Romney Leads Senate Hearing Examining Security on Korean Peninsula

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, The Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy, today led a hearing with the Subcommittee’s Chairman, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) examining security on the Korean Peninsula. The hearing covered a range of issues, including reinforcing our extended deterrence commitment to South Korea, China’s growing aggression in the region, and U.S. relations with Japan and the Republic of Korea.

A transcript of Senator Romney’s opening remarks and questioning can be found below. Video can be found here.

Opening Statement

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the members of this panel for being here. I have met at least one of you before, but others of you, I have followed by virtue of your expertise and appreciate your willingness to testify here today and provide your perspective and experience…I would underscore the significance of the year—70 years—as an anniversary of the Korean War. Dear friends of mine served in that in that war, in that conflict, and my heart is moved by the sacrifice made by many of the people of the South Korean nation, as well as our nation, who have served together to provide for the security that now exists in in South Korea. I recognize that we all do—that the Korean War was at the outset of the Cold War.

And in some respects, we are facing another Cold War today and not with the former Soviet Union so much as with an assertive China. At the outset of those things, our circumstances are different. One is that the ROK (Republic of Korea) has been an extraordinary technological leader and economic powerhouse. It is hard to imagine a place which is more technologically advanced than South Korea that provides more products to the world than South Korea. It has fought well above its weight, class in the world of economic affairs and in geopolitics, which is greatly appreciated here and by other nations around the world. At the same time, North Korea has become, at least in my view, more belligerent and more malevolent in the last year or two. We’re seeing that not only with aggressive actions with their missiles, but also with various flights and so forth that are threatening. And, of course, with North Korea indicating a potential to provide weapons to Russia in their invasion of Ukraine. I’m concerned about the fact that South Korea has a nuclear neighbor to its north with a massive investment in conventional as well as nuclear arms and at the same time does not have a nuclear capacity of its own.

And I would presume if I lived there, I would be disturbed by that lack of balance and would be wondering how that could be remediated. So I look forward to hearing your perspectives on these matters. I share the Chairman’s deep conviction that it’s critical that our nations remain closely aligned, that we combine our support with the support of other nations in the region. Japan, obviously, in particular. And that association I’d like to get your perspective on as well. So with that, Mr. Chairman, we’ll turn to your questions, and then we’ll be able to hear ultimately from our panelists.


Senator Romney: Professor Cha, I wanted to begin this by asking you to elaborate on one of your recommendations…I think it was number two, which was preemptive action with regards to missile launch. What did you mean by that? And perhaps could be some logic or some pros and cons.

Dr. Victor Cha: Sure. So one of the problems we have, Senator, is since last year, North Korea has done over 100 ballistic missile tests. We’ve never seen anything like this before. All of us have been studying this issue for decades, and we’ve never seen that level, that tempo of activity before. Those tests are for demonstration purposes, but they’re also for advancing their capabilities. You need to test to know whether it works. And we really don’t have a good way of deterring those tests. When we’re negotiating with them, I think is Jenny would agree, they don’t test as much, but they’re not interested in talking right now. At the same time, the three allies have gotten much more integrated in terms of missile defense tracking, real-time early warning, these sorts of things. And my point is that given that this is a moving target and it’s getting worse and worse, what else can we do to try to deter them from testing?

So, one of the ideas there, and it’s a risky one, is declaratory policy to say that we reserve the right to actually take down a missile if it’s headed over Japan or if it’s headed towards Hawaii or the West Coast of the United States. And that could be a mid-course intercept or it could be on the launch pad. Now they’re firing now mobile missiles, so it’s harder to take it out preemptively. But the idea is that we need to consider something to deter further missile testing. And we don’t have anything that’s doing that right now. It’s risky. I acknowledge it’s risky, but perhaps we’re at that point now.

Romney: Thank you. As I think about the last couple of decades with our relationship with the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), it seems to me that we’ve gone from pillar to post, guardrail to guardrail, from being aggressive and oppositional at one hand, to writing love letters on the other, to having a meet. We’ve been all over the map. It strikes me that we have no consistent strategy or policy with regards to the DPRK. And I wonder if you draw any lessons from that or any suggestions about what we might do to develop a consistent policy approach with regards to the DPRK. Because what we do so far, from what I can tell, hasn’t worked. So, I look to you, are there lessons learned from the last decades that that we ought to consider as we think about the next decades?

Dr. Cha: So, having participated in the failure of that diplomacy, I would agree with you. I think, you know, we have been trying to deal with North Korea since Ronald Reagan and have been unsuccessful. The deal that we put on the table effectively has been the same, which is, you know, they freeze and dismantle their major programs in return for economic assistance, food, political recognition and a peace assurance on the peninsula and in the region. It’s come in different formats bilaterally or multilaterally. Six party talks. But, you know, I think we have to come to the realization that’s not the deal that they want anymore.

And frankly, we’re at a loss as to what to pursue next. I mean, as you’ve said, we’ve tried everything from expert working level talks to summitry, leader to leader, on at least three different occasions—in Singapore, in Hanoi, and at Panmunjom. And none of those have reached a conclusion. I mean, I don’t want to sound skeptical, but I think that it’s very difficult to imagine a deal that would satisfy us that could be had with the current regime in North Korea. Or, the things that they would want to have a serious negotiation are things that’s very difficult for us to give up, like our alliance relationship with South Korea, our troops on the Korean Peninsula, our forces in Japan, as well. I guess the one of the main lessons that I’ve learned from this is that it’s not really the modalities of the negotiation or what’s on offer. The problem right now is that the deal that makes the most sense from a U.S. and allied perspective is not the one the North Koreans want.

Mr. Scott Snyder: As I think about the history, and it’s a long history, I think less about a cycle than about a progression in which things are getting worse. We are learning things about each other. And I think that what we are learning with each iteration is actually making it even more difficult to bridge the gap. And so, I think that we did learn something, for instance, from engaging directly in summitry with Kim Jong Un. But the main thing I think we learned is that Kim Jong Un does not want to give up his nuclear weapons. And I think the main thing that he learned is that even though he thought he was entering into negotiations from a position of strength, he wasn’t nearly powerful enough to coerce us into accepting him as a nuclear state