In the spirit of Olympic unity, South Korean President Moon Jae-in signaled North Korea is open to dialogue with the United States. Should we view this as a positive step towards North Korean denuclearization, or should we judge North Korea’s actions against the backdrop of history?
As an eternal optimist, I identify with President John F. Kennedy’s declaration: “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” This mantra remains as true today as it did when the late President Kennedy uttered these words during his Inaugural Address in 1961. It is in this spirit of diplomacy magnified by the Winter Olympics, that we must now examine North Korea’s diplomatic charm offensive.
With the U.S. Treasury Department’s most recent round of sanctions targeting shipping, trade and other entities, North Korea continues to endure the might of the American maximum pressure campaign. This campaign strikes at the heart of North Korea’s Juche ideology of self-reliance. The campaign constrains North Korea’s ability to independently function politically, while inhibiting their economic self-sustainment that fuels their war machine.
Will this campaign compel honest North Korean dialogue over denuclearization?
Turning back the pages of history, I am reminded of past negotiations with the repressive North Korean regime, and their past overtures of peace.
I remember when North Korea signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, only to successively withdraw from it.
I remember when North and South Korea signed the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, only to violate the agreement shortly after.
I remember when North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear program, only to conduct their first nuclear weapons test.
I remember when we provided hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to North Korea and removed them from the state-sponsor of terrorist list, only to witness North Korea conduct their second nuclear test.
And I remember when North Korea agreed to a moratorium on its long-range missile launches and nuclear activity in exchange for more aid, only to hear of yet another nuclear weapons test and a wave of missile launches.
We have now seen North Korea conduct six nuclear tests along with countless long-range ballistic missile tests, some of which have flown across the skies of our allies. They have signaled their malicious intent to target the United States within a “handful of months” according to the CIA director. And according to a report from the Defense Intelligence Agency, North Korea produced miniaturized nuclear warheads for ballistic missile delivery — a game-changing revelation that directly threatens our homeland.
So should we view North Korea’s most recent overture as honest diplomacy? Or is this another face-saving, time-biding measure for a regime whose ideological foundation of self-reliance is threatened? Or should we defer to history and expect that North Korea will continue their Songun military-first policy at the expense of its people?
To answer these questions, let’s consider who North Korea’s emissaries of peace at the Olympic Games were — Kim Yo-jong and Kim Yong Chol.
The former is the sister of a murderous dictator and leads North Korea’s propaganda and agitation efforts. She may have conducted a charm offensive on some, but the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners jailed in internment camps across North Korea are not fooled.
The latter is the former director of North Korea’s military intelligence, responsible for leading the cyber-attack against Sony over a movie that pokes fun at their dear leader. He was also responsible for the attacks on the South Korean warship Cheonan and the island of Yeonpyeong.
They are both under U.S. sanctions for their involvement in human rights abuses and nuclear weapons advancements.
Let’s also consider that Kim Jong-un believes his military-first policy safeguards peace on the peninsula and will secure the reunification of the “Fatherland” at all costs. The North Korean Foreign Ministry expressed this position over the weekend, declaring that their nuclear weapons are “the treasured sword of justice” to defend themselves against the United States. Kim Jong-un wants to preserve his family’s dynasty under his government’s Monolithic Ideological System – a dynasty that he views as infallible and quasi-divine. He views his fast growing nuclear weapons and missile capabilities as the arbiter of preserving this bloodline.
So is North Korea willing to negotiate an end to its nuclear weapons program when it believes it protects its very survival?
I think back to President Kennedy. While he acknowledged fear should not shape our willingness to negotiate, he affirmed that “we cannot negotiate with people who say what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.”
So, in the spirit of the Olympics, we must not disregard attempts by our adversaries for peace, but let us continue to maintain our pressure on the North Korean regime until they are ready for complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.
Then, and only then, will peace be possible.
Rep. Michael McCaul represents Texas’s 10th congressional district. He is the Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.