North Korea has been causing problems for the United States and the world for decades, but their belligerence has recently reached a new level. North Korea’s successful test launch of an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) is a clear sign of escalated hostilities and confirmation that this nation and its dictator pose a direct threat to the United States.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis has called North Korea “the most urgent threat to security and peace,” and that was prior to the regime’s most recent missile test. Secretary Mattis testified before our Defense Appropriations Subcommittee recently and described how horrible a conflict with North Korea would be, especially for neighboring countries like South Korea and Japan. “It would be a war that fundamentally we don’t want,” he said. “Our allies and us would win at great cost.”
I concur with the Secretary’s assessment that an armed conflict with North Korea should be avoided, and that’s why I believe the United States is at a turning point in terms of dealing with this rogue nation. Former President Barack Obama’s policy toward North Korea was called “strategic patience,” which amounted to ignoring many of North Korea’s antics with the hopes that isolation from the world community would prompt the regime to reconsider its aggression and pursue a more peaceful course. The problem with that policy is that it depends upon a somewhat rational leader who is looking out for the well-being of his people. Unfortunately, Kim Jong Un is the opposite, which is why many of my colleagues and I warned that this policy was naïve and would only embolden the regime. That ultimately turned out to be correct, and now Kim Jong Un is testing his boundaries to see how the United States is going to respond under the Trump Administration.
Dealing with North Korea is not a simple issue, but it is clear that “strategic patience” did not work. Moving forward the United States must take a more direct approach to make it clear that North Korea’s continued aggression will result in crippling consequences. I believe addressing the regime comes down to three components: deterrence, diplomacy, and discipline.
First, we need military assets in place in the Pacific to deter and ultimately stop an attack should one happen. That’s the purpose of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD). THAAD is a missile system that can be deployed to intercept and stop ballistic missiles from hostile countries. THAAD is now strategically located in both Guam and South Korea. These are the primary ways we could stop a missile attack from North Korea. If THAAD sounds familiar, that’s probably because these missiles are manufactured at Lockheed Martin’s Pike County Operations Center near Troy. These missiles are a critical component in our efforts to counter North Korea’s aggression, which is why I made missile programs a funding priority in the Fiscal Year 2018 Defense Appropriations bill.
Second, our country needs skilled international diplomacy now more than ever. We need to build an international coalition to send a message to North Korea that the world’s patience has run out and that their aggression will no longer be tolerated. I have been pleased with the Trump Administration’s response to the North Korea situation. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley have been pitch perfect in their messages internationally, but the real challenges lie ahead.
Third, we must use more than just our military to combat North Korea’s aggression. We need to use every available tool to discipline Kim Jong Un where it really counts: his bank account. Congress recently voted to increase economic sanctions against the regime, and that’s a good start. I’d like to see the Trump Administration use our considerable American influence to ensure that nations like China, Russia, and others do not enable North Korea by doing business with the regime. Just like with Iran, we have to make it clear that trade and cooperation with any nation that threatens the United States and our allies is unacceptable.