For decades the United States and its allies like Japan and South Korea have faced a complex threat in North Korea.
While the Obama administration has rightfully focused attention on developments in the Middle East, for too long it has turned a blind eye to the North Korean threat. A rogue regime headed by a leader with no respect for human dignity, Kim Jong-un — North Korea’s forgotten maniac — has been met with indifference instead of resolve.
It’s time to reverse this administration’s failed policy of “strategic patience.” Recent headlines confirm this.
North Korea has conducted four nuclear tests, three of which occurred in the last seven years. Earlier this month North Korea launched an ICBM with a range sufficient to strike anywhere in the United States.
We know the regime is expanding its nuclear stockpile, and its capabilities are growing. North Korea may already possess as many as 20 nuclear warheads, with the potential to gain as many as 100 within the next five years.
Furthermore, our military experts have warned that the situation on the Korean Peninsula may be at its most unstable point in more than 60 years. They believe North Korea has the ability to miniaturize an atomic weapon and place it on a rocket that has the ability to reach targets thousands of miles away.
North Korea’s illicit behavior doesn’t stop with its nuclear-proliferation activities. The regime has intensified its cyberwarfare capabilities, as evidenced by its attacks on South Korea’s financial systems and the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures here in the United States.
North Korea also has a long history of horrific human rights abuses and continues to maintain a vast network of prison camps.
We can no longer stand idly by as North Korea builds an arsenal of mass destruction, grows its cybercapabilities and tortures as many as 200,000 of its own men, women and children. We must apply the pressure required to change the forgotten maniac’s pattern of belligerent behavior that endangers the globe.
That’s why Congress, in overwhelming bipartisan votes, passed the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act this year, which President Obama signed into law on Feb. 18.
The law is a tough rebuke of Kim Jong-un and a dramatic change in U.S. policy toward North Korea: The law imposes mandatory sanctions on individuals who contribute to North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program, its malicious cyberattacks, its censorship activities, and the regime’s continued human rights abuses.
It also mandates that the White House develop a comprehensive strategy to address the regime’s human rights abuses and cybercriminal activities.
The goal of this law is simple: to quell North Korea’s aggression and peacefully disarm the regime and restore human rights.
During his final State of the Union address, President Obama acknowledged that “our foreign policy must be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.” I couldn’t agree more with that statement.
It’s time for the United States to lead. We must set an example and send a message to the rest of the world that America will not tolerate patterns of belligerence — a message that America will lead.
• Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific and international cybersecurity policy. He introduced the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act in the Senate.
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