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Council on Foreign Relations Korea Update
April 2013

U.S. Policy Toward North Korea Shifts to Diplomacy

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's visit to Northeast Asia in April changed the tone of the conversation on North Korea from a military to a diplomatic focus. Kerry also strengthened consultation processes with new administrations in Seoul and Beijing. However, it remains to be seen whether there will be substantive shifts in the respective policies of the various governments. Furthermore, it is uncertain whether the United States can advance its diplomatic efforts toward Pyongyang without such an approach being perceived as returning to the regular cycle of North Korean brinkmanship-negotiations-and reward, cautions CFR Senior Fellow for Korea Studies Scott A. Snyder. Read the Post on Asia Unbound ยป


Gauging the North Korean Threat

Miscalculation More Dangerous than Rhetoric

North Korea has threatened preemptive nuclear strikes on both South Korea and the United States. However, the primary danger is the potential for miscalculation in Pyongyang, Seoul, and Washington, which in this atmosphere of heightened tensions could have deadly consequences, explains Snyder. Read the Interview on »

Understanding Pyongyang's Bluster

North Korea has long used threats to keep potential enemies off guard, strengthen internal political control, promote national unity, and symbolically express dissatisfaction with international reprimand of its policies. If North Korea decides to follow through on its bluster through direct confrontation, however, this would be evidence that something is going terribly wrong inside its new leadership, says Snyder. Read the Op-ed on »

Pyongyang Offers a Different Position

North Korea's current actions are not fitting the pattern of past interactions, where provocation was linked to aid. Whereas the media often explains Pyongyang's threats as a means to gain assistance, North Koreans are putting forward an alternative explanation, says Snyder. They say that Security Council condemnations have challenged North Korea's honor. Listen to the Interview on World Radio Switzerland »

Kim Jong-un Goes Beyond Cost-Benefit Analysis

Although many analysts explain North Korea's motives in terms of material gains, Snyder observes that this time the provocations are more about pride and deterrence than getting paid. In addition to these factors, the internal politics of Pyongyang may also require Kim Jong-un to prove himself and determine the extent of his risk-prone tendency. Listen to the Interview on America Weekend »

Pyongyang Miscalculates South Korean and U.S. Position

North Korea's brinkmanship and promises of continued provocations always raise questions about the internal stability of its leadership, but this focus distracts from the clear evidence that South Korea and the United States are increasingly intolerant of North Korea's threats. Pyongyang's miscalculation may come as a result of its failure to recognize this fact, says Snyder. Read the Post on Asia Unbound »

U.S.-China Coordination on North Korea Policy

An Opportunity to Engage China

Amid rising tensions surrounding North Korea, Beijing confronts stronger alliance cooperation among the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Australia, as well as the task of saving face as its global reputation is challenged for continuing to support Pyongyang, observes former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd in a CFR meeting. These circumstances present an opportunity to engage Xi Jinping on planning for contingencies on the Korean peninsula. Read the Transcript on »

U.S.-ROK Relations and South Korean Security

South Koreans Anxious About U.S. Extended Deterrence

In the face of North Korea's progress on developing a nuclear weapons capability, an emerging source of tension in U.S.-ROK relations and a growing challenge for the Obama administration is to provide security assurances to South Korea. The only way to resolve this will be for the United States and South Korea, in cooperation with China, to find the right combination of measures to bring North Korea back to a path of negotiations accompanied by concrete actions in the direction of denuclearization, explains Snyder. Read the Post on Asia Unbound »

Japanese Security Policy

Tokyo Prepares for Pyongyang's Worst

Although the cabinet of Japanese prime minister Abe has maintained quiet vigilance, largely in an effort not to contribute to the dangerous dynamics surrounding the Korean peninsula, Pyongyang's threat to target U.S. military bases in the region and in the Pacific has stimulated a more proactive defense response, explains CFR Senior Fellow for Japan Studies Sheila Smith. Read the Post on Asia Unbound »

Publications on Korea

North Korea in Transition: Politics, Economy, and Society

Global Korea: South Korea's Contributions to International Security

The U.S.-South Korea Alliance: Meeting New Security Challenges


CFR's Korea Program in the News

Washington Post: "Chinese Offer Blunt Assessment of North Korea" (April 13, 2013)

The Wall Street Journal: "How to Invest in North Korea" (April 7, 2013)

Foreign Policy: "North Korea Turns Volume of Missile Systems Up To 11" (March 26, 2013)



The Program on U.S.-Korea Policy

The program on U.S.-Korea policy was established at the Council on Foreign Relations in September 2011. It aims to strengthen the U.S.-Korea relationship by providing relevant policy recommendations and promoting dialogue on sensitive bilateral, regional, and global issues facing the two countries. The program acknowledges the generous support it has received from the Smith Richardson Foundation, Korea Foundation, and South Korean private sponsors, including Hyundai Motors, Korea International Trade Association, and the Federation of Korean Industries. It also acknowledges with thanks additional support received from individual donor Sandor Hau.

Scott A. Snyder, Director
Follow @snydersas on Twitter

Darcie Draudt, Research Associate


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