September 07, 2017

Brown Opening Statement at Banking Committee Hearing on North Korea



WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs – released the following opening statement at today’s hearing entitled, “Evaluating Sanctions Enforcement and Policy Options on North Korea.”

Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:


Thank you, Chairman Crapo, for again pursuing this issue so important to our national security. North Korea’s advancing nuclear weapons program is alarming – not only to the United States and our close allies, South Korea and Japan, but also to China, and to all those with whom we share an interest in a denuclearized Korean peninsula.

Senators Sasse and Donnelly held an informative National Security Subcommittee hearing earlier this summer to assess whether US secondary sanctions against Chinese businesses and banks might help strengthen our hand, and complement enforcement of existing sanctions. They offered a measured set of conclusions and questions drawn from those hearings in a letter to Chairman Crapo and me, which I would like to include in the record. Senators Van Hollen and Toomey, and Gardner and Markey, have separately put forward additional bipartisan sanctions legislation, and some of them recently traveled to the region to assess policy options. I thank them for their work.

We enacted a new package of North Korea sanctions last year, and then included additional tough, new sanctions in the Russia-Iran-North Korea legislation enacted early last month. 

Beyond sanctions, several years ago President Obama began to work with regional allies to develop a robust package of military capabilities to realign US and allied military posture for this different and more dangerous security landscape.

Today we will hear from experts on the prospects for further economic sanctions on North Korea, and how best to target the money that flows to Pyongyang through other countries, including China. As a government, the Chinese oppose the North Korean nuclear weapons program, and find it destabilizing -- but also fear collapse of the regime, and in its wake a destabilizing flood of refugees across their  borders. They see their national interests as different from ours. 

With the acceleration of North Korea’s tests, including the explosion of what they claim was a hydrogen bomb last week, and launches of increasingly capable ballistic missiles, we must persuade China’s leaders that it is in their interest to do all they can now to denuclearize the peninsula. I hope the upcoming five-year party conference in China in mid-October will stiffen Chinese resolve to push the North Koreans to denuclearize.

To move China – and Pyongyang – we need to be clear and credible in our strategy and policy. This is no time for bluster.  It is no time to be picking a fight with our key ally, the South Koreans. Tweets from the President accusing South Korea of “appeasement” are counter-productive and unwise, and will only serve to confuse and divide our allies and destabilize the situation. And it plays right into North Korea’s hands, as it seeks to divide us.

Instead this is a time for serious and hard work by US diplomats to deter and to contain this regime. It is a time for a steady, sober assessment of US national security goals, for close coordination with allies, and to reassess what we might actually accomplish.

Given all these complexities, what do we do now? And what role should Congress play? Among other things, we can require the administration to set clear policy goals, and then measure whether China and others are making sufficient progress to curtail sanctions violations.

We can develop tough new sanctions to further target entities that violate or evade current sanctions, enable the use of forced labor, or abuse human rights. For me, the brutal treatment of Otto Warmbier by North Korean authorities that ended in his death is an especially poignant reminder of the brutality of Kim Jong Un’s regime.  We must also not lose sight of the Americans still held in Pyongyang, and the importance of securing their release.

Congress can signal clearly to the Chinese and others that we are determined to require tougher enforcement of sanctions, and will steadily ratchet up pressure on this front – and that our shared interest in the stability and denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is paramount.

Of course our sanctions must be contained within a broader diplomatic, political, military and economic strategy designed to meet our goals, and which makes clear our sanctions are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. And that end is to force Pyongyang to the table to negotiate, as we did with Iran.

Given our history on Iran, Congress brings credibility to this issue, and that is helpful as some see the administration’s credibility undermined by its erratic behavior.  I am sure, for example, the North Koreans are watching closely this administration’s threats to walk away from the Iran Nuclear Agreement this fall. If that comes to pass -- even as the IAEA certifies that Iran has continued to comply with the deal -- Kim Jong Un will draw the conclusion that the US will refuse to observe even firm commitments on the nuclear front. 

I am glad we are moving forward with a regular order process on this sensitive and urgent issue. I know there will likely be another hearing on the matter soon, when we’ll hear from administration witnesses. I welcome our witnesses today. Your expertise on what might work, and what won’t, to ratchet up pressure and bring the results we’re seeking are most welcome. I look forward to hearing from all of you.