Policy Toward North Korea Cannot Be 'Business as Usual'

Posted: May 03, 2017 12:01 AM

President Trump’s comment that the United States “could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea,” is backed by the reality of the threat from Pyongyang. Each missile tested and nuclear device detonated brings the Kim regime one step closer to having a nuclear tipped ICBM capable of striking the U.S. homeland.

Fortunately, the administration’s “all options on the table” approach provides a wide array of tools that it could use to pressure the Kim regime, leaving military action and the risk of a “major conflict” as a last resort. However, as this administration continues to develop a strategy, it must learn from the over 20 years of failure by previous administrations to develop an effective North Korea policy.

The U.S.-North Korea 1994 Agreed Framework brokered under the Clinton administration, the Bush administration’s Six Party Talks, and Obama’s “Leap Day Agreement” all failed to achieve the goal of a denuclearized North Korea. These failed policies resulted in the American taxpayers giving North Korea $1.3 billion in aid from 1995 to 2008, the removal of North Korea as a State Sponsor of Terrorism in 2008, and the withdrawal of U.S. nuclear weapons from the Peninsula. And, for what? Broken promises by a Kim regime and an acceleration of belligerent behavior.

Time and time again, North Korea has been unwilling to commit to any of the attempts by the United States and the international community to peacefully reach an agreement over its nuclear weapons program. It has also not upheld a single one of the 240 inter-Korea agreements.

While diplomatic efforts such at these should always be in the realm of possibility, I agree with the statement that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made when he addressed the UN Security Council last week that “North Korea must take concrete steps to reduce the threat that its illegal weapons programs pose to the United States and our allies before we can ever consider talks,” but time is short.

As I previously stated— the threat from North Korea is real, and the administration needs to take swift action to stop North Korea’s development of a nuclear tipped ICBM. Secretary Tillerson made it clear to the UN Security Council that “business as usual is not an option” when it comes to North Korea, and that the United States wants to work with the international community to increase diplomatic and economic pressures on the Kim regime.

Secretary Tillerson outlined how this could be achieved by all members of the international community fully implementing the commitments they have made under UN Resolution 2321 and 2270, suspending diplomatic relations, and isolating North Korea financially by ceasing to engage in business that supports their illicit weapons program.   

But Secretary Tillerson made an important caveat that the United States “will not hesitate to sanction third-country entities and individuals” that continue to support North Korea’s illegal activities. Congress’ approval for such action has already been granted, as the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016 passed through Congress with bipartisan support and was later codified into law.      

This bill provided the president with an array of tools that could be used to increase pressure on the Kim regime, most notably secondary sanctions. Again, the Trump administration needs to learn from the Obama administration’s failed strategy of “strategic patience,” particularly its failure to utilize secondary sanctions.

At a recent hearing on North Korea held before the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, a witness testified that “the failure to sanction Chinese financial institutions has drastically reduced the efficacy of both American and U.N. sanctions against North Korea.” 

Under President Obama, only one Chinese company, Dandong Hongxiang, was sanctioned. The U.S. Treasury Department said the company was part of a “key illicit network supporting North Korea’s weapons proliferation.” Yet evidence shows that Chinese companies continue to engage in business activities with North Korea, giving the Kim regime the resources it needs to fund its illegal weapons program.

As North Korea’s No. 1 economic partner, receiving over 90 percent of all North Korea’s exports, China needs to be held accountable. China’s “business as usual” approach to North Korea can no longer be tolerated. It has been one of the primary contributing factors to 20 years of failed U.S. policy.

The United States is in need of a new North Korea strategy, and I believe Secretary Tillerson’s plan to garner the support of the international community and hold them accountable is the correct move. But we have reached a point where there are no more “do overs” on U.S.-North Korean policy, and that is why the administration needs to be sure to use the tools at its disposal to hold the international community accountable and continue to pressure North Korea. 

Congressman Ted S.Yoho represents North Central Florida's 3rd Congressional district.  He was elected to the 113th Congress in November 2012 and is serving his third term in the people's house. In the 115th Congress, Ted became the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.