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Council on Foreign Relations Korea Update
May 2013

Has North Korea Shut the Door to Diplomacy?

North Korea's recent efforts to legitimize itself as a nuclear weapons state and its move to eliminate access to the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) have diminished prospects for peaceful coexistence on the Korean peninsula. The United States will not accept a nuclear North Korea, and North Korea's abandonment of the KIC has wiped away a decade of South Korean investment in a peaceful and stable modus vivendi with the North. President Obama and South Korean President Park must show decisive and coordinated leadership to contain North Korea's threats, and should prepare for the possibility that there is no pathway to peaceful co-existence under the current North Korean leadership, explains Scott A. Snyder, senior fellow for Korea Studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Read the Post on Asia Unbound ยป


Inter-Korean Relations

Kaesung Closure Increases Tensions

The closure of the Kaesung Industrial Complex (KIC), the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean rapprochement, has heightened tensions on the peninsula. Analysts have struggled to find a compelling rationale for the KIC's closure, since it provided $90 million in cash payments to North Korea in 2012. The most plausible explanation for the KIC failure is that the North Korean regime, in the midst of political consolidation, began to realize that Kaesong provided a counter narrative to its own list of "accomplishments," including nuclear deterrence against external aggressors, explains Snyder. Read the Post on Asia Unbound »

The U.S.-ROK Relationship

Leaders Provide Assurances

Given tensions with North Korea, President Obama seeks to assure Seoul of the U.S. commitment to South Korea's security, while President Park hopes to reassure Washington that she is a stable and capable crisis manager. On economic affairs, there are no significant outstanding bilateral issues; however, a potential issue will be whether Seoul joins the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, says Snyder. Read the Interview on »

Alliance Needs to Adjust to the Changing Region

Five areas of the U.S.-ROK alliance are outlined in an Asan Plenum panel discussion on "Challenges for the ROK-U.S. Alliance" led by Snyder: its sustainability, scope, common purpose, and limits due to both diverging domestic interests and China's rise. U.S. policy interests no longer fully align with that of South Korea, notes Doug Bandow, of the Cato Institute, while Victor Cha, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, depicts North Korea as an area of mutual interest for the alliance. South Korea should reshape the nature of the alliance according to the nation's growing global role, explains Kim Tae-hyo of Sungkyunkwan University. Shen Dingli of Fudan University offers a Chinese perspective on the alliance. Watch the Panel »

Joint Declaration Responds to North Korea Challenge

The Joint Declaration commemorating the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-ROK alliance differs from the 2009 Joint Vision in three main ways: recognition of the elevated challenge of North Korea, a shift of focus from global to peninsular cooperation, and Park's emphasis on "trustpolitik" with the North. The declaration is largely a response to the latest challenges posed by Pyongyang, whose response remains to be seen, says Snyder. Read the Interview »

Optimism Reigns Following the Park-Obama Summit

President Park's effort to talk regionally reflect her determination to develop a Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative, which is laudable, says Christopher Hill of the University of Denver in a Korea Economic Institute of America (KEIA) panel discussion on the Park-Obama summit. The alliance has come a long way in terms of having a harmonized view on how to deal with North Korea, while the institutionalized nature of the alliance, in addition with the personal connection between Park and Obama, are both positive aspects, observes Snyder. The U.S.-ROK consensus on approaching North Korea is now "air-tight," adds panelist Cha. Watch the Panel »

U.S. Policy toward Asia

Rebalance Faces Obstacles

Five broad challenges confront the Obama administration's rebalance strategy: the strategy's fundamental vagueness, developments in the Middle East that may restrain the United States from focusing elsewhere, U.S. budgetary and domestic political realities, a limited history of cooperation among U.S. allies in the region, and nuanced Chinese diplomacy that may challenge the United States. Ultimately, the rebalance strategy is a work in progress that can be derailed, argues James M. Lindsay, director of studies and Maurice R. Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations, in an Asan Plenum panel discussion on the U.S. pivot to Asia. Watch the Panel »

Pressure North Korea to Negotiate

Kim Jong-un's lack of experience can lead to grave miscalculations, causing enormous damage to U.S. allies in the region and, if successful, emboldening aspiring nuclear weapons states. Therefore, Washington should maintain and strengthen its current military deterrence measures, affirm red lines, and cooperate with regional powers such as China in pressuring North Korea to negotiate, says Paul B. Stares, senior fellow for conflict prevention and director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations. Read the Post on Ask CFR Experts »

China-South Korea Relations

A Struggle to Align Policies on North Korea

Escalating tensions on the peninsula due to North Korea's recent provocations motivate Presidents Xi and Park to closely coordinate policies toward the North. However, Beijing's shifty stance on sanctions, an increase in Sino-DPRK economic exchanges, and the obstacles to China-South Korea-Japan trilateral cooperation impede North Korea policy alignment between Beijing and Seoul. Still, the willingness of both leaders to improve bilateral relations offers a silver lining, explain Snyder and See-won Byun of George Washington University. Read the Article »

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

The Washington Times: "S. Korean Leader Calls for Global Unity on N. Korea" (May 8, 2013)

USA Today: "North Korea to Dominate South Korean-U.S. Summit" (May 5, 2013)

The Wall Street Journal: "Last Workers Exit Joint Korea Venture" (May 3, 2013)

The Washington Diplomat: "Japan-South Korean Rivalry Is Thorn in America's Pivot" (April 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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