March 20, 2017 | House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific

Pressuring North Korea: Evaluating Options

Chairman Yoho, Ranking Member Sherman, and distinguished members of this subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to address you today on this important issue.

My testimony will outline four core elements to create a more effective North Korea policy, myths on North Korean sanctions, review North Korean sanctions evasion, 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 our allies in Japan and South Korea. The last three U.S. presidents, Republicans and Democrats, were unable to develop an effective strategy to prevent North Korea from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Now Kim Jong Un has threatened to test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could reach the United States, and last month tested a solid propellant ballistic missile and killed his half-brother with nerve agent in a Malaysian airport. Earlier this month he simulated an attack on a base in Japan. We know that North Korea has proliferated ballistic missiles to Iran, Syria, and other nations, and secretly built a nuclear reactor in Syria in a location that has since fallen to ISIS.[1] Pyongyang is likely to proliferate the technology it develops to other rogue regimes, such as Iran.

One expert has predicted that North Korea could have an operational ICBM by 2020.[2] It is plausible, even likely, that by 2020, the regime will have a miniaturized nuclear device that could survive reentry on an ICBM, or may even have such a capability already.[3]

Meanwhile, South Korea may soon elect a president who once 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] Advisors to the candidate, Moon Jae In, last week suggested that the next South Korean president should review THAAD’s deployment.[5] Moon has also advocated negotiations with North Korea that would include offering the regime financial inducements that would undermine the financial pressure of U.N. and U.S. sanctions, and which could violate recent U.N. Security Council resolutions.[6] This scenario is concerning, as Washington has tried to alter Pyongyang’s behavior through economic engagement for 25 years, as well as disarming it through bilateral and multilateral negotiations, resulting in three separate agreements with Pyongyang to freeze or dismantle its nuclear weapons. This approach has completely failed.

The approach outlined below preserves U.S. dedication to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula while acknowledging that North Korea is not ready to negotiate away its nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, the Kim family must know that the United States will not accept it as a nuclear state or back down against its aggressive actions.

In my testimony before the full committee last month, I reviewed the impact of the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act (NKSPEA) of 2016.[7] While the law was a significant step forward, there is more that the U.S. should do. The law is largely responsible for nearly doubling the number of designations since March 2016, but 88 percent of those were persons inside North Korea, which does not address Pyongyang’s international business.

[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. (
[2] John Schilling, “North Korea’s Large Rocket Engine Test: A Significant Step Forward for Pyongyang’s ICBM Program,” 38 North, April 11, 2016. (
[3] Jeffrey Lewis, “North Korea’s Nuke Program Is Way More Sophisticated Than You Think,” Foreign Policy, September 9, 2016. (
[4] James Griffiths and Joshua Berlinger, “What is THAAD?” CNN, September 9, 2016. (
[5] Yeganeh Torbati and James Pearson, “Top South Korean presidential canididate would review missile defense process: advisors,” Reuters, March 17, 2017. (
[6] Kent Boydston, “Moon Jae-In on North-South Integration,” North Korea: Witness to Transformation, September 8, 2015. (
[7] Anthony Ruggiero, “Countering the North Korean Threat: New Steps in U.S. Policy,” Testimony Before House Foreign Affairs Committee, February 7, 2017.