Prepared Statement before
Committee on Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global
United States House of Representatives
Senior Research Fellow, Northeast Asia
The Heritage Foundation
Delivered February 12,
Thank you Mr. Chairman and the distinguished members of the
Subcommittee for asking me to testify on "Remaking U.S. Foreign
Policy in North Korea." It is indeed a great honor to appear before
you. I have a prepared statement which I would like to put into the
record. I will summarize some of the key points in my oral remarks,
particularly some recommendations for reformulating U.S. policy
toward North Korea. The views expressed in this testimony are my
own, and should not be construed as representing any official
position of the Heritage Foundation.
In the dawn of a new year and a new U.S. administration we can
again be hopeful of a diplomatic solution to the North Korean
nuclear problem. Perceptions that President Obama will take a
dramatically different approach toward Pyongyang, including an
embrace of direct summit diplomacy, have raised expectations for a
near-term breakthrough in the Six Party Talks.
But of all the foreign policy challenges that Barack Obama
inherited, North Korea may prove to be the most intractable.
Neither the confrontational approach of the first six years of the
Bush administration nor the virtually unconditional engagement
strategy of the final two Bush years achieved success.
But a U.S. policy that integrates a comprehensive diplomatic
approach with accompanying pressure -- derived from enforcing
existing multilateral sanctions, activating effective American led
efforts like the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) and
demanding compliance with hard fought U.N. Security Council
resolutions -- may prove successful, particularly if closely
coordinated with our allies South Korea and Japan.
Still, prudence demands that we remember the broken promises and
shattered dreams that litter the Korean landscape. Nuclear
negotiations are stalemated because North Korea rejects a
verification protocol that the Bush administration claimed
Pyongyang had previously accepted. And Pyongyang's response--the
vitriolic attacks, military threats, and near severing of relations
when South Korea and Japan merely demanded conditionality and
reciprocity bodes ill for those hoping North Korea will accept
future requirements during the Six Party Talks.
While defanging the North Korean nuclear threat remains
paramount of U.S. security objectives, the problem must be viewed
as embedded in the deeper problem that the regime poses to the
international system. What makes the problem so intractable and
dangerous is the nature of the regime. Its self-imposed isolation,
its horrid human rights record, its easily stirred state of
belligerency with South Korea, the massive conventional forces
capability it maintains on the DMZ, and its record of missile and
nuclear technology proliferation gives important context to the
North Korea's Nuclear Strategy
Kim Jong-il has shown a great reluctance to make concessions or
achieve real progress on diplomatic agreements with the United
States or his neighbors. Pyongyang has repeatedly dashed the hopes
of those advocating engagement. Perceived movement is habitually
followed by threats, cancellations and demands.
Although North Korea welcomed Barack Obama's election, it will
await the details of his policies prior to fully revealing its
strategy toward the new U.S. administration. North Korea first
seeks to attain its goals through formal and informal diplomatic
means, manipulating multiple parallel channels of engagement, and
playing one opponent off against the other to gain negotiating
Not content to remain totally silent, however, Pyongyang sent an
early signal to the Obama administration. Last month, North Korea
asserted that it would only denuclearize following establishment of
formal diplomatic relations with the U.S. and the cessation of
Washington's "hostile policy." Pyongyang claims to have weaponized
all of its fissile material, providing enough for four to six
additional nuclear weapons.
North Korea has stepped up its threats to our ally South Korea,
threatening an "all-out confrontation posture to shatter" the South
Korean government. It previously warned it would turn Seoul into a
"sea of fire" and "ashes." Pyongyang has warned of tactical
military action, most likely along the western maritime boundary,
the site of two deadly clashes between North and South Korean
navies in 1999 and 2002.
North Korea has also abrogated all inter-Korean agreements,
presumably including the 1991 denuclearization accord in which it
pledged not to pursue either a plutonium or uranium-based nuclear
accord. Of course, that vow was one of four international
agreements that Pyongyang had already violated.
Some analysts will dismiss the North Korean missives as simply
"negotiating through headlines." Instead, however, the statements
should be interpreted as a shot across the bow of the Obama
administration. The rhetoric is consistent with North Korean
negotiating tactics of raising the ante, deflecting criticism of
its own noncompliance by blaming U.S. actions, insisting on
equality of conditions in response to unequal violations, and
renegotiating the existing agreement.
On a tactical negotiating level, Pyongyang seeks to undermine
the U.S. push for a rigorous verification accord by raising the
specter of North Korean inspectors in South Korean and U.S.
military facilities as well as on U.S. ships and subs.
On a more strategic level, the North Korean statements send a
less than hopeful signal that North Korea will actually adopt a
more accommodating stance now that President Bush has left office.
Contrary to the terms of the existing Six Party Talks agreement,
Pyongyang has now linked new demands over the U.S. "hostile policy"
and normalization of relations as a requirement
before abiding by its existing commitments.
Split the U.S. from its Asian Allies. North Korea
has engaged in an all-out effort to demonize the Lee Myung-bak
government, blaming it for the current impasse in inter-Korean
relations. President Lee vowed to maintain South Korea's engagement
policy but condition economic, humanitarian, and political benefits
with concrete progress toward denuclearization and North Korean
implementation of political and economic reforms. His policy is
more consistent with the Six Party Talks' goal of using coordinated
multilateral diplomatic efforts to leverage Pyongyang's
implementation of its nuclear commitments.
During ten years of progressive South Korean administrations,
Pyongyang was able to dictate the parameters of inter-Korean
discussion, receiving economic benefits despite repeated
belligerence and lack of progress on political and security issues,
effectively de-linking the two. President Roh Moo-hyun abandoned
any pretense of requiring North Korea reform and pursued an
unconditional outreach to Pyongyang.
Instead, Roh's engagement policy became an end in itself. The
process became the justification for maintaining and expanding the
program. Roh's policy can be seen as the "Four No's" -- no
conditionality; no change in North Korea's political or
economic system despite 10 years and $8 billion; no leverage
over Pyongyang; and no confidence that additional benefits
would lead to reform.
Minimizing Japanese Influence. Successive Japanese
leaders have underscored the importance to Pyongyang of resolving
uncertainties over the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North
Korea during the 1970s and 1980s. Tokyo has conditioned the
establishment of formal diplomatic relations as well as providing
Japanese assistance in the Six Party Talks on progress on this
"abductee" issue. Kim Jong-il admitted North Korea's role in the
kidnappings to visiting Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002,
provided some information, and allowed the return of abductee
North Korea has since balked at demands for additional
resolution. In 2008, Pyongyang promised to establish a joint
investigation team with Japanese authorities raising hopes for
progress but reneged following the election of Taro Aso as prime
minister. North Korea now demands Japan be excluded from the Six
Likelihood of Escalating Tensions
If North Korea concludes it is too long ignored or feels it is
not achieving its objectives through either the Six Party Talks or
direct talks with Washington, it will initiate a carefully
calibrated ratcheting up of tensions. Kim Jong-il will be
emboldened by perceptions that Washington does not have a military
option due to the proximity of Seoul to the DMZ, the overextension
of U.S. military forces, and a potential U.S. face-off with
Potential North Korean options include restarting operations at
the Yongbyon nuclear reactor; prohibited actions in the Joint
Security Area; extensive out-of-cycle military training exercises
near the demilitarized zone or maritime demarcation line in the
West Sea; a long-range missile test; or preparations for a second
nuclear test. Pyongyang could conduct such actions in conjunction
with diplomatic entreaties to gain additional concessions for
returning to the status quo.
Media reports suggest that North Korea is currently preparing to
test launch a long-range Taepo Dong-2 missile. A missile launch, or
even observable preparations for such a launch, would be a physical
manifestation of Pyongyang's escalating efforts to pressure South
Korea and the U.S. to soften their policies toward North Korea.
North Korea's increasingly bellicose campaign is directed
primarily at forcing President Lee Myung-bak to abandon
requirements for conditionality, reciprocity, and transparency in
South Korean engagement with the North. Pyongyang is, however, also
concurrently sending a signal to the Obama administration that
North Korea will not adopt a more accommodating stance in nuclear
negotiations despite the change in U.S. leadership.
Pyongyang may seek to achieve its diplomatic objectives without
actually launching a missile and thereby escalating tension beyond
a counter-productive level. North Korea knows that activity at its
missile test facility is monitored by imagery satellites. Pyongyang
would hope that concerns over escalating tensions arising from a
missile launch would cause South Korea and the U.S. to weaken
negotiating positions as the Bush administration did when North
Korea threatened in late 2008 to reprocess plutonium.
If North Korea were to successfully launch a Taepo Dong missile,
it would significantly alter the threat environment to the U.S. and
its Asian allies. Pyongyang's previous Taepo Dong missile launches
in 1998 and 2006 failed and its nuclear test in 2006 was only
partially successful. A successful launch of a missile
theoretically capable of reaching the United States with a nuclear
warhead would reverse perceptions of a diminishing North Korean
Uncertainties Over Kim Jong-il's
Questions over the status of Kim Jong-il's health since his
stroke in late 2008 overshadow the Six Party Talks. Because North
Korea has not announced a formal succession plan, there are
concerns that Kim's sudden death or incapacitation could lead to
Speculation over a successor centers on Kim's three sons, his
brother-in-law Chang Song-taek, or a collective leadership.
Regardless of who is chosen, the new leader would pursue the same
policies. It is unlikely that there would be any significant change
in North Korean resistance to implementing economic and political
reform nor in more openly engaging the outside world. Nor would it
be likely that Pyongyang would be any less obstructionist in the
Six Party Talks.
The new leader, lacking the inherent legitimacy of Kim Jong-il
or his father Kim Il-song, would be heavily dependent on senior
party and military officials who are overwhelmingly nationalist and
resistant to change. The leadership elite see its fate as directly
tied to a continuation of the present regime. They would resist any
attempt to alter policy as risking instability and threatening
their way of life. The new leader may even have to pursue an even
more hardline policy to ensure continued internal support.
There is little evidence of a "reformer faction" that advocates
bold economic reform, opening the country to outside influence,
reducing the regime's bellicose rhetoric and brinksmanship tactics,
or abandoning its nuclear weapons programs. North Korea has
perpetuated the image of factional in-fighting between 'engagers"
and "hardliners" as a negotiating tool to elicit additional
Establishing an Obama Approach to
President Obama has asserted the need for "sustained, direct,
and aggressive diplomacy" with North Korea. He pledged to be "firm
and unyielding in our commitment to a non-nuclear Korean
peninsula," and vowed not to "take the military option off the
table" in order to achieve "the complete and verifiable elimination
of all of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, as well as its
past proliferation activities, including with Syria."
He stated that "sanctions are a critical part of our leverage to
pressure North Korea to act. They should only be lifted based on
performance. If the North Koreans do not meet their obligations, we
should move quickly to re-impose sanctions that have been waived,
and consider new restrictions going forward." It is interesting to
note that his administration's first official act toward North
Korea was imposing sanctions on three North Korean companies for
violating U.S. law aimed at curtailing the proliferation of
technology related to missiles and weapons of mass destruction.
Although there will be a perception of a major shift in U.S.
policy, President Obama will likely maintain the largely
unconditional engagement strategy of the final two years of the
Bush administration. Although President Obama may be more willing
than President Bush to engage in senior-level diplomatic
engagement, including a potential summit with Kim Jong-il, it is
unlikely that such tactical changes will achieve verifiable North
Korean denuclearization. However direct he makes his policy, Obama
will face the same constraints in achieving tangible progress with
North Korea as did his predecessors.
During the past two years, the Bush administration engaged in
the direct, bilateral diplomacy with Pyongyang that Obama
advocates. Yet there has been continued North Korean intransigence,
non-compliance, and brinksmanship. The Bush strategy of engagement
also resulted in the abandonment of important principles, including
enforcement of international law and attaining sufficient
verification measures. Nor have diplomats yet begun the real
negotiations to discuss the actual elimination of nuclear weapons
three years after Pyongyang agreed to do so.
Establishing Full Verification
Creating a sufficiently rigorous verification system is
critically important to any arms control agreement, particularly if
the other party has been shown to have violated its previous
commitments. Verification serves several roles, including
deterrence, detection, and confidence building.
A proper verification regime would be a key test of the
sincerity of Pyongyang's pledge to abandon its nuclear weapons as
well as the best defense against North Korea violating yet another
international nuclear agreement. The U.S. simply cannot allow North
Korea to play a nationwide nuclear version of whack-a-mole or
U.S. national technical means, including imagery satellites, are
useful, but they are no substitute for on-site inspections.
Classified collection systems can alert us to suspicious activity,
but suspicions can be conclusively resolved only by inspectors on
the ground. An effective verification regime must include details
such as the number of short-notice challenge inspections of
non-declared sites, the technical inspection equipment allowed, and
a requirement that inspectors be transported expeditiously to
During the campaign, Senator Obama stated that a strict
verification protocol was an absolute prerequisite for removing
North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, as well
as for making further progress in the nuclear negotiations. He
called for "a clear understanding that if North Korea fails to
follow through there will be immediate consequences." Specifically,
"If North Korea refuses to permit robust verification, we should
lead all members of the Six Party talks in suspending energy
assistance, re-imposing sanctions that have recently been waived,
and considering new restrictions."
North Korea demanded its removal from the U.S. state sponsors of
terrorism list both as a quid pro quo for its agreement to a
verification protocol as well to "improve the atmosphere" of
negotiations and stimulate further progress. The U.S. abandoned its
previous insistence that North Korea accept international standards
of verification, particularly short-notice challenge inspections of
suspect sites. Such inspections are part of the International
Atomic Energy Agency nuclear safeguards that U.N. Security Council
Resolution 1718 directed Pyongyang should abide by. Indeed, North
Korea agreed in September 2005 to return "at an early date' to the
It is now abundantly clear that North Korea did not abide by
what the Bush administration claimed it had agreed to. Pyongyang
provided a "complete and correct" declaration that was neither and
then the U.S. was willing to agree to a complete, verifiable, and
irreversible dismantlement accord that was none of the above.
Washington's premature removal of North Korea from the terrorist
list was a case of naively trading a tangible benefit for an
intangible promise. As a result, the U.S. angered key allies Japan
and South Korea, who now see the U.S. as unwilling to consider
their security concerns.
In particular, Tokyo felt betrayed by the Bush Administration's
breaking its pledge to keep North Korea on the terrorist list until
progress was achieved on the abductee issue. National Security
Council Senior Asia Director Dennis Wilder clearly stated in April
2007, "We aren't going to delink the abductee issue from the state
sponsor of terrorism issue" and underscored that President Bush
would personally reaffirm that position to then-Japanese Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe. It is noteworthy that Libya was required to
acknowledge and make restitution for its involvement in the
Lockerbie terrorist act.
Tokyo has now lost considerable leverage in its attempts to get
North Korea to live up to its commitment to reopen the kidnapping
investigations. The verification agreement also undermined South
Korean President Lee Myung-bak's attempts to impose conditionality,
reciprocity, and transparency on Seoul's previously unrestricted
economic largesse to North Korea. Pyongyang was emboldened to
continue its brinksmanship strategy and bombastic rhetoric toward
Seoul, including recent threats to sever all relations and turn
South Korea into "debris."
Requirements for a sufficient
verification protocol include:
- A role for both IAEA as well as Six Party Talks-nation
inspection teams. The U.S. has intelligence capabilities,
including national technical means, that the IAEA does not. But the
U.S. has been hindered by its not wanting to share sensitive
information with an international organization;
- Full disclosure of all plutonium-related and uranium-related
facilities, including geographic coordinates and functions; a
list of all production equipment, fissile material, and nuclear
weapons; degree of progress of uranium enrichment program; and
proliferation of nuclear technology, materials, and equipment;
- Baseline inspections of declared nuclear-related
facilities, including weapons fabrication facilities, high
explosive and nuclear test sites, and storage sites for fissile
material and nuclear weapons. Verifying states should have the
right to inspect each declared facility prior to determining that
North Korea has complied with its requirements;
- Technical sampling to refine estimates of the amount of
plutonium and enriched uranium produced;
- Short-notice challenge inspections of non-declared
facilities for the duration of the agreement to redress any
questions about North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. This would
include the two suspect sites that North Korea refused to allow
IAEA officials to inspect in 1992, precipitating the first nuclear
- Description of allowable inspection equipment,
composition of teams, and the maximum time between declaration of
site to be inspected and arrival by inspectors;
- Destruction protocol to identify the method by which
production and enrichment equipment would verifiably be destroyed
at pre-declared facilities;
- Defining the linkage between economic and diplomatic
benefits to be provided in return for North Korean denuclearization
- A denuclearization timetable to prevent Pyongyang from
dragging out negotiations and gaining de facto recognition as a
nuclear weapons state; and
- A dispute resolution mechanism and procedures for suspected
North Korean non-compliance--e.g., cessation of benefits or
automatic referral to U.N. Security Council.
Avoiding the Mistakes of the Past
As President Obama contemplates the Sisyphean task of making
real progress in North Korean denuclearization, he should look to
history for guidance. And history clearly advises what he should
avoid. Specifically, he should not:
- Double down on a losing hand. The limited
action-for-action strategy of the Six Party Talks has failed, so
some advocate broadening the scope of negotiations to offer North
Korea an even larger deal. That's akin to urging a farmer who has
lost every hand of poker to go all in and bet his homestead in
hopes of winning it all back--and more--on one hand.
- Put the cart before the horse. Since Kim Jong-il makes
all important decisions, some believe that the U.S. should propose
a summit meeting to avoid months of haggling by lower-level
officials. A U.S.-North Korean summit meeting without assurances of
an extensive denuclearization agreement would be premature and
- Provide concessions to undermine North Korean
hardliners. North Korean intransigence has been depicted as a
short-term manifestation of a hardline faction with Kim Jong-il
having fallen under the influence North Korean "neocons." This,
despite ample evidence that Kim rules with an iron fist and
tolerates no dissension.
- Use creative ambiguity to maintain "progress" in
negotiations. U.S. negotiators have repeatedly acquiesced to
North Korean demands for vague text rather than clearly delineating
requirements and timelines. Deferring rather than resolving issues
provides a false sense of advancement but allows Pyongyang to
exploit loopholes and avoid its denuclearization commitments.
- Sacrifice U.S. allies on the altar of denuclearization.
South Korean and Japanbecame increasingly suspicious of U.S.
motives and eagerness to achieve progress in 6pt regardless of the
cost to the alliance. The Bush administration's premature removal
of North Korea from the terrorist list and its unwillingness to
integrate South Korean and Japanese security concerns into the Six
Party Talks caused strains in bilateral relations.
What Should Be Done
President Obama and Congress should emphasize that the U.S.
seeks to use diplomacy to achieve North Korean denuclearization,
but not at the cost of abandoned principles or dangerously
insufficient compliance. Specifically, the U.S. should:
- Affirm the U.S. objective is the complete and verifiable
denuclearization of North Korea and unequivocally state that
Washington will not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's confirmation testimony
properly affirmed this goal as well as emphasizing the requirements
for complete and verifiable denuclearization and a full accounting
by Pyongyang of its uranium-based nuclear weapons program and
- Closely integrate U.S., South Korean, and Japanese
initiatives toward North Korea to enhance negotiating leverage
and to secure Pyongyang's full denuclearization.
- Use all of the instruments of national power
(diplomatic, informational, military, and economic) in a
coordinated, integrated strategy. While it is important to continue
negotiations to seek a diplomatic resolution to the North Korean
nuclear problem, the U.S. and its allies should simultaneously use
outside pressure to influence North Korea's negotiating
- Maintain international law enforcement measures against North
Korean illicit activities. Sanctions should be maintained until the
behavior that triggered them has abated.
- Implement U.N. Resolution 1718 sanctions against Pyongyang's
nuclear and missile programs, and require North Korea and Syria to
divulge the extent of their nuclear cooperation.
- In a July 2005 op-ed, Senators Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin
underscored that it was the "threat of UN sanctions that led to
negotiations concluding in the Agreed Framework."
- Insist that North Korea fulfill its existing
requirements prior to declaring Phase Two complete or
initiating peace treaty discussions.
- Realize that talking is not progress. The U.S. should
resolve issues rather than repeatedly lowering the bar simply to
maintain the negotiating process. Pyongyang should abide by
international standards of behavior and not be allowed to carve out
another "special status" within the NPT and IAEA Safeguards.
- Insist on a rigorous and intrusive verification
mechanism, including provisions required under U.N. Resolution
1718; North Korea's accession to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Safeguards; and
observance of the precedence of previous U.S. arms control
- Define redlines and their consequences. The Bush
administration's abandonment of its stated resolve to impose costs
on North Korea for proliferating nuclear technology to Syria
undermined U.S. credibility and sent a dangerous signal to other
- Establish deadlines with repercussions for failing to meet
them. North Korea must not be allowed to drag out the Six Party
Talks indefinitely in order to achieve de facto international
acceptance as a nuclear weapons state. Repeatedly deferring
difficult issues in response to Pyongyang's intransigence is not an
effective way to achieve U.S. strategic objectives.
- In July 2005, Senators Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin called
for establishing a negotiating deadline with North Korea. "We
should…set international - read United Nations - deadlines
for solving the crisis…we should seek a deadline for the
next meeting with North Korea and another one for a final
- Emphasize that North Korea's refusal for dialogue with Seoul
and Tokyo hinders their providing benefits through the Six
Party Talks process as well as bilateral economic assistance.
- Begin contingency planning for a failure of the Six Party
Talks to achieve full North Korean denuclearization.
Pyongyang's obstructionist antics reflect an intent to be accepted
as a nuclear weapons state. Identify measures which could be
imposed against those companies and nations in violation of U.N.
Resolutions 1695 and 1718.
- Forcefully denounce North Korea's abysmal human rights
abuses and take steps to improve living conditions for its
citizens. The U.S. should support South Korean and Japanese efforts
to secure information on the status of abductees and
prisoners-of-war that remain in North Korea. Linking progress in
the Six Party Talks to improvement in North Korea's human rights
record would be counter-productive. However, Washington should
condition establishing diplomatic relations with North Korea on the
introduction of a Helsinki Accord-type process to ensure human
It is not a question of whether the U.S. should engage
North Korea, rather it is a matter of how to do so. The Bush
Administration engaged North Korea for several years through the
Six Party talks. It is critical to emphasize that engagement is a
means rather than an ends and it is equally important
to control the ways in which it is applied.
While there is a plausible path to reach a diplomatic solution,
the Obama administration should also accept that ultimately there
may not be a magical combination of inducements that ensures North
Korea abandons its nuclear weapons. There is a growing sense that
Pyongyang's obstructionist antics are not merely negotiating ploys
but are instead designed to achieve international acquiescence to
North Korea as a nuclear power. North Korean officials have
repeatedly indicated that is their intention.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I am
happy to answer your questions.