FPI Bulletin: Suggested Questions for Hill Briefing on North Korea

January 12, 2015

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a briefing tomorrow on North Korea’s growing nuclear, missile, and cyber threat.  This follows a year in which North Korea reportedly hacked Sony Pictures Entertainment, Pyongyang made additional progress toward a long-range missile capable of reaching the United States, and a United Nations Commission of Inquiry found that the regime around Kim Jong Un is responsible for “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations.” 

The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) believes the following questions will be helpful for lawmakers and their staff as they prepare for this important briefing.


On North Korean Proliferation and Sanctions

On January 2, the Obama administration imposed additional sanctions against North Korea, targeting organizations and individuals involved in North Korea’s arms trade and proliferation activities, including individuals located in Syria and Iran.

  • Mr. Kim, is North Korea selling weapons to Iran and Syria, as well as terrorist groups, like Hezbollah, that these governments support? 

The German newspaper Der Spiegel reported this week that North Korea may be supporting efforts by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, in cooperation with Iran and Hezbollah.

  • Mr. Kim, can you describe the level of historic cooperation between North Korea, Iran, and Syria with regard to the al-Kibar nuclear site that was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in 2007? Is North Korea providing any assistance to Syria’s nuclear programs today?

Since the administration of President George W. Bush de-listed North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, the North Korean regime has reportedly sold arms to terrorist groups, killed South Korean civilians in its 2010 shelling of Yeonpyeong-do Island, and abducted individuals from across international borders. A U.S. court has even found that North Korea is liable for supporting rocket attacks on Israel during the 2006 Gaza War.

  • Mr. Kim and Mr. Glaser, in light of North Korea’s support to terrorist groups and state sponsors of terrorism, as well as its 2014 cyber attack against Sony, and other activities, do you believe that Pyongyang should be re-listed as a state sponsor of terrorism?

On North Korea’s Nuclear Threat

Bloomberg View’s Josh Rogin and Eli Lake reported in December: “A new analysis of North Korea’s nuclear program by a group of top U.S. experts, led by David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, estimates that North Korea could have enough material for 79 nuclear weapons by 2020.”

  • Mr. Kim, does the United States believe that North Korea could have enough material for nearly 80 nuclear weapons five years from now?

A March 2013 CNN poll found that two-thirds of South Koreans favored creating their own nuclear arsenal to deter the North.

  • Mr. Kim, would you agree that North Korea’s growing nuclear capability poses additional risks for proliferation as regional states seek their own nuclear capability?
  • What steps is the Obama administration taking to reassure South Korea with regard to the ability and commitment of the United States to provide extended deterrence?

North Korea has offered to temporarily forego a fourth nuclear test if the United States does not participate in its annual military exercise with the South.

  • Mr. Kim, what does this initiative signify in terms of North Korea’s efforts to split the U.S.-South Korean alliance?
  • North Korea’s nuclear tests have produced larger nuclear explosions with each instance.  Do you believe a potential fourth nuclear test will continue this trend? 

On North Korea’s Growing Missile Capability

The South Korean government released a white paper last week that found that the North had made “significant” progress towards miniaturizing a nuclear warhead.  However, media reports noted that Seoul’s assessment differs from General Curtis Scaparrotti, the commander of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula, who said in October 2014 that Pyongyang had “the technology to potentially actually deliver what they say they have.”

  • Mr. Kim, does the United States government believe that North Korea can miniaturize a nuclear warhead for delivery on a ballistic missile?

The South Korean white paper found that North Korea was capable of striking the U.S. mainland with an intercontinental ballistic missile. 

  • Mr. Kim, does the United States believe that the North is capable of striking the United States mainland with an ICBM?

The research group 38 North reported last week that North Korea may have installed vertical missile launch tubes on a submarine. 

  • Mr. Kim, does the United States believe that North Korea is pursuing a sea-based nuclear strike capability?  If so, what would be the consequences be for regional and American security?

The Obama administration decided in March 2013 to increase U.S. ground-based missile interceptors (GMD) in the Pacific from 30 to 44, and a second X-band radar was deployed to Japan late last year to monitor and track a potential North Korean launch.

  • Mr. Kim, in light of North Korea’s burgeoning nuclear capability, what additional steps can the United States pursue to neutralize Pyongyang’s threat to American and regional security?
  • Vice Admiral James Syring, the head of the Missile Defense Agency, has said that he wants to have at least one test of the GMD per year to maintain momentum.  However, the next test will not occur until the end of next year.  How can the United States maintain regular tests to improve the reliability of our interceptors?

On North Korea’s Cybersecurity Threat

Recent events have focused attention on North Korea’s so-called “cyber army”, whose size is estimated at anywhere from 1,800 to 6,000 members.  The organizational hub of this army is reported to be Bureau 121 of the General Bureau of Reconnaissance. Reports often use the words “sophisticated” and “elite” to describe these hackers.

  • General Touhill, in your view, how credible are the various estimates regarding the size of North Korea’s “cyber army”?
  • How can a country where citizens have almost no access to the internet train a truly elite cyberforce that may number several thousand?
  • Did the United States underestimate the capability of these hackers before the attack on Sony?

Reports indicate that North Korean personnel conduct cyber operations from the city of Shenyang in northeastern China near the Korean border. This choice supposedly reflects the lack of communications infrastructure within North Korea proper.

  • General Touhill, does North Korea conduct cyber operations out of Shenyang, China? If so, to what extent is China responsible for North Korea’s cyber activities?

On North Korea’s Human Rights Record

The United Nations is debating whether or not to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court for its widespread human rights abuses. 

  • Mr. Kim, what do you believe is the likelihood that North Korea will be referred to the International Criminal Court, given China’s continuing support of Pyongyang at the U.N. Security Council?
  • In light of China’s behavior, what other options does the United States have to punish Pyongyang for their systematic human rights abuses?

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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