Four years ago, North Korea’s Rodong newspaper released a photograph of Kim Jong Un sitting in front of an intercontinental-ballistic-missile targeting map depicting Washington, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. What once may have sparked laughter is no longer a joke. Kim’s latest successful ICBM test last week could make the entire continental U.S. vulnerable to a nuclear strike from Pyongyang.
We can no longer defer our response to this crisis. North Korea has demonstrated, time and again, that it may upend the tenuous armistice along the 38th parallel at any moment and drag the U.S. and our allies into a devastating conflict. What the U.S. needs now is swift action backed by a realistic strategy to secure the denuclearization and reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
We can achieve this if we effectively nullify Pyongyang’s ability to target the U.S. and our allies; freeze the resources that North Korea funnels to its ballistic missile and nuclear capabilities; and send a signal to disenchanted Korean Workers Party elites that they could have a future in a reunified Korea.
Today, only the ground-based midcourse defense system — designed to intercept ICBMs as they travel through space — protects the U.S. from nuclear attack. The terminal high-altitude area defense system, calibrated to destroy medium-range missiles as they re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, defends South Korea. Both platforms, and accompanying missile-interceptor programs such as the multi-object kill vehicle, must remain top priorities, but North Korea’s ICBM tests necessitate new measures.
We must now take missile defense into space.
Although the Institute for Defense Analysis reported in 2011 that the U.S. possesses the requisite technology to field a space-based interceptor (SBI) program within 10 years, little progress has been made in the six years since. Legislating to advance SBI and expand the scope of the Missile Defense Agency has been a critical priority for me on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Only with a serious space-based capability can we target missiles in their boost phase and maximize discrimination of decoys during midcourse flight.
Our aim must be to outpace the North Korean threat by orders of magnitude, not merely keep up with it. Space-based missile defense can get us there.
However, simply defending against North Korean projectiles is insufficient. We must also deprive Pyongyang of the resources it directs to its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs. Unfortunately, during the Obama administration, the White House was more interested in securing a climate deal with China than enforcing sanctions against Pyongyang.
President Donald Trump is right when he says that China holds unique sway over North Korea. Beijing is effectively its only real trading partner, and the illicit network that finances North Korea’s atomic pursuits runs through Chinese banks and companies.
I applaud the Treasury Department for recently designating the Bank of Dandong as a primary money-laundering concern; now is the time to take further action against other key violators that bankroll the North Korean mafia state, including the Bank of China. United Nations reports, Justice Department documents and nongovernmental organization research have proved that Kim depends on the U.S. financial system to pay his elites, generals, security forces and soldiers. We must, through our financial regulations, compel U.S. banks with correspondent accounts linked to North Korean entities to begin mapping out the complex financial web of beneficial ownership that Pyongyang obscures with Chinese assistance.
Yet even a sanctioned North Korea remains a threat. Endemic to the regime is the enduring Juche ideology that deifies the Kim family and promises reunification of Korea in a communist utopia. Like all authoritarian regimes before it, the Korean Workers Party propagates these lies in a vacuum of truth.
Reauthorization of the North Korea Human Rights Act (which I am co-sponsoring) can enable the U.S. to reach the people of North Korea with targeted messages of hope and support, as well as examples of the freedoms we enjoy every day. We should take this a step further and begin to initiate targeted information operations focusing on North Korean political elites who, like everyday North Koreans, have also felt the brunt of Kim’s paranoid persecution. We must begin to quietly signal to these elites that there is a future for them if they are prepared to do the right thing when it matters most.
The only way to degrade the growing power of Pyongyang is through a coordinated approach that nullifies North Korea’s missile advances, stymies its illicit cash flow and challenges the lies that underpin Kim’s hold on power. This would turn the tables on Pyongyang and give us back the advantage.
Ted Cruz, a Republican, represents Texas in the U.S. Senate. He wrote this article for the Washington Post.