July 11-15, 2018

South & North Korea

Satu LimayeDirector
East-West Center
    
   Scott SnyderSenior Fellow for
Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy
Council on
Foreign Relations
   Philip YunExecutive Director &
Chief Operating Officer Ploughshares Fund North Korea
  

Alliances in the PacRim are shifting in response to military posturing, including nuclear threats, from North Korea. The US, for example, has installed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile systems in South Korea, while China has amassed troops on its border with North Korea. President Donald Trump met with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un on June 12, 2018, in Singapore, in the first summit meeting between the countries’ leaders. Denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was the key agenda item, although no concrete commitments were made. The Forum heard from a panel of three discussants who offered first-hand knowledge of this complex situation, focusing on the need for consistency and reciprocity as diplomatic initiatives move forward.

North Korean Black Hole

This satellite picture of night-time Korean Peninsula demonstrates the dramatic differences in development between North and South Korea.

South Korea

Dr. Limaye introduced the discussion of South Korea, noting that opinions over the importance and influence of South Korea vary drastically from seeing it as “It is the cockpit of Asia,” to “It is a shrimp among whales.” South Korea has been pivotal to US presence in the region in exchange for US security support. But China is its major economic partner. Therefore, South Korea is in a precarious balancing act between two huge players: its security partner — the US, and its largest trading partner — China. Scott Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on US-Korea Policy, Council on Foreign Relations explored the tensions affecting US and South Korean relations.

A History of Transformative Collaboration

He reminded the Forum that, at the end of the Korean war, South Korea was dark, undeveloped, and poor, with a per capita income of less than $100 per year. After the war, a mutual defense treaty was established between the US and the Republic of Korea to guarantee security and stability in South Korea. The US became South Korea’s staunch ally, providing military and infrastructure support, and serving as the main market for South Korean products. South Korea experienced an economic transformation, expanding its manufacturing and exporting capabilities and, ultimately, becoming the world’s twelfth-largest economy. Politically, this greater prosperity drove a political transformation toward democracy.

Over decades, South Korea and the US formed a partnership based on trust. Today, South Korea’s trust in its US partnership is at risk. As new threats from North Korea and China raise tensions in the region, the prospect of renewed inter-Korean conflict continues to put South Korean security and prosperity at risk. Meanwhile US actions raise questions regarding the reliability of South Korea’s security alliance with the US.

Economic Uncertainty

Over 20% of South Korea’s total trade is with China, twice the level for South Korea-US trade. Furthermore, South Korea’s supply chain for manufacturing goes through China. As the US enters into bilateral trade agreements and imposes tariffs on Chinese products, the outcome could be disastrous for South Korea’s economy. South Korea’s underlying strategic concern is that its dependence on the US for security could become incompatible with its economic reliance on China.

Security Uncertainty

Despite its rise as a leader in international financial, development, and climate-change forums, South Korea will likely still require the commitment of the US to guarantee its security. The US military deploys about 28,000 troops in South Korea under provisions of the mutual defense treaty. But the US has begun to drive hard bargains about who will pay for military investments. For example, the new US command base in Pyeongtaek cost $11 billion to build and is the largest overseas US base. South Korea paid about 90% of the cost. Today, South Korea faces questions regarding the durability of its own security alliance with the US. Should the country continue to rely for its security and prosperity on that alliance or side with a rising China as a new security guarantor, or does the country have sufficient capabilities to protect itself without external help?

South Korea remains vulnerable relative to other regional powers in northeast Asia despite its rising profile as a middle power, and it must balance the contradiction of desirable autonomy and necessary alliance. To avoid renewed victimization as a result of intensifying regional rivalries, South Korea must use its diplomatic capabilities to make smart strategic choices and avoid entrapment in those rivalries, all the while working with great powers to deal with the growing threat from North Korea.

South Korea’s leaders have actively sought to reduce the risk of regional conflict and find a pathway to peaceful denuclearization of the peninsula. Yet South Koreans also face the possibility of American withdrawal or underappreciation of South Korea’s strategic importance to regional stability in Northeast Asia, which could lead to drastic limitations on South Korea’s security options and to increased dependency on China.

North Korea

Philip Yun

Executive Director &
Chief Operating Officer Ploughshares Fund North Korea

 

Philip Yun introduced his discussion of North Korea by reminding the Forum of the January, 2018 alert that sparked a panic in Hawaii: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII.” The false alert was the result of operator error, but the terrified public response highlighted heightened concerns about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Mr. Yun pointed out that “the President has about 10 minutes to decide whether to launch a single missile or hundreds of missiles in response to an attack alert,” and noted that the 38-minute gap between the initial alert and the message acknowledging it was a mistake had the potential for disaster. Such miscalculations and accidents are major risks associated with expanding nuclear weapons programs. Mr. Yun discussed the additional risks posed by stockpiled nuclear material in North Korea.

Commenting on sanctions imposed on North Korea in an attempt to compel denuclearization, he pointed out that, if the North is pressed too hard by sanctions, or in the face of military escalation from its enemies, or motivated by profit, North Korea or rogue agents could sell nuclear material, potentially to terrorists.

North Korea is among the poorest countries in the world with a per capita income of $1,340. Yet, North Korea's military expenditures averaged about $3.5 billion a year in 2016, or 23% of the country's average GDP. It ranks first in military spending relative to its GDP.

North Korean Missile Launches

North Korean missile launches have ramped up dramatically under Kim Jong-Un

The US-North Korea Summit

On June 12, 2018, for the first time, a sitting US president and the leader of North Korea met. The official report from this US-North Korea Summit states: “President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth, and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new US–Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”

Summit AgreementsThe leaders “agreed to agree” and endorsed a basic framework with four components:They committed to create a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula.DPRK committed to work toward complete denuclearization.President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK.DPRK committed to recover POW/MIA remains and repatriate them to the US.

The Upside of the Summit

 “The US policy toward North Korea of the past 30 years has failed,” Mr. Yun observed, “and we have ended up in the worst case scenario:” a North Korea that has nuclear weapons and is capable of producing sufficient materials to make more every 8 weeks. The Summit started the process of reconciliation, potentially reducing the nuclear threat, and created an opportunity for the US to find out if North Korea is really willing to give up its nuclear capability. The Summit is a start toward peace in the peninsula.

Korean Summit

The Downside of the Summit

Mr. Yun pointed out that the agreement has no specific details, no deadlines, and no mechanisms for enforcement. There is no mention of the CVID, the “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization,” in the statement text, which is a clear departure from long-standing US policy. It does not define what “denuclearization” means, and both countries may have differing expectations. There is no timeline, nor a step-by-step program for dismantling North Korea’s nuclear assets.

Thanks to the Summit, Kim Jong-Un gained international legitimacy and domestic prestige, but without making any real concessions. Also troubling is the lack of a consistent US policy. “President Trump follows his own rules, leaving US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the onus of negotiating real changes, while the bureaucracies go ahead and do their own thing.” The Summit also may contribute to a false perception that “North Korea is no longer a threat,” whereas, human rights violations continue to exist and true denuclearization remains to be seen.

Panel Discussion

Panel Moderator Dr. Limaye asked the panel, “Why can’t the US live with North Korea having nuclear weapons?” noting that the US has “quiet” agreements to allow nuclear weapons in countries such as Israel, Brazil, or Argentina.

Mr. Yun’s responded that, sooner or later, North Korea will denuclearize. A preemptive nuclear strike is really not an option for North Korea, because the US would obliterate them. US retaliation would lead to unthinkable casualties. The major barrier to disarmament is that the US doesn’t trust North Korea, and North Korea does not trust the US. No show of force, pressure of sanctions, or diplomatic approaches are likely to overcome this distrust.

The optimal solution would be the transformation of the relationship between the US and North Korea so that the weapons do not matter. This is how the US-China relationship evolved in the 1970s. The US found it could accept China’s military as it built engagement through trade and bilateral agreements. The US could pursue a similar path with North Korea, but “it is troubling to leave nuclear weapons in the hands of a questionable ally,” Mr. Yun pointed out.

Mr. Snyder agreed that the US will never abandon its effort to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons. Both discussants observed that if North Korea were to be accepted as a nuclear state, this would create a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia, as South Korea and Japan faced pressure to obtain such weapons.

The major concerns about nuclear weapons arise from the potential for miscalculation, error, or accident, Mr. Yun said. There are military forces from multiple nations moving around the region. War exercises are being conducted, and this can exacerbate tensions. “What happens if a missile is misdirected and hits a target that was not intended? Or if a military vessel intervenes in a fight between fishing vessels?” Mr. Yun asked.

Panel Moderator Dr. Limaye asked, "Where do China, Russia, and Japan fit in the geopolitics of Northeast Asia? If the US makes an agreement with North Korea on nuclear weapons, does this leave Japan with concerns that others issues have not been addressed, such as, North Korea’s mid-range missiles and chemical weapons?"

China is worried about what kind of deal the US will make with North Korea. They may start a bidding war to see which country will give North Korea the most in exchange for denuclearization. If China makes an agreement with North Korea, would this cause the US military to move troops closer to China to protect South Korea?

Coordination is a critical for bringing peace to the region, Mr. Snyder said. On the peninsular level, North and South Korea have to come to agreement; on the global level, the US and North Korea must agree; and regionally, China must cooperate by keeping pressure on North Korea to denuclearize.

Public opinion in South Korea about the US was more positive following the Summit, as the South Koreans saw the potential for peace on the peninsula within reach.  However, South Korean expectations for the peace process may be more ambitious than the Summit or the US can deliver. In fact, public opinion about the US was more negative in July when it became clear that there was much ground work still to be done.

Sanctions

In order to create pressure on North Korea to give up its weapons, the US would have to coordinate with China. One strategy could pose the US as “bad cop” by imposing sanctions, while China serves the “good cop,” by rewarding disarmament with aid. But China does not trust the US, and wants a stronger relationship with North Korea as an ally and a growing market.  In fact, China has been stepping back from sanctions.

Sanctions will not work with North Korea, Mr. Yun said. North Korea is resourceful, and they will find ways to work around and evade the impact of sanctions.

Mr. Snyder agreed. A critical element on the path to denuclearization is economic progress, he said. As North Korea’s economy improves, people want better opportunities for their children and may advocate for moving investments into economic development instead of military spending. North Korea perceives outside threats. The best incentives for them to denuclearize are to overcome distrust, build economic links, and give them a stake in regional economic development, like South Korea. This can’t be done while they pour all their money into nuclear weapons. But sanctions also would block the path to prosperity.

Scott Snyder, Philip Yun, and Satu Limaye provided insights into the politics of the Korean Peninsula.

Discussion

Tom Finneran (Moderator): North Korea does not perceive the US as a good-faith player. Is this true and real, or only a strategic position?

Mr. Yun: There is a lot of enmity between North Korea and the US based on disconnects in understanding agreements. Lack of definite agreements and miscommunications on deals over the past decades have fueled this antagonism. The US and North Korea have brokered multiple agreements concerning the North's nuclear weapons program since 1994. However, these agreements have all subsequently fallen apart. For example, in 2005, the administration was poised to come to agreement with North Korea over missiles. But, independently, the US Treasury Department put sanctions on $25-$30 million worth of North Korean goods. In response, North Korea launched another missile, and the planned agreement collapsed.

Vans Stevenson (Motion Picture Association of America): What would it take for North Korea to come to trust the US, given our history?

Mr. Snyder: We have to start from zero to build trust. Six months ago, we were facing a possible military conflict. With the Summit, we have started to engage in a joint project which can build understanding. This will need to be a verified process that leads in an agreed positive direction. The essential bases for trust are consistency (where the US falters) and reciprocity (where North Korea falters).

Mr. Yun: Diplomacy is required to draft agreements that work for the advantage of both North Korea and the US. These need to be step-by-step incremental agreements that build trust.

Sen. Wayne Niederhauser (UT): It seems that we need new options for dealing with North Korea’s beyond force, diplomacy, or just accepting the situation. What about the people themselves? The North Koreans can see the lifestyle in China, and they recognize how poor they are in comparison. The guard houses on the borders seem to function to keep North Koreans in, rather than Chinese out. In fact, there is a constant stream of goods from China into North Korea. Given some prosperity, would the people solve the problem for themselves, refuse to be suppressed, and advocate for less military spending and more economic development?

Mr. Snyder: Isolation and opacity have been North Korea’s strategy to protect the authoritarian regime. However, the biggest driver for change is marketization at a local level. North Korean entrepreneurs are already engaging in high-risk activities to get money. Political loyalty is paramount for them because they have to have the regime’s support.

Mr. Yun: Isolation and opacity are dictatorship’s tools, while integration and openness characterize an open society. The question is will North Korea advance to become a threat or a trading partner? The middle road being followed by the US to encourage peace and prosperity is getting smaller and tighter. This may be our last chance to find a path to peace.

Sen. Robert Stivers (KY): The US underestimates and does not understand the regional conflicts in the area. Why does the US have to be there? Why are we the watchdog of the region? Why not let water find its own level? The activities of trade, education, and tourism will allow the international situation to sort itself out, without US intervention.

Mr. Snyder: The risk is that the architecture that has sustained the peace for the last 7 decades may not withstand the new pressures on it. If the US withdraws from the region, we will be in a less advantageous position for future security. It would be appealing to let China deal with North Korea, but China will not.

Mr. Yun: During the 2000’s, the US thought China would take care to restrict North Korea, but they did not. We have realized that Asia is so important to the US, to our global trade, to our economy. We need to have open seas and not be subject to the whims of other countries. Asia is central to our economy and the US has to be positioned to provide help if needed.

Dr. Limaye: This is the capstone question: What is the role of the US in the world? Isolation is no longer an option. Global communications, global trade, even the threat of pandemic diseases, makes an isolationist stance untenable. 40% of the US economy derives from import and export operations. The 7 top investors in Foreign Direct Investment in the US are from Asia. Asian foreign students attending US colleges account for 20% of educational funding. In a global economy, there is give and take, and getting the balance correct is the challenge.

Sen. Peter Courtney (OR): Which country has the most dangerous leader: China, North Korea, South Korea, or the US?

Panel: President Trump has the greatest risk tolerance and the greatest risk appetite. But the consequences could be dangerous if his strategy fails. North Korea’s Kim Jung-Un is very young and may be in leadership for a long time. Chinese President Xi Jinping has extraordinary powers and has pursued a policy of centralization of power. However, if his strategy fails, the outcomes could be dangerous. Moon Jae-in of South Korea started the peace process with the North early in his administration and may have enough time to get an agreement signed.

The interactive websitehttps://www.northkoreaintheworld.org/allows you to click on a country and see its economic and political
relations with North Korea.

Speaker Biography

Satu Limaye

Dr. Satu Limaye is Director of the East-West Center in Washington. He is also a Senior Advisor at the CNA Corporation, a non-profit research and analysis organization located in Arlington, VA. He is the creator and director of the Asia Matters for America initiative, an interactive resource for credible, non-partisan information, graphics, analysis and news on US-Asia Pacific relations and the national, state and local levels; Founding Editor of the Asia-Pacific Bulletin series, an editor of the journal Global Asia and on the international advisory council of the journal Contemporary Southeast Asia.

Dr. Limaye publishes and speaks on U.S.-Asia relations and is a reviewer for numerous publications, foundations and fellowship programs. Previously, he was a Research Staff Member of the Strategy and Resources Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) and Director of Research and Publications at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS), a direct reporting unit of U.S. Pacific Command.

He has been an Abe Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and a Henry Luce Scholar and Research Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) in Tokyo. He is a magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Georgetown University and received his doctorate from Oxford University (Magdalen College) where he was a George C. Marshall Scholar.

Related Publications:

Challenges for U.S.-Asia Pacific Policy in the Second Bush Administration

Scott A. Snyder

Scott A. Snyder is senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). His program examines South Korea’s efforts to contribute on the international stage; its potential influence and contributions as a middle power in East Asia; and the peninsular, regional, and global implications of North Korean instability. Mr. Snyder is the author of South Korea at the Crossroads: Autonomy and Alliance in an Era of Rival Powers (January 2018) and coauthor of The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash: East Asian Security and the United States (May 2015) with Brad Glosserman. He is also the coeditor of North Korea in Transition: Politics, Economy, and Society (October 2012), and the editor of Global Korea: South Korea’s Contributions to International Security (October 2012) and The U.S.-South Korea Alliance: Meeting New Security Challenges (March 2012). Mr. Snyder served as the project director for CFR’s Independent Task Force on policy toward the Korean Peninsula. He currently writes for the blog Asia Unbound.

Mr. Snyder has authored numerous book chapters on aspects of Korean politics and foreign policy and Asian regionalism. He is the author of China’s Rise and the Two Koreas: Politics, Economics, Security(January 2009), Paved With Good Intentions: The NGO Experience in North Korea (coeditor, August 2003), and Negotiating on the Edge: North Korean Negotiating Behavior (November 1999). Mr. Snyder has provided advice to nongovernmental and humanitarian organizations active in North Korea and serves on the advisory council of the National Committee on North Korea and Global Resource Services.

Prior to joining CFR, Mr. Snyder was a senior associate in the international relations program of the Asia Foundation, where he founded and directed the Center for U.S.-Korea Policy and served as the Asia Foundation’s representative in Korea (2000–2004). He was also a senior associate at Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Snyder has worked as an Asia specialist in the research and studies program of the U.S. Institute of Peace and as acting director of Asia Society’s contemporary affairs program. He was a Pantech visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center during 2005–2006, and received an Abe fellowship, administered by the Social Sciences Research Council, in 1998–1999.

Mr. Snyder received a BA from Rice University and an MA from the regional studies East Asia program at Harvard University. He was a Thomas G. Watson fellow at Yonsei University in South Korea.

Philip Yun

Philip Yun is currently Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of Ploughshares Fund. In this capacity, Mr. Yun oversees the organization’s entire range of day-to-day activities, including grantmaking, communications, financial management, and fundraising.

Prior to joining Ploughshares Fund, he was a vice president at The Asia Foundation (2005-2011), a Pantech Scholar in Korean Studies at the Shorenstein Asia Pacific Research Center at Stanford University (2004-2005) and a vice president at the private equity firm of H&Q Asia Pacific (2001-2004).

Mr. Yun was a presidential appointee at the US Department of State (1994-2001), serving as Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. During this time, he also worked as a senior advisor to two US Coordinators for North Korea Policy -- former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and former Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Mr. Yun was a member of a government working group that managed US policy and negotiations with North Korea under President Clinton and was part of the US delegation that traveled to North Korea with Secretary of State Madeline Albright in October 2000.

Prior to government service, Mr. Yun practiced law at the firms of Pillsbury Madison & Sutro in San Francisco and Garvey Schubert & Barer in Seattle. He also was a foreign legal consultant at the firm of Shin & Kim in Seoul, Korea. In other lives, Mr. Yun was a national staffer on the Presidential campaigns of Vice President Walter Mondale, Governor Michael Dukakis, and then Governor Bill Clinton.

Mr. Yun’s writings and commentary have appeared on The Hill, Foreign Policy.com, AP TV, Fox News, CNN, NBC and the Los Angeles Times, among others. He is the co-editor of a book entitled North Korea and Beyond (2006).

Mr. Yun attended Brown University (magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa) and the Columbia University School of Law (associate editor of the Journal of Transnational Law). He was a Fulbright Scholar to Korea. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and member of the Board of Overseers for Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.

The US doesn’t trust North Korea, and North Korea does not trust the US. The optimal solution would be the transformation of the relationship between the US and North Korea so that the weapons do not matter.

Tom Finneran (Moderator)

To build trust, the US and North Korea must engage in a verified, reciprocal step-by-step process that leads in an agreed positive direction.

If the US withdraws from the region, we will be in a less advantageous position for future security.

Satu Limaye

Scott A. Snyder

Philip Yun

Vans Stevenson

 Sen. Wayne Niederhauser (UT)

Sen. Robert Stivers (KY)

Sen. Peter Courtney (OR)

South Korea is in a precarious balancing act between two huge players: its security partner -- the US, and its largest trading partner -- China.

Over decades, South Korea and the US formed a partnership based on trust. Today, South Korea’s trust in its US partnership is at risk.

Over 20% of South Korea’s total trade is with China, twice the level for South Korea-US trade.

South Korea faces questions regarding the durability of its own security alliance with the US.

The President has about 10 minutes to decide whether to launch a single missile or hundreds of missiles in response to an attack alert.

The major concerns about nuclear weapons arise from the potential for miscalculation, error, or accident.

Coordination is a critical for bringing peace to the region.

A critical element on the path to denuclearization is economic progress.

Isolation and opacity are dictatorship’s tools, while integration and openness characterize an open society.

Asia is so important to the US, to our global trade, to our economy.

Isolation is no longer an option.

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July 11-15, 2018

South & North Korea

Satu LimayeDirector
East-West Center
    
   Scott SnyderSenior Fellow for
Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy
Council on
Foreign Relations
   Philip YunExecutive Director &
Chief Operating Officer Ploughshares Fund North Korea
  

Alliances in the PacRim are shifting in response to military posturing, including nuclear threats, from North Korea. The US, for example, has installed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile systems in South Korea, while China has amassed troops on its border with North Korea. President Donald Trump met with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un on June 12, 2018, in Singapore, in the first summit meeting between the countries’ leaders. Denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was the key agenda item, although no concrete commitments were made. The Forum heard from a panel of three discussants who offered first-hand knowledge of this complex situation, focusing on the need for consistency and reciprocity as diplomatic initiatives move forward.

North Korean Black Hole

This satellite picture of night-time Korean Peninsula demonstrates the dramatic differences in development between North and South Korea.

South Korea

Dr. Limaye introduced the discussion of South Korea, noting that opinions over the importance and influence of South Korea vary drastically from seeing it as “It is the cockpit of Asia,” to “It is a shrimp among whales.” South Korea has been pivotal to US presence in the region in exchange for US security support. But China is its major economic partner. Therefore, South Korea is in a precarious balancing act between two huge players: its security partner — the US, and its largest trading partner — China. Scott Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on US-Korea Policy, Council on Foreign Relations explored the tensions affecting US and South Korean relations.

South Korea is in a precarious balancing act between two huge players: its security partner -- the US, and its largest trading partner -- China.

A History of Transformative Collaboration

He reminded the Forum that, at the end of the Korean war, South Korea was dark, undeveloped, and poor, with a per capita income of less than $100 per year. After the war, a mutual defense treaty was established between the US and the Republic of Korea to guarantee security and stability in South Korea. The US became South Korea’s staunch ally, providing military and infrastructure support, and serving as the main market for South Korean products. South Korea experienced an economic transformation, expanding its manufacturing and exporting capabilities and, ultimately, becoming the world’s twelfth-largest economy. Politically, this greater prosperity drove a political transformation toward democracy.

Over decades, South Korea and the US formed a partnership based on trust. Today, South Korea’s trust in its US partnership is at risk. As new threats from North Korea and China raise tensions in the region, the prospect of renewed inter-Korean conflict continues to put South Korean security and prosperity at risk. Meanwhile US actions raise questions regarding the reliability of South Korea’s security alliance with the US.

Over decades, South Korea and the US formed a partnership based on trust. Today, South Korea’s trust in its US partnership is at risk.

Economic Uncertainty

Over 20% of South Korea’s total trade is with China, twice the level for South Korea-US trade. Furthermore, South Korea’s supply chain for manufacturing goes through China. As the US enters into bilateral trade agreements and imposes tariffs on Chinese products, the outcome could be disastrous for South Korea’s economy. South Korea’s underlying strategic concern is that its dependence on the US for security could become incompatible with its economic reliance on China.

Over 20% of South Korea’s total trade is with China, twice the level for South Korea-US trade.

Security Uncertainty

Despite its rise as a leader in international financial, development, and climate-change forums, South Korea will likely still require the commitment of the US to guarantee its security. The US military deploys about 28,000 troops in South Korea under provisions of the mutual defense treaty. But the US has begun to drive hard bargains about who will pay for military investments. For example, the new US command base in Pyeongtaek cost $11 billion to build and is the largest overseas US base. South Korea paid about 90% of the cost. Today, South Korea faces questions regarding the durability of its own security alliance with the US. Should the country continue to rely for its security and prosperity on that alliance or side with a rising China as a new security guarantor, or does the country have sufficient capabilities to protect itself without external help?

South Korea faces questions regarding the durability of its own security alliance with the US.

South Korea remains vulnerable relative to other regional powers in northeast Asia despite its rising profile as a middle power, and it must balance the contradiction of desirable autonomy and necessary alliance. To avoid renewed victimization as a result of intensifying regional rivalries, South Korea must use its diplomatic capabilities to make smart strategic choices and avoid entrapment in those rivalries, all the while working with great powers to deal with the growing threat from North Korea.

South Korea’s leaders have actively sought to reduce the risk of regional conflict and find a pathway to peaceful denuclearization of the peninsula. Yet South Koreans also face the possibility of American withdrawal or underappreciation of South Korea’s strategic importance to regional stability in Northeast Asia, which could lead to drastic limitations on South Korea’s security options and to increased dependency on China.

North Korea

Philip Yun

Executive Director &
Chief Operating Officer Ploughshares Fund North Korea

 

Philip Yun introduced his discussion of North Korea by reminding the Forum of the January, 2018 alert that sparked a panic in Hawaii: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII.” The false alert was the result of operator error, but the terrified public response highlighted heightened concerns about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Mr. Yun pointed out that “the President has about 10 minutes to decide whether to launch a single missile or hundreds of missiles in response to an attack alert,” and noted that the 38-minute gap between the initial alert and the message acknowledging it was a mistake had the potential for disaster. Such miscalculations and accidents are major risks associated with expanding nuclear weapons programs. Mr. Yun discussed the additional risks posed by stockpiled nuclear material in North Korea.

The President has about 10 minutes to decide whether to launch a single missile or hundreds of missiles in response to an attack alert.

Commenting on sanctions imposed on North Korea in an attempt to compel denuclearization, he pointed out that, if the North is pressed too hard by sanctions, or in the face of military escalation from its enemies, or motivated by profit, North Korea or rogue agents could sell nuclear material, potentially to terrorists.

North Korea is among the poorest countries in the world with a per capita income of $1,340. Yet, North Korea's military expenditures averaged about $3.5 billion a year in 2016, or 23% of the country's average GDP. It ranks first in military spending relative to its GDP.

North Korean Missile Launches

North Korean missile launches have ramped up dramatically under Kim Jong-Un

The US-North Korea Summit

On June 12, 2018, for the first time, a sitting US president and the leader of North Korea met. The official report from this US-North Korea Summit states: “President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth, and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new US–Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”

Summit AgreementsThe leaders “agreed to agree” and endorsed a basic framework with four components:They committed to create a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula.DPRK committed to work toward complete denuclearization.President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK.DPRK committed to recover POW/MIA remains and repatriate them to the US.

The Upside of the Summit

 “The US policy toward North Korea of the past 30 years has failed,” Mr. Yun observed, “and we have ended up in the worst case scenario:” a North Korea that has nuclear weapons and is capable of producing sufficient materials to make more every 8 weeks. The Summit started the process of reconciliation, potentially reducing the nuclear threat, and created an opportunity for the US to find out if North Korea is really willing to give up its nuclear capability. The Summit is a start toward peace in the peninsula.

Korean Summit

The Downside of the Summit

Mr. Yun pointed out that the agreement has no specific details, no deadlines, and no mechanisms for enforcement. There is no mention of the CVID, the “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization,” in the statement text, which is a clear departure from long-standing US policy. It does not define what “denuclearization” means, and both countries may have differing expectations. There is no timeline, nor a step-by-step program for dismantling North Korea’s nuclear assets.

Thanks to the Summit, Kim Jong-Un gained international legitimacy and domestic prestige, but without making any real concessions. Also troubling is the lack of a consistent US policy. “President Trump follows his own rules, leaving US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the onus of negotiating real changes, while the bureaucracies go ahead and do their own thing.” The Summit also may contribute to a false perception that “North Korea is no longer a threat,” whereas, human rights violations continue to exist and true denuclearization remains to be seen.

Panel Discussion

Panel Moderator Dr. Limaye asked the panel, “Why can’t the US live with North Korea having nuclear weapons?” noting that the US has “quiet” agreements to allow nuclear weapons in countries such as Israel, Brazil, or Argentina.

Mr. Yun’s responded that, sooner or later, North Korea will denuclearize. A preemptive nuclear strike is really not an option for North Korea, because the US would obliterate them. US retaliation would lead to unthinkable casualties. The major barrier to disarmament is that the US doesn’t trust North Korea, and North Korea does not trust the US. No show of force, pressure of sanctions, or diplomatic approaches are likely to overcome this distrust.

The US doesn’t trust North Korea, and North Korea does not trust the US. The optimal solution would be the transformation of the relationship between the US and North Korea so that the weapons do not matter.

The optimal solution would be the transformation of the relationship between the US and North Korea so that the weapons do not matter. This is how the US-China relationship evolved in the 1970s. The US found it could accept China’s military as it built engagement through trade and bilateral agreements. The US could pursue a similar path with North Korea, but “it is troubling to leave nuclear weapons in the hands of a questionable ally,” Mr. Yun pointed out.

Mr. Snyder agreed that the US will never abandon its effort to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons. Both discussants observed that if North Korea were to be accepted as a nuclear state, this would create a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia, as South Korea and Japan faced pressure to obtain such weapons.

The major concerns about nuclear weapons arise from the potential for miscalculation, error, or accident, Mr. Yun said. There are military forces from multiple nations moving around the region. War exercises are being conducted, and this can exacerbate tensions. “What happens if a missile is misdirected and hits a target that was not intended? Or if a military vessel intervenes in a fight between fishing vessels?” Mr. Yun asked.

The major concerns about nuclear weapons arise from the potential for miscalculation, error, or accident.

Panel Moderator Dr. Limaye asked, "Where do China, Russia, and Japan fit in the geopolitics of Northeast Asia? If the US makes an agreement with North Korea on nuclear weapons, does this leave Japan with concerns that others issues have not been addressed, such as, North Korea’s mid-range missiles and chemical weapons?"

China is worried about what kind of deal the US will make with North Korea. They may start a bidding war to see which country will give North Korea the most in exchange for denuclearization. If China makes an agreement with North Korea, would this cause the US military to move troops closer to China to protect South Korea?

Coordination is a critical for bringing peace to the region, Mr. Snyder said. On the peninsular level, North and South Korea have to come to agreement; on the global level, the US and North Korea must agree; and regionally, China must cooperate by keeping pressure on North Korea to denuclearize.

Coordination is a critical for bringing peace to the region.

Public opinion in South Korea about the US was more positive following the Summit, as the South Koreans saw the potential for peace on the peninsula within reach.  However, South Korean expectations for the peace process may be more ambitious than the Summit or the US can deliver. In fact, public opinion about the US was more negative in July when it became clear that there was much ground work still to be done.

Sanctions

In order to create pressure on North Korea to give up its weapons, the US would have to coordinate with China. One strategy could pose the US as “bad cop” by imposing sanctions, while China serves the “good cop,” by rewarding disarmament with aid. But China does not trust the US, and wants a stronger relationship with North Korea as an ally and a growing market.  In fact, China has been stepping back from sanctions.

Sanctions will not work with North Korea, Mr. Yun said. North Korea is resourceful, and they will find ways to work around and evade the impact of sanctions.

Mr. Snyder agreed. A critical element on the path to denuclearization is economic progress, he said. As North Korea’s economy improves, people want better opportunities for their children and may advocate for moving investments into economic development instead of military spending. North Korea perceives outside threats. The best incentives for them to denuclearize are to overcome distrust, build economic links, and give them a stake in regional economic development, like South Korea. This can’t be done while they pour all their money into nuclear weapons. But sanctions also would block the path to prosperity.

A critical element on the path to denuclearization is economic progress.

Scott Snyder, Philip Yun, and Satu Limaye provided insights into the politics of the Korean Peninsula.

Discussion

Tom Finneran (Moderator): North Korea does not perceive the US as a good-faith player. Is this true and real, or only a strategic position?

Mr. Yun: There is a lot of enmity between North Korea and the US based on disconnects in understanding agreements. Lack of definite agreements and miscommunications on deals over the past decades have fueled this antagonism. The US and North Korea have brokered multiple agreements concerning the North's nuclear weapons program since 1994. However, these agreements have all subsequently fallen apart. For example, in 2005, the administration was poised to come to agreement with North Korea over missiles. But, independently, the US Treasury Department put sanctions on $25-$30 million worth of North Korean goods. In response, North Korea launched another missile, and the planned agreement collapsed.

Vans Stevenson (Motion Picture Association of America): What would it take for North Korea to come to trust the US, given our history?

Mr. Snyder: We have to start from zero to build trust. Six months ago, we were facing a possible military conflict. With the Summit, we have started to engage in a joint project which can build understanding. This will need to be a verified process that leads in an agreed positive direction. The essential bases for trust are consistency (where the US falters) and reciprocity (where North Korea falters).

To build trust, the US and North Korea must engage in a verified, reciprocal step-by-step process that leads in an agreed positive direction.

Mr. Yun: Diplomacy is required to draft agreements that work for the advantage of both North Korea and the US. These need to be step-by-step incremental agreements that build trust.

Sen. Wayne Niederhauser (UT): It seems that we need new options for dealing with North Korea’s beyond force, diplomacy, or just accepting the situation. What about the people themselves? The North Koreans can see the lifestyle in China, and they recognize how poor they are in comparison. The guard houses on the borders seem to function to keep North Koreans in, rather than Chinese out. In fact, there is a constant stream of goods from China into North Korea. Given some prosperity, would the people solve the problem for themselves, refuse to be suppressed, and advocate for less military spending and more economic development?

Mr. Snyder: Isolation and opacity have been North Korea’s strategy to protect the authoritarian regime. However, the biggest driver for change is marketization at a local level. North Korean entrepreneurs are already engaging in high-risk activities to get money. Political loyalty is paramount for them because they have to have the regime’s support.

Mr. Yun: Isolation and opacity are dictatorship’s tools, while integration and openness characterize an open society. The question is will North Korea advance to become a threat or a trading partner? The middle road being followed by the US to encourage peace and prosperity is getting smaller and tighter. This may be our last chance to find a path to peace.

Isolation and opacity are dictatorship’s tools, while integration and openness characterize an open society.

Sen. Robert Stivers (KY): The US underestimates and does not understand the regional conflicts in the area. Why does the US have to be there? Why are we the watchdog of the region? Why not let water find its own level? The activities of trade, education, and tourism will allow the international situation to sort itself out, without US intervention.

Mr. Snyder: The risk is that the architecture that has sustained the peace for the last 7 decades may not withstand the new pressures on it. If the US withdraws from the region, we will be in a less advantageous position for future security. It would be appealing to let China deal with North Korea, but China will not.

If the US withdraws from the region, we will be in a less advantageous position for future security.

Mr. Yun: During the 2000’s, the US thought China would take care to restrict North Korea, but they did not. We have realized that Asia is so important to the US, to our global trade, to our economy. We need to have open seas and not be subject to the whims of other countries. Asia is central to our economy and the US has to be positioned to provide help if needed.

Asia is so important to the US, to our global trade, to our economy.

Dr. Limaye: This is the capstone question: What is the role of the US in the world? Isolation is no longer an option. Global communications, global trade, even the threat of pandemic diseases, makes an isolationist stance untenable. 40% of the US economy derives from import and export operations. The 7 top investors in Foreign Direct Investment in the US are from Asia. Asian foreign students attending US colleges account for 20% of educational funding. In a global economy, there is give and take, and getting the balance correct is the challenge.

Isolation is no longer an option.

Sen. Peter Courtney (OR): Which country has the most dangerous leader: China, North Korea, South Korea, or the US?

Panel: President Trump has the greatest risk tolerance and the greatest risk appetite. But the consequences could be dangerous if his strategy fails. North Korea’s Kim Jung-Un is very young and may be in leadership for a long time. Chinese President Xi Jinping has extraordinary powers and has pursued a policy of centralization of power. However, if his strategy fails, the outcomes could be dangerous. Moon Jae-in of South Korea started the peace process with the North early in his administration and may have enough time to get an agreement signed.

The interactive websitehttps://www.northkoreaintheworld.org/allows you to click on a country and see its economic and political relations with North Korea.

Speaker Biography

Satu Limaye

Dr. Satu Limaye is Director of the East-West Center in Washington. He is also a Senior Advisor at the CNA Corporation, a non-profit research and analysis organization located in Arlington, VA. He is the creator and director of the Asia Matters for America initiative, an interactive resource for credible, non-partisan information, graphics, analysis and news on US-Asia Pacific relations and the national, state and local levels; Founding Editor of the Asia-Pacific Bulletin series, an editor of the journal Global Asia and on the international advisory council of the journal Contemporary Southeast Asia.

Dr. Limaye publishes and speaks on U.S.-Asia relations and is a reviewer for numerous publications, foundations and fellowship programs. Previously, he was a Research Staff Member of the Strategy and Resources Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) and Director of Research and Publications at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS), a direct reporting unit of U.S. Pacific Command.

He has been an Abe Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and a Henry Luce Scholar and Research Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) in Tokyo. He is a magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Georgetown University and received his doctorate from Oxford University (Magdalen College) where he was a George C. Marshall Scholar.

Related Publications:

Challenges for U.S.-Asia Pacific Policy in the Second Bush Administration

Scott A. Snyder

Scott A. Snyder is senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). His program examines South Korea’s efforts to contribute on the international stage; its potential influence and contributions as a middle power in East Asia; and the peninsular, regional, and global implications of North Korean instability. Mr. Snyder is the author of South Korea at the Crossroads: Autonomy and Alliance in an Era of Rival Powers (January 2018) and coauthor of The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash: East Asian Security and the United States (May 2015) with Brad Glosserman. He is also the coeditor of North Korea in Transition: Politics, Economy, and Society (October 2012), and the editor of Global Korea: South Korea’s Contributions to International Security (October 2012) and The U.S.-South Korea Alliance: Meeting New Security Challenges (March 2012). Mr. Snyder served as the project director for CFR’s Independent Task Force on policy toward the Korean Peninsula. He currently writes for the blog Asia Unbound.

Mr. Snyder has authored numerous book chapters on aspects of Korean politics and foreign policy and Asian regionalism. He is the author of China’s Rise and the Two Koreas: Politics, Economics, Security(January 2009), Paved With Good Intentions: The NGO Experience in North Korea (coeditor, August 2003), and Negotiating on the Edge: North Korean Negotiating Behavior (November 1999). Mr. Snyder has provided advice to nongovernmental and humanitarian organizations active in North Korea and serves on the advisory council of the National Committee on North Korea and Global Resource Services.

Prior to joining CFR, Mr. Snyder was a senior associate in the international relations program of the Asia Foundation, where he founded and directed the Center for U.S.-Korea Policy and served as the Asia Foundation’s representative in Korea (2000–2004). He was also a senior associate at Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Snyder has worked as an Asia specialist in the research and studies program of the U.S. Institute of Peace and as acting director of Asia Society’s contemporary affairs program. He was a Pantech visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center during 2005–2006, and received an Abe fellowship, administered by the Social Sciences Research Council, in 1998–1999.

Mr. Snyder received a BA from Rice University and an MA from the regional studies East Asia program at Harvard University. He was a Thomas G. Watson fellow at Yonsei University in South Korea.

Philip Yun

Philip Yun is currently Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of Ploughshares Fund. In this capacity, Mr. Yun oversees the organization’s entire range of day-to-day activities, including grantmaking, communications, financial management, and fundraising.

Prior to joining Ploughshares Fund, he was a vice president at The Asia Foundation (2005-2011), a Pantech Scholar in Korean Studies at the Shorenstein Asia Pacific Research Center at Stanford University (2004-2005) and a vice president at the private equity firm of H&Q Asia Pacific (2001-2004).

Mr. Yun was a presidential appointee at the US Department of State (1994-2001), serving as Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. During this time, he also worked as a senior advisor to two US Coordinators for North Korea Policy -- former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and former Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Mr. Yun was a member of a government working group that managed US policy and negotiations with North Korea under President Clinton and was part of the US delegation that traveled to North Korea with Secretary of State Madeline Albright in October 2000.

Prior to government service, Mr. Yun practiced law at the firms of Pillsbury Madison & Sutro in San Francisco and Garvey Schubert & Barer in Seattle. He also was a foreign legal consultant at the firm of Shin & Kim in Seoul, Korea. In other lives, Mr. Yun was a national staffer on the Presidential campaigns of Vice President Walter Mondale, Governor Michael Dukakis, and then Governor Bill Clinton.

Mr. Yun’s writings and commentary have appeared on The Hill, Foreign Policy.com, AP TV, Fox News, CNN, NBC and the Los Angeles Times, among others. He is the co-editor of a book entitled North Korea and Beyond (2006).

Mr. Yun attended Brown University (magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa) and the Columbia University School of Law (associate editor of the Journal of Transnational Law). He was a Fulbright Scholar to Korea. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and member of the Board of Overseers for Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.

July 11-15, 2018

South & North Korea

Satu LimayeDirector
East-West Center
    
Scott SnyderSenior Fellow for
Korea Studies and Director of the Program on
U.S.-Korea Policy
Council on
Foreign Relations
Philip YunExecutive Director &
Chief Operating Officer Ploughshares Fund North Korea
  

Alliances in the PacRim are shifting in response to military posturing, including nuclear threats, from North Korea. The US, for example, has installed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile systems in South Korea, while China has amassed troops on its border with North Korea. President Donald Trump met with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un on June 12, 2018, in Singapore, in the first summit meeting between the countries’ leaders. Denuclearization of the Korean peninsula was the key agenda item, although no concrete commitments were made. The Forum heard from a panel of three discussants who offered first-hand knowledge of this complex situation, focusing on the need for consistency and reciprocity as diplomatic initiatives move forward.

North Korean Black Hole

This satellite picture of night-time Korean Peninsula demonstrates the dramatic differences in development between North and South Korea.

South Korea

Dr. Limaye introduced the discussion of South Korea, noting that opinions over the importance and influence of South Korea vary drastically from seeing it as “It is the cockpit of Asia,” to “It is a shrimp among whales.” South Korea has been pivotal to US presence in the region in exchange for US security support. But China is its major economic partner. Therefore, South Korea is in a precarious balancing act between two huge players: its security partner — the US, and its largest trading partner — China. Scott Snyder, Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on US-Korea Policy, Council on Foreign Relations explored the tensions affecting US and South Korean relations.

South Korea is in a precarious balancing act between two huge players: its security partner -- the US, and its largest trading partner -- China.

A History of Transformative Collaboration

He reminded the Forum that, at the end of the Korean war, South Korea was dark, undeveloped, and poor, with a per capita income of less than $100 per year. After the war, a mutual defense treaty was established between the US and the Republic of Korea to guarantee security and stability in South Korea. The US became South Korea’s staunch ally, providing military and infrastructure support, and serving as the main market for South Korean products. South Korea experienced an economic transformation, expanding its manufacturing and exporting capabilities and, ultimately, becoming the world’s twelfth-largest economy. Politically, this greater prosperity drove a political transformation toward democracy.

Over decades, South Korea and the US formed a partnership based on trust. Today, South Korea’s trust in its US partnership is at risk. As new threats from North Korea and China raise tensions in the region, the prospect of renewed inter-Korean conflict continues to put South Korean security and prosperity at risk. Meanwhile US actions raise questions regarding the reliability of South Korea’s security alliance with the US.

Over decades, South Korea and the US formed a partnership based on trust. Today, South Korea’s trust in its US partnership is at risk.

Economic Uncertainty

Over 20% of South Korea’s total trade is with China, twice the level for South Korea-US trade. Furthermore, South Korea’s supply chain for manufacturing goes through China. As the US enters into bilateral trade agreements and imposes tariffs on Chinese products, the outcome could be disastrous for South Korea’s economy. South Korea’s underlying strategic concern is that its dependence on the US for security could become incompatible with its economic reliance on China.

Over 20% of South Korea’s total trade is with China, twice the level for South Korea-US trade.

Security Uncertainty

Despite its rise as a leader in international financial, development, and climate-change forums, South Korea will likely still require the commitment of the US to guarantee its security. The US military deploys about 28,000 troops in South Korea under provisions of the mutual defense treaty. But the US has begun to drive hard bargains about who will pay for military investments. For example, the new US command base in Pyeongtaek cost $11 billion to build and is the largest overseas US base. South Korea paid about 90% of the cost. Today, South Korea faces questions regarding the durability of its own security alliance with the US. Should the country continue to rely for its security and prosperity on that alliance or side with a rising China as a new security guarantor, or does the country have sufficient capabilities to protect itself without external help?

South Korea faces questions regarding the durability of its own security alliance with the US.

South Korea remains vulnerable relative to other regional powers in northeast Asia despite its rising profile as a middle power, and it must balance the contradiction of desirable autonomy and necessary alliance. To avoid renewed victimization as a result of intensifying regional rivalries, South Korea must use its diplomatic capabilities to make smart strategic choices and avoid entrapment in those rivalries, all the while working with great powers to deal with the growing threat from North Korea.

South Korea’s leaders have actively sought to reduce the risk of regional conflict and find a pathway to peaceful denuclearization of the peninsula. Yet South Koreans also face the possibility of American withdrawal or underappreciation of South Korea’s strategic importance to regional stability in Northeast Asia, which could lead to drastic limitations on South Korea’s security options and to increased dependency on China.

North Korea

Philip Yun

Executive Director &
Chief Operating Officer Ploughshares Fund North Korea

 

Philip Yun introduced his discussion of North Korea by reminding the Forum of the January, 2018 alert that sparked a panic in Hawaii: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII.” The false alert was the result of operator error, but the terrified public response highlighted heightened concerns about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Mr. Yun pointed out that “the President has about 10 minutes to decide whether to launch a single missile or hundreds of missiles in response to an attack alert,” and noted that the 38-minute gap between the initial alert and the message acknowledging it was a mistake had the potential for disaster. Such miscalculations and accidents are major risks associated with expanding nuclear weapons programs. Mr. Yun discussed the additional risks posed by stockpiled nuclear material in North Korea.

The President has about 10 minutes to decide whether to launch a single missile or hundreds of missiles in response to an attack alert.

Commenting on sanctions imposed on North Korea in an attempt to compel denuclearization, he pointed out that, if the North is pressed too hard by sanctions, or in the face of military escalation from its enemies, or motivated by profit, North Korea or rogue agents could sell nuclear material, potentially to terrorists.

North Korea is among the poorest countries in the world with a per capita income of $1,340. Yet, North Korea's military expenditures averaged about $3.5 billion a year in 2016, or 23% of the country's average GDP. It ranks first in military spending relative to its GDP.

North Korean Missile Launches

North Korean missile launches have ramped up dramatically under Kim Jong-Un

The US-North Korea Summit

On June 12, 2018, for the first time, a sitting US president and the leader of North Korea met. The official report from this US-North Korea Summit states: “President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth, and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new US–Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”

Summit AgreementsThe leaders “agreed to agree” and endorsed a basic framework with four components:They committed to create a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula.DPRK committed to work toward complete denuclearization.President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK.DPRK committed to recover POW/MIA remains and repatriate them to the US.

The Upside of the Summit

 “The US policy toward North Korea of the past 30 years has failed,” Mr. Yun observed, “and we have ended up in the worst case scenario:” a North Korea that has nuclear weapons and is capable of producing sufficient materials to make more every 8 weeks. The Summit started the process of reconciliation, potentially reducing the nuclear threat, and created an opportunity for the US to find out if North Korea is really willing to give up its nuclear capability. The Summit is a start toward peace in the peninsula.

Korean Summit

The Downside of the Summit

Mr. Yun pointed out that the agreement has no specific details, no deadlines, and no mechanisms for enforcement. There is no mention of the CVID, the “complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization,” in the statement text, which is a clear departure from long-standing US policy. It does not define what “denuclearization” means, and both countries may have differing expectations. There is no timeline, nor a step-by-step program for dismantling North Korea’s nuclear assets.

Thanks to the Summit, Kim Jong-Un gained international legitimacy and domestic prestige, but without making any real concessions. Also troubling is the lack of a consistent US policy. “President Trump follows his own rules, leaving US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the onus of negotiating real changes, while the bureaucracies go ahead and do their own thing.” The Summit also may contribute to a false perception that “North Korea is no longer a threat,” whereas, human rights violations continue to exist and true denuclearization remains to be seen.

Panel Discussion

Panel Moderator Dr. Limaye asked the panel, “Why can’t the US live with North Korea having nuclear weapons?” noting that the US has “quiet” agreements to allow nuclear weapons in countries such as Israel, Brazil, or Argentina.

Mr. Yun’s responded that, sooner or later, North Korea will denuclearize. A preemptive nuclear strike is really not an option for North Korea, because the US would obliterate them. US retaliation would lead to unthinkable casualties. The major barrier to disarmament is that the US doesn’t trust North Korea, and North Korea does not trust the US. No show of force, pressure of sanctions, or diplomatic approaches are likely to overcome this distrust.

The US doesn’t trust North Korea, and North Korea does not trust the US. The optimal solution would be the transformation of the relationship between the US and North Korea so that the weapons do not matter.

The optimal solution would be the transformation of the relationship between the US and North Korea so that the weapons do not matter. This is how the US-China relationship evolved in the 1970s. The US found it could accept China’s military as it built engagement through trade and bilateral agreements. The US could pursue a similar path with North Korea, but “it is troubling to leave nuclear weapons in the hands of a questionable ally,” Mr. Yun pointed out.

Mr. Snyder agreed that the US will never abandon its effort to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons. Both discussants observed that if North Korea were to be accepted as a nuclear state, this would create a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia, as South Korea and Japan faced pressure to obtain such weapons.

The major concerns about nuclear weapons arise from the potential for miscalculation, error, or accident, Mr. Yun said. There are military forces from multiple nations moving around the region. War exercises are being conducted, and this can exacerbate tensions. “What happens if a missile is misdirected and hits a target that was not intended? Or if a military vessel intervenes in a fight between fishing vessels?” Mr. Yun asked.

The major concerns about nuclear weapons arise from the potential for miscalculation, error, or accident.

Panel Moderator Dr. Limaye asked, "Where do China, Russia, and Japan fit in the geopolitics of Northeast Asia? If the US makes an agreement with North Korea on nuclear weapons, does this leave Japan with concerns that others issues have not been addressed, such as, North Korea’s mid-range missiles and chemical weapons?"

China is worried about what kind of deal the US will make with North Korea. They may start a bidding war to see which country will give North Korea the most in exchange for denuclearization. If China makes an agreement with North Korea, would this cause the US military to move troops closer to China to protect South Korea?

Coordination is a critical for bringing peace to the region, Mr. Snyder said. On the peninsular level, North and South Korea have to come to agreement; on the global level, the US and North Korea must agree; and regionally, China must cooperate by keeping pressure on North Korea to denuclearize.

Coordination is a critical for bringing peace to the region.

Public opinion in South Korea about the US was more positive following the Summit, as the South Koreans saw the potential for peace on the peninsula within reach.  However, South Korean expectations for the peace process may be more ambitious than the Summit or the US can deliver. In fact, public opinion about the US was more negative in July when it became clear that there was much ground work still to be done.

Sanctions

In order to create pressure on North Korea to give up its weapons, the US would have to coordinate with China. One strategy could pose the US as “bad cop” by imposing sanctions, while China serves the “good cop,” by rewarding disarmament with aid. But China does not trust the US, and wants a stronger relationship with North Korea as an ally and a growing market.  In fact, China has been stepping back from sanctions.

Sanctions will not work with North Korea, Mr. Yun said. North Korea is resourceful, and they will find ways to work around and evade the impact of sanctions.

Mr. Snyder agreed. A critical element on the path to denuclearization is economic progress, he said. As North Korea’s economy improves, people want better opportunities for their children and may advocate for moving investments into economic development instead of military spending. North Korea perceives outside threats. The best incentives for them to denuclearize are to overcome distrust, build economic links, and give them a stake in regional economic development, like South Korea. This can’t be done while they pour all their money into nuclear weapons. But sanctions also would block the path to prosperity.

A critical element on the path to denuclearization is economic progress.

Scott Snyder, Philip Yun, and Satu Limaye provided insights into the politics of the Korean Peninsula.

Discussion

Tom Finneran (Moderator): North Korea does not perceive the US as a good-faith player. Is this true and real, or only a strategic position?

Mr. Yun: There is a lot of enmity between North Korea and the US based on disconnects in understanding agreements. Lack of definite agreements and miscommunications on deals over the past decades have fueled this antagonism. The US and North Korea have brokered multiple agreements concerning the North's nuclear weapons program since 1994. However, these agreements have all subsequently fallen apart. For example, in 2005, the administration was poised to come to agreement with North Korea over missiles. But, independently, the US Treasury Department put sanctions on $25-$30 million worth of North Korean goods. In response, North Korea launched another missile, and the planned agreement collapsed.

Vans Stevenson (Motion Picture Association of America): What would it take for North Korea to come to trust the US, given our history?

Mr. Snyder: We have to start from zero to build trust. Six months ago, we were facing a possible military conflict. With the Summit, we have started to engage in a joint project which can build understanding. This will need to be a verified process that leads in an agreed positive direction. The essential bases for trust are consistency (where the US falters) and reciprocity (where North Korea falters).

To build trust, the US and North Korea must engage in a verified, reciprocal step-by-step process that leads in an agreed positive direction.

Mr. Yun: Diplomacy is required to draft agreements that work for the advantage of both North Korea and the US. These need to be step-by-step incremental agreements that build trust.

Sen. Wayne Niederhauser (UT): It seems that we need new options for dealing with North Korea’s beyond force, diplomacy, or just accepting the situation. What about the people themselves? The North Koreans can see the lifestyle in China, and they recognize how poor they are in comparison. The guard houses on the borders seem to function to keep North Koreans in, rather than Chinese out. In fact, there is a constant stream of goods from China into North Korea. Given some prosperity, would the people solve the problem for themselves, refuse to be suppressed, and advocate for less military spending and more economic development?

Mr. Snyder: Isolation and opacity have been North Korea’s strategy to protect the authoritarian regime. However, the biggest driver for change is marketization at a local level. North Korean entrepreneurs are already engaging in high-risk activities to get money. Political loyalty is paramount for them because they have to have the regime’s support.

Mr. Yun: Isolation and opacity are dictatorship’s tools, while integration and openness characterize an open society. The question is will North Korea advance to become a threat or a trading partner? The middle road being followed by the US to encourage peace and prosperity is getting smaller and tighter. This may be our last chance to find a path to peace.

Isolation and opacity are dictatorship’s tools, while integration and openness characterize an open society.

Sen. Robert Stivers (KY): The US underestimates and does not understand the regional conflicts in the area. Why does the US have to be there? Why are we the watchdog of the region? Why not let water find its own level? The activities of trade, education, and tourism will allow the international situation to sort itself out, without US intervention.

Mr. Snyder: The risk is that the architecture that has sustained the peace for the last 7 decades may not withstand the new pressures on it. If the US withdraws from the region, we will be in a less advantageous position for future security. It would be appealing to let China deal with North Korea, but China will not.

If the US withdraws from the region, we will be in a less advantageous position for future security.

Mr. Yun: During the 2000’s, the US thought China would take care to restrict North Korea, but they did not. We have realized that Asia is so important to the US, to our global trade, to our economy. We need to have open seas and not be subject to the whims of other countries. Asia is central to our economy and the US has to be positioned to provide help if needed.

Asia is so important to the US, to our global trade, to our economy.

Dr. Limaye: This is the capstone question: What is the role of the US in the world? Isolation is no longer an option. Global communications, global trade, even the threat of pandemic diseases, makes an isolationist stance untenable. 40% of the US economy derives from import and export operations. The 7 top investors in Foreign Direct Investment in the US are from Asia. Asian foreign students attending US colleges account for 20% of educational funding. In a global economy, there is give and take, and getting the balance correct is the challenge.

Isolation is no longer an option.

Sen. Peter Courtney (OR): Which country has the most dangerous leader: China, North Korea, South Korea, or the US?

Panel: President Trump has the greatest risk tolerance and the greatest risk appetite. But the consequences could be dangerous if his strategy fails. North Korea’s Kim Jung-Un is very young and may be in leadership for a long time. Chinese President Xi Jinping has extraordinary powers and has pursued a policy of centralization of power. However, if his strategy fails, the outcomes could be dangerous. Moon Jae-in of South Korea started the peace process with the North early in his administration and may have enough time to get an agreement signed.

The interactive websitehttps://www.northkoreaintheworld.org/allows you to click on a country and see its economic and political relations with North Korea.

Speaker Biography

Satu Limaye

Dr. Satu Limaye is Director of the East-West Center in Washington. He is also a Senior Advisor at the CNA Corporation, a non-profit research and analysis organization located in Arlington, VA. He is the creator and director of the Asia Matters for America initiative, an interactive resource for credible, non-partisan information, graphics, analysis and news on US-Asia Pacific relations and the national, state and local levels; Founding Editor of the Asia-Pacific Bulletin series, an editor of the journal Global Asia and on the international advisory council of the journal Contemporary Southeast Asia.

Dr. Limaye publishes and speaks on U.S.-Asia relations and is a reviewer for numerous publications, foundations and fellowship programs. Previously, he was a Research Staff Member of the Strategy and Resources Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) and Director of Research and Publications at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS), a direct reporting unit of U.S. Pacific Command.

He has been an Abe Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and a Henry Luce Scholar and Research Fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA) in Tokyo. He is a magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Georgetown University and received his doctorate from Oxford University (Magdalen College) where he was a George C. Marshall Scholar.

Related Publications:

Challenges for U.S.-Asia Pacific Policy in the Second Bush Administration

Scott A. Snyder

Scott A. Snyder is senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). His program examines South Korea’s efforts to contribute on the international stage; its potential influence and contributions as a middle power in East Asia; and the peninsular, regional, and global implications of North Korean instability. Mr. Snyder is the author of South Korea at the Crossroads: Autonomy and Alliance in an Era of Rival Powers (January 2018) and coauthor of The Japan-South Korea Identity Clash: East Asian Security and the United States (May 2015) with Brad Glosserman. He is also the coeditor of North Korea in Transition: Politics, Economy, and Society (October 2012), and the editor of Global Korea: South Korea’s Contributions to International Security (October 2012) and The U.S.-South Korea Alliance: Meeting New Security Challenges (March 2012). Mr. Snyder served as the project director for CFR’s Independent Task Force on policy toward the Korean Peninsula. He currently writes for the blog Asia Unbound.

Mr. Snyder has authored numerous book chapters on aspects of Korean politics and foreign policy and Asian regionalism. He is the author of China’s Rise and the Two Koreas: Politics, Economics, Security(January 2009), Paved With Good Intentions: The NGO Experience in North Korea (coeditor, August 2003), and Negotiating on the Edge: North Korean Negotiating Behavior (November 1999). Mr. Snyder has provided advice to nongovernmental and humanitarian organizations active in North Korea and serves on the advisory council of the National Committee on North Korea and Global Resource Services.

Prior to joining CFR, Mr. Snyder was a senior associate in the international relations program of the Asia Foundation, where he founded and directed the Center for U.S.-Korea Policy and served as the Asia Foundation’s representative in Korea (2000–2004). He was also a senior associate at Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies. Mr. Snyder has worked as an Asia specialist in the research and studies program of the U.S. Institute of Peace and as acting director of Asia Society’s contemporary affairs program. He was a Pantech visiting fellow at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center during 2005–2006, and received an Abe fellowship, administered by the Social Sciences Research Council, in 1998–1999.

Mr. Snyder received a BA from Rice University and an MA from the regional studies East Asia program at Harvard University. He was a Thomas G. Watson fellow at Yonsei University in South Korea.

Philip Yun

Philip Yun is currently Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of Ploughshares Fund. In this capacity, Mr. Yun oversees the organization’s entire range of day-to-day activities, including grantmaking, communications, financial management, and fundraising.

Prior to joining Ploughshares Fund, he was a vice president at The Asia Foundation (2005-2011), a Pantech Scholar in Korean Studies at the Shorenstein Asia Pacific Research Center at Stanford University (2004-2005) and a vice president at the private equity firm of H&Q Asia Pacific (2001-2004).

Mr. Yun was a presidential appointee at the US Department of State (1994-2001), serving as Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. During this time, he also worked as a senior advisor to two US Coordinators for North Korea Policy -- former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry and former Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Mr. Yun was a member of a government working group that managed US policy and negotiations with North Korea under President Clinton and was part of the US delegation that traveled to North Korea with Secretary of State Madeline Albright in October 2000.

Prior to government service, Mr. Yun practiced law at the firms of Pillsbury Madison & Sutro in San Francisco and Garvey Schubert & Barer in Seattle. He also was a foreign legal consultant at the firm of Shin & Kim in Seoul, Korea. In other lives, Mr. Yun was a national staffer on the Presidential campaigns of Vice President Walter Mondale, Governor Michael Dukakis, and then Governor Bill Clinton.

Mr. Yun’s writings and commentary have appeared on The Hill, Foreign Policy.com, AP TV, Fox News, CNN, NBC and the Los Angeles Times, among others. He is the co-editor of a book entitled North Korea and Beyond (2006).

Mr. Yun attended Brown University (magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa) and the Columbia University School of Law (associate editor of the Journal of Transnational Law). He was a Fulbright Scholar to Korea. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and member of the Board of Overseers for Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.