January 17, 2018 | House Foreign Affairs Committee, Asia and the Pacific and Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade Subcommittees

More than a Nuclear Threat: North Korea’s Chemical, Biological, and Conventional Weapons

Download the full testimony here

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

My testimony will review the initial results of the president’s “maximum pressure” strategy, areas for additional sanctions measures, the inter-Korean talks, and why the U.S. should continue its maximum pressure campaign and diplomacy. I will also focus on North Korea’s nuclear, non-nuclear, and missile programs; and where I focus on one over the other, it is with the understanding that Pyongyang’s weapons systems are integrated to serve the Kim regime’s near-term goal of pressuring Seoul and Washington. Thus, we cannot separate our approaches to these issues, nor should we ignore human rights violations and other troubling aspects of the Kim regime.

Before proceeding, it is important to state plainly North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s overarching long-term goal: namely, the reunification of the Korean peninsula under Kim family rule. While Pyongyang attempts to distract Washington and Seoul from this hostile intention, Kim always has his eyes on dominating the peninsula.

Kim repeatedly mentioned reunification in his New Year’s address and hinted at his intention to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea by noting that only the Korean people can avoid war on the Korean peninsula and that a “climate favorable for national reconciliation and reunification should be established.”  Deceptively, Kim wanted to persuade South Koreans that peace depends on severing ties with the United States, when the opposite is true.

North Korea’s weapons, both nuclear and non-nuclear, are a means to an end: extorting concessions from Seoul and using nuclear weapons to limit Washington’s ability to defend South Korea from North Korea’s military provocations for fear of escalating the situation. As I note later in my testimony, that is why premature inter-Korea talks are dangerous and could feed into Kim’s long-term game plan.

Washington’s goal is, and should remain, the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. And the good news is that the United States can still act to counter Pyongyang’s weapons programs. A combination of deterrence and coercion should be used against North Korea. The strategy would acknowledge the limits of each of these options, using them in combination to secure a denuclearization agreement or to weaken Pyongyang in order to diminish the threat it poses.

There is no excuse for a fatalistic approach to North Korea that accepts it as a nuclear weapons state. Likewise, there is no justification for pursuing a freeze deal that would put the U.S. on the path toward recognizing North Korea as a nuclear state. The United States must understand that the world – particularly its adversaries in Tehran, Beijing, and Moscow – is watching how it responds to North Korea’s challenge to the international order.