Last Thursday, two days after the hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee also held a hearing (on video here). This time, consensus was much less evident than ambivalence, and the views of the State Department were much more in evidence. Most of the oxygen was consumed by the first witness, Special Envoy Glyn Davies.
Our Special Envoy’s testimony, by the way, was sponsored by Deer Park Bottled Water (written statement here).
Chairman Bob Menendez (opening statement here) and Ranking Member Bob Corker* seem to agree that past policies, whatever you may think of them, have failed. (* Yes, Corker, not McCain. Noted.). You may also be interested in what Menendez had to say in Foreign Policy. On the Senate side, it’s just as clear that the current policy direction is considered a failure; it’s less clear what the Senators think a better policy would be, and the State Department’s traditional influence was much more evident in the selection of witnesses.
Say what you will about Davies, but the man certainly knows how to follow a script. Listening to him talk about North Korea’s “deplorable” human rights conditions, or its starvation of its people while it pours money into WMD programs, you wouldn’t think that this was the same guy who once asked a State Department colleague to Trotsky the naughty bits out of a human rights report on North Korea, during the heyday of Agreed Framework II. His statement today reads like an indictment, and he didn’t counsel the senators to show patience or restraint while he works on Agreed Framework III, although later in the hearing, he let on that that’s still his objective. For now, however, the focus has clearly shifted to counter-proliferation and sanctions. Davies mostly talked about U.N. sanctions, but also talked about “national” sanctions, such as the weak ones Treasury recently imposed under E.O. 13382.
Behind the tough talk, however, Davies still sees sanctions as just another way to pressure North Korea back to the bargaining table. To Davies, sanctions are “not punitive, but a tool to impede,” “make clear the costs” of refusing to engage in “meaningful dialogue” and “authentic and credible negotiations” to “bring North Korea into compliance with its international obligations” toward irreversible disarmament. Davies says he (meaning he) “will not engage in talks for talks’ sake,” and that he will insist on “serious and meaningful change in North Korea’s priorities.” I wouldn’t disagree with a word of that last sentence, but then, I didn’t disagree with it when Chris Hill said it, either.
Davies didn’t express, and did not seem to harbor much optimism about diplomacy. He took a swipe (1:30) at the “Camelot” view of Kim Jong Un, a view that he now thinks has been discredited by events. He suggested (1:34) that the most effective sanctions are those directly focused against luxury good and proliferation (seriously?). In his highlighting of sanctions directed at particular categories of transactions, Davies reveals an approach that targets the proceeds of prohibited activities, rather than the instrumentalities of regime maintenance and WMD proliferation. He’s clearly more interested in pressuring North Korea at the margins than in rocking their world.
With respect to what diplomatic approaches stood the best chance of being effective, Davies said that North Korea “allowed” the famine to happen (1:42) in 1990s, so food aid isn’t worth much to the regime as an inducement. He noted that that the Chinese are paying close attention to debates like the one he’s participating in there, at the Senate. In what was clearly intended as a message to China, he references the U.S. “pivot” to Asia and told China (1:44) that if it doesn’t bring North Korea to heel, it will see “more of the same” and “you’re not gonna like it.”
Chairman Bob Menendez was hard to read, but clearly skeptical of past strategies and ready to be persuaded (if not yet persuaded) that the right kind of sanctions could work.
Corker wasn’t hard to read at all. He thinks we’re at a “crossroads,” where if we don’t get results now, we may never get them. Later, at 1:04: “Some people are saying we should call the entire North Korean government as a money laundering concerns, which we could then enforce against third party entities, some of which reside in China.” Gee, who might that be? Davies thinks we’ve already reaped a lot of the benefits to be gained from sanctioning illicit activities, but we should continue to focus on it. Corker also endorsed a greater emphasis on human rights issues in North Korea, and suggested we should increase broadcasting to the North Korean people.
Later, Corker suggested that Davies conceded that a diplomatic solution was years away at best, and that North Korea is well past the red line we drew for Iran. Do we need a red line in North Korea, like with Iran? Why is our policy in North Korea so different than it is from Iran (1:56). Davies thinks pressure will eventually get North Korea to change course. Corker called that “highly aspirational” and unrealistically optimistic.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D, Conn.) gets it. Listen to him distinguish the peoples’ economy from the palace economy at 1:38. Davies notes that “many people are fooled when they go to Pyongyang” based on more cars on the street, and more cell phones. Hmm. He really doesn’t sound like an AP fan, does he?
Sen Chris Coons (D, Conn.) also seemed interested in emphasizing the human rights issue, potentially via the inquiry proposed by the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights. He also expressed concern about our inability to monitor food aid distribution. Davies seems to think the answer is following the examples of groups like Mercy Corps, that have continued to work in North Korea (not the World Food Program, interestingly enough).
Sen. Mark Udall (D, N.M.) asked if negotiated denuclearization is still our goal. Davies thinks there’s still a hope for the six-party talks. Maybe “within a generation or so” we’ll see a very different situation in North Korea. He certainly is good at being cryptic.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R, Fla.) thinks North Korea wants to be accepted as a nuclear power and stay isolated notwithstanding its “atrocities.” He doesn’t think they can be negotiated out of that goal. Everything North Korea does until it achieves that goal is a scare tactic or a delay tactic. Japan and South Korea will want nukes, and Iran will see what North Korea can get away with. Rubio thinks we should (1) delay North Korean’s proliferation, (2) never let the world forget what the North Koreans’ atrocities, and (3) begin to create the conditions for reunification — a unified, democratic, peaceful Korea. Rubio doesn’t think Davies is likely to succeed, and Davies (1:19) agreed to a great extent.
Sen. Mark Warner (D, Va.), thinks the transition to a hereditary dictatorship is a dangerous and unstable time for North Korea. He’s clearly focused on the potential for “fracking” the “microfractures” inside North Korean society. Good analogy. I think I’ll use that.
After Davies’s testimony, there was a second panel, consisting of Amb. Stephen Bosworth, Amb. Joseph DiTrani, and Amb. Robert Joseph.
I had not realized what an extreme figure Bosworth really was until this hearing. You could have mistaken him for Christine Ahn with sensible glasses. Bosworth thinks we’ll eventually engage again, because there are no better ideas. But for what purpose? (Bosworth didn’t say it here, but he has acknowledged that North Korea will never verifiably disarm.) Bosworth wants broad engagement that would give North Korea aid, diplomatic recognition, and a peace treaty. He thinks we need to make North Korea feel secure. Bosworth blamed the BDA sanctions for the collapse of the 2005 agreement — because all negotiations with North Korea are tenuous, and they have to be “reassured” that they are not giving up their one piece of leverage for nothing.
DiTrani took a more careful view — yes, we have a lot of benefits to offer North Korea, but only after they denuclearize. In a way he didn’t when he testified at the House, he seemed to blame the BDA sanctions for the collapse of the 2005 agreement. Menendez picked up with this in a revealing question, asking why, if North Korea was serious about diplomacy, it still refused to allow verification in 2008, long after we dropped the BDA sanctions. DiTrani backed away from what Menendez and I heard, saying that we’d always told North Korea that law enforcement was a separate matter, unrelated to disarmament talks. Later, under questioning by Corker, DiTrani spoke up that economic sanctions against the regime could be an effective pressure point.
Robert Joseph, in my view, got it exactly right: North Korea will only abandon its nuclear and missile programs “if it is judged essential to regime survival.” Listen to his statement at 2:17; it’s a shame no one was listening anymore. Joseph doesn’t suggest we should shouldn’t abandon diplomacy, but we should do it right, and we should adjust our expectations to reality. We need to pressure China “the principle obstacle to effective pressure on North Korea,” which supports them unconditionally, no matter how deadly their behavior. and we always release pressure prematurely. “Promotion of human rights, while part of official U.S. talking points for years, has not been a significant element of U.S. strategy. It should be ….” Listen to him again at 2:36. He’s on fire.