Better Understanding North Korea: Q&A with Seven East Asian Experts, Part 1

North Korea flag nuclearEditor’s Note: This is the first of two postings of a Q&A conducted primarily by the Federation of American Scientists regarding the current situation on the Korean Peninsula. Developed and edited by Charles P. Blair, Mark Jansson, and Devin H. Ellis, the authors’ responses have not been edited; all views expressed by these subject-matter experts are their own. Please note that additional terms are used to refer to North Korea and South Korea, i.e., the DPRK and ROK respectively.

Researchers from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) asked seven individuals who are experts in East Asia about the the recent escalation in tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Is North Korea serious about their threats and are we on the brink of war? What influence does China exert over DPRK, and what influence is China wiling to exert over the DPRK? How does the increase in tension affect South Korean President Park Guen-he’s political agenda?

This is the first part of the Q&A featuring Dr. Ted Galen Carpenter, Dr. Balbina Hwang, Ms. Duyeon Kim and Dr. Leon Sigal. Read part two here.

Dr. Ted Galen Carpenter

Senior Fellow for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute

Q: Previously you have made the case for the United States to withdraw troops from South Korea and let it handle its own security. However, the joint exercises and formulation of the “Extended Deterrence Policy Committee suggests that the United States and South Korea likely are moving in the opposite direction. Can you explain to our readers why less, not more, U.S. involvement in South Korea would improve the security situation on the Korean Peninsula?

A: The primary issue is not whether reducing U.S. involvement would improve the overall security situation on the Korean Peninsula, but whether it would reduce the risk of the United States becoming involved in a nasty war that has only peripheral relevance to America’s own security and other vital interests. As it so happens, though, withdrawing U.S. troops and bases probably would improve the security environment on the Peninsula. Ending the U.S. security commitment to South Korea would create a powerful incentive for Seoul to devote far more effort than it does currently to strengthen its own defense. As matters now stand, it is much too convenient for South Korea to rely on Washington’s defense guarantee and be a free rider on American taxpayers. Given North Korea’s bellicose, unpredictable nature, it is irresponsible for Seoul to be spending only 2.6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product on defense, yet it continues to do so. That may please South Korean taxpayers who enjoy the U.S-provided subsidy, but it means that the ROK’s deterrence and war-fighting capabilities are not sufficient for the current security environment. Given the ROK’s heavy reliance on the U.S. for defense, North Korea might be tempted at some point to see if America’s willingness to go to war to protect South Korea is real or a bluff. It is almost certainly real, but if Pyongyang believed otherwise, a tragedy would ensue. Conversely, no North Korean leader would ever assume that a well-armed South Korea would not fight to preserve its independence. Since South Korea’s population is twice that of North Korea’s and the economy is about 40 times as large, there is no reason for America to incur needless risks to defend another country that should be perfectly capable of defending itself.

Q: The United States’ security policy towards the ROK is still framed as a matter of “extending deterrence” as it was during the Cold War. To that end, the two countries recently established aforementioned “Extended Deterrence Policy Committee,” a development that effectively institutionalizes this mode of joint defense planning. This, in turn, has precipitated a “Counter Provocation Plan” to prevent acts of aggression by the DPRK. Do you think that “extended deterrence” is still an efficacious approach to improving the ROK’s security? More specifically, how can the success of the “Counter Provocation Plan” be critically assessed when evidence of its failure (for example, acts of aggression by the DPRK) are typically construed as a basis to do more of the same?

A: Extended deterrence is inherently less credible than primary deterrence—deterring an attack on one’s own country. An adversary always has reason to wonder whether a guarantor power would really risk the destruction and casualties of war merely to protect an ally or security client. That credibility is especially uncertain when an adversary has the capability to attack the homeland of the guarantor power, but it is in doubt even with respect to a country like North Korea that does not have that ability. The North Korean leadership might delude itself into thinking that the U.S. would not fight a costly, bloody war just to save South Korea.

The “counter-provocation plan” is unwise on two levels. If the U.S. is committed to deterring a second Korean War, it should make it clear to Pyongyang that any North Korean military offensive would be met with a devastating retaliation with the goal of extinguishing the trouble-making North Korean state. The prospect of a limited, “tit-for-tat” response could actually encourage the DPRK to test whether the U.S. extended deterrence policy regarding South Korea is real. At the same time, the tit-for-tat approach to an incident always entails the risk of unintended escalation that spirals out of control, producing the larger war that it’s supposedly designed to prevent.  It is a strategy that has major drawbacks and almost no benefits.

Q: You have argued (and here I paraphrase) that there is a reflexive tendency in the United States to apportion much of the blame for North Korea’s negatively viewed actions on China for failing to constrain its “ally.” Others may argue that the pressure has been successful in getting China to be more assertive with sanctions and taking other measures – such as cutting off the sale of crude oil, tightening inspections of cargo shipments destined for North Korea, etc. – to punish or pressure the North Koreans. Is the narrative that China has the ability to constrain North Korea a useful one, even if overstated?

A: China does have some ability to constrain the DPRK, but there is a tendency among U.S. pundits and policy experts to exaggerate that ability. Granted, China is one of North Korea’s few allies, and is by far its most important ally, providing that dysfunctional country with most of the food and energy supplies it requires. But that does not translate into being able to treat North Korea as a puppet. The relationship is not akin to the Soviet Union’s total domination of satellites such as East Germany during the Cold War.  Kim Jong-Un’s regime has its own interests, policies, and priorities, and an especially high priority is developing the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.

Beijing has compelling reasons for not wanting to put massive pressure on Pyongyang, even in response to Pyongyang’s repeated defiance of China’s wishes. Applying that kind of pressure would risk having the North Korean regime implode, and Beijing is understandably reluctant to risk chaos on its border. Moreover, the U.S. has offered Beijing no incentive to gamble and accept the possibility of such an unpalatable outcome. In addition to the refugee crisis that might ensue, the likely long-term result would be the reunification of Korea under a pro-U.S. government. Even worse from China’s standpoint, a united Korea would inherit South Korea’s mutual security alliance with the United States. North Korea has served as a buffer between the Chinese homeland and the rest of East Asia dominated by Washington and its allies. That buffer would now be gone, and Beijing would face the prospect of U.S. military bases in what had been North Korea. No Chinese leader would tamely accept such a shift in the regional strategic balance.

If Washington wants Beijing to put more extensive pressure on Pyongyang to end its missile and nuclear programs and stop its warlike rhetoric (at the risk that the North Korean state might collapse), it must offer China some meaningful incentives. The most significant incentive would be to agree to withdraw all U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula and terminate the alliance with Seoul upon Korean reunification. That step would eliminate Beijing’s worries that by coercing North Korea, it would risk having a U.S. military client—and U.S. bases—perched on China’s border. Unfortunately, there is no sign that U.S. leaders are willing to take the long-overdue step of ending its alliance with South Korea.

Q: What do the ongoing standoffs with North Korea and Iran say to you about the power and effectiveness of U.S. diplomacy vis-à-vis nuclear-related issues of great concern? The United States has been engaging these countries in one way or another (sometimes by ignoring them, sometimes by negotiating with them) for over a decade and yet few salient issues are ever solved. Certainly there is plenty of blame to be shared, but is there anything that the United States can do to be more effective when negotiating with its adversaries? If so, why aren’t such tactics in use?

A: To be effective, diplomacy must be based on realistic demands and a willingness to offer meaningful benefits to the opposing party in return for improved behavior. Washington’s policy toward Iran and North Korea fails on both levels. The demands are utterly unrealistic. In Iran’s case, Washington insists not only that the government refrain from developing nuclear weapons, but that it even give up the ability to enrich uranium and control the nuclear fuel cycle. In North Korea’s case, the U.S. demands that Pyongyang abandon a nuclear program that it has invested more than two decades of effort and billions of dollars, and which has already produced at least a few nuclear devices. Those goals are simply not realistic. Both Iran and North Korea have significant incentives for wanting to build at least small nuclear deterrents. Not only do they face major regional rivals, but they take note of how the United States has pursued forcible regime change against countries that did not have such deterrents. The fate of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya have not gone unnoticed.

Expecting Iran and North Korea to accept Washington’s good intentions as the principal guarantee of their security is a bit much, given that track record. For those countries even to consider taking such a risk, there would have to be extremely appealing benefits offered in exchange for abandoning their nuclear aspirations. But the U.S. has offered meager incentives—nothing more than the partial lifting of sanctions. The bottom line is that no country would cave-in to Washington’s demands in exchange for such paltry concessions—unless that country had no alternative. But neither Iran nor North Korea is in a position akin to Germany or Japan during the final days of World War II. Therefore, they are not likely to accept the diplomatic equivalent of unconditional surrender. Unless Washington drastically changes its negotiating strategy, the stalemates with Tehran and Pyongyang will continue—or degenerate into outright war.

Dr. Balbina Y. Hwang

Research Fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy (Korea)

Q: The past few months have brought new leaders to not just North Korea, but also South Korea and China. How does the increase in tension affect South Korean President Park Guen-he’s political agenda, e.g. is it a distraction from other priorities or forcing foreign policy changes?

A: The North Korean threat is an existential reality for South Korea, and has been so from its inception as the Republic of Korea in 1948; indeed, the ROK’s very existence was directly in opposition to the establishment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the North. As such, the possibility of tensions with North Korea has always been the foremost priority for every leader of South Korea. Additionally, the specter of the North’s nuclear threat has existed for the last five presidents (since Kim Young Sam). Given this reality, North Korea was not the central issue in the last several presidential elections in South Korea, and the South Korean electorate clearly prioritized the resolution of domestic issues, such as improvement of the economy and social welfare, in the last election. In this regard, the current media focus on the threats emanating from North Korea are a temporary distraction, but will not diminish domestic pressure on President Park to accomplish her pledges to transform the economy and society. Ironically, increased North Korean bellicosity may have reduced any dilemmas President Park may have faced about re-engaging North Korea. It will be difficult, if not impossible, for her to pursue any engagement in the short-term, and her responses to any real attacks from the North will likely be firmer and more pro-active than she may have liked or wanted.

Q: How are attitudes about the North Korea changing among South Korea’s public – in general and during the current situation? Additionally, what do the latter think of the response so far by South Korean President Park and the United States?

A: The tendency of most analysts is to make sweeping conclusions about South Koreans’ changing attitudes towards the North: five years ago, it was common to conclude that South Koreans no longer viewed its northern brethren as a threat; after the two incidents in 2010 (North Korean attacks on the Cheonan and Yeongpyong Island), it was assumed that suddenly South Korean attitudes towards the North had dramatically changed. Attitudes towards the North cannot be generalized into generational differences – it is often mistakenly assumed that the older generation who lived through the Korean War considers the North a threat while the younger generations do not. Such conclusions are not only inaccurate, they are not particularly useful. The reality is that South Korean society is far more diverse and pluralistic than outsiders assume, and sentiments towards the North are highly complex. Any particular South Korean (regardless of age or gender) may simultaneously express both heightened anxiety over North Korean threats while also dismissing the possibility of a military attack against the South as improbable if not impossible. Or many citizens may express skepticism and cynicism about using engagement to persuade North Korea to change its behavior and ambitions – for example towards denuclearization – but the same citizens also support engaging the North and using inducements instead of force to achieve change. While such views may seem contradictory and even illogical to many outsiders, they represent a default psychology for the 20 million citizens who live within an immediate 100 kilometer target zone of a North Korean artillery threat.

What has fundamentally changed in the last two decades is a dramatic shift in South Korean perceptions about the nature and sources of the North Korean threat: prior to the North Korean famine in 1994, it was the strength of the regime along the lines of the traditional cold war view, but evidence of a decaying and starving country changed South Korean perceptions of the threat as emanating from the Pyongyang regime’s fundamental weakness. The specter of having to absorb a collapsed North seemed a far greater threat to the South Korean way of life than an invasion by a relatively weakened North. In this context, the Sunshine Policy seemed a logical policy to address the source of the imminent North Korean threat. Today, however, in the aftermath of little progress in confrontation with the North despite billions spent on engaging Pyongyang, three nuclear tests, and numerous missile launches, South Koreans understandably have far more complex perceptions of the threat posed by the North. The danger from the North today is paradoxical, emanating both from the regime’s growing military strength and its structural weakness, resulting in complex and thus seemingly incoherent views about the North.

Q: How do you think the recent escalation in tensions could affect the ROK’s public perception of the United States — in particular, its military presence on the Korean peninsula?

A: Due to complex South Korean perceptions about the North Korean threat (as discussed above) and North Korea’s increasing belligerence, the majority in the South have come to appreciate the crucial roles the U.S. military presence on the Peninsula and the U.S. commitment through its alliance contributes to deterring a major attack by the North. This does not mean, however, that traditional South Korean issues with the United States, such as resentment among some about seemingly disproportionate U.S. influence in Korean affairs, and the panoply of problems arising from an American military footprint have disappeared, or even been resolved. Such issues will continue to be politicized and remain irritants in the bilateral relationship, but the alliance is currently receiving greater popular support and acceptance, at least in the short term.

Ms. Duyeon Kim

Senior Non-Proliferation and East Asia Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Q: North Korea is continuing with acts of aggression and officials say it is preparing another missile launch. Is this another sign of Pyongyang preparing for war and are we on the brink of war?

A: Mistakes, miscalculations, or misunderstandings of intentions on either side of the 38th parallel could unintentionally trigger military conflict. The West Sea has always been a theater for inter-Korean skirmishes and a possible target for a North Korean attack on South Korean islands.

It was believed during the Kim Jong-il era that North Korea was not suicidal enough to start a war because the regime knew that the United States and South Korean militaries could instantly destroy it. Pyongyang’s objective is regime survival. Still, as witnessed in the North’s shelling of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, Pyongyang can provoke enough just short of war believing that the United States would not strike back.

This belief generally seems to hold true today during the Kim Jong-un era but with many variables and question marks. It is said that the military – that has had no contact with the outside world unlike the Worker’s Party – essentially holds power, which could potentially drive the regime to its own destruction if military leaders decide to “go all the way” and initiate a war. Since Kim Jong-un has rallied his people in preparation for war, it is also unclear whether he would feel pressured to follow through with a display of force.

The recent enhancement of Washington’s hardware in the region could be interpreted as having multiple audiences and messages. It tells both North and South Korea that the United States is committed to defending South Korea and to its extended deterrence. It perhaps even helps prevent Seoul from “going too far” in the wake of having received a major blow in 2010 and being determined to retaliate with force the next time it is attacked. Finally, it tells China to be prepared for possible consequences should the North provoke.

The challenge is to what extent the United States should show its capability so as not to send North Korea the wrong message that it is preparing to attack the regime – so again, the element of Pyongyang mistakenly misinterpreting U.S. intentions. The North has always claimed that its nuclear and missile developments are to deter a “hostile U.S. policy” and attack against it.

The Pentagon’s publically announced decision to delay an intercontinental ballistic Minuteman 3 missile test should have been the loudest cue for Kim Jong-un to dial back his military posturing and save face before his hardline military leaders. It was a free propaganda tip and chance for the young Kim to spin Washington’s move as a gesture of defeat, claiming victory for Pyongyang. However, the new round of war rhetoric may indicate that Kim Jong-un missed the opportunity or has other objectives.

It is not surprising that Pyongyang would be preparing for another missile launch. Continued North Korean missile and nuclear tests can be expected for two general reasons. Technologically, the regime would need more tests to perfect both capabilities. Politically, continued testing could prove North Korea’s “might” to both its domestic and international audiences, as it strives to be recognized as a nuclear weapons state and achieve its goal of becoming a “strong and prosperous nation.” The key question is whether the upcoming launch – believed to be of a Musudan missile – is merely a test or has a target. The answer would determine the U.S., ROK, and Japanese response. It is important to narrow the room for any misunderstandings and misinterpretation of each side’s intentions.

April 15th, the birthday of North Korea’s founder and Kim Jong-un’s grandfather Kim Il-sung, may be the turning point; so we will need to see what signals come out of Pyongyang and whether it decides to opt for dialogue or continued tensions. The events post-April 15th could also be a prelude to the fate of ROK President Park Geun-hye’s “trust process.”

Q: Why is North Korea beating such a loud drum and are they serious about their threats?

A: North Korea is predictable because it generally follows through with its threats in some form, depending on time and circumstance. History has shown that the regime tends to announce its plans before acting upon them. The unpredictable element has generally been timing. The key variable now is Kim Jong-un’s calculus and decision-making style, as we seem to be witnessing a young leader who acts quicker and may lack the kind of depth in calculations seen in his predecessors. It is unclear whether Kim Jong-un has calculated in an exit strategy. North Korea’s decades-old sound-bite has been that “Washington wants to attack us.” This is the starting point in understanding its behavior.

Kim Jong-un’s constant stream of provocations and threats seem to have combined domestic and international objectives but may be fueled largely by domestic drivers. Kim Jong-un needs to consolidate his power base, prove his power to his constituents (particularly the military), fulfill his late father’s legacy while establishing his own, and strive to be recognized by the international community as a nuclear weapons state. Kim Jong-un also needs to fulfill Kim Jong-il’s orders to become a “strong and prosperous nation,” an endeavor that began in 2012. In addition, the latest threats appear to be a reaction to U.S. and UN sanctions against its latest nuclear and missile/rocket tests. But Pyongyang’s end goal seems to be negotiating a peace treaty with the United States.

By creating a volatile, war-like situation on the Korean Peninsula, it helps justify Pyongyang’s demand to negotiate a peace treaty with Washington to replace the armistice agreement that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War and to ultimately rid U.S. troops from the peninsula. The U.S.’ long-standing position has been denuclearization before talks of a peace treaty, as reflected in the September 2005 agreement struck under the Six Party Talks. Kim Jong-un may also be trying to justify the regime’s decades-old propaganda to its people that the United States wants to attack North Korea.

Q: The past few months have brought new leaders to not just North Korea, but also the South Korea and China. How does the increase in tension affect South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s political agenda, e.g. is it a distraction from other priorities or forcing foreign policy changes? How are attitudes about North Korea changing among the South Korean public and what is their view of the South Korean and the United States’ response?

A: South Korea’s top national security concern is the North Korean problem, so the latest tensions do not change Seoul’s foreign policy priorities. Pyongyang’s third nuclear test, however, immediately tested and placed limitations on implementing President Park Geun-hye’s North Korea policy, which is rooted in what she calls “trust process.”

It is difficult to generalize about the ROK public’s attitudes toward the United States, ROK government, and North Korea, as it is divided like all democracies – you will always have the doves and hawks. At the same time, however, opinion polls have showed that the public generally supported a more hardline South Korean stance when Yeonpyeong Island was shelled. Another military provocation might narrow the political divide in the ROK, rather than splitting it as Pyongyang has typically desired.

Q: Due to such a volatile situation on the peninsula, shouldn’t dialogue be pursued to reduce tensions and what can South Korea do?

A: While dialogue should always be a part of the policy toolkit and serves, at a minimum, as a useful tool for intelligence gathering purposes into such a reclusive country, the main question is: What can be discussed at the table after decades of negotiations and no sustainable breakthrough? North Korea has made it clear through official commentaries that it will not abandon its nuclear weapons and missiles, and that it is only interested in peace treaty negotiation and not Six Party Talks-like discussions. In other words, Pyongyang is saying it wants to keep its nuclear weapons while negotiating a peace treaty, which would be unacceptable for Washington.

In the aftermath of another nuclear and rocket/missile test and more war threats, it is politically difficult, if not impossible, for Washington to initiate dialogue with Pyongyang. The dust and noise would need to settle and this has typically taken around six months to a year before we see diplomatic movement. China is the only country that could reach out to North Korea, but the question is whether Pyongyang would be interested in such talks, as there is said to be deep-seeded anti-Chinese sentiment in North Korea. Seoul is also constrained under the current circumstance, but while President Park Geun-hye maintains a tough stance toward Pyongyang’s belligerence, she has also recently signaled the door remains open for dialogue and is willing to provide humanitarian assistance if Pyongyang chooses “the right path,” thus activating her “Korean Peninsula trust process.” Last week, Pyongyang rejected President Park’s offer of dialogue, calling it a “cunning ploy” and an “empty shell.”

An exit strategy needs to be devised that saves face for Pyongyang, reduces tensions on the Peninsula, and ultimately paves the way to eventually resolve the North Korean dilemma.

Dr. Leon Sigal

Director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York

Q: What influence, if any, could China exert over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in this situation? Given that, what degree of influence, if any, is China willing to exert over the DPRK in this environment?

A: In practice, much of the trade and investment is conducted by private Chinese firms and trading companies, heavily concentrated in predominantly Korean provinces of China along the border with North. These provinces, which are less prosperous than other parts of China, would plunge into recession in the event of a that China cut off trade and investment with these firms and companies. In practice, too, no one knows how North Korea would respond to a cutoff and what would happen to its nuclear assets in the event of instability. Above all, the steps taken to reassure U.S. allies also antagonize China—joint exercises that include flights of B-52 and B-2 bombers or the dispatch of aircraft carriers to Korea, expanding missile defenses, and helping South Korea to develop longer-range ballistic missiles (to add to the long-range cruise missiles it recently deployed). It is utterly unrealistic to expect China to abandon North Korea as the United States moves to shore up its alliances by military rebalancing.

Q: Major joint military exercises between the United States and the Republic of Korea (ROK) (such as the annual Key Resolve/Foal Eagle) have consistently been a flashpoint which Pyongyang uses to justify threats and escalatory behavior including nuclear threats. Is the situation today within the normal parameters for such a reaction or are there novel or unexpected aspects to the DPRK’s behavior? Likewise, has there been anything novel or unexpected in the United States’ counter-response?

A: The circumstances have made this year’s reaction more extreme than those in the past. First, after China cooperated with the United States to draft a U.N. Security Council resolution tightening sanctions, the North did what it always does whenever Washington and Beijing work in concert—raise tensions to provoke discord between them. China’s efforts to calm Pyongyang down instead of bringing it to its knees lead many in Washington to accuse Beijing of coddling its neighbor. Second, U.S.-South Korea annual joint exercises kicked off last month. Unlike the recent past, they included practice bombing runs by B-52 and B-2 bombers in South Korea and the dispatch of F-22 stealth fighter plans and an attack submarine to the peninsula. Third, more speculatively, Kim Jong-un seems to be adopting his own version of the Eisenhower administration’s “bigger bang for a buck,” building up its nuclear capability in order to reallocate some resources from military to civilian production. Whether that is his aim remains to be seen.

Q: How accurate do you think non-Asian media outlets have been in their representation of the DPRK’s intents and actions.

A: News media accounts have amplified Pyongyang’s rhetorical threats — often without noting that they came in response to military moves by Washington and Seoul. The threats all seem intended to underscore North Korea’s own posture of deterrence—and are explicitly predicated on prior action by the United States or South Korea. Paradoxically, the emphasis on Pyongyang’s verbal bombast tends to drown out the real threat Pyongyang poses: its unbounded nuclear and missile potential. Its February 12 nuclear test showed it is well on the way to perfecting a compact weapons design capable of being mounted on a missile. It now says it will restart its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon to generate plutonium and will enrich uranium for weapons. And it may be moving to test-launch a new missile capable of reaching Japan or possibly Guam.

Q: What policy should the United Stated be adopting, what are the key dynamics that policy formulation should recognize and address?”

A: First, that the very steps that each side in Korea takes to bolster deterrence increase the risk of deadly clashes, as demonstrated by incidents such as the sinking of the South’s ROKS Cheonan in March 2010 in retaliation for the November 2009 shooting up of a North Korean navy vessel and a November 2010 artillery exchange in the contested waters off Korea’s west coast. Deterrence alone will not assure calm on the peninsula. The way to reduce the risk of further clashes is a peace process in Korea in parallel with renewed negotiations to rein in the North’s nuclear and missile programs. Pyongyang has long said it wants a peace treaty ending the Korean War. Probing whether it means what it says is in South Korean and U.S. security interests, especially now that North Korea is nuclear-armed.

Second, picking a fight with China will not get North Korea to behave. No chorus of disclaimers from Washington will persuade Beijing that the U.S. military rebalancing to Asia is not aimed at containing it. Washington needs to accompany military rebalancing with a political and diplomatic rebalancing toward China, and encourage its allies to do the same. Cooperation has to be a two-way street.

Expert Biographies

Ted Galen Carpenter is senior fellow for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. Dr. Carpenter served as Cato’s director of foreign policy studies from 1986 to 1995 and as vice president for defense and foreign policy studies from 1995 to 2011. He is the author of nine and the editor of 10 books on international affairs, including The Fire Next Door: Mexico’s Drug Violence and the Danger to America, Smart Power: Toward a Prudent Foreign Policy for America, America’s Coming War with China : A Collision Course over Taiwan, The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea, Bad Neighbor Policy: Washington’s Futile War on Drugs in Latin America, The Captive Press: Foreign Policy Crises and the First Amendment, Beyond NATO: Staying Out of Europe’s Wars, and A Search for Enemies: America’s Alliances after the Cold War. Carpenter is contributing editor to the National Interest and serves on the editorial boards of Mediterranean Quarterly and the Journal of Strategic Studies, and is the author of more than 500 articles and policy studies. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the National Interest, World Policy Journal, and many other publications. He is a frequent guest on radio and television programs in the United States, Latin America, Europe, East Asia, and other regions. Carpenter received his Ph.D. in U.S. diplomatic history from the University of Texas.

Balbina Y. Hwang is currently an Adjunct Research Fellow at INSS (Institute for National Security Strategy), Seoul, Korea. She is also a visiting Professor at Georgetown University, where she teaches courses on East Asian political economy. From 2007 to 2009, she served as Senior Special Advisor to Ambassador Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, at the U.S. State Department. From 2009 to 2010, she taught Northeast Asian Security at National Defense University. Prior to joining the State Department, she was Senior Policy Analyst for Northeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center of The Heritage Foundation, a think tank. Dr. Hwang is the author of numerous articles and book chapters, and has received several writing awards. She has provided expert testimony before Congressional hearings, and is a frequent commentator for major international media outlets. A native of Korea, Dr. Hwang was a Fulbright Scholar to South Korea (1998-99) where she conducted doctoral dissertation field research. Dr. Hwang earned degrees from: Georgetown University (PhD); Columbia University (MIA); Darden – University of Virginia (MBA); and Smith College (BA).

Duyeon Kim is the Senior Non-Proliferation and East Asia Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation where her policy work focuses on nuclear non-proliferation, North Korea and nuclear security.

Prior to joining the Center, Kim was a career Diplomatic and Security journalist having served as the Foreign Ministry Correspondent and Unification Ministry Correspondent for South Korea’s Arirang TV based in Seoul. Her stories mainly covered North Korea’s nuclear programs, the Six Party Talks, inter-Korean relations, the Korea-US alliance, South Korean diplomacy, U.S. foreign policy and the United Nations. Kim has sat down with world leaders on countless occasions interviewing dignitaries including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN agency chiefs, former Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri and senior officials across the world. While working towards her master’s degree, Kim continued to file reports for Arirang TV from Washington, DC while freelancing for South Korea’s JoongAng SUNDAY and KBS’ 50-minute TV news special “Ssam” covering U.S. reaction to North Korean provocations.

Kim has written for major publications including the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, World Politics Review and The New York Times. Kim was also interviewed on TV including CBS, BBC, AFP TV, South Korea’s KBS, South Korea’s Arirang TV and China’s Xinhua News Agency while quoted in The Washington Post, AFP, Korea Herald, Nature, Korea Times, JoongAng Ilbo, Seoul Shinmun, and Asia Times.

Kim holds an M.S. in Foreign Service concentrating in International Relations and Security from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a B.A. in English literature from Syracuse University.

Leon V. Sigal is director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council in New York. His book, Disarming Strangers: Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea, published by Princeton University Press, was one of five nominees for the Lionel Gelber Prize as the most outstanding book in international relations for 1997-98 and was named the 1998 book of distinction by the American Academy of Diplomacy. His most recent book, Negotiating Minefields: The Landmines Ban in American Politics, was published by Routledge in 2006.

Sigal was a member of the editorial board of The New York Times from 1989 to 1995. He served in the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, in 1979 as International Affairs Fellow and in 1980 as Special Assistant to the Director.

He was a Rockefeller Younger Scholar in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in 1972-1974 and a guest scholar there in 1981-1984. From 1974 to 1989 he was a professor of government at Wesleyan University. He was an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs from 1985 to 1989 and from 1996 to 2000 and a visiting lecturer at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School in 1988 and 2000.

Sigal is also the author of Reporters and Officials: The Organization and Politics of NewsmakingAlliance Security: NATO and the No-First-Use Question (with John Steinbruner), Nuclear Forces in Europe: Enduring DilemmasPresent Prospects, Fighting to a Finish: The Politics of War Termination in the United States and Japan, 1945, and Hang Separately: Cooperative Security Between the United States and Russia, 1985-1994, as well as numerous articles in Foreign AffairsForeign PolicyThe Atlantic Monthly, and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, among others. He edited The Changing Dynamics of U.S. Defense Spending.

6 Responses to “Better Understanding North Korea: Q&A with Seven East Asian Experts, Part 1”

  1. Don Chiarella April 15, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    North Korea is asking for a fight. They have no idea what can happen to them in a nuclear conflict because they do not think the US has the guts to do it again. The US must make it clear that we will avoid casualties and use nuclear weapons if we have to to wipe out the North. Unfortunately they have left us no choice.

    • Charles P. Blair April 19, 2013 at 2:56 am #

      Don, I appreciate your sentiments and frustration (see above). The unfortunate reality is that the United States cannot simultaneously “avoid casualties and use nuclear weapons if we have to to wipe out the North.” Not only would many North Korean civilian perish, but so too would many South Koreans and others. Christopher E. Paine, Tom G. Cochran, Mathew B. McKinzie, and Robert S. Norris, four of the worlds leading experts in nuclear weapons and their effects, have studied various Korean Peninsula nuclear scenarios in depth. Their findings are both well founded and profoundly chilling. Please see for yourself.
      “Countering Proliferation of Compounding it?”
      “Nuclear Use Scenarios on the Korean Peninsula” (McKinzie and Cochran)

    • William Bell June 29, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

      Right now, Japan and the ROK are under the USA’s nuclear umbrella, this means it would be incredibly stupid to attack them because then you would have to deal with the USA’s nuclear arsenal. In the same way, the DPRK is under China’s umbrella. And I guarantee no one would win if there was a nuclear attack on DPRK because then China and the USA would destroy each other with their nuclear arsenals.

  2. Mark Schanfein April 15, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    If the US does withdraw couldn’t this trigger ROK to develop its own nuclear weapons?

  3. 3.1415 April 16, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

    One can argue that one of the most vital strategic interests of the United States is to physically ensure that Japan does not fly on its own, militarily. This is also a common interest for China, ROK, Taiwan and many other Asian states that have vivid memories of the Japanese Empire. Unless Asia is fully integrated like the European Union, the strategic interests of the United States and Asian countries (minus Japan) are conjoined by the need to keep Japan pacific. As Japan has no intension to become Germany and United States does not want to encourage that, the strategic logjam will carry on. Even if DPRK became a Special Administrative Region of China or part of a united Korea, United States will not leave ROK. As for the price, the SOFA made in South Korea is not such a bad deal for Uncle Sam. It can be made cushier; all it takes is for Uncle Sam to ask. The three generations of the Kim family on the north have been faithfully providing excuses for the fireworks. They are nuisance to China, but the rulers of China need such a psychological buffer against regime change, which China and DPRK believe that United States is dispensing with religious fervor.

    • Charles P. Blair August 20, 2013 at 6:34 am #

      3.1415 – or anyone out there:
      How would 3.1415 comment’s be interpreted and understood if Japan’s perceived forthcoming “drone fleet” takes to the air?

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