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The National Committee on North Korea

Senators Weigh in on the North Korea Policy Review

March 3, 2017

On March 2, 2017 Senators Edward Markey (D-MA) and Al Franken (D-MN) co-authored a letter to the President urging the new administration to “adopt a strategy of active diplomatic engagement with North Korea, backed by rigorous sanctions enforcement and a robust military deterrence posture in cooperation with… regional partners.” The letter comes on the heels of a North Korea policy review initiated by the White House to consider a range of proposals, which reportedly include the use of military force. The letter by Senators Markey and Franken underscores the urgency of the situation and called on the President to “reach out directly and discreetly to North Korea with an offer to begin talks about restarting negotiations on their nuclear and ballistic missile activities.” The goals of the negotiations, they outline, should approach the long-term goal of North Korea abandoning its nuclear weapons program in a step-by-step process in exchange for mutual confidence-building measures like economic engagement opportunities and addressing future US-ROK joint military exercises. In tandem with this diplomatic approach, they urge the President to utilize the North Korean Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act to strengthen the implementation of existing sanctions. In closing, they reiterate the necessity to “exhaust opportunities for tough diplomacy” before moving to drastically escalate pressure on North Korea. 

This letter was preceded by a letter sent on February 14, 2017 by six Republic Senators, led by Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) to the Secretary of Treasury, Steven Mnuchin. The Senators urge the Secretary to “execute the full extent of financial sanctions and targeted financial measures provided for under current law” on North Korea to bring meaningful economic pressure on North Korea and cut it off from the international banking system. The letter details the gap between the sanctions regime and implementation efforts and the need for “a determined, sustained, and well-resourced campaign to investigate, uncover and sanction the complex web of… third-country companies and banks that fund Kim Jong-un’s regime, facilitate proliferation, and break sanctions.” They offer 10 specific actions that the Treasury Department could take to more effectively “cut off North Korea’s access to the hard currency it uses to finance its illicit nuclear program.” 

 

Perspectives on China’s Coal Import Halt

February 21, 2017

On Sunday, China’s Ministry of Commerce announced that Beijing would suspend all imports of coal from North Korea for the remainder of 2017, cutting off a major source of export earnings for Pyongyang. The announcement comes nearly three months after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2321, which capped North Korean coal exports at 7.5 million metric tons or about $400 million annually. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has indicated that Beijing had implemented the ban because the annual quota had nearly been met within the first six weeks of 2017. (While reported coal imports from North Korea in January 2017 alone did not begin to reach the annual cap, imports for the month of December 2016 significantly exceeded the cap for that month.)

Writing at the Peterson Institute’s Witness to Transformation blog, Stephan Haggard argues that although the timing of China’s announcement came on the heels of a North Korean missile test and the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam, it may not have been tied to North Korea’s recent behavior. Rather, he interprets the move as a way for Beijing to put the onus on the Trump administration to begin talks with North Korea over its nuclear program, noting that China could easily backpedal on its coal imports if it chose to.

The Choson Exchange blog argues that rising coal prices and the likely tendency for Chinese coal importers to have frontloaded sales from North Korea, combined with Beijing’s hesitancy to exceed the coal cap limit, may have prompted China to issue the ban when it did. As their post notes, UNSCR 2321’s very detailed mechanism for limiting North Korean coal exports marked a break from the more vague and flexible language of past resolutions, indicating Beijing’s intent to adhere to the resolution rather than to enforce it only minimally. In a comment on the post, however, Bill Newcomb argues that the suddenness of the coal ban sent an “unmistakable signal of top level loss of patience” in China.

Bill Brown, in a post for the Korea Economic Institute assessing the ban’s ramifications on the North Korean economy, points out that North Korean rice prices and the unofficial exchange rate for the North Korean Won will provide leading indicators on the ban’s impact, as well as the North Korean government’s response to it. Brown argues that, faced with the loss of export earnings from coal, Pyongyang could continue the marketization of the North Korean economy, privatizing state resources to support the Won and to develop more competitive exporters in non-sanctioned industries such as textiles. Alternatively, he writes, North Korea’s government might use the situation to reduce imports and increase regulations on prices and wages, attempting to re-assert centralized control of the economy.

Victor Cha on Countering the North Korean Threat and New Steps in U.S. Policy

February 9, 2017

NCNK member and CSIS Senior Adviser and Korea Chair Dr. Victor Cha testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday, February 7 to discuss the threat posed by North Korea and offer recommendations for policy priorities for the United States.

Dr. Cha began his testimony by noting that a North Korean crisis could be a defining challenge for the Trump administration. Dr. Cha argued that any new strategy must be based on a full reading of the past record and reflect new realities and assumptions, including inter alia that North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons and that Chinese cooperation will only be limited to those measures that “do not risk collapse of the [North Korean] regime.” At its core, Dr. Cha argued that a new policy toward North Korea, “must entail a higher level of risk acceptance” not only in military strategy but also in diplomacy. The tendency to minimize risk, Cha argued, has restricted options and allowed North Korea to significantly develop their nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

By the way of specific recommendations, Dr. Cha testified that the United States has no choice but to expedite the deployment of THAAD with South Korea and that it should regularly rotate new assets and capabilities to enhance extended deterrence on the peninsula. He also argued that sanctions should be continued and expanded, including potentially sanctioning North Korean slave labor exports as well as third-parties willfully aiding North Korean illicit activities. On China, Cha noted while Chinese cooperation is necessary, U.S. policy cannot be subcontracted to China and that the U.S must consider secondary sanctions on Chinese entities in violation of sanctions. Relatedly, Cha suggested that engaging Russia in the UN Security Council could offer a way to put pressure on North Korea and China. Finally, Cha argued that the new administration must condemn North Korea’s human rights record given that North Korea’s nuclear program is “intertwined with its abuse of its citizens.” While Cha did not provide specific recommendations on diplomatic overtures, he reiterated that a new policy must also entail greater risk taking in diplomacy.

Ambassador Robert Gallucci, Sue Mi Terry, and Anthony Ruggiero joined Dr. Cha in testifying before the Committee. Their full written testimonies, as well as a video of the hearing, can be found here

Scott Snyder on Reassessing North Korea Policy Options

January 31, 2017

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relation Committee today, Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow and NCNK Steering Committee Co-Chair Scott Snyder outlined the state of U.S. efforts to address North Korea's nuclear program, and provided policy recommendations for Congress and the new Administration.

Snyder's recommendations included a call for strengthened military and political cooperation with South Korea and Japan, as well the appointment of a senior envoy reporting directly to the President to manage the North Korea portfolio. He calls for a multi-pronged approached to China, arguing that "North Korea lives in the space created by Sino-U.S. geostrategic mistrust." This approach would aim to separate the North Korea issue from other aspects of Sino-U.S. relations and have Washington work with Beijing when possible, but also entail a greater U.S. willingness to apply secondary sanctions on Chinese entities in order to increase pressure on North Korea.

Although Snyder expresses pessimism about the prospects of the U.S. entering into denuclearization negotiations with North Korea, he argues that direct dialogue between the two countries would have value, allowing the U.S. to articulate the parameters for future negotiations in order to clearly signal how Washington will respond to North Korean actions. Snyder also calls for activities to create an internal debate among North Korea's elites, convincing them that the country has an alternative path forward if it abandons its nuclear weapons and begins to adhere to international norms. 

Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute joined Snyder in testifying before the Committee. His testimony, along with video of the hearing, is available here.

U.S. provides first humanitarian aid to North Korea in five years

January 26, 2017

South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh reveals that President Obama provided humanitarian aid earmarked for flood relief through the United Nations to North Korea just before leaving office. The article notes that the provision of aid could provide needed momentum to reset US-DPRK relations by the new Trump administration.

The US government has reportedly sent humanitarian aid earmarked for flood relief to North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province via the UN.

“Shortly before President Obama left office, the Obama administration sent humanitarian aid to North Korea by way of the UN, and the Trump administration is planning to make this public before long,” an expert on the Korean Peninsula in Washington who is familiar with affairs in the US government told the Hankyoreh on Jan. 24. This expert said that American aid to North Korea was at a “symbolic level” and did not mention the exact size or the items provided.

This is the first humanitarian aid the US government has given to North Korea since it gave US$900,000 through the independent relief organization Samaritan’s Purse in 2011. Even as the Obama administration toughened its independent sanctions against the North in response to North Korea’s fourth and fifth nuclear tests, it allowed humanitarian aid from the private sector but did not provide any governmental aid.

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Leon Sigal on Recommendations for the Next Administration's North Korea Policy

January 17, 2017

In an article for Arms Control Today, Social Science Research Council's Leon Sigal, parses through clues to the next administration's North Korea policy and suggests that Trump should follow through on his impulse to engage in talks with North Korea, rather than the recommendations Trump will likely receive to continue a policy of "strategic patience." 

Lost in the countryside, a city slicker stops to ask a farmer for directions. The farmer replies laconically, “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.” Starting from here is the sort of advice President Donald Trump is likely to get when he asks about North Korea. 

He will be urged to pick up where his predecessor left off: refuse to enter into negotiations unless the North first commits to denuclearizing completely and takes steps to demonstrate it is serious about that commitment. He also will be told to continue ratcheting up sanctions in a vain effort to force Pyongyang to the negotiating table on U.S. terms.

That advice is tantamount to wishing away Washington’s current predicament in hopes of somehow going back to the future. 

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Siegfried Hecker on Why We Should Talk to North Korea

January 12, 2017

In a New York Times op-ed, Stanford University's Siegfried Hecker argues that the incoming Trump administration should move quickly to engage in bilateral negotiations with North Korea. Hecker, also director emeritus at Los Alamos National Laboratory, says that reestablishing communication with North Korea could help prevent a nuclear crisis, and could also garner support from China and other countries in the region.

The crisis is here. The nuclear clock keeps ticking. Every six to seven weeks North Korea may be able to add another nuclear weapon to its arsenal. All in the hands of Kim Jong-un, a young leader about whom we know little, and a military about which we know less. Both are potentially prone to overconfidence and miscalculations.

These sensitive nuclear issues require focused discussions in a small, closed setting. This cannot be achieved at a multilateral negotiating table, such as the six-party talks.

Mr. Trump should send a presidential envoy to North Korea. Talking is not a reward or a concession to Pyongyang and should not be construed as signaling acceptance of a nuclear-armed North Korea. Talking is a necessary step to re-establishing critical links of communication to avoid a nuclear catastrophe.

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The New Year's Speech

January 3, 2017

In Kim Jong Un's annual New Year's address, he re-emphasized themes from the May 2016 Workers' Party Congress, discussed military and economic policy, and referenced the widespread protests that have taken place in South Korea. In reviewing the North's missile and nuclear tests over the past year, Kim implied that the country would soon test launch an ICBM, a claim which has drawn the bulk of media attention to the speech.

We conducted the first H-bomb test, test-firing of various means of strike and nuclear warhead test successfully to cope with the imperialists' nuclear war threats, which were growing more wicked day by day, briskly developed state-of-the-art military hardware, and entered the final stage of preparation for the test launch of intercontinental ballistic missile; we achieved other marvellous successes one after another for the consolidation of the defence capability. 

 In response to the claim, U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump tweeted that "it won't happen!". A ROK Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that Trump's tweet could "be construed as a clear warning to North Korea in response to Kim Jong-un’s indication of possible provocations, including a launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), in his new year’s address."

 

Who We Are

The National Committee is a non-partisan coalition of individuals with extensive and complementary knowledge of and direct experience related to the society, economy, government, and history of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

We are a diverse group. A number of members served as diplomats in some of the landmark U.S.-DPRK negotiations. Some have authored major books on the history, society, and security of the Korean Peninsula. Other members have worked in virtually all parts of North Korea, and on issues related to the country's current economic, humanitarian, refugee, and medical crises. Some of our experience reaches back to the era of the Korean War. Most have extensive contacts in the Republic of Korea, China, Japan, and Russia related to the Korean Peninsula. While the National Committee on North Korea is non-governmental, several of the members have worked in official positions and have ongoing ties with current or past administrations and with the United States Congress.

The idea to form a National Committee on North Korea originated during The Musgrove III Conference held in mid-May 2004, which was attended by many of the founding committee members. The first meeting was held on November 4, 2004.