January 31, 2017

Corker Opening Statement at Hearing on "Confronting the North Korea Threat: Reassessing Policy Options"

United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Hearing: "Confronting the North Korea Threat: Reassessing Policy Options"
January 31, 2017
U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Chairman
Opening Statement
The North Korea threat is one of the most urgent security challenges facing the United States. Yet for nearly three decades, successive Republican and Democratic administrations have pursued the seemingly elusive goal of North Korean denuclearization with little to show for their efforts. The United States along with allies and partners has employed a variety of tools including diplomacy, deterrence and sanctions to persuade North Korea to abandon its illicit nuclear and missile programs. In addition, Congress has done its part to strengthen the hand of the United States to confront the threat posed by North Korea. Last year, spearheaded by Senators Gardner and Menendez, the Foreign Relations Committee paved the way for Congress to pass unanimously the first North Korea-specific comprehensive sanctions and policy legislation, which was signed into law by President Obama on February 18, 2016.

However, no combination of incentives and disincentives has brought us any closer to ending the threat posed by North Korea. We could spend all day discussing the strengths and weaknesses of various combinations of tools, and the reasons why past approaches have not yielded the desired results. There are many, including China’s lax enforcement of multilateral sanctions. Yet the fact remains that the threat posed by North Korea has only grown more alarming. In the past year, North Korea conducted over twenty missile launches and tested two nuclear devices – bringing its total number of nuclear tests to-date to five. And in his recent New Year’s address, Kim Jong-un claimed that North Korea was ready to launch an ICBM at any time. Pyongyang increasingly appears to be on a trajectory to have the capability to launch an ICBM capable of reaching the continental United States – a missile that could possibly carry a miniaturized nuclear device. Something’s obviously got to give.

The current approach is not working and the urgency of the North Korea threat necessitates that we spend some time thinking outside the box about U.S. strategy toward North Korea. For example, does the pursuit of North Korean denuclearization remain a realistic policy objective in the near-term? Alternatively, should the United States consider a policy approach that proactively pursues regime change in North Korea by non-kinetic means? The recent defection of a high-level North Korean diplomat suggests that there may be opportunities to exploit pockets of regime instability. In addition, should the United States be prepared to preemptively strike a North Korean ICBM on a launch platform? Of course, in spite of their shortcomings, diplomacy, deterrence and sanctions remain important tools.  And we should redouble our efforts to enforce sanctions and work with our Japanese and South Korean allies to strengthen deterrence capabilities.

However, as we find ourselves staring down the barrel of a North Korean ICBM, we have an obligation to the American people to challenge existing assumptions and explore policy alternatives. I hope we will be able to have a thoughtful discussion today that outlines U.S. interests on the Korean Peninsula. And, more importantly, provides the new administration with some food for thought as it shapes its approach to U.S.-North Korea policy in the coming month. I look forward to hearing from these witnesses and I want to thank our ranking member for allowing this hearing to take place, for his cooperation a few more ago and look forward to his comments.