WASHINGTON — Two House Foreign Affairs subcommittees Wednesday tried to look beyond North Korea’s nuclear risks and investigate the state of chemical, biological and conventional weapons programs in the “rogue” nation.
“We need to take stock of what we do and what we have to do,” Rep.Bill Keating, the top Democrat on the Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade subcommittee, said. That subcommittee met with the subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.
But it’s hard to do because there isn’t a lot of valid data, according to Anthony Cordesman, strategy chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“Even the best open source efforts present serious problems in terms of access to accurate data on North Korea,” Cordesman said.
North Korea does not publish its own information and statistics, so most estimates regarding the scope of its weapons programs come from runaways or reports from South Korea and China, leading to wide variety in estimates of the scope of the programs.
China’s economic relationship with North Korea gives China leverage: If China were to stop aid to North Korea from both North Koreans operating within China and Chinese nationals giving aid to North Koreans, the north would be more likely to come to the negotiating table, several experts told the subcommittees. This would then increase diplomatic options for the U.S. the larger international community.
“While China and Russia supported [sanctions], implementation remains a challenge, as Chinese and Russian nationals facilitate North Korea’s sanctions evasion,” the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Senior Fellow Anthony Ruggiero said.
Ruggiero suggested sanctions against China to force it to cut aid to North Korea, but Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., was quick to point out that U.S. corporations would lobby heavily against such sanctions.
Although the hearing was intended to focus on non-nuclear threats, North Korea’s nuclear weapons are the most direct threat to the American homeland, whereas other weapons systems would be more relevant in the Asian theater, the experts said.
Over the weekend, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster met secretly with Japan and South Korea in San Francisco to discuss North Korea. The allies resolved that North Korea’s recent communications efforts are not an indication that the north will agree to nonproliferation, and that more pressure is needed to ensure deterrence.