Thae Yong Ho, high-ranking North Korean diplomat and defector, told the foreign policy establishment exactly what they wanted to hear in his Nov. 1 testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“We should continue the current momentum of sanctions and campaign of diplomatic isolation. I think it is the only way to force North Korea to give up its nuclear ambition,” Thae said.
One of North Korea’s aristocracy, defecting as deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom in 2016, Thae Yong Ho’s testimony is highly valuable — less for his recommendations, and more for his revelations about the thinking of North Korean elites.
Thae, intelligent and sincerely seeking peaceful solutions, has absorbed the values and flaws of western diplomacy, including boundless faith in negotiation. He has “gone native” — which is why he defected.
Thae speaks hopefully about how “soft power” liberated Eastern Europe from Soviet domination, led to the disintegration of the USSR, and won the Cold War.
The Cold War with the USSR lasted 45 years. Do we have time to wage a new Cold War with North Korea?
There are many compelling reasons — including the mindset of North Korean elites described by Thae Yong Ho — to act militarily now. Risky as even surgical conventional strikes against North Korea may be, the dangers of continuing patient diplomacy are far riskier:
1) Buying time for sanctions and diplomacy to peacefully disarm nuclear North Korea means entrusting our lives to a mutual assured destruction (MAD) relationship with the psychopath in Pyongyang.
North Korea can already make an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that would blackout the North American grid and threaten the very existence of the United States. Will Kim Jong Un passively endure economic sanctions threatening regime survival — and not revenge himself on the U.S. with EMP attack?
U.S. economic sanctions moved Imperial Japan to attack Pearl Harbor in 1941. Yet Japanese Emperor Hirohito was a paragon of humanity and non-aggression compared to Kim.
2) Thae testifies North Korea will sell nuclear weapons to Iran and anyone: “Absolutely, because North Korea is a country who wants to sell anything for the hard currency.”
This alone — the risk of an A-Bomb or H-Bomb transferring to Iran or terrorists — is reason enough to destroy North Korea’s nuclear weapons program now.
3) Despite Thae’s endorsement of patient diplomacy to disarm nuclear North Korea, his description of the paranoia and deep mistrust of the U.S. by North Korean elites would seem to make a diplomatic solution impossible.
Thae testifies the example of Libya looms large in the minds of North Korean elites. Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program, in exchange for promises of normalized relations with the West, only to be attacked by NATO and executed.
Thae acknowledges this history makes the U.S. untrustworthy to Pyongyang.
4) Thae implied nuclear command and control arrangements may be on a hair-trigger, with low-level commands pre-authorized to launch nuclear missiles if North Korea is attacked. According to Thae, Pyongyang’s thousands of artillery and missiles in range of Seoul — armed with conventional, chemical and biological warheads — are pre-authorized to destroy South Korea’s capitol immediately.
The same logic applied to ICBMs would virtually guarantee nuclear missile strikes on the U.S. by accident or miscalculation — another reason to destroy at least North Korea’s ICBMs immediately.
5) Thae implied the only reason Kim has not yet attacked the United States may be because of his confidence in nuclear blackmail: “He would continue to blackmail America with a possible nuclear war against America and … to pull American forces from South Korea.”
According to Thae, Kim sees “the existence of a prosperous and democratic South Korea … by itself a major threat toward his dynasty … he also believes it necessary to drive American forces out of the peninsula. And this can be done, he believes, by being able to credibly threaten the United States with nuclear weapons.”
According to Thae, North Korean elites see in the Vietnam War good reason to think they can win a new Korean War. Vietnam proves American political will can be broken. When the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam, South Vietnam quickly weakened, enabling easy conquest.
Thus, North Korean nuclear weapons are not just for deterrence, but to launch a war of aggression.
6) North Korean elites are hyper-aggressive. They see U.S. fear of nuclear weapons and susceptibility to nuclear blackmail dating back to January 12, 1950, when Secretary of State Dean Acheson excluded South Korea from the U.S. Pacific “defense perimeter” in a speech to the Washington Press Club. Thae testified North Korean elites believe the Soviet A-bomb tested in 1949, U.S. fear of nuclear war, moved Acheson to exclude South Korea from the “defense perimeter.”
So Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, launched the Korean War.
North Korean elites learned exactly the wrong lessons from the Korean and Vietnam wars, seeing in both evidence of U.S. weakness.
Mutually assured destruction is likely to become exactly that against North Korean elites enamored of nuclear blackmail, and ready to go to war over a mistake originally made in an old speech at the Washington Press Club.
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry is chief of staff of the Congressional EMP Commission. He served on the staff of the House Armed Services Committee and at the CIA.