The nature of the North Korean regime is clear; only the scale of the damage it does could become different. That’s why yesterday’s escalation is so alarming. If North Korea will treat an innocent young student the way it treated Otto Warmbier, we should not be surprised if it acts barbarically on a larger scale.
The United States does not seek conflict. In fact, we seek to avoid it. We seek only the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and an end to the threatening actions by North Korea. Regrettably, we’re witnessing just the opposite. Make no mistake, North Korea’s launch of an ICBM is a clear and sharp military escalation. The North Korean regime openly states that its missiles are intended to deliver nuclear weapons to strike cities in the United States, South Korea, and Japan. And now it has a greater capacity to do so.
In truth, it is not only the United States and our allies that are threatened. North Korea’s destabilizing escalation is a threat to all nations in the region and beyond. Their actions are quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution.
Key takeaway here is the formulation “quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution.” This is not the kind of language the UNSC is used to hearing. My personal belief is that this is accurate. The moment a North Korean ICBM shows the potential to range the West Coast I believe we are at war.
This is where the speech takes an unexpected turn.
The United States is prepared to use the full range of our capabilities to defend ourselves and our allies. One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces. We will use them if we must, but we prefer not to have to go in that direction. We have other methods of addressing those who threaten us and of addressing those who supply the threats. We have great capabilities in the area of trade. President Trump has spoken repeatedly about this. I spoke with him at length about it this morning.
There are countries that are allowing – even encouraging – trade with North Korea in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Such countries would also like to continue their trade arrangements with the United States. That’s not going to happen. Our attitude on trade changes when countries do not take international security threats seriously. Before the path to a peaceful solution is entirely closed, however, there remains more that the international community can and must do diplomatically and economically.
In the coming days, we will bring before the Security Council a resolution that raises the international response in a way that is proportionate to North Korea’s new escalation. I will not detail that resolution here today, but the options are all known to us. If we are unified, the international community can cut off the major sources of hard currency to the North Korean regime. We can restrict the flow of oil to their military and their weapons programs. We can increase air and maritime restrictions. We can hold senior regime officials accountable.
This will represent serious, regime endangering sanctions and the UNSC will either have to go on record as supporting the outlaw clique in Pyongyang or the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Hinting at trade sanctions against nations trading with North Korea in violation of UN sanctions was a significant upping of the ante but it got better:
Yesterday’s ICBM escalation requires an escalated diplomatic and economic response. Time is short. Action is required. The world is on notice. If we act together, we can still prevent a catastrophe, and we can rid the world of a grave threat. If we fail to act in a serious way, there will be a different response.
Much of the burden of enforcing UN sanctions rests with China. Ninety percent of trade with North Korea is from China. We will work with China. We will work with any and every country that believes in peace. But we will not repeat the inadequate approaches of the past that have brought us to this dark day.
We cannot forget the multiple missile tests this year or yesterday’s escalation. We cannot forget Otto Warmbier and others North Korea continues to hold. We cannot forget the threats to our friends and allies around the world. We will not forget. And we will not delay.
It isn’t every day that a permanent member of the UN Security Council gets called out as a sanctions buster.
This is the first time since 1953 that the United States has taken North Korea seriously. By making it clear that we will put nations in the position of either supporting painful sanctions against North Korea or being held responsible for North Korea’s nuclear and ICBM programs, this is sending a very intense message. Telling the world that we are done with sanctioning a handful of people and organizations for busting sanctions and we are now looking to walk away from trade agreements, makes nations winking at their companies and nationals dealing with North Korea a much more expensive proposition.
China, in particular, is put into a tough position. They can try to continue to rope-a-dope us and see tariffs on their exports that far exceed the value North Korea’s smuggling, or they can make a legitimate effort to bring Pyongyang under control.