Congressman Tim Ryan Urges President Trump to Adopt Stronger and Smarter North Korea Policy

Oct 4, 2017

Washington, DC – Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH) joined Reps. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and other members to urge President Donald Trump to pursue a “strong, strategic, and steady” policy towards North Korea, which has been developing and testing nuclear devices and missiles in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.  A total of 68 Members of Congress signed the letter.

North Korea’s dangerous and destabilizing actions are the root cause of tensions between North Korea and the international community, but the President’s reckless rhetoric and muddled messages to allies have made the problem worse.  Members state that “the U.S. can maximize the chance of success by charting a careful course that avoids capitulation to, or catastrophic war with, North Korea.”

According the Democratic Caucus’ National Security Task Force, U.S. strategy toward North Korea should include: increase economic pressure on North Korea through the imposition and effective enforcement of sanctions; enhance crisis-management channels with North Korea and be prepared to engage in tough, principled negotiations with Pyongyang without preconditions; strengthen, rather than subvert, our alliances with South Korea, Japan and other regional partners; nominate or name qualified individuals to critical, unfilled positions at the Department of State and the Department of Defense; and continue to make clear to North Korea—through a variety of means—that an attack on the U.S. or its allies in the region will produce unacceptable consequences for the North Korean regime.

“The President’s handling of North Korea since assuming office has been reckless and shortsighted. His approach has been defined by childish remarks and knee-jerk reactions with no clear strategic goals to guide him. United States policy should be thoughtful, consistent, and effective. Foreign policy is not a game, and is not something to conducted by Twitter. Our allies need to know they can count on us to lead. Laying out a clear strategy for North Korea in the spirit of this letter is vital to assuring the world that America is leading with a steady hand,” said Congressman Tim Ryan.

“Responsibility for addressing the serious threat from North Korea lies squarely with the Trump administration,” said Murphy.  “I am concerned by the President’s approach to date, which has been characterized more by tough talk than by strong, smart, and steady actions that make our country and our allies safer.  U.S. policy toward North Korea should consist of economic pressure, strong and steady diplomacy, and credible deterrence and defense.” 

“This administration has shown that it does not have a strategy when it comes to dealing with the threat of North Korea. The President is clearly not on the same page as his own Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State. This makes his military threats not credible; it leads our allies to view us as untrustworthy, right when they need us most; and by ratcheting up tensions, he is closing down diplomatic options when they are most critical,” said Moulton. “The Democratic National Security Task Force is stepping into the Administration’s leadership vacuum and has convened experts and devised strategy to provide a smarter, stronger approach to North Korea’s unacceptable behavior. As a Co-Chair of the task force, I am proud to be joined by other Democrats who are ready to provide steady leadership while President Trump’s bluster risks blundering us into a nuclear war.”

“North Korea’s continued provocations must be met with strong, steady, and strategic action, not schoolyard rhetoric” said Panetta. “That is why we are calling upon the President to implement a strategy that uses economic pressure, firm diplomacy, and deterrence to address this paramount national security challenge.  North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile capabilities represent a growing threat that must be met with comprehensive action that uses all the tools in our toolkit to deescalate tensions, reassure our allies, and protect American citizens.”

The full text of the letter is below and the signed letter can be found here

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Dear Mr. President,

We write to urge you to adopt a strong, strategic and steady policy toward North Korea, whose rapidly advancing nuclear and missile capabilities threaten the United States and our allies.

We acknowledge two fundamental points. First, North Korea’s dangerous and destabilizing actions, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions dating back to 2006, are the root cause of tensions between North Korea and the international community. Nevertheless, we believe your rhetoric in response has been counterproductive, escalating an already-dangerous situation. Second, while North Korea has been described as “the land of lousy options,” we believe the U.S. can maximize the chance of success by charting a careful course that avoids capitulation to, or catastrophic war with, North Korea.

In our view, U.S. strategy toward North Korea should be guided by the following principles.

·         Increase Economic Pressure on North Korea Through the Imposition and Effective Enforcement of Sanctions

U.S. and international economic sanctions on North Korea should be calibrated to make it harder for North Korea to import the technology and acquire the hard currency necessary to advance its nuclear and missile programs. They should also be tailored to produce sufficient economic hardship, particularly among the regime’s elites, to cause Kim Jong-un to conclude that the cost of these programs outweigh their benefit and—accordingly—to choose negotiation over aggression. While U.S. and U.N. sanctions were recently strengthened, we believe there is room for more serious and sustained economic pressure on North Korea in an effort to change its strategic calculus.

While multilateral agreement to impose sanctions requires a significant diplomatic commitment, effective enforcement of sanctions involves even more time and resources. Far more should be done to ensure that other nations, including but not limited to China, are fulfilling their legal obligations. If a country has the will but not the ability to enforce sanctions against North Korea, the U.S. should offer technical or financial assistance. Conversely, if a country possesses the capacity but not the desire to implement sanctions, American officials should make clear to that country that it risks a fundamental breach in our bilateral relationship. The U.S. intelligence community, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of State should monitor, address and—where appropriate—penalize non-compliance in accordance with U.S. sanctions law.

·         Enhance U.S. Diplomatic Efforts, Especially Crisis Management Channels

Tough, principled diplomacy with North Korea is not a concession or sign of weakness. President Reagan negotiated with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. Whether North Korea is prepared to negotiate an enduring and verifiable suspension of its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for sanctions relief is up to Pyongyang.  But the United States should always be ready and willing to talk without preconditions. 

In the interim, the U.S. must establish effective crisis-management channels with North Korea to clarify intentions and minimize the risk of miscalculation.  When the U.S. communicates clearly and consistently to an adversary, it makes it less likely that the adversary will intentionally or inadvertently begin a conflict.

·                     Strengthen, Don’t Subvert, Alliances in East Asia

At his confirmation hearing, Secretary of Defense James Mattis stated: “History is clear: nations with strong allies thrive and those without them wither.” We are concerned that U.S. alliances in East Asia, particularly our security and economic partnership with South Korea, are being mismanaged. After North Korea’s latest nuclear test, we were discouraged to see you accuse South Korean President Moon of “appeasement” toward North Korea, a claim as untrue as it is unhelpful.

Furthermore, while we have a range of views on the 2012 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, we believe that now is the wrong time for the administration to engage in loose talk about unilateral withdrawal from the agreement. Kim Jong-un seeks to undermine the relationship between the U.S. and South Korea and to cause South Korea to question the credibility of our commitments. We should stand steadfast with our allies, not further Kim’s efforts to divide us.

·         Recognize that Personnel is Policy

We are disappointed that, eight months into your tenure, key policymakers needed to craft and carry out U.S. strategy in East Asia are not in place.  At the Department of State, you have yet to nominate an individual to serve as Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, or Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security. At the Department of Defense, you have not nominated an individual to serve as Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs or appointed an individual to serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia. These are self-inflicted wounds. We urge you to swiftly nominate or name qualified individuals to these critical positions.

·         Maintain Deterrence and Defense

For nearly 65 years, U.S. leadership, military presence, and engagement with allies has prevented another devastating conflict on the Korean peninsula. While Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il, and now Kim Jong-un have acted aggressively, each has concluded that a direct attack on the U.S. or our allies would produce unacceptable consequences for the regime. The U.S. must continue to impart this message to North Korea through a variety of means, including by enhancing defensive systems and bolstering defense cooperation and intelligence sharing with South Korea and Japan.

Rather than using reckless rhetoric and sending muddled messages to our allies, the U.S. should pursue a comprehensive strategy toward North Korea that consists of economic pressure, strong and steady diplomacy, and credible deterrence and defense.

 

Sincerely,

 

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