Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, spoke before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, calling North Korea “the most immediate threat to the security of the United States.”
Harris’ remarks to the House came on the same day as a historic briefing held for all one hundred members of the Senate at the White House about the same topic.
Harris first discussed North Korea’s recent threats levied toward American ally, Australia.
“[It’s] a powerful reminder to the entire international community that North Korea’s missiles point in every direction,” Harris said. “The only nation to have tested nuclear devices in this century, North Korea has vigorously pursued an aggressive weapons test schedule with more than 60 listed missile events in recent years.”
The admiral went on to claim that, in the interest of defending the United States from a potential attack, he must take Kim Jong Un’s claims at face value: meaning Kim’s statements about a nuclear strike on American soil cannot be ignored simply because intelligence has yet to suggest he possesses the capability.
“Defending our homeland is my top priority, so I must assume that Kim Jong Un’s nuclear claims are true; I know his aspirations certainly are. And that should provide all of us a sense of urgency to ensure Pacom and U.S. Forces Korea are prepared to fight tonight with the best technology on the planet,” he said.
Despite that, Harris was clear that military action was not the only possible solution to this problem, claiming that there is still hope for a diplomatic solution through trilateral cooperation with Japan and South Korea – as well as calling on China to exert its “considerable economic influence to stop Pyongyang’s unprecedented weapons testing.”
“As [President Donald J. Trump] and [Defense Secretary Jim Mattis] have made clear, all options are on the table. We want to bring Kim Jong Un to his senses, not to his knees,” the Admiral said.
Harris went on to praise the Australian military for its advanced capabilities and global operations leadership, adding that last week’s trips by Vice President Mike Pence and SECDEF James Mattis to Northeast Asia were intended to emphasize the value of our alliances with South Korea and Japan as well.
“We’ve strengthened America’s network of alliances and partnerships, working with like-minded partners on shared security threats like North Korea and ISIS. It’s a key component to our regional strategy,” he said.
The PACOM commander also credited U.S. and international officials for increasing ties with a number of other nations, including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. According to Harris, strengthening these partnerships is integral to reinforcing “the rules-based security order that has helped underwrite peace and prosperity throughout the region for decades.”
Despite the admiral’s positive statements about international cooperation in the face of North Korean and other threats, he closed by addressing the significant work that still lays ahead, lamenting the budgetary limitations that have reduced American combat effectiveness through lagging maintenance and financial shortcomings.
“We must be ready to confront all challenges from a position of strength and with credible combat power,” Harris told legislators.
He added, “So I ask this committee to support continued investment to improve our military capabilities. I need weapons systems of increased lethality, precision, speed and range that are networked and cost-effective [without] restricting ourselves with funding uncertainties [that] reduce our warfighting readiness. So I urge the congress to repeal sequestration and improve the proposed Defense Department budget.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Marine Corps General Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a joint statement after their Wednesday briefing of the Senate that echoed Admiral Harris’ concerns about a North Korean nuclear threat.
“Past efforts have failed to halt North Korea’s unlawful weapons programs and nuclear and ballistic missile tests,” the statement said. “With each provocation, North Korea jeopardizes stability in Northeast Asia and poses a growing threat to our allies and the U.S. homeland.”
“We are engaging responsible members of the international community to increase pressure on [North Korea] in order to convince the regime to de-escalate and return to the path of dialogue,” the statement said. “We will maintain our close coordination and cooperation with our allies, especially [South Korea] and Japan, as we work together to preserve stability and prosperity in the region.”
According to the high-ranking officials that provided the Senate with the briefing, North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons constitutes “an urgent national security threat and a top foreign policy priority.” However, they also indicated that President Trump’s strategy now aims to pressure North Korea into disarming themselves through “tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with allies and regional partners;” a significant shift from earlier threats of unilateral military strikes.
According to the joint statement, the United States is hoping for a diplomatic end to the situation, but are unwilling to let their guard down in the meantime; “We remain open to negotiations towards that goal. However, we remain prepared to defend ourselves and our allies.”
Image courtesy of the Associated Press