The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee declared this morning that the “threat from North Korea, regrettably, is not going to be removed” by the “global action” proposed by the Trump administration to curb Kim Jong-un’s behavior.
Pyongyang said Tuesday that it successfully test-fired Hwasong-14, a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile. According to Chosun Ilbo in South Korea, state TV in the North declared the regime “a full-fledged nuclear power… possessed of the most powerful intercontinental-ballistic rocket capable of hitting any part of the world.”
Kim reportedly watched the launch at the scene. The missile, said to be capable of reaching Alaska or Hawaii, flew for 39 minutes before hitting open waters.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a statement Tuesday evening condemning the July Fourth launch. “Testing an ICBM represents a new escalation of the threat to the United States, our allies and partners, the region, and the world,” he said. “Global action is required to stop a global threat.”
“Any country that hosts North Korean guest workers, provides any economic or military benefits, or fails to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions is aiding and abetting a dangerous regime. All nations should publicly demonstrate to North Korea that there are consequences to their pursuit of nuclear weapons. We intend to bring North Korea’s provocative action before the UN Security Council and enact stronger measures to hold the DPRK accountable,” Tillerson continued.
“The United States seeks only the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the end of threatening actions by North Korea. As we, along with others, have made clear, we will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea.”
President Trump and his national security team “are continuing to assess the situation in close coordination with our allies and partners,” he added.
Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) doubted that Tillerson’s vow would put pressure on North Korea.
“If there is an idea floating around out there for how we can remove that threat, I’m open to it. But we have been circling around this discussion of what we want China to do and what we want sanctions to do and all these other different pieces,” Smith said. “The bottom line is, what we need against North Korea, we need to put the best economic sanctions we can. I think it’s perfectly appropriate for the secretary of state to try to put pressure on other nations to do the same. But the most important thing we need is a credible military deterrent, so that whatever North Korea does in terms of building a missile, they know that if they act against South Korea or against Japan or against us, we will obliterate them.”
“That’s why THAAD [missile defense system] is important. That is why our alliance with South Korea and Japan is important, to have that credible military force, because what’s been proven — and all of the options have been discussed with your previous guests — is that North Korea is going to do it. They want to build nuclear weapons. They want to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile. And short of an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula, we don’t really have an option for stopping them.”
China and Russia issued a joint statement calling Pyongyang’s ICBM test “unacceptable.”
“The two sides propose that the DPRK (North Korea) as a voluntary political decision declares a moratorium on testing nuclear explosive devices and ballistic rocket launches, and the US and South Korea refrain from carrying out large-scale joint exercises,” the statement said. “Parallel to this, the opposing sides should start negotiations and affirm general principles of their relations including the non-use of force, rejection of aggression and peaceful co-existence.”
Smith slammed the statement as “spectacularly disingenuous.”
“Neither one of them is doing a darn thing to stop North Korea. And they want to use it as an excuse to push us out of the region,” he added. “What we have to make clear to them is it’s going to have the exact opposite effect. Once North Korea is able to threaten us and even now, as they threaten our allies, we have to be in there to protect our own interests. China’s not acting against North Korea. And the reason they’re not acting against North Korea is, they don’t want to cut off North Korea’s economic aid. They don’t want North Korea to collapse because they don’t want millions of North Korean refugees pouring across their border. They’re not happy that North Korea is causing such instability in the region, but the alternative of them trying to crush the regime somehow is something they’re not willing to do, and they haven’t been willing to do it through four administrations. So, we need a credible military deterrent, and that is our only option.”
Smith noted that Kim’s actions have been “all about ensuring regime survival,” as he’s “looked at Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya, and they feel that unless they have a nuclear weapon and a credible deterrent of their own, that their regime is in jeopardy.”
“So, all the economic sanctions, all that needs to be done. But understand what I’m saying here. As you have discussed, there is not a good military option,” he said. “Thinking that we can preemptively go in there and somehow take out their capabilities, whatever we do leads to a massive war in the Korean Peninsula… we need our THAAD system in the region. We need a system to give us a shot at shooting down that missile if they decide to launch it. And then we also need a clear diplomatic policy that we will destroy them.”
After the THAAD system was installed in South Korea, Trump said Seoul should fork over a billion dollars for the missile defense. New South Korean President Moon Jae-in recently suspended further THAAD deployment pending a review of the program.
Smith stressed that Russia and China must “stop screwing around.”
“If you guys really want us to be less involved in the region, then you have got to figure out a way to control North Korea,” he said. “Now, I don’t think they’re going to do that. But that means that we have to stay active in the region.”