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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Mike Pompeo, Trump’s nominee for director of the CIA, told the U.S. Senate on Thursday that North Korea remains one of the most significant international threats to the United States.
Pompeo, a conservative Republican from Kansas, expressed concern over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile threats in an around three-hour confirmation hearing at the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
“North Korea has dangerously accelerated its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities, with little regard for international pressure,” Pompeo said in an opening statement.
When asked by Senator Joe Manchin whether he believes terrorism is the highest threat that the U.S. faces, Pompeo pointed to North Korea as a danger on par with international Jihadism.
“Let’s start with the activities taken place today in Syria and Iraq and the threat that terrorists pose, that both Sunni and Shia terrorists pose to the United States, so ISIS and al-Qaeda would be the primary organizations today…,” Pompeo said.
“In the ‘near-term threat’ to life and limb of Americans, yes: I put North Korea, China, and Russia right up there alongside them.”
Pompeo also argued the North Korean issue was one of “five long-term trends making the urgency of recognizing and supporting intelligence critically important.”
“We have long seen this dynamic with the proliferation of chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missile technology.”
“Increasingly in the cyber domain, countries thought to be unsophisticated, such as North Korea, have overcome what appear to be low technological barriers of entry to engage in offensive cyber operations.”
Arguing that cyber security is an “obvious emerging area for increased focus,” Pompeo maintained that the CIA “must continue to operate at the forefront” of the issue.
But the nominee for CIA director described Iran and North Korea as “less sophisticated adversaries” with regard to cyber capabilities, in contrast to the “sophisticated adversaries” in China and Russia.
The North Korean state commands an army of some 6,800 individuals for cyber warfare, according to a South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND) White Paper released on Wednesday.
James Mattis, Trump’s nominee to head the U.S. Department of Defense, suggested on Thursday that U.S. allies such as South Korea and Japan should increase their contributions to defense burden-sharing.
“I believe the United States is stronger when we uphold our treaty obligations, and when we stand by our allies and partners,” Mattis said, when asked whether the U.S. should withdraw forces if its East Asian allies “don’t provide substantial additional support on top of the existing cost sharing arrangements.”
“We expect our allies and partners to uphold their obligations as well.”
In line with Trump’s repeated claim that the U.S. allies should pay more for the U.S. defense support, Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, on Wednesday also said that the U.S. “cannot look the other way at allies who do not meet their obligations.”
But the nominee for Secretary of Defense, whose nickname is “Mad Dog,” dismissed the possibility of withdrawing deployed troops in the region even in the case of “contingency.”
“I know of no plan to withdraw forward deployed troops in the region,” Mattis said in a three-and-a-half-hour confirmation hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services.
“While such a move would present substantial challenges to our efforts to defend our interests and fulfill our obligations, the U.S. military is without peer in its ability to project power whenever and wherever necessary.”
Describing the security situation on the Korean peninsula as “volatile” as a result of “actions by the North Korean leadership,” Mattis said the North continued to develop “increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile capabilities.”
Featured Image: Gage Skidmore’s Flickr