FPI Bulletin: Kerry’s Dangerous Overtures on North Korea

April 15, 2013

By FPI Executive Director Christopher J. Griffin and Policy Director Robert Zarate

The U.S. recovery of the front section of a ballistic missile fired by North Korea in December 2012 was the basis for the Defense Intelligence Agency’s assessment with moderate confidence that Pyongyang already has nuclear weapons that can be delivered with missiles, reporter Eli Lake revealed today in The Daily Beast.

This revelation is a game changer. As North Korea prepares to test yet another ballistic missile that could strike our allies and military forces in Asia, it is essential that the United States demonstrate resolve in its standoff with Pyongyang. 

Instead, Secretary of State John Kerry has offered to cut U.S. ballistic missile defense deployments if China reins in North Korea and suggested that the United States may lower the bar for direct talks with Pyongyang.

After weeks of careful efforts to manage this crisis, Kerry’s apparently off-the-cuff remarks—both made during pressers—threaten to undermine the confidence of our allies.

First, Congress should call on the Obama administration to rebuke Secretary Kerry’s comments about potential missile defense concessions to China and instead reaffirm America's commitment to our missile defense efforts.  There is no reason to suggest weaker U.S. missile defenses after learning that North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile threat is much more advanced than previously believed. 

The continued development and deployment of U.S. missile defenses is an essential component of our efforts to reassure allies like South Korea and Japan, with whom we cooperate extensively on these programs.  Missile defenses are responsive to an array of threats, including North Korea’s chemical-armed ballistic missiles as well as China's own growing arsenal of regional and intercontinental-range missiles. Kerry’s intimation that we would no longer require robust missile defenses if Pyongyang’s nuclear program went away betrays allied interests, as well as our own.

The administration should instead explain to Beijing that China’s failure to rein in North Korea’s threatens regional stability throughout the Asia-Pacific.  Despite U.S. assurances of extended deterrence, a majority of South Koreans now say that Seoul should have its own nuclear weapons program.  A North Korean-sparked nuclear arms race in Asia would be just as bad for China as it would be for the United States.

Second, the Obama administration should clarify Kerry’s suggestion that Washington has lowered the bar for direct talks with North Korea.  The United States has a long and sordid history of offering concessions to Pyongyang without making any progress toward denuclearization.

Lawmakers should call on President Obama not to engage in direct talks with North Korea unless Pyongyang has made meaningful and unambiguous steps to meet its longstanding commitments to denuclearize and dismantle its ballistic missile programs.

At the same time, Congress should push the President to develop a comprehensive strategy to strengthen our military alliances surrounding North Korea and begin the rollback of the ultimate source of this crisis—the Kim family regime. As the Foreign Policy Initiative has argued, these steps should include aggressively targeting North Korea's financial assets and proliferation activities, taking on North Korea’s humanitarian disaster, and exploring the possibility of creating an international reconstruction fund to prepare for Korean unification.

The revelation that North Korea may already possess a nuclear-tipped missile capability shows the damage that our prior mistakes with Pyongyang have wrought. This is no time to repeat them.

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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