Security in Korea – the US view, by Tom Donilon

[Thomas E. Donilon is National Security Advisor to US President Barack Obama. The following is an excerpt of his speech at a function of the The Asia Society, delivered in New York City on 11 March 2013. The title of his presentation was “The United States and the Asia-Pacific in 2013”. We reproduce the section of his remarks dealing with the President’s North Korea policies. You may view and listen to the whole speech and subsequent discussion on the website of the Asia Society here. –CanKor]

Tom Danilon is National Security Advisor to US President Barack Obama (Photo by Alex Wong, Getty Images)

Tom Danilon is National Security Advisor to US President Barack Obama (Photo by Alex Wong, Getty Images)


President Obama has clearly stated that we will maintain our security presence and engagement in the Asia-Pacific. Specifically, our defense spending and programs will continue to support our key priorities – from our enduring presence on the Korean Peninsula to our strategic presence in the western Pacific.

This means that in the coming years a higher proportion of our military assets will be in the Pacific. Sixty percent of our naval fleet will be based in the Pacific by 2020. Our Air Force is also shifting its weight to the Pacific over the next five years. We are adding capacity from both the Army and the Marines. The Pentagon is working to prioritize the Pacific Command for our most modern capabilities – including submarines, Fifth-Generation Fighters such as F-22s and F-35s, and reconnaissance platforms. And we are working with allies to make rapid progress in expanding radar and missile defense systems to protect against the most immediate threat facing our allies and the entire region: the dangerous, destabilizing behavior of North Korea.

North Korea

Let me spend a few moments on North Korea.

For sixty years, the United States has been committed to ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. This means deterring North Korean aggression and protecting our allies. And it means the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state; nor will we stand by while it seeks to develop a nuclear-armed missile that can target the United States. The international community has made clear that there will be consequences for North Korea’s flagrant violation of its international obligations, as the UN Security Council did again unanimously just last week in approving new sanctions in response to the North’s recent provocative nuclear test.

U.S. policy toward North Korea rests on four key principles:

First, close and expanded cooperation with Japan and South Korea. The unity that our three countries have forged in the face of North Korea’s provocations-unity reaffirmed by President Park and Prime Minister Abe -is as crucial to the search for a diplomatic solution as it is to deterrence. The days when North Korea could exploit any seams between our three governments are over.

And let me add that the prospects for a peaceful resolution also will require close U.S. coordination with China’s new government. We believe that no country, including China, should conduct “business as usual” with a North Korea that threatens its neighbors. China’s interest in stability on the Korean Peninsula argues for a clear path to ending North Korea’s nuclear program. We welcome China’s support at the UN Security Council and its continued insistence that North Korea completely, verifiably and irreversibly abandon its WMD and ballistic missile programs.

Second, the United States refuses to reward bad North Korean behavior. The United States will not play the game of accepting empty promises or yielding to threats. As former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates has said, we won’t buy the same horse twice. We have made clear our openness to authentic negotiations with North Korea. In return, however, we’ve only seen provocations and extreme rhetoric. To get the assistance it desperately needs and the respect it claims it wants, North Korea will have to change course. Otherwise, the United States will continue to work with allies and partners to tighten national and international sanctions to impede North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Today, the Treasury Department is announcing the imposition of U.S. sanctions against the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea, the country’s primary foreign exchange bank, for its role in supporting North Korea’s WMD program.

By now it is clear that the provocations, escalations and poor choices of North Korea’s leaders are not only making their country less secure – they are condemning their people to a level of poverty that stands in stark contrast not only to South Korea, but every other country in East Asia.

Third, we unequivocally reaffirm that the United States is committed to the defense of our homeland and our allies. Recently, North Korean officials have made some highly provocative statements. North Korea’s claims may be hyperbolic – but as to the policy of the United States, there should be no doubt: we will draw upon the full range of our capabilities to protect against, and to respond to, the threat posed to us and to our allies by North Korea. This includes not only any North Korean use of weapons of mass destruction-but also, as the President made clear, their transfer of nuclear weapons or nuclear materials to other states or non-state entities. Such actions would be considered a grave threat to the United States and our allies and we will hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences.

Finally, the United States will continue to encourage North Korea to choose a better path. As he has said many times, President Obama came to office willing to offer his hand to those who would unclench their fists. The United States is prepared to help North Korea develop its economy and feed its people-but it must change its current course. The United States is prepared to sit down with North Korea to negotiate and to implement the commitments that they and the United States have made. We ask only that Pyongyang prove its seriousness by taking meaningful steps to show it will abide by its commitments, honor its words, and respect international law.

Anyone who doubts the President’s commitment needs look no further than Burma, where new leaders have begun a process of reform. President Obama’s historic visit to Rangoon is proof of our readiness to start transforming a relationship marked by hostility into one of greater cooperation. Burma has already received billions in debt forgiveness, large-scale development assistance, and an influx of new investment. While the work of reform is ongoing, Burma has already broken out of isolation and opened the door to a far better future for its people in partnership with its neighbors and with the United States. And, as President Obama said in his speech to the people of Burma, we will continue to stand with those who continue to support rights, democracy and reform. So I urge North Korea’s leaders to reflect on Burma’s experience.


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