropriate end in itself for our policy toward Pyongyang, there is surely a role for human rights in a multifaceted strategy toward North Korea. **
So what should the United States do? While a policy of regime change is still premature, a policy focused only on containment is not likely to succeed given North Korea’s increasing offensive capabilities and belligerence and the unwillingness of China to cut trade with Pyongyang. Instead, the United States should remain open to a policy of constructive engagement alongside containment, but with engagement on all issues, security, economic and human rights. Ultimately, security will only come when North Korean citizens are empowered to take their destiny into their own hands.
This means the United States should support the instincts and desires for self-governance that we know from defectors many North Koreans possess, and give nonviolent, nonmilitary tools of statecraft a chance. Congress should pass the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act; make available significantly more financial resources for independent civilian broadcasts like Free North Korea Radio; help those North Koreans who defect to travel safely to South Korea or other safe havens; and promote family reunification visits (ideally on both sides of the DMZ) and cultural exchanges with the West. The president should also use the bully pulpit to speak clearly about the threat posed by North Korea and about China’s enablement of the North Korean government. And because China has greater influence over North Korea than any other nation, our North Korea policy must be part and parcel of our China policy.