Two U.S.-based experts have advocated sanctions enhancement, penalties against China and the strengthening of regional alliances in a Senate committee hearing in Washington D.C. on Tuesday covering the topic of the North Korean threat.
Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Scott Snyder of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) gave testimony and answered questions before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, in a reassessment of policy options towards the DPRK as a new legislative term begins.
Chairman Bob Corker, Senators Ron Johnson, Cory Gardner, Ben Cardin and Bob Menendez also provided questions and statements at the hearing.
Key themes of the hearing were the possibility of military action against North Korea, the need for the U.S. and its allies to take a stronger approach to China, and the need for a clear line from the White House on Pyongyang.
“Seeing the DPRK… for what it is rather than what we would like it to be, obliges us to recognize two highly unpleasant truths,” Eberstadt said in his testimony and opening statements.
Firstly, that the “real existing North Korean leadership, as opposed to the imaginary version that some westerners would like us to negotiate with, will never willingly give up their nuclear option.”
“Acquiescing to denuclearisation would be tantamount to abandoning its mission of Korean reunification.”
Secondly, Eberstadt disavowed a policy of engagement with the government of North Korea.
“International treaties can never succeed in convincing the DPRK to relinquish its nuclear weapons program,” he said. “Quite simply, this means that engagement can never produce a denuclearisation of the real existing North Korea.”
“It is time to set aside the illusion that we can somehow engage North Korea into denuclearising and to embrace instead a paradigm that has a chance of actually working.”
THREAT REDUCTION AND SPECIAL ENVOYS
Eberstadt’s policy recommendations to counter the North Korean threat were summed up by what he described as a “threat reduction” paradigm.
This includes the further development of defensive capabilities, the weakening of the DPRK’s military economy, penalties against China for its non-cooperation with the sanctions enforcement, human rights promotion and enhanced planning for a reunified peninsula without North Korea as we know it.
A key theme of the hearing was the question of what action, if any, would be sufficient to stop North Korea’s nuclear program’s final objective: the development of a system which could strike the mainland United States.
“The window of opportunity to achieve North Korea’s peaceful denuclearization may have closed,” argued Snyder. “Kim Jong Un has decided, based on lessons from Iraq, Iran, and Libya, that North Korea must be too nuclear to fail.”
The expectation, Eberstadt argued, is that if the U.S. does not pursue intervention or regime change in the near future, North Korea will have the capacity to strike the United States and there will be little that can be done to denuclearize the peninsula.
Snyder advocated for a policy that would mitigate the potential for dangerous miscalculations given North Korea’s advancing weapons program, as well as enhancing existing alliances and their cohesion in the region.
Among one of Snyder’s key recommendations, was that the President appoint a special envoy.
“To minimize miscalculation and underscore the urgency of the North Korean issue I recommend that the president appoint a senior and trusted special envoy,” he said.
This envoy, Snyder said, would “comprehensively mobilize U.S. government resources, strengthen alliance solidarity with South Korea and Japan, separate the North Korean issue from other contentious issues in the U.S.-China relationship and ensure that we can back our words towards North Korea with credible actions.”
Snyder also called for the U.S. to promote internal debates among North Korea’s elites and provide them with incentives to leave and alternatives to the Kim regime in order to affect its sustainability.
“I recommend that we erode Kim Jong Un’s internal support base by making the argument that North Korean elites can have a better future outside the regime than in it,” Snyder said.
CHINA TAKES A HIT
A consistent topic of discussion at the hearing was China’s lack of commitment to holding the North Korean regime to account for its nuclear development, and the PRC’s divergent strategic interests and goals on the peninsula.
China came under heavy criticism from the hearing participants for its protection of the North Korean government in the wake of sanctions and its stated intention to pursue nuclear weapons.
Similarly to Eberstadt, Snyder called for the implementation of secondary sanctions against Chinese entities involved in North Korea’s procurement activities.
“While continuing to pressure China to enforce sanctions, the U.S. will have to use secondary sanctions on Chinese partners of North Korea if it hopes to stop North Korea’s missile parts procurement,” he said.
Snyder argued that one of the first tasks that Trump’s new special envoy should take would be examining how the United States could better police China’s enforcement of sanctions against North Korea.
“The obvious sector where China is falling short and that provides North Korea with economic sustenance, [is] in the coal sector… and financial access to the Chinese banking system,” he said while admitting that, regarding the pre-existing limitations on the importing of North Korean coal, Beijing had “already failed.”
Customs figures show Chinese traders imported over 2 million tonnes of coal in December, up from 1.9 million the previous month. North Korea’s received $168 million for the commodity, a figure over three times that outlined in UN Security Council Resolution 2321.
Eberstadt also cited the 2007 suspension of ties with Banco Delta Asia as a precedent for where U.S. action could “hold China’s feet to the fire.”
“When Chinese interests are threatened, China responds on the DPRK front,” he said, also pointing to China’s concerns over the deployment of THAAD as an example of how the PRC can be brought to the table.
“All of a sudden China got interested, if temporarily, in North Korean economic relations… Such an approach could reduce the pace of North Korea’s economic development, by reducing resources.”
But later during the testimony, both Snyder and Eberstadt cautioned on using missile defense systems like THAAD as a bargaining chip, saying instead that defending the U.S. and its allies from kinetic attacks was a useful policy on its own merits.
Both experts also fielded questions on what measures the U.S. could take in the case of further provocative action or weapons testing from North Korea. Eberstadt said a wide variety of options available were available with the potential to make the DPRK government think more carefully about future tests, and that not all actions need be broadcast publicly.
“Part of the developing North Korean threat is the possibility of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which in theory could come near the U.S. homeland… what happens if they don’t return to port? Things are very quiet out in the sea,” Eberstadt said, though also stressed that any retaliatory measures should be carefully coordinated with allies.
Towards the end of the hearing, Senator Gardner asked the two experts to gauge how well prepared the United States government was for a reunification scenario on a scale of zero to 100.
“Scott may have a different number, I’d say about a three or four,” Eberstadt told the hearing, with Snyder agreeing that U.S. readiness for a unifying Peninsula was currently “very low.”
Eberstadt laid some of the blame for the lack of preparation on the South Korea’s Sunshine Policy, a pro-engagement strategy which spanned much of the last decade.
“(The) pro-Sunshine policy makers had the posture that such discussions and deliberations (on reunification) would be provocative to the DPRK regime. So they simply didn’t even want to be seen even thinking about such questions,” he said.
Snyder added that attempting to involve China in contingency planning for Korean Unification had also been unsuccessful.
The Senate hearing finished after briefly returning to issues of denuclearization, where both experts reiterated that the U.S. should not abandon the strategy as an end goal, as doing so could have numerous and difficult consequences for allies in the region.
Additional reporting by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: United States Capitol by Phil Roeder on 2011-03-12 07:42:06