March 21, 2017
On March 21, 2017, Dr. Bruce W. Bennet, a senior international/defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, delivered a special lecture at the Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies. More than 200 people attended the public lecture and panel discussion titled, “Evolving Security Challenges in Korea.” In his hour-long lecture, Dr. Bennett addressed four important changes in the Korean security environment and their potential implications, namely, (1) new conflict scenarios, (2) the evolving North Korean nuclear weapon threat, (3) the demography-driven fall in the size of the ROK military, and (4) the possibility of third party intervention. After close examination of each, Dr. Bennett proposed actions that need to be taken to sustain deterrence capabilities vis-a-vis North Korea and to enhance US/ROK warfighting capabilities should deterrence fail.
In outlining some of the conflict scenarios, Dr. Bennett pointed out the fact that North Korean regime’s provocations are largely aimed at achieving internal political effects. He raised concern that the US/ROK approach to counter North Korea has thus far been highly escalatory, and identified the need to devise a deterrence policy that would involve imposing internal political costs on the North.
On ever increasing North Korean nuclear weapon threat, Dr. Bennett depicted how the projected estimates of North Korean nuclear weapons are increasing the danger associated with North Korean contingencies. Reinforcing the seriousness of the North Korean nuclear weapon threat, Dr. Bennett argued that we need to further encourage efforts to counter North Korean nuclear/missile capabilities, citing ROK’s kill chain and the United States’ emphasis on missile defense as examples that illustrate such efforts.
Shedding light on the current South Korean demographic problems, Dr. Bennett expressed concerns that ROK’s ground force reductions would make it difficult to stabilize North Korea in the future and suggested that the government provide more incentives to raise participation in the military. He shared his thoughts on making some changes in the reserve system and suggested government initiatives such as providing a social program with a military commitment.
Dr. Bennett focused primarily on China in his observation regarding the third party intervention. He warned that China has its own security and economic interests that may escalate into an accidental conflict between the ROK/US and China.
Dr. Bennett ended his lecture by stressing the importance of fostering communication in the area by promoting Track I and Track II interactions. He concluded by accentuating the need for the US/ROK governments to adjust their plans to respond to the incessant changes in the Korean security environment.
The Panel discussion session, moderated by President Park In-kook of Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies, followed immediately after the lecture. Lively discussion was held by Prof. Han Yong-sup of Korea National Defense University, Prof. Lee Jae-Seung of Korea University and Prof. Lee Geunwook of Sogang University.
During the panel discussion and the Q&A session, Dr. Bennett and the panelists shared their insights on the risks and uncertainties that prevail in the Korean peninsula. They elaborated on the topics including the United States’ “deterrence by denial” capabilities, the international society’s reaction to the increasing North Korean nuclear threat and human rights violation, possible scenarios for the Korean peninsula, as well as on the timely issue of THAAD deployment.
Dr. Bruce Bennett has worked with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, US Forces Korea and Japan, the US Pacific Command and Central Command, the ROK and Japanese militaries, and the ROK National Assembly. He has a PhD in policy analysis from the Pardee RAND Graduate School.