The ICAS Lectures


Trump Administration's North Korea Policy Options

Mark Fitzpartick

ICAS Winter 2017 Symposium

February 24, 2017, 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Kennedy Caucus Room,
Russell Office Building SR-325
United States Senate
Washington, DC

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

Biographic sketch & Links: Mark Fitzpatrick

Trump Administration's North Korea Policy Options

Mark Fitzpatrick (text as prepared. Transcript with Q&A follows)
ICAS Winter Symposium, February 24, 2017

The accelerated pace and punch of its strategic weapons programs means the North Korean threat would have been a top priority for whomever won the November election. Although "strategic patience" wasn't the Obama Administration's preferred term, the policy clearly hasn't worked to restrain North Korea. Before Trump's four-year term is up, Pyongyang will probably have the capability to strike the US homeland with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) if the current pace of development continues unabated.

North Korean development of an ICBM would not necessarily be a strategic redline - unlike, say, North Korean proliferation of fissile material or nuclear weapons The danger is already clear and present in that North Korea today can hit US allies and bases in northeast Asia with nuclear-armed Nodong missiles. The danger to the continental US is less imminent because national missile defenses could, with high probability, knock out the small salvo of ICBMs that might be available for North Korea to fire this decade. Even if a North Korean missile could strike the US, it would not cause the US to forgo its security guarantees to South Korea and Japan. If de-coupling is Kim Jong Un's strategy, he should look at how well that worked for the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Despite De Gaulle's early concern that the US would not trade New York for Paris, the US never wavered in its commitment to European defense.

But there is a political imperative for the US homeland not to be vulnerable to a North Korean nuclear attack at all. And in later years, the larger number of missiles that the DPRK might have and the measures they could develop to overcome missile defenses will make it imperative to stop the program. Far better to stop it now than later.


It is wrong to conclude that, because the current sanctions-based US policy has failed to stop Pyongyang's nuclear and missile tests, penalties cannot work. Only within the past year have US sanctions reached the level of extraterritorial reach that proved so effective in hampering Iran's economy. In that case, it took a year and a half before the biting sanctions that were applied in early 2012, including Europe's severing of oil sales and access to the SWIFT financial-messaging system, helped to compel Iran to engage in negotiations in earnest. Given North Korea's lesser dependency on international markets, it will take longer for sanctions to affect DPRK decision-making.

In the meantime, the pressure will likely be amplified in ways that go well beyond economic measures - think maritime interdictions, aggressive psychological operations and even use of cyber systems and other overt and covert actions. Be careful though, of symbolic penalties that create a backlash with a life of their own and that are hard to lift. Adding Kim Jong Un to the blacklist last summer felt good but did not add much. Re-designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism would not add any actual sanctions, since North Korea is already cut off from all US trade. It would have a psychological impact, in getting Pyongyang's goat. But it may also promote a rally-around-the flag phenomenon. Washington should discuss the idea with its South Korean partners, and wait a few months until we know who that partner will be.

Engagement strategy also needed

The Iran case demonstrated that sanctions must be coupled with an engagement strategy and a willingness to compromise. Tehran did not accept roll-back of its enrichment program until Barack Obama's administration agreed that the program itself could continue to exist. In June 2016, Trump called for dialogue with North Korea and suggested he could talk with Kim Jong-un over a hamburger. That is not the worst of the dismal policy options, as long as Trump didn't give away the shop. Engagement does not mean recognizing North Korea as nuclear armed. Denuclearization has to remain a stated goal, even though Pyongyang has made it clear it will never do so.

It is sometimes said there is no point in negotiating with North Korea because it breaks every deal. Yes it has broken all deals, but the 1994 Agreed Framework lasted long enough to roll back the nuclear program. Construction stopped on two larger reactors which then rusted out, denying Pyongyang the several dozen bombs' worth of plutonium the reactors could have produced.

Allowing North Korea to break the Agreed Framework in 2003 has led to an insurmountable problem. It can be far better to implement an incomplete but effective agreement that it is to scrap it in hopes of achieving the best outcome and end up with the worst. This is a useful lesson to keep in mind for the Iran deal.

As everybody says, China's role is crucial. As in the case of the UN sanctions applied against Iran, sanctions against North Korea will be most effective if they are universally applied. But the US should not sub-contract its North Korea policy to China, nor expect that China will solve it for us.

China's decision to stop all coal imports this year was unexpected -- and probably had more to do with pique over the Kim Jong Nam assassination than Pyongyang's missile and nuclear programs. Depending on implementation, the decision may turn out not to be so momentous. In any case, in exchange for cutting off coal imports, China will expect the US to make an effort to engage with Pyongyang. US. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson apparently already tried out a freeze option with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se, who poured cold water on it. The next ROK government may be more eager to try.

China remains committed to protecting its wayward ally. Beijing's priority is to preserve North Korea as a buffer state and to prevent a collapse that would induce a flood of refugees across the Yalu River. For Beijing to change its position would require an off-setting strategic gain elsewhere. Would deal-maker Trump be willing to strike a bargain with President Xi Jinping over North Korea?

Beijing has at least four strategic demands. It wants an end to US arms sales to Taiwan, accommodation of its maritime claims in the South China Sea, recognition of its claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands and an end to plans to deploy THAAD missile defenses in South Korea. The first three are non-starters, although some permutations involving shared access of maritime areas might be explored. Ending the THAAD deployment would be possible if Chinese pressure could actually bring about removal of the North Korean missile threat against which the system is intended to defend. But the chances of Chinese pressure actually working in this matter in a timely fashion are slim, and China probably would want more than THAAD as a quid pro quo.

Beijing may calculate that, if it simply waits, strategic gains could fall into its lap. One constant in Trump's worldview has been the belief that US forces abroad are overstretched and that allies should bear a greater portion of the burden of collective defense. Depending on how it is calculated, Japan already pays 75% of the cost of the US force presence there, and South Korea around 50%. Trump's own calculations are different because he appears to include in the denominator the total cost of equipping the US military. Requiring the shouldering of that cost would make US forces akin to mercenaries. If Trump were to try to use the 28,500 American forces stationed in South Korea as leverage for strong-arming their hosts, China would emerge the winner.

Other options

Among the worst ideas for countering North Korea is to fight fire with fire by arming its adversaries with nuclear weapons. In three interviews last spring, candidate Trump suggested it might be better if US allies such as Japan and South Korea acquired nuclear weapons to defend themselves. Trump abandoned this position after hearing advice from senior Republican legislators, and he later insisted that he had never encouraged US allies to acquire nuclear weapons. There is no doubting what he said; it is a matter of public record. But when Trump vigorously denies having said something, it means that whatever words came out of his mouth did not reflect his true beliefs. Suggesting that allies should acquire nuclear weapons was simply a bargaining tactic and campaign throw-away line. Saying so was not inconsequential; it undermined the credibility of US extended deterrence. As president, however, it seems clear to me he will not encourage proliferation. James Mattis said all the right things when he visited Seoul and Tokyo in his first trip as Defense Secretary.

Nor will Trump want to reposition US tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea, as called for by some South Korean politicians and columnists. US military commanders and defence officials understand how counter-productive that would be, in terms of the extra costs of guarding the weapons, the political divisions they would engender in South Korea and the danger of exposing the weapons to a pre-emptive North Korean strike. Plus, reintroducing the tactical nuclear weapons that were withdrawn in 1991would add no strategic benefit, given the array of nuclear and conventional forces already available to counter any North Korean attack.

Trump will need to consider, however, what additional means might be useful both to deter the North and reassure the South. Rotational deployments in South Korea of nuclear-capable bombers are in the offing, but probably not their permanent stationing, since nuclear payloads would remain on American soil. South Korea might be offered more non-nuclear strike capabilities of its own. It might also be given a freer hand to respond aggressively to the next North Korean provocation. To date, the norm has been for the United States to restrain South Korea in its retaliatory impulses.

We will also hear more talk of pre-emptive strikes. Over the past year, such discourse has become common in the US national-security community. When US military say they need a pre-emptive capability, they mean if North Korea is about to strike. When the South Korea media hear pre-emption, they hear it as a regime change option. Such strikes would not be carried out without consultation with the allies who would be affected and unless there was solid intelligence indicating an impending North Korean attack. Any pre-emptive option would be by conventional means, such as Tomahawk missile strikes on the DPRK launch pad in question. Nuclear pre-emption need not be on the table. For the circumstances at hand, it would be neither credible, necessary nor moral. Public posturing during the upcoming Key Resolve joint exercises should stop mentioning "decapitation" planning. There is no need to feed North Korea's sense of paranoia -- unless it is part of a well-grounded plan to apply psychological pressure that would contribute to regime instability.

Trump's policy toward North Korea is unknown. His initial response to North Korea's 12 February ballistic-missile test was far calmer than many of his earlier pronouncements on the subject. He simply called upon North Korea to fully comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions. This was the kind of response candidate Trump would have disparaged Obama for. But good for him that he is taking time to think this one through.


Transcript of the proceedings

Hayoung Yoo: Thank you Dr. Kim for this opportunity to introduce our last speaker, Mark Fitzpatrick. He is the Executive Director of the Washington-based office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies as of December 2015. He also continues to head the Non- Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme, a position he held at the London headquarters since late 2005. He has lectured throughout the world and is a frequent commentator on proliferation topics. He joined the Institute on October of 2005, after a 26 year career in the State Department, including as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Non-proliferation, and as North Korea desk officer. He earned a Master's in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Please welcome Mark Fitzpatrick.


Mark Fitzpatrick: Thank you very much for inviting me to speak at ICAS. It's an honor. I apologize I wasn't here for the previous presentations. I have some sympathy for all of you who have, if you have been sitting through all afternoon to the other presentations, and undoubtedly hit on some of the same things that I will be talking to. To liven it up a bit, I'll be maybe a little provocative, and say a few things that maybe were said differently by others and offer some different perspectives. I'm going to focus on the policy options part of the title. If I was expected about North Korea's nuclear progress, I'm happy to do that. But I think probably everybody already knows they've made a lot of progress. They probably can put a nuclear weapon on a Nodong missile and hit Japan and anywhere in South Korea with it. That's not known for sure. But I was a North Korea desk officer thirty years ago when North Korea first started working on explosives for its nuclear programs. And I think in thirty years, this country has made enough enough progress that they know how miniaturize a nuclear weapon, they know how to put it on a warhead, they know how to get a missile to go up. The only thing they haven't mastered yet is the missile going down. They haven't yet had a diagnostic test of the missile re-entry. But they have tested a heat shield on land. And I think the next thing we're going to see this re-entry test. And that will be a significant development. I think, in the next 4 years, if North Korea's progress in the nuclear and missile arena is not stopped, we're going to see further progress in terms of North Korea being able to hit the United States with a nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile. But I'm going to argue that that in itself would not be a game-changer. I don't think that it would be a strategic game-changer. It would be a political game-changer, because if this small impoverished country could hit the United States with a nuclear warhead, that would create a lot of tension. But as a strategic matter, I don't think it would be such a game changer. I say that for a couple of reasons, not because I am wimpish about North Korea, but because North Korea can already hit two major adversaries in Northeast Asia and American bases in Northeast Asia. So it already has a huge capability. And just being able to get a missile that can be within range of the continental United States doesn't add that much more strategically to North Korea's challenge because... Well, look. The Soviet Union for decades was able to hit the United States with nuclear arms missiles. Hundreds, thousands of them. And it didn't force the United States to stop defending Europe. So even if North Korea could hit the United States with a nuclear armed missile, it's not going to stop the United States from continuing to offer defense to South Korea and Japan. If that's Kim Jong Un's game, of de-coupling the United States and its allies, it's not going to work. It never worked in Europe and there's no reason at all it should work in Northeast Asia, especially today when the United States has missile defenses that it didn't have for most of the Cold War. United States' missile defenses today stand a good chance to knock out of the air any incoming North Korean missile. Not 100% probability of knocking it out, but better than 50%. You'd wish it were a 100% if you were on the receiving end. But if you're on the end of sending it, and you have less than a 50% chance, probably less than a 10% chance of hitting, well that's a huge risk to take when the result will be the total devastation of your country and you're not even going to be able to hit the enemy. So missile defenses are good against a small number of North Korean missiles. Now, if North Korea is able to continue to expand its missile program and send a dozen, or twenty or more of its missiles at once, then missile defenses lose their effectiveness. But in the meantime, I hope that we'll have better ways of dealing with them.

So back to my notes here. It'd be a political big deal. It'd be a political game-changer if North Korea could hit the United States. And because they would be able to hit with more and more weapons. We really do need to do something now to try to stop this. You've probably heard about all the options. Improving sanctions is obviously one of them. Some people say that sanctions don't work. I would be on the side that says that they haven't been applied heavily enough yet. I look at the case of the Iran. I deal with Iran almost as much as I deal with North Korea. And with the Iran case, the really hard sanctions on Iran didn't start until about 2012, when the Europeans cut off the oil, cut off Iran's access to swift communications. And then it took about a year and a half for Iran to come to the negotiating table in seriousness. So a year and a half for Iran. In the case of North Korea, much less exposed to the international financial system, probably will take longer. Another lesson from the Iran case, though, was that it wasn't only sanctions that got the deal with the Iran. Whether you like the deal or it liked it... I think it was a good deal because it stopped Iran's progress for ten years if it keeps going... It wasn't just the sanctions, it was also a willingness on the side of the United States to accept compromise. Sanctions got Iran to the table, but they didn't make a concession until the United States made a compromise to accept some enrichment. So a deal, if there's going to be any deal, and I don't think there's going to be a deal, but if there's going to be a deal with North Korea, it's going to have to involve some form of compromise somewhere down the line. I think that we should try to see if a deal is possible. I know that engagement doesn't have a huge history of success with North Korea, but it has had some success. I mean, 1994, the Agreed Framework did pause North Korea's nuclear program for a significant period of time, maybe 8 years. Not long enough, but it stopped it long enough that the two reactors that North Korea was building rusted out, and they weren't able to produce dozens of bomb's worth of plutonium a year. So that was a significant achievement. But yes, North Korea cheated. And the US caught them cheating and blew the whistle at them, and then the whole thing went downhill. But at least it worked for a time being, because they don't now have the hundred nuclear weapons that they would have had if there hadn't been an Agreed Framework.

A word on China's role, which was discussed in the last panel, and I'm sure was discussed in every panel. Everybody knows that China's role is crucial. I'm of the view that the United States can't subcontract our North Korea policy to China nor expect that China will solve it for us. I just don't think China's ever going to do that because they put a higher value on keeping North Korea as a buffer and as a protection against breakdown in the North Korean society that could see millions of refugees flooding into China and disrupt their own political system. The coal cutoff I think was a big deal, but I'm not at all convinced that it's as big of a deal as it initially seems to be. China has accepted some sanctions in the past that were never fully implemented. But still, it's a good step on China's part, and I'm sure that China expects something from the United States. I'm sure China expects that the United States would truly to engage with North Korea somehow. And I think we already saw that happen. There was a press report the other date that Rex Tillerson apparently tried out with his South Korean Foreign Minister counterpart a freeze option. And Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se quickly told him that was a bad idea, a freeze wouldn't work. But it was kind of an interesting observation that Tillerson would've tried that out, maybe just to gauge. I think that Beijing won't put real pressure on North Korea unless they get something of strategic value out of it. And you think about what the strategic value that China looks for. They want freedom in the South China Sea. We're not going to give them that. They want access to the Senkaku Islands. We're not going to give them that. They want a free hand in Taiwan. That's a non-starter. They want THAAD out of South Korea. There's kind of a possibility on that I think because the only reason for THAAD in South Korea is to protect against North Korean missiles. If China could put pressure on North Korea to stop the North Korean missile program, then THAAD could be negotiating point. But the timing of it is very difficult, firstly, I don't think China is going to put the pressure on quick enough. Secondly, I don't think North Korea is going to accept the pressure and change its program. But it's still something that you could talk to China about. And it doesn't mean you pull out THAAD entirely, just slow down the deployment to see if China could put pressure on North Korea. And if they don't, full steam ahead on the deployment, except in the meantime you might have a new government in South Korea that doesn't want the deployment, and that is going to be a problem. And one other thing, China may think that they don't have to do anything because they might get the strategic benefit they want anyway if they just wait. If they were listening to what candidate Trump said on the campaign trail, talking about using US troops in Northeast Asia as leverage to get the nations to pay more, they might have thought he might be willing to pull troops out of South Korea, and China would get one of their advantages anyway. I don't think Trump is going to do that, but I do worry a little bit that he will use the troops as leverage in ways that would be to China's advantage. I worry a little bit also, one other thing he said on the campaign trail, when he talked about it would be okay if South Korea went nuclear, it would be okay if Japan got nuclear weapons. Really dumb idea. And fortunately, he stopped saying it. He said it three times a year ago. Then he stopped saying it. Then he said he never said it. Okay, he said, but I'm glad he said he never said it. Because when he says that, he didn't mean it. It was just something he said. It didn't' have any meaning. So I don't think he's going to suggest that our allies go nuclear, because he knows that non-proliferation has been such a fundamental part of US policy for every president after the end of the war, and that it would just exacerbate problems. The more countries that have nuclear weapons, the more dynamics you have of an arms race, the more possibility that you have nuclear weapons used by a mistake. There are laws that kick in that would prevent the United States from selling nuclear fuel to South Korea's nuclear reactors. They would lose 20% of their electricity in that case. It would be a terrible thing. So I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen.

I don't think the United States is going to station its own nuclear weapons in South Korea, again, as many South Koreans want. This is one of the things that some South Koreans say that they... "Show us how much you love us by sending your nuclear weapons back to South Korea." No US commander wants to put nuclear weapons back to South Korea. They were taken out in 1991 for good reason. They're hard to protect. They're sitting ducks for pre-emption. They create political tension. Can you imagine? There's already this tension in South Korea between right and left. If US nuclear weapons were put back in there, it would blow up the place again. The anti- Americanism that fortunately has dissipated would be back on the front pages. So I don't think Trump is going to do that either. But he has to think about other things he can do to show South Koreans how much we love them. So there will be more rotational deployments of strategic forces, that means nuclear capable bombers, maybe nuclear capable ships, although how you port them, I don't know. But I don't think they'll be carrying any nuclear weapons because that would have more problems than its worth. One other thing that we're going to hear more about, we've already heard more about, is the possibility of a pre-emptive attack on North Korea. I hear this more and more from strategists in this town, from even some US officials. I think the former commander of US Forces Korea said it in December, talking about pre-emption. Now when the US military talk about pre-emption, what they mean is that if North Korea has got a missile on the launch pad, ready to be launched in angry, with a nuclear weapon on it, against America or one of its allies, you bet the US military has a pre-emption plan to take it out before it takes off from the launch pad. That's what they mean by pre-emption. But when South Koreans or some others hear pre-emptions its thought of a massive attack against all North Korean facilities to knock out their capabilities. That's not in the cards. There's too many facilities and I once thought it might be possible to knock out the road-mobile long-range missile systems that North Korea has, the KNO8, the KN14... North Korea only has about 700 miles of paved road, they don't have too many miles of paved roads, maybe 7000 miles. It's not that many miles of paved roads. You could probably monitor it and you could see the systems and hit them. But now North Korea, they demonstrated that they have a tracked vehicle that could go off road, which means it could be harder to detect. And then the missile that they launched earlier this month is the solid fuel, which could be launched very quickly, makes pre-emption much harder. So I'm no longer thinking that pre-emption is going to solve this problem for us.

I think we should probably stop talking about pre-emption for a bit because it creates a rhetorical, political life of its own. And it feels into a tit-for-tat, and we're going to go into a very difficult time this winter, when the joint exercises start. That's the time when the North Korea is going to ratchet up its own rhetoric. They may be tempted to test another missile, maybe a nuclear weapon, in response to the joint exercises, which of course don't threaten them but they say they do. So maybe a bit of tension reduction won't be a bad idea right now just to get us over this period where we're going to have some tension, a period when the Trump administration is not well staffed. We'll not have any officials below the Cabinet rank at any of the Departments, a period this spring when the Republic of Korea is probably going to go through a Presidential change and a policy shift. So a little bit of calmness won't be a bad idea. And here I'd like to salute the President for his calmness to date. His response to North Korea's missile launch on 12 February was calmer than I thought it would be. He called on North Korea to fully comply with the United Nation's Security Council Resolutions. That's the kind of thing that Obama would have done, and would have been criticized for. But Trump has launched a policy review, and it's going to take some time. And none of the policy options are good. They're all dismal. So it takes some time to think this through. They have to be discussed with allies, especially if there's any pre-emption option in the works, because its allies that's going to bear the brunt of any retaliation. So with that, I'll stop and I'm sure there's comments to meet.


Larry Niksch: Just a question Mr. Fitzpatrick. You made some interesting points. But I want to go to China and one of the interesting points that I think you made was the possibility of using THAAD as a negotiating point with China to get the Chinese to put more pressure on North Korea. From there, what kind of pressure do we really need from China that would have at least a possibility of breaking North Korea's will to continue with the advancement of their missile and nuclear programs? What would it take from China in terms of pressure to really get to North Korea's will, North Korea's ambition to continue with these programs, to really get them to consider pulling back or starting to make some concessions?

Mark Fitzpatrick: Larry, that is such a good question, and it's such a fundamental question and it's one that I don't know the answer to. What could China, besides what would they be willing to do, what could do they do is the question here. China could cut off all of the oil that it sends to North, and it's apparently cut that off for short periods of time before, so North Korea could be starved from all petroleum. They could cut off all of the trade, all of the investment, all of the food that they send to North Korea. But I'm not sure that any of that, and I don't think China would do it, but even if they did, I'm not sure that any of that would actually have the impact that we would want, that it would break North Korea's will. So take the oil, you'd think that would be the point that might be most vulnerable. Well North Korea can run its trucks on wood. They can burn wood. Go back to their ways... They don't need taxis to live though. They can just tighten their belts a lot of notches... And it's a good question. Has North Korea's middle class evolved enough that depriving them of taxis and other accoutrements of the middle-class life, would that break their will. I'm kind of inclined to think not... It's definitely worth thinking about. I'm just trying to answer honestly the question, and it's very good question. I don't know the answer.

Larry Niksch: What about aviation fuels and gasoline for the military?

Mark Fitzpatrick: So North Korea has stockpiled, I think, enough aviation fuel to last three months, if I recall from unclassified sources. The classified probably have it better. And no war is going to last longer than three months. So probably that's not the key, the aviation fuel, I guess.

Tong Kim: Well I enjoyed listening to an interesting presentation in this discussion. Now on North Korean, the topic is what options does the Trump administration have to take. There aren't very many options that I can see. Some things have been tried and failed. A lot of people in town talking about a possibility of a pre-emptive strike, like you mentioned, and you defined what they really mean by that. And you also discussed some of the strategic changes, whether US should or American commanders are willing to redeploy nuclear weapons to South Korea. I would agree with you, I don't think that will really serve any purpose, given the security situation in terms of North Korea has in its arsenal, including not just the Nodongs and SCUDs and traditional artillery capability, but also recently developed and tested intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and as well as someone launched [unintelligible] which could be very difficult for THAAD or any other missile defense system that the United States has in its capability today to detect and destroy in time. For example, this mobile-launcher, intermediate-range ballistics, they can just pop up from one of the caves they have and they can shoot, and there will not be much warning. And you can't really tell if a nuke was placed on the tip of the missile. You need time to detect these things, which will be difficult. And THAAD is directional. It's pointed towards North... With the submarine-launched ballistic missiles, it could come from the South or the East or even the West, and it's going to be a lot more complicated issue in deterring or defending or destroying incoming missiles from North Korea. Now having said all of that, you mentioned the what the 1994 Agreed Framework did that was part of the first successful negotiation between the DPRK and the United States. And I was there in Geneva in those days. It had a limited impact, but it did do something good. [unintelligible] And the Bush Administration, for its own reasons, and some of them were reasonable, and some were unfounded, but nevertheless that's history... Now there is room, I still think, for this administration, not that I would expect Trump over Kim Jong Un to have a [unintelligible] discussion of the issue over [unintelligible] . But then he says so many other things as well. But my point is, I think dialogue and engagement is still an option. Not very promising. Nobody argues that North Korea would, they should, but nobody argues that they would give their nuclear weapons or other ambitions for missiles. But I think there are some problems with the idea of promoting dialogue with North Korea in this town. Nobody has any positive or favorable image or attitude towards North Korea. In Don Gregg, former Ambassador to South Korea, said that North Korea has been so demonized in town and in Congress and in the media and in the administration, that under that atmosphere, nobody can really advocate and come out and say that we need to push a dialogue with North Korea again. It's very difficult. Even fake news media do not support anything like that. But it is interesting, especially after all that has happened in terms of discussing the North Korean issue, it seems to me that Trump has brought back the North Korean nuclear from backburner to the front burner through his advisors like Mattis and Tillerson saying that the North Korean issue is a high priority for the administration. So I think they established the priority for the North Korean issue. Yet they don't know how they're going to deal with it. So I don't think pre-emptive is an option. But I think the idea of having pre-emptive strike in reserve is good as long as it has some deterring effect on the North Koreans in that sense. And all the sanctions which did not work, but nevertheless, if we plan a program or policy road map, as we did with the Iranians, where we go step by step, and if they did certain things, we would, starting lifting some of the sanctions and so forth so we can interlock these things in progress with negotiations if you will... But one thing about China- North Korean relationship... Only a couple weeks ago, Pyongyang put out a commentary calling China a neighboring country, and blasted China [unintelligible] ... when this statement came out, China announced suspending all imports of coal from North Korea for the rest of the year. And they said what the Chinese measure amounted... [unintelligible] tantamount to the moves of the enemy to bring down our socialist system in North Korea. And then they were not happy that China said North Korean missile technology is only at the beginning. They complained about that. They also attacked the Chinese that you were the ones who said [unintelligible] joining the international gang to punish us, you were the ones who insisted that there should be provisions to allow humanitarian trade, and trade including importable [unintelligible] ... And now you violate that as well. To me, a sign of the DPRK North Korea relations is rigid really [unintelligible] ... On top of that, the assassination of Kim Jong Nam, I think things are a lot more complicated. And also, Larry mentioned earlier the prospect of election of a progressive President. Obviously, Moon Jae-in is out there on the front now. But it is likely that the next President of South Korea will be a Progressive President rather than Conservative, similar to Lee Myung-bak or Park Geun-hye, and that could provide another challenge for the United States policy for the Korean peninsula. How are we going to cope with that? THAAD is still an open issue. [unintelligible] Final decision of the THAAD should be discussed and approved by the National Assembly. In other words, they have to revisit it... It should give an opportunity for the next President to decide... Instead we're carrying on with the current agreement that has been reached with Seoul and Washington.

In Bum Chun: Why do you think the Chinese are so sensitive to Korea stationing THAAD on the Korean peninsula? What's their logic? Do you they're justified in their concerns? And a follow- up would be: have the Chinese approached the United States directly with these concerns or accusation, and what do you know of that? And as you're thinking about the answer to these questions, I just want to respond to what Larry said. I was quite surprised at the "Damn the Chinese Torpedo" mentality that a lot of the Koreans I met back in South Korea had about Chinese sanctions. They don't care if they import our cosmetics, if they don't import our entertainment products, or they disregard our tourism. I just want you to know that the Koreans that I met, who are mid-level company businessmen, were more than willing to take the brunt of Chinese economic pressure. Also, I would just want to say that the North Koreans invented Uber, so that's one aspect of oil restrictions that they will be able to overcome.

William Brown: One option that I no longer heard is the change option. And by that, I don't mean regime change. I mean changing the system there. You mentioned, I think quite actually, that the Chinese are deathly afraid of change in that area, and therefore they've helped prevent it for years. It's not just them. The rest of us also. We've always been afraid of some massive change in North Korea that would start a war or whatever, to the extent that we've all, South Korea, the US, certainly Europe, everybody has poured money into North Korea, keeping it in its terrible position that it's in. But it's changing pretty radically in the last few years. With markets developing. I think Kim Jong Un has sort of bought off the devil with his [unintelligible] He's liberalizing his economy like crazy, getting a lot of growth, twiddling away prerogatives of the state. Weakening the state, building up the private sector like nobody's business. It's just a phenomenal change in the last two or three years. That to me has offered some huge opportunity, potentially for our side, for Chinese side, for South Korea's side, to push that hard, again not to knock out North Korea, but to change their society in ways that makes this nuclear business really expensive and a terrible burden on them. And that probably means engaging them on the private side as much as we can, and sanctioning them on the government side as much as we can. This is what I love about the Chinese sanctions now. I think maybe the Chinese are getting the same idea that Kim Jong Un, the status quo, or the trend, is not stability. That the Chinese are facing a situation where "whoa, this place is getting out of control. We've got to do something to reclaim this control." And it seems like, to me, that would be a natural... good for everybody, really, even good for the North Koreans, kind of a way to sort of push change from the ground up. It would take a very active, different kind of policy I think. It would take some changes in our sanctions policies. But I don't hear anyone talk about it. I think part of it is from Iraq. Everyone is so resistant to the idea of regime change that we're just... we never talk about it that way. Anyways, just more of a comment. But I'd like your thoughts on it.

Mark Fitzpatrick: These are all good comments. Tong Kim made several points, not necessarily questions. But you raised, sir, the issue of North Korean submarines complicating South Korea's missile defense. Absolutely. And so any South Korea defense policy has to put resources into countering North Korea's submarine capabilities, and I'm sure they're doing that. One thing that they should do more of is cooperating more with the Japanese, who have probably the world's best anti-submarine capabilities. I know that's politically difficult in South Korea, but it's one obvious answer to the new threat that North Korea is posing. Fortunately, North Korea's submarines are pretty easy to detect and the Japanese are very good at detecting them. So that's one policy prescription. General, you asked why is China so sensitive to THAAD. It's not because of what they say. It's not because of THAAD's capabilities to undermine China's strategic capabilities, because if that was really just the reason, there's an answer to that. And the answer is transparency and ensuring that the THAAD radar is configured in such a way that doesn't peer into China. And even if it does peer into China, it doesn't peer so far as to obviate China's strategic defenses. I've looked at the cross-section of what THAAD can see and where China can launch its missiles in ways that avoid any detection by THAAD. So it's not that dangerous to China's security. What it is though, it represents an increasing capability as part of the United States' global missile defense, that combined with other US systems, can denigrate China's capabilities. And I think it's part of the global system that China is so concerned about. Part of the growing South Korea/Japan/US alignment against enemies in Northeast Asia. And China had been thinking that it could peel off South Korea from this and THAAD shows that it's not working. This all combines to make China try to think that if they just put enough pressure on South Korea, they can get to THAAD not to be deployed. The change option is a fascinating discussion. I talked about it yesterday at a talk I gave, and I cut it short today because I was conscious that people are probably tired. There's two change options here. You gave the kind of the liberal change option... I'm not trying to accuse you of anything. But there is the idea that you could, from the ground up, engagement from the private sector, promote market forces, and this will contribute to what is already a changing system in North Korea. But I think the one place where the logic breaks down is that you said, well you could try to make it so that the nuclear option was so expensive. But the more the economy is growing, the nuclear option isn't more expensive. They can afford [unintelligible] and they are affording it right now. Their economy is growing, and they're moving full-scale ahead on missiles and nukes. And somehow, Pyongyang is thriving. Who knows what the economy is doing, but all of the evidence I see is that it's not in regression. So the other change option is you really ratchet up the pressure so that it does put a clamp on the economy, that they really do have to face a choice, and this was Obama's policy, and I'm sure it'll be Trump's policy, of putting so much pressure on them in every way. Not just sanctions, but every kind of pressure. Deprive them of any access to the international economy. Deprive them of remittances from workers overseas, utilizing all forms of covert and overt interference with their system to really make them feel a pinch and that they have to make a choice. And if they don't make a choice, all of this pressure contributes to the other change option, not the one you said, but the regime change option of fostering conditions that would perhaps lead to the North Korean system breaking down and eventual reunification with the South. That probably is the only way that North Korea's dangers are going to be overcome. Although, I'd kind of like to see the soft-change option that you suggest. I just don't know how to get there.

William Brown: My only point to that is that the government side is weakening with [unintelligible] All of the government state enterprise power, the railroads, the infrastructures, is all going downhill. The private side in growing. That to me is a remarkable development. I can't quite prove it, but you know.

Mark Fitzpatrick: And I think the other thing is that the whole structure of the philosophy of the state, that's all crumbling before our eyes. So there are vulnerabilities, so how to exploit those vulnerabilities is the key.

Joseph Bosco: Thank you, Mark. Very fascinating discussion. Two quick questions. You indicated earlier that no matter how much pressure China puts on North Korea, they're not going to give up their programs, that they insist on perpetuating them. And yet China apparently believes that if it puts enough pressure on North Korea, the regime will collapse. That's always the argument that we hear from Beijing that we can't do more, we have this unique capability to pressure North Korea, but if we exercise that pressure, the regime will collapse. So apparently they believe that North Korea is susceptible to that kind of pressure. The other question is on this last point you were discussing, the peaceful evolution. What about more work by Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, and those outlets to work directly with the North Korean people to encourage them to pressure their own government, pressure from within?

Mark Fitzpatrick: The second point is a no-brainer. Of course, every effort should be made to get as much information into North Korea as possible. I was really happy when BBC finally decided to go ahead with a North Korea service. I see how BBC operates in Iran, and they're much more effective in Iran than Radio Free Europe, I'm sorry to say. But the Brits know how to do it somehow better. And a lot of South Korea-based organizations also know how to do it. The first point is... I don't think there's a contradiction here. So, China doesn't want to put enough pressure that it might cause North Korea to collapse. They don't know if they will, but they just don't want to put pressure that might want it to collapse. So they're working on percentages. They're thinking that even if there's a 10% possibility that the pressure will cause collapse, they don't want to cause that much pressure. And I'm saying that I don't think there's even a 90% possibility that Chinese pressure will cause North Korea to give up its missile and nuclear system. So it's those percentages where I think what I say isn't contradictory. But maybe the percentages are wrong and I'm wrong.

Joseph Bosco: Doesn't that imply that the North Koreans are suicidal and that they don't want their regime to collapse. If they were given the choice and an ultimatum from China that they must comply with the reduction, the freeze of the program and then rolling it back, and China feels we can't do that because the regime collapse, don't the North Koreans worry about their regime collapsing?

Mark Fitzpatrick: You'd think the North Koreans would worry about it more than the Chinese would, I get the point... I don't think has any weight any more. China's not going to go to North Korea's defense if North Korea starts a war, it's only if they're attacked from the outside that China would do that. I think the Chinese-North Korean alliance is not what it's written on paper... Well it exists on paper, but yeah come on. It's not real anywhere. We hear what the Chinese are saying about North Korea and vice versa...

Moderator: Thank you. Peter?

Peter Huessey: Thank you Mark for your remarks. I thought your most insightful one was the 50% chance of shooting down a ballistic missile warhead from the guy who's launching it is 50% of the time they might be wrong and not work. I think that's a very insightful one. I'm going to make my questions real simple and short. And I've never really... I think I know why North Korea has nuclear weapons. My question to you is why do you think, and I'm going to rule an answer off the table for fun, and that is they do not fear that the United States is going to invade because our forces are not there to do it, we don't have amphibious things, we're not going to go over the DMZ, we don't have airlift capability. I don't think that's the issue. But I'll arbitrarily bound my question by asking that... Why does North Korea want nuclear weapons? And irrespective of the delivery system... Second question is either China is ambiguous about North Korea having nuclear weapons, or they see benefit from North Korea having nuclear weapons because it gives the United States such trouble. Now I look at it as when you build Frankenstein and when he gets out of the lab, you have a problem. Do the Chinese think that they have a problem? Because I think that the Chinese thought that the North Korean nuclear program would divide the United States from South Korea, that the alliance would fray that the Chinese would blame us, America. And so the South Koreans say, like the Cato Institute says, if we just withdraw from South Korea, at least we're not in the fight and things will get better. So two questions. Why does North Korea have nuclear weapons, because for fifty some-odd years, they didn't have nuclear weapons and we didn't touch them. They took the Pueblo. They killed our soldiers at the DMZ. They committed terrorist attacks. They took away, what, two thirds of the South Korean cabinet in a terrorist attack in Burma. Not once have we used military force back against North Korea. And they didn't have nukes. So that's one. The second one is is China ambivalent or do they actually see a benefit to North Korea having nuclear weapons.

Mark Fitzpatrick: So Peter, you want me to get into the North Korea mind. [laughter] This black of a country, and explain these lunatics. I've said to North Koreans what you just said, in exactly those words. For 50 years you've conducted all these provocations, you've murdered our soldiers with axes, you've seized our ships. And we've never attacked you. We're not going to attack you. We have no interest in attacking you. Why do you need these things? They're not going to protect you from what is really threatening to you which is your own collapse of a system. Why do you need these things? Do you need them because you're going to attack us? I don't know. But it is, I think, fair to say that they do remember the Korean war and they had their country... that they launched the war and they lost it, and they saw the United States bomb them, and they're worried about that happening again if they launch another drive, or for some other reason, they do worry about the US not because we have forces ready to invade them... But we're always able to do many things, whether it's from far or from near, or our allies could do it. And then more recently, they saw that the United States attacked Saddam Hussein... I don't think their logic holds up at all, because, they think well, he didn't have nuclear weapons, we attacked him, and we didn't attack countries that had nuclear weapons. I don't think that holds up at all... They'll say the same thing about Qaddafi. He didn't have nuclear weapons. He gave them up, and then he was attacked. I don't think it holds up, but they seem to believe it. The second question a little bit easier to answer. China's isn't ambivalent about North Korea having nuclear weapons, and they don't think it'll be good for North Korea to have nuclear weapons because it gives America a problem, because it also presents problems for China. It's just that on their priority of desires, North Korea not having a nuclear weapon doesn't rank very high. I think it's just a matter of priorities. It's not as high of a priority as having a buffer state and having their own secure borders.

Dennis Halpin: Thanks, Mark for your interesting presentation. I've been speaking to a lot of my staff colleagues on the Hill recently about North Korea. My former colleagues. I can say engagement's not a priority. They're all watching the... They told me they've watched the YouTube video of Malaysian airport security of the woman throwing the poison at Kim Jong Nam's face. It's not a question of demonization. It's sort of like the York King Richard III killing his little uncles and burying them in the Tower of London. Shakespeare didn't have a hard time making a case against Richard III. But the question more is about, it seems to be sanctions, sanctions, sanctions, as you mentioned. But the way I hear they might be going now is talking about sanctioning Chinese business entities and other areas of Northeast China that do business with North Korea. I know Chairman Rice personally believes BDA, [unintelligible] which was a Macau entity, but in 2005 Portugal had given Macau back, so it was a Chinese entity. He felt that was very effective and Chris Hill stopped it before it could be proven. But I've asked them in return, my colleagues, that there's a contradiction here. President Trump and Tillerson, they're calling the Chinese and saying that we need your cooperation to solve the North Korea problem, and we know from Chinese history, and I'm reading Kissinger's book on China, he said that one way not to get the Chinese to cooperate is to appear to be bullying them like the British did in Hong Kong and the West used to bully them. So sanctions seem to be the way, but my question is how do you solve the contradiction. If the next step in sanctions that the House is looking at is to sanction Chinese businesses that do business with North Korea, and yet the other argument from the Trump Administration is that we need to engage China to solve North Korea... How do you solve the contradiction?

Mark Fitzpatrick: I think there's a way to solve the contradiction, and we saw it last year. When the United States put sanctions on a Chinese company, what was it called, they talked to the Chinese first of all, they consulted and said we're going to do this and why don't you do it too. And the Chinese did. They imposed their own sanctions, criminal charges against the company. So it was a pretty good case of Chinese-American cooperation. So that's the answer, I think, you work with China, instead of, as you say bullying them, and you put the sanctions on, but you have engagement as part of the strategy. Not the first of the strategy, part of the strategy...

Dennis Halpin: The only problem with that is I don't see members of Congress going and consulting with China first before they draft legislation, right?

Mark Fitzpatrick: No, but implementing the legislation, the executive branch can have a chance to talk the Chinese first, and we're going to have a pretty good ambassador there. So I hope that we do that.

Larry Niksch: I wanted to talk, another question about negotiations. Whenever Americans meet with North Korean officials, and we've had some track-two meetings, Joel Wit, and other people have been involved, Bob [unintelligible] , have been involved in these meetings, Jimmy Carter, you know, went there two or three times over the years seven or eight years. Whenever the North Koreans meet with the Americans, they give high priority to the peace treaty issue. And they say to the Americans, "if you want any progress to the nuclear or missile issues, you have to be willing to negotiate with us a peace treaty to end the Korean War." They really do lay that on the table. When Steve Bosworth went there, they really hit him with him with that back in, I think, 2010, the peace treaty demand. Now, among some of these Americans who recently have been talking to the North Koreans, they have begun to advocate that we consider going into that kind of negotiation with North Korea. I've seen several ideas that we really need to just not reject this. We need to consider maybe going into this kind of negotiation with them. These Americans seem to rule out the Six-Party talks now. And they seem to favor this kind of bilateral negotiation. So I have two questions for you about the peace treaty issue. Number one, would it be acceptable at all to accept a peace treaty negotiation that is bilateral without South Korea? Would that be acceptable at all? And secondly, in the broad framework of the nuclear and missile issues, could a peace treaty negotiation provide any sort of promising or viable framework for our side, and here I would include the South Koreans, to negotiate with the North on these issues? Would this be a better framework than returning to Six-party talks at this point?

Mark Fitzpatrick: Another good set of questions. A year ago, I was supposed to be one of those Americans engaging with the North Koreans in a track-two exercise. It was the weekend of the Washington snowzilla. Everything was closed down. So I didn't get out of town, I missed the chance. I was supposed to be the guy that was going to talk tough to the North Koreans. I was ready to do that. And that was going to be in Kuala Lumpur. I don't think we're going to be having those talks in Kuala Lumpur anymore. But I'm very familiar with the discussions. In London, I talked with North Koreans a lot. [unintelligible] was a frequent interlocker and I know him very well. The peace treaty discussions should never... we should never have negotiations bilaterally, United States and North Korea over a peace treaty involving the Korean Peninsula that doesn't involve the majority of the Koreans. So only in circumstances when and if the South Korean government were to ask the United States on their behalf to negotiate. And I can't see them ever doing that. But if they ever did, then it would be okay. If they didn't, then it's not okay. We shouldn't exclude the South Koreans. I just can't see it. It doesn't have to be Six-party talks. It could be three-party, four-party, eight-party, ten-party. As long as the South Koreans are involved or give us their chip. Now, I don't think a peace treaty in and of itself is what North Koreans want. If it's just a peace treaty, we'll give them a piece of paper. Peace Treaty. But what they want, of course, is US troops out of South Korea. You can have a peace treaty and still have US troops there if the South Koreans want them. So I'm not opposed to having peace treaty talks, but I certainly wouldn't want the United States negotiate an end to the alliance and end to the forces without the South Koreans agreeing to that. Can a peace treaty negotiation provide a viable framework for discussion on the nuclear matter? That's kind of the theory. You have one track doing the peace treaty, and have one track doing the denuclearization. A danger is that the denuclearization talks would go nowhere and the peace treaty would end up. So you'd have to have it connected so that in the end you wouldn't finalize anything unless you got both of them. I think there's a possibility because, after all, if the peace treaty is what North Korea really wants, then it's leverage to get what we really want, which is denuclearization. But again, I wouldn't it's as an alternative to the Six-party talks. The process is not the issue. It's what's the substance.

Moderator: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, time is up. Thank you very much.



( Transcribed by David Lee, ICAS Intern )

This page last updated April 23, 2017 jdb