Weekly Column

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While Americans prepared to celebrate Independence Day, Kim Jong-un reminded the world of his determination to build weapons capable of striking the American homeland. On July 3rd, North Korea announced it successfully conducted an intercontinental ballistic missile test. U.S. military officials are assessing all the facts, but it appears Pyongyang is significantly closer to developing a missile that could reach the continental United States.

This latest test-launch further demonstrates a sobering reality: the threat of North Korea is growing, and it’s advancing quickly. As it does, our country must bring greater pressure to bear on North Korea, and its international patrons, China and Russia. So far, they have shielded the Kim regime from meaningful punishment for these actions. We should have no illusions that they will solve this problem without significant changes in U.S. policy toward both nations.

I serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee and chair its Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. For years, the committee has examined North Korea’s growing capabilities. We have repeatedly worked together to ensure that our defensive capabilities stay ahead of the threats coming out of Pyongyang. For example, in 2013, the committee authorized long-range radar systems to improve our ability to track and intercept North Korea’s missiles. We also increased resources for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program, an interceptor system that guards our country against ballistic missile attacks.

Additionally, Congress took united action against those who fund Kim Jong-un’s totalitarian regime last year. In a unanimous vote, the Senate passed the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act. The bill, which was signed into law by President Obama, targeted Pyongyang’s financial supporters, enhanced sanctions on North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, and codified sanctions against the country for its malicious cyberattacks and egregious abuse of human rights.

These actions from Congress have had limited success in subduing North Korea. Nuclear tests, cyberattacks, and human right violations out of Kim Jong-un’s regime continue to flood the news. We have known for years about the despicable manner in which North Korea behaves toward its own people. However, the stories of abuse, terror, and inhumanity came home to America with the return and subsequent passing of Otto Warmbier, an American student whom North Korea unjustly imprisoned.

As chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, which has oversight over our homeland missile defense system, I am committed to ensuring our country has an effective defense to protect our citizens from the rogue regime in Pyongyang. I worked to include language in the Fiscal Year 2018 Senate defense authorization bill, which was recently approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee, to strengthen our missile defense system and authorize additional funding to further improve its capabilities.

I will continue to work with my colleagues, the Trump administration, and our allies on policies to address the severity of North Korea’s behavior. Keeping Americans safe is my first priority and the first duty of our federal government.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.