Dr. William Perry
U.S. North Korea Policy Coordinator and
Special Advisor to the President and the Secretary of State
Testimony Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,
Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Washington, DC, October 12, 1999
Mr. Chairman, thank you for this opportunity to appear before you and other Members of this Committee to discuss my review of U.S. policy toward the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
I also want to express my thanks to President Clinton for the confidence he expressed in me when he requested that I take on this review. I remember well the serious crisis in the summer of 1994, when I was Secretary of Defense, over the North Korean nuclear program at Yongbyon. That crisis raised the very real prospect of a horribly destructive war on the Korean Peninsula, a prospect averted by negotiation of an Agreed Framework freezing nuclear operations at Yongbyon. I thus approached this assignment with a full awareness of its seriousness.
In early September I sent to the President a classified report of my recommendations and findings, which I understand was forwarded to the Hill the week of September 13th. As you well know, this report took many months to prepare, and I want to convey my appreciation to Congress personally for its patience in what has been a difficult and complicated process. Since you and other Members had a prominent role in the creation of this policy review, I am especially gratified to be here today to speak for the record about my review.
Circumstances Leading to the Review
Mr. Chairman, for more than 45 years since the end of the Korean War, the Korean Peninsula has had not peace, but an armed truce. The DPRK maintains an army of over a million men, most of whom are deployed near the border. These forces are deterred by Republic of Korea and U.S. forces which are only half the size of North Korea's forces, but are well trained and equipped, and are backed up by the highly ready American forces in Japan, Hawaii, Alaska, and the West Coast of the United States. As a consequence, deterrence is strong, and peace has been maintained on the Peninsula for the last four decades.
But five years ago, we narrowly avoided a military conflict with North Korea over its nuclear program. The DPRK nuclear facility at Yongbyon was about to begin reprocessing nuclear fuel, which would have yielded enough plutonium to make about a half-dozen nuclear bombs. We believed that the introduction of these nuclear weapons could upset the deterrence posture on the Peninsula, and we were within a day of imposing severe sanctions.
North Korea said that it would consider the imposition of these sanctions as an act of war. Although some argued that this was only rhetoric, it could not be dismissed. We therefore undertook a detailed review of our war contingency plan, and the U.S. began preparations for sizable reinforcements to our troops in the ROK. In the event of a war, we were confident of a clear allied victory, but not without high casualties on all sides.
Fortunately, that crisis was resolved not by war, but by a diplomatic agreement known as the Agreed Framework. The 1994 Agreed Framework provided for a freeze of nuclear facilities at and near Yongbyon, to be followed in time by the dismantlement of those facilities. Today those nuclear facilities remain frozen. That result is critical for security on the Peninsula, since during the last five years those facilities could have produced enough plutonium to make a substantial number of nuclear weapons. The dismantlement of those nuclear facilities awaits construction of less proliferation-prone light water reactors called for in the Agreed Framework, and completion of that construction is still several years away.
About a year ago we appeared to be headed for another crisis like the one in 1994. U.S. intelligence had reported the construction of an underground site at Kumchangni, North Korea, which was believed to be large enough to house a reactor and a reprocessing facility. A subsequent site visit in May 1999 removed this particular concern. Additionally, the DPRK was pursuing the development of two longer-range missiles, the Taepo Dong 1 and Taepo Dong 2, which would add to an existing No Dong ballistic missile arsenal capable of reaching all of Japan. The Taepo Dong 1 and Taepo Dong 2, which could reach targets in parts of the United States, as well as Japan, aroused major concern in both countries, because it was believed that these missiles could have warheads employing weapons of mass destruction.
This concern came to a head a year ago, when North Korea flew a Taepo Dong 1 over Japan in a failed attempt to launch a satellite. This test firing provoked a strong reaction both in the U.S. and Japan, and led to calls for a termination of the funding which supported the Agreed Framework. But if the Agreed Framework were to be aborted, there is no doubt that the DPRK would respond with a reopening of the Yongbyon nuclear facility. And this in turn would put North Korea in the position of producing the plutonium that would eventually allow them to weaponize these missiles.
During this turbulent and dangerous period last fall, President Clinton decided to establish an outside policy review as called for by the Congress. President Clinton asked me to head this effort, and I agreed, believing that the time had come for a serious, solid review of U.S. policy toward the DPRK. Much had changed in the five years since we had resolved the last crisis with the signing of the Agreed Framework, and I believed that the stakes had become even higher -- for Americans, for Koreans, and for the Japanese.
The Review Process
Mr. Chairman, as you know, a policy review team, led by myself and working with an interagency group headed by Ambassador Wendy Sherman, Counselor of the Department of State, was formally tasked in November 1998 by President Clinton and his national security advisors to conduct this extensive review. The review lasted approximately eight months, and was supported by a number of senior officials from the U.S. government and by Dr. Ashton Carter of Harvard University. We were also very fortunate to have received regular and extensive guidance from the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor and senior policy advisors.
Throughout the review I consulted with experts, both in and out of the U.S. government. As you are aware, I made it a special point to come here to the Capitol to give regular status reports to Members on the progress of this review and looked forward to the comments I received on the ideas that my North Korea policy review team and I were developing. I also exchanged views with officials from many countries with interests in Northeast Asia and the Korean Peninsula, including our allies, the ROK and Japan. In Beijing, I spoke with high-level Chinese officials. I met with prominent members of the humanitarian aid community. I saw large and small groups, during formal and informal settings, talked with people by phone and received a wealth of written material, solicited and unsolicited. Members of the policy review team held meetings with many other individuals and organizations as well. In addition, I traveled to North Korea this past May, as President Clinton's Special Envoy, to obtain a first-hand understanding of the views of the DPRK Government.
The results of my review reflect the consensus that I saw emerge from the team's countless hours of work and study.
In conducting this review, my policy review team and I have made a number of findings and policy recommendations. Of course, you have already seen the classified version of my report. However, I have also submitted an unclassified version to the Committee for the record. Rather than going through the report section by section, I would like to call your attention here today to certain portions of my report.
Findings and Observations
Mr. Chairman, during this review, we came to a number of findings and observations that supported our primary policy recommendations. Let me highlight a few of these for the Committee.
First, the military correlation of forces on the Korean Peninsula strongly favors the allied forces, even more than during the 1994 crisis, and I believe that this is understood by the DPRK. Therefore, deterrence is strong, unless it is upset by the introduction of nuclear weapons, especially nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles.
Second, there has been no production of fissile material at Yongbyon since the Agreed Framework came into force, but that production at this site could restart in few months if the Agreed Framework were aborted. There is no doubt in my mind that ending the freeze at Yongbyon remains the surest and quickest path for North Korea to obtain nuclear weapons.
Third, a security strategy based on the Agreed Framework has worked these past five years, but is unsustainable in the face of continued DPRK firings of long-range missiles, since these firings undermine the necessary support for the Agreed Framework.
Finally, we have determined that, while North Korea is undergoing terrible economic hardship, these hardships are unlikely to cause the regime to be undermined. We therefore must deal with the DPRK regime as it is, not as we would wish it to be.
The Recommended Policy Alternative
After considering a variety of policy alternatives, the policy review team decided to recommend a multifaceted strategy aimed at dealing initially with priority U.S. concerns over DPRK nuclear weapons- and missile-related activities. This alternative was developed in close consultation with the governments of the ROK and Japan and has their support at the highest levels.
This recommended alternative involves a comprehensive and integrated approach to U.S. negotiations with the DPRK. In essence, we have recommended that the allies establish two alternative strategies. In the first, if the DPRK is willing to forgo its long-range missile program as well as its nuclear weapons program, we should be willing to move step-by-step on a path to a comprehensive normalization of relations, including the establishment of a permanent peace. Alternatively, however, if North Korea does not demonstrate by its actions that it is willing to remove the threat, we must take actions to contain that threat.
Containing a North Korean threat is expensive and dangerous, so obviously the first strategy is preferred. But the United States cannot unilaterally enforce the first strategy. The first strategy requires continued support of the Agreed Framework by the American Congress and the South Korean and Japanese parliaments, and I believe that we will get that support, as long as the DPRK continues to exercise restraint on long-range missiles as well as nuclear weapons. Also, successful execution of either strategy requires full participation of the governments of Japan and the ROK, and I believe that we will have that full participation.
During the course of the policy review, the governments of the U.S., ROK and Japan have worked together more closely than ever before, and I believe this tripartite cooperation will endure into the future, and be applied to other problems in the region, as well. Indeed, this close trilateral consultation is an extremely important result of this review -- something that I am proud to have been a part of. And, of course, the viability of the first strategy depends on full cooperation from North Korea.
A May 1999 Trip to Pyongyang
To determine whether that cooperation would be something we could expect, our policy team travelled to the DPRK late in May to explore with the North Korean leadership our working concepts. We were received in Pyongyang with courtesy, and held extensive and serious discussions. And while we disagreed on many issues, the talks were constructive and entirely without polemics.
Our visit had four goals. First, we wanted to make meaningful contact with senior North Korean officials, to establish a base for future discussions. That goal was achieved.
Second, we wanted to reaffirm the principles of the nuclear restraint that had been established in the Agreed Framework. That goal was achieved, with both sides reaffirming the principles of the Agreed Framework. Critical to that agreement was the visit by an expert team to Kumchangni, which established that this site was not suitable for the installation of a nuclear reactor and reprocessing plant.
Third, we wanted to explore whether the DPRK had interest in going down a path to normalization. Was the North willing to create an entirely new relationship with the United States and end the decades of tension and strife between our two countries? That goal was achieved in the sense that it was clear that they were interested, but not clear that they were prepared to take that step at that time.
Fourth, we wanted to explore whether the DPRK was willing to forgo its long-range missile program, and begin moving with the U.S. down a path to normal relations. North Korean officials were not able to agree to that goal while we were in Pyongyang. It was clear that they regarded their long-range missile program as important, for reasons of security, prestige, and, of course, hard currency. But, it was also clear that they understood that these missiles were an impediment to normal relations.
We explained that our ultimate goal was to terminate North Korean missile exports and indigenous missile activities inconsistent with MTCR standards, but that suspending long-range missile testing was the logical first step. The answer to our proposition was not clear in our Pyongyang meetings, but the DPRK subsequently agreed to follow-on meetings to discuss this issue further.
Three meetings have followed since then; the first two in Beijing and Geneva were not conclusive. After the last meeting in Berlin, earlier last month, the U.S. decided to take a small but positive step that was consistent with the Agreed Framework, in order to improve the atmosphere in our bilateral relations with the DPRK. The Administration took this step with the understanding and expectation that the North would suspend long-range missile testing while we worked to improve relations. A couple of weeks ago, we learned of an equally positive step by the North when it announced its unilateral decision to suspend missile testing for the duration of our high level discussions aimed at improving relations. It is my hope that this step will lead to an even more concrete and public undertaking by the DPRK in this area in the weeks ahead.
Still, I wish to be very clear -- much more remains to be done. Nonetheless, we are started. And -- if we are unsuccessful in persuading North Korea to remove the threat through cooperative dialogue and a significant improvement in relations, then we must be prepared to protect our interests and those of our allies and return to a course to contain that threat.
However, I truly believe that will not be necessary. Instead, I believe the step each side has taken can start a process to remove the threat of armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula. And that with this threat removed, a better environment will be created which will make all other problems easier to resolve, including bilateral issues between the ROK and DPRK, and bilateral issues between Japan and North Korea.
Mr. Chairman, please let me conclude with the following thoughts:
First, the approach recommended by the policy review is based on a realistic view of the DPRK, a hardheaded understanding of military realities and a firm determination to protect U.S. interests and those of our allies. It is a flexible approach and does not depend on any one set of North Korean intentions -- benign or provocative -- to protect our interests.
Second, we should recognize that North Korea may send mixed signals concerning its response to our recommended proposal for a comprehensive framework and that many aspects of its behavior will remain reprehensible to us even if we embark on this negotiating process.
Third, no policy toward North Korea will succeed without the support of our allies, the Republic of Korea and Japan. If tensions were to escalate, the ROK would bear greatest risk; Japan has vital security interests in Korea as well.
Fourth, considering the isolation, suspicion, and negotiating style of the DPRK and the high state of tension on the Korean Peninsula, a successful U.S. policy will require steadiness and persistence even in the face of provocations. The approach adopted now must be sustained into the future, beyond the term of this Administration. It is therefore essential that the policy and its ongoing implementation have the broadest possible support and the continuing involvement of the Congress.
Finally, I wish to point out that a confluence of events this past year has opened what my policy review team and I strongly feel is a unique window of opportunity for the U.S. with respect to North Korea. There is a clear and common understanding among Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington on how to deal with Pyongyang. The PRC's strategic goals -- especially on the issue of North Korean nuclear weapons and related missile delivery systems -- overlap with those of the U.S. Pyongyang appears committed to the Agreed Framework and for the time being is convinced of the value of improving relations with the U.S. The year 1999 may represent, historically, one of our best opportunities for some time to come, to begin a path to normalization, which after decades of insecurity, will finally lead to a Korean Peninsula which is secure, stable, and prosperous.