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Special Session on the Security Challenges on the Korean Peninsula: “Looking at the Rationale Driving the U.S. Approach to North Korea”





Special Session on the Security Challenges on the Korean Peninsula: “Looking at the Rationale Driving the U.S. Approach to North Korea”


February 27, 2018, 10:00-12:00
Conference Hall, KFAS


On February 27, Korea Foundation for Advanced Studies hosted a Special Session on the Security Challenges on the Korean Peninsula inviting Dr. John Park, Director of Korea Working Group at the Harvard Kennedy School.  Titled “Looking at the Rationale Driving the U.S. Approach to North Korea,” the session was an opportunity to hear Dr. Park’s observations on the changes in U.S. policy towards North Korea following last year’s ICBM tests that threatened to reach the American homeland.  Attended by more than two hundred people, the event also included a discussion with three renowned Korean professors in related fields.


Dr. Park started his presentation by defining three important time periods in recent developments in the North Korean nuclear crisis.  The first was July 2017 when North Korea conducted ICBM tests that were estimated to be able to reach the continental U.S.  Until that time, North Korea was traditionally viewed as “the threat over there,” but with the successful ICBM tests, North Korea shifted from a regional threat to a direct threat to American homeland in the U.S. perception.  Dr. Park argued that discussion over “Korea passing” is no longer relevant because, according to his assessment, consultation with South Korea was already “passed” in the minds of American policy makers once North Korea came to pose a direct threat to the U.S.


The second time frame to note is February 2018, when we witnessed a thaw in the North-South relations surrounding the Pyeongchang Winer Olympics.  Even though the renewal of talks is a good thing, Dr. Park pointed out that the divergent interpretation of ‘engagement’ between the U.S. and ROK government is worrisome.  While the U.S. posits that there will be no talks until there is denuclearization of North Korea, the South Korean side focuses more on the process of talks to bring down the level of tensions on the peninsula.  Dr. Park then pointed to April 2018 to be an important time frame since the US-ROK military exercise will resume around that period.  Around April, it is expected that we will see the return of maximum pressure in full dimension, which will likely elevate the tensions again.


Dr. Park concluded his remarks by explaining two schools of thought within Washington regarding North Korea policy.  The group that supports deterring and containing North Korea, broadly represented by Secretary of Defense Mattis’ view point, contends that the U.S. has a tremendous capability and experience deterring nuclear adversaries such as the Soviet Union and China, and North Korea can be deterred just as well.  The other group, however, believes that North Korea is a different case and the speed of its nuclear and ballistic missiles development suggests that it must be stopped now or never.  This sense of urgency is the backdrop of the discussion over a ‘bloody nose’ attack.  Such divergent perceptions among the senior leaders can lead to a fundamental management problem, Dr. Park warned.



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