National Press Club

North Korea expert addresses NPC Legion Post on No. 1 national security risk

April 30, 2017 | By Ken Dalecki |

Former U.S. Ambassador Joseph DeTrani

Former U.S. Ambassador Joseph DeTrani

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

North Korea is "the number one national security issue that has to be addressed," Joseph DeTrani, former U.S. Ambassador to the Six Party Talks with that country, told a luncheon meeting of National Press Club American Legion Post 20 on Friday, April 28.

DeTrani, a veteran diplomat and national security expert, participates is occasional meetings with the rogue regime's vice minister for foreign affairs in non-governmental contacts to keep a door open to the reclusive and unpredictable nuclear power.

He recounted the Korean Peninsula's tortured 2000-year history of occupation by foreign invaders and the North's broken promises and "in-your-face" tactics with the U.S. in recent decades.

The regime responded to efforts by former President Barack Obama to open a dialogue by testing missiles and nuclear weapons, just as it has to the Trump administration by conducting additional missile tests, DeTrani said.

DeTrani, who was a senior advisor to the Director of National Intelligence, director of the National Counter Proliferation Center, and Intelligence Community Mission Manager for North Korea, predicted that North Korea will test an intercontinental ballistic missile this year. "I'm surprised they have not launched it already," he said.

A successful launch and success in miniaturizing its nuclear arsenal, estimated to range from 12 to 20 bombs, could threaten the continental U.S. in two to three years, DeTrani said. Meanwhile South Korea and Japan are counting on the U.S. to provide the military muscle needed to confront the North.

President Donald Trump is right to tell the regime of Kim Jong-un that "the policy of strategic patience is no longer in play," DeTrani said. But how to get North Korea to the negotiating table remains a challenge because sanctions have proved ineffective.

China has cooperated with the U.S. in trying to rein in its once-close ally but "North Korea is not a lackey of China" in spite of its total reliance on China for fuel and some 90 percent of its trade, DeTrani said.

China can and will do more to pressure the regime to prevent what would be a disastrous war on the Peninsula, DeTrani said.

"We should be mindful that North Korea will respond" to a pre-emptive military strike and that it's long-range artillery is only 30 miles from Seoul, South Korea's capital, he said. Although war is not inevitable, he is concerned about "escalation and miscalculation."

Asked what he thought would happen if the North invaded the South as it did in 1950, DeTrani said "the North would be wiped out."

The regime saw what happened in Iraq during Desert Storm and is aware of U.S. military might, he said. Kim Jong-un is "more paranoid and unpredictable" than his father, Kim Jon-il, who died in 2011. He said the regime's primary goal appears to be "security against regime change."

DeTrani spoke to Post 20 a year ago about developments in Korea and he became a Club member as a result of that meeting.

He spoke during his last week as president of Daniel Morgan Academy, a Washington, D.C., graduate school in foreign and security affairs. He previously served as president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance and serves on its board of advisors.