The ICAS Lectures


What the US Congress Can Do for Peace and Security in the Korean Peninsula:
The North Korea Question

Barbara Comstock

ICAS Spring Symposium

May 17, 2016, 1:00 PM - 4:30 PM
Hart Office Office Building room 216
United States Senate
Washington, DC

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

Biographic sketch & Links: Barbara Comstock

What the US Congress Can Do for Peace and Security in the Korean Peninsula:
The North Korea Question

Barbara Comstock *
Member of US Congress

May 17, 2016

Daniel Aum: Thank you, Dr. Kim for this opportunity to introduce our next speaker. Good afternoon, my name is Dan Aum. As a resident of the great commonwealth of Virginia, it is my privilege to introduce Representative Barbara Comstock. A resident of Virginia for more than 30 years, Congresswoman Comstock was elected in November 2014, to represent Virginiaís 10th Congressional District. But her experience on Capitol Hill began with the role of an intern, then later serving as a Senior Aide in the 1990s to Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf, who served the district she now represents. She was then recruited to serve on the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, where the Congresswoman became Chief Council. From 2002 to 2003, she made her home at the US Department of Justice where she served as the Director of the Office of Public Affairs, spearheading communications in the department, tackling some of the major issues including the War on Terror investigations as well as the Washington Sniper case. The Congresswoman entered into public service, having earned her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center, and a bachelor in arts in Political Science from Middlebury College. In light of the recent developments in North Korea, some of which weíve discussed today, involving their ballistic missile technology and nuclear arsenal, as well as the ongoing human rights crisis, we very much look forward to hearing the Congresswomanís remarks. She will respond to a question that is both timely and increasing in significance not only among Asia policy rings, but also among peace loving Koreans, Korean-Americans, and the broader American public. What can the US Congress do for US Peace and Security in the Korean Peninsula: The North Korea Question. So without further ado, please join me in welcoming the Congresswoman.


Barbara Comstock: Thank you. Good afternoon. Iím glad I was able to be here and hear a little bit of the discussion because you all really are the experts. So please, thank you great. And I appreciate all of the information and expertise you bring for us in the policy field. Because we really do need that, and obviously this is one of our most important relationships. And we know itís also a very dangerous part of the world. I am very privileged to represent a district that has a large Korean-American community, so I have the benefit of that expertise all the time in a variety of issues. When I was a delegate, I had the Korean bell guard in my district, which I love it. Itís in Vienna, if you havenít been there, you should definitely visit. Itís a delightful place. And all of the activities that go on there really remind us of that great partnership we have. Itís just a little bit behind Wolftrap if you havenít been there. And I also appreciate the opportunity to join with the community and so many of the activities from our Korean Chamber of Commerce, our Korean Medical Society. All of the activities that go on around the greater Washington Area where people are engaged and involved in supporting the community, but also outreach to the community with events such as the Chorus Festival, which always brings us all together and is a great educational effort also. So I really do appreciate the opportunity to be able to represent so many of our Korean American leaders in the country right in my district.

Back when I was a staffer on Capitol Hill and Chief Council to the Government Reform Committee, I was privileged to be able to visit South Korea, but I have not yet been back as a member. So that is still on my list of things. I know certainly since 1999, when I traveled, things are much different. I have co-sponsored the encouraging Reunions of Divided Korean American Families Act, which as you know, this legislation encourages North Korea to allow Korean Americans to be able to meet with family members from North Korea. And the bill also calls on North Korea to take steps to build good will, conducive to peace on the peninsula. Also, I have co-sponsored the Korean War Veterans Memorial that will honor the Korean augmentation to the US Army, Republic of Korea Armed Forces, and the other nations of the United Nations Command who were killed, wounded, missing, or held prisoner during the War.

I always enjoy every year in August when we have the Korean Independence Day celebration and we bring together so many of our people, everybody who was involved in the Korean War and we come together and celebrate that Independence Day. I think thatís probably one of the first events that I was involved in where you really could feel this connection that we have in fighting for our independence and understanding that and sharing that passion in common. As you know, my predecessor, Congressman Frank Wolf, who did serve in a Congressional human rights Caucus in his deep faith and commitment to human rights and religious freedom, was a large part of his service here in Congress, and I am pleased to be able to continue that work and I know highlighting the human rights abuses that we see in North Korea is something we always need to continue to work on. Just yesterday we passed the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act unanimously. This legislation will improve the ability of the United States and the State Department to advance religious freedom globally with stronger and more flexible political responses to the disturbing and growing denial of basic religious freedoms all around the world. So certainly we know that will be an area where we will want to come together on. And I also was privileged, back actually when I was a delegate, as part of a Catholic legislators conference, to go to Rome, where we brought Catholic legislators together from all over the world and, I wish I could remember her name because I was going back through my notes and try to remember her name, but it was a woman who was there from Korea and she was there Ė and the big issue that we were working on there, and that Iíve continued to work on with the Korean American community in the 10th district, is the issue of human trafficking. And we were able to, as a Catholic community, come together from all over the world. We had delegations from all around the world and highlighted that issue. It was in 2013 when Pope Francis had just been installed as Pope. We were able to talk about that issue and I do believe Ė as heís traveled around the world, he highlighted that issue. AndÖ Letís seeÖ What other things can I tell you that weíve been focusing on?

The ultimate goal, of course as we all know, with regard to the Korean peninsula, is reunification. And President Park has stated time and again her commitment to reunification, and I know we all stand together for one Korea. In 1969, the Republic of Korea established the National Unification Board, which later became the Ministry of Unification. But I appreciate that President Park is going to sign up further and formed a presidential committee for unification preparation. I know youíre all familiar with that, and I think that is something that we continue to work together on. This is a passion that we share. One Korea and reunification. I have many Korean churches in my community, also large congregations where we come together and we pray about this. And this is something certainly that the Pope highlighted when he has visited. Again, I think that will be an important issue that we continue. With that, Iíll just open it up because I would love to hear from you all and hear some of the things that perhaps you think we might be able to work on and highlight. Certainly we appreciate all that youíre doing and coming here today. And your advocacy. Please note, you basically had me at hello. You donít have a lot of convincing here to do. We want to continue to work with you until that day when we are one Korea.



Larry Niksch: Iíll make a disclaimer first that Iím a constituent of Congresswoman Comstock. Iíd like to raise an issue that came up earlier, and that is the proposal or advocacy or suggestion, you can define however you want, of Donald Trump that it may be a better policy for the United States to encourage Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear weapons. And the point was made earlier, and I forget who made it, that there hasnít been very much of a specific response to this suggestion of his. In terms of really getting a debate, really getting this at a much higher level of debate on this issue. Is it your sense that this is the situation right now? And do we need to get this to a higher level of publicity or some real debate, either within the Republican Party or among experts or in the Congress for example?

Barbara Comstock: Do we have press here?

I have made it clear Iím not a fan of Mr. Trump. I have many concerns about his foreign policy statements on any number of fronts. I do think more for the house Ė I think I look more to what the House is saying and I have to say, we probably havenít had a lot of discussion about that because I donít know that Ė since he changes his mind constantly, this and so many other things, I donít know if we should at all take that seriously.

Moderator: Peter?

Peter Huessey: I thinkÖ Congresswoman, thank you for coming and thank god we have a Republican controlled House of Representatives. On defense issues and that armed services committee you have extraordinary people. And some very good Democrats too. I have a question on Ė a parenthetical question about Mr. Trump. When he was asked by Hugh Hewitt back in August about the Triad, he went immediately to a 60 Minutes program that was done on Minute Man, that showed the deterioration of the force and the need for modernization, which he had watched and listened to and he said "We need to rebuild the Triad." And that was the basis of Hewittís comment in the debate. So with that respect, heís answered the right way. I think ambiguity about it, as soon as China thinks that South Korea or Japan will build nuclear weapons, youíre going to see them go to North Korea and arrest Kim Jong, banana head, whoever he is, and get rid of him. I donít think the Chinese want Japanese or South Korean nukes. And thatís the game I think theyíre playing dangerously, that it could end up. My question to you is your colleagues on armed services like Trent Franks and others have tried and tried to get this country to protect its grid from electromagnetic pulse, EMP nukes, as well as the sun. Dominion power in Virginia, probably of all the utilities in the country, is moving in that direction, but they got huge road blocks to go over. Can you tell me your sense in your community and in the House, what road blocks we need to get rid of in order to really, because thatís the North Korean threat I worry about, launching a nuke from a submarine off-shore that we donít know who it is, itís exploded 70 kilometers above the Earthís surface, somewhere between Atlanta and Boston, and you could fry the grid from the Atlantic Ocean all the way far back to Tennessee, and basically bring down the United States economy, let alone the millions of people the EMP commission that was twice created by the Congress and twice reported this is one of the most deadliest threats facing this country. And yet thatís what North Korea has tested with missiles in that mode, as well as Iran. We know North Korea has nukes, launching it surreptitiously means we donít know who it is. We could guess, but who knows. Could you address that issue if you would please?

Barbara Comstock: On the grid? I actually Ė I know that obviously that concern and that threatÖ OverallÖ Iím not on armed services, but certainly I am very concerned about that and fortunately in my district we have a lot of the companies that are working on these issues and trying to make sure we have the technology in place, and thatís why Ė I guess Iíll address it sort of from the budget standpoint. Weíre very much trying to move forward with our budget and increasing our defense spending for reasons such as this. These are, not only on this issue, but also on cyber security. We have a whole Ďnother warfront on cyber security that we need to make sure we are addressing. So I think that really, going forward Ė the Presidentís budget did have a large increase in cyber, and thatís something that I particularly worked on quite a bit. But I think we, some of the cyber breaches that we have seen over the past few years have been from China and elsewhere. And we know thatís going to continue to be a warfront, and we arenít Ė part of what armed services is doing right now, Chairman Thornberry, Senator McCain, are working on a procurement reform bill, an acquisition reform, which will allow us to be more nimble and flexible on all of these issues. Because the real problem is we know we have the technology, we know we can, we need to put the resources into this, but how we contract and the process, what I hear constantly in my district is that by the time you get through the system for acquisition reform, youíre dealing with antiquated approaches, and we need to be far more nimble. So thatís, I think some of the, from where Iím on the science and space committee, so where I focus on these issues is what kind of structure and ecosystem and rules can we put in place so that the experts on this, which I clearly am not, but the experts can really make sure we have the cutting edge technology in all of these areas both offensively as well as defensively. Particular in cyber, we need to be on the offense in certain areas, both attacking our own systems as well as seeing how theyíre going to. So sorry to not have a lot of specifics on that, but obviously weíreÖ

Moderator: Okay, Joe?

Joseph Bosco: Itís nice meeting you, Congresswoman. Iím also a part-time constituent. And I noticed you mentioned Frank Wolf, of course, who has a wonderful record in the human rights area. And thatís a fantastic tradition for you to take up in your district. Do you, when you speak of North Korea of course, we often worry about the nuclear threat, but the humanitarian situation there is atrocious. And I wonder if because you have so many Korean constituents in the district, you pay special attention to that situation in North Korea?

Barbara Comstock: Exactly. I think that the Ė really of any trip around the world, I guess I was too young or just didnít travel at that age to see the wall in Germany. But going to the DMZ and being there, and being able to look over and see the difference. We flew a helicopter over the area and saw that back in 1999. That is such a powerful image of good vs. evil. And what you see what is going on there, so itÖ that itís still there. And I think every member of Congress should be there and see that so that it really is in your heart and sticks there and you understand how people who Ė the North Korea side try and escape all the time. They look and see freedom on the other side and what theyíll do to it. And just the humanitarian crisis there is incredible. For people and families separated. So thatís what I think is something we have to battle on the national security front, on the spiritual front, on the community front, and really bring all those voices together. Anytime we can do anything there, IímÖ

Moderator: Dave, are you also a constituent?

David Maxwell: Uh, Fairfax county.

Thank you for your remarks and for your emphasis on unification. Itís so gratifying to hear a member of Congress talk about unification and thatís something I think needs to be emphasized. This may be out of your lane, but I understand that there is legislation that is being considered to press the State Department to put North Korea back on the terrorism watch list. I donít know if youíre familiar with the legislation, but in general, would you support putting them back on the terrorism watch list?

Barbara Comstock: Yes. I will look into that. That certainly makes sense to me. You know, saying I did miss the wall. I certainly remember, I was home having babies and seeing it come down. I think we do need, and I think particularly in the days of modern communication, I guess again I go back to, you know Iím focused a lot on technologyÖ We have that technology now to break through and get to people and let them know there is another way to live. And when you see what a difference, and I know when I was there, I was just inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit of the Korean people and to know, if you really look at it, this is your brain and this is your brain on drugs, that old commercial, you knowÖ You know that there Ė well I guess there are some places in the world that I havenít traveled to, but I think it is one of the most historic places been good and evil and between what is the right way to have freedom and have opportunity and oppression right next door. And to have to know that youíre just a few strokes away from that is something I think we need to keep talking about so that the people behind, living like that, know that we havenít forgotten them and that it is an important thing. Going back to that Catholic conference I went to, Iím forgetting the gentlemen, heís a member of the House of Lords, is it Lord Ackton? Does that name sound familiar? Who has traveled to North Korea and he challenged, as a member of the House of Lords he went and brought Bibles and how he did that and lived to tell about it, because he Ė somewhere he was challenged, I canít remember exactly the story, but he was very inspiring on the faith front and how important the faith mission was, so Iím always very happy with Catholics, when I see hope out there, making those remarks on the unification front.

Moderator: Very good. Just one comment from the floor.

Woman 1: Thank you, Congresswoman. What does a reunified Korean peninsula look like? Because KJU clearly has one vision in his mind. President Park has another vision. Thereís a hefty price tag. What would be that diplomatic approach to bring the two Koreas together without military conflict? Because we clearly donít want a military conflict in order for reunification to happen. And I guess another question would be older generations in South Korea, and this is just going from things that Iíve read, may want the reunification, but some of the younger generations may not necessarily even recognize North Korea. So then how do you address those issues?

Barbara Comstock: Thatís a very good question, because we have the East Germany and West Germany, when the wall came down, that was certainly a painful process. I think thatís something that would have to be somewhat organic and how the changing dynamics and how that goes forward. I wouldnít begin to have the expertise on that, so I wouldÖ What weíre seeing in GermanyÖ Weíd want a free and open society, religious freedom, all the things that we value that we know weíd want for everybody. But how you quite get there, that is aÖ the people themselves will have to have that vision and inspire the community to kind of rise up to demand that, and thatís something where technology can come in, so you get more information to the North. You kind of break through that in whatever way you can so that they know that thereís another way to live.

David Maxwell: Iíd just make a quick comment. In December, the Center for New American Community released a report about unification and the future of the alliance. But they called a unified Korea, they gave it the name of the United Republic of Korea, you know, which would be UROK. But I think that name is really important to think about. A United Republic of Korea. Because we do want a free society, a Korea thatís unified, thatís stable economically, vibrant, non-nuclear, with a liberal constitution of government determined by the Korean people. And thatís a United Republic of Korea. And I think thatís what we should strive for.

Moderator: Well thank you very much. Congresswomanís 30 minutes is up. And letís give her a big round. Thank you.



* Transcribed by David Lee, ICAS Intern

This page last updated August 24, 2016 jdb