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Council on Foreign Relations Korea Update
July-August 2013

South Korean Civil Society Shapes the U.S.-ROK Alliance

The emergence of a robust civil society in South Korea can influence prospects for U.S.–South Korea (ROK) cooperation by mobilizing society-wide pressure on specific issues. Though recent scholarship suggests that social activism spurred by South Korea's many civic societies has little direct influence on policymaking, the mobilization of progressive organizations around a number of issues pertinent to the U.S.-ROK alliance generates conversation on the future of South Korea's partnership with the United States. In this Working Paper from CFR's program on U.S.-Korea policy, Andrew Yeo of Catholic University of America argues that the United States should view South Korean civil society as a means of gauging public sentiment on the changing U.S.-ROK relationship and as a tool for advancing policy debate. Read the Working Paper


North Korea and the World

Need for Conflict Perpetuates War

Despite dramatic changes to the international context and local conditions on the Korean peninsula, competition for legitimacy between Pyongyang and Seoul remains. North Korea's ruling Kim family cannot afford to allow the Korean War to end without risking its own survival. The North perpetuates its competition for legitimacy against the South, despite having lost the economic competition long ago. By pursuing nuclear weapons, North Korea is fighting against the world and the United States. North Korea's nuclear weapons have become a source of domestic legitimization for Kim family rule. More importantly, the regime uses its nuclear arsenal to extend the conflict, which it perceives as necessary to perpetuate its rule. Although North Korea calls on the United States to end a "hostile U.S. policy," it is North Korea's need for conflict that is now the greatest obstacle to peace, argues Scott Snyder, CFR senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on U.S.-Korea policy. Read the Post on Asia Unbound »

Arms Trafficking Reveals Cuba-North Korea Link

The discovery of Soviet-era missile materials on a North Korean vessel traveling from Cuba to North Korea in July has led scholars to call for a closer examination of the relationship between the two Stalinist regimes. The ship was searched near the Panama Canal on suspicion that it might be transporting drugs and was detained after the discovery of missile parts. CFR Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern studies Elliott Abrams discusses this incident amid concerns over North Korea's militarism and hopes for reforming Cuba, arguing that it serves as a reminder that there is still reason for the U.S. embargo against the Castro regime. Read The Post On Pressure Points »

The China-Korea Relationship

China's Commitment to a Denuclearized Korea

North Korea's third nuclear test has seemingly brought about a change in the China-North Korea relationship. Since taking office in March, Chinese president Xi Jinping has deviated from his predecessors in his chilly approach to China's communist ally, distancing himself from the Kim regime and strongly denouncing North Korea's nuclear program. Both this rhetorical shift and Xi's commitment to denuclearization are bringing China into alignment with South Korea and the United States regarding Kim Jong-un's pursuit of nuclear weapons and set a positive framework for improved cooperation in U.S.-China and China-South Korea relationships. However, Snyder cautions against viewing China's policy shift regarding North Korea as a breakthrough, arguing that it is the first step in a long process of improving U.S. and ROK relations with China amid conflicting secondary priorities on North Korea that may still inhibit cooperation. Read The Post On Ask CFR Experts »

Remembering the Korean War

Reflections on Sixty Years of the Alliance

As the U.S.-ROK alliance celebrates its sixtieth anniversary, the Cato Institute hosted newly appointed South Korean ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Ahn Ho-young; the Cato Institute's vice president for defense and foreign policy studies, Christopher A. Preble; Cato Institute senior fellowDoug Bandow; and CFR Senior Fellow Snyder to participate in a panel discussion titled "The Korean War Sixty Years On: Whither the U.S.-South Korea Alliance and Relations With North Korea." Given the dynamic quality of East Asia's bilateral and multilateral relationships, the ever-changing balance of power, and the security threat posed by North Korea, the panelists addressed a wide range of issues pertaining to the current specifics of the alliance, including present challenges and future growth.Snyder spoke on the history and future of the U.S.-ROK alliance in a post–Cold War world, the orientation of a future unified peninsula as it relates to a rising China, and the perpetuation of the Korean War. Watch the Panel »

Exploring Korea in the Aftermath of the Armistice

Though the 1953 armistice agreement ended combat on the Korean peninsula, the battle scars of the Korean War are omnipresent today and best reflected by the peninsula's continuing division. Sixty years later, Snyder sits down with Oberlin College's Sheila Mayoshi Jager to discuss her timely bookBrothers at War: The Unending Conflict in Korea, a work that is part historical account and part thoughtful reflection on the seemingly intractable conflict that has marred inter-Korean relations for decades. Snyder and Jager delve into the book's inspiration, progression, and contribution to contemporary scholarship on the two Koreas. Watch the Interview »

Call for Fellowship Application

CFR 2014–2015 International Affairs Fellowship in Japan, sponsored by Hitachi, Ltd.

The program provides a selected group of mid-career U.S. citizens the opportunity to expand their professional horizons by spending a period of research or other professional activity in Japan. The program is intended primarily for those without substantial prior experience in Japan. Knowledge of the Japanese language is not a requirement. The application deadline is October 31, 2013.

Program details, eligibility requirements, and application instructions can be found online at For more information, please contact or 212.434.9740. Read more »

CFR's Korea Program in the News

Breaking Defense, "Seoul's Cold Feet on Taking Command? New South Korean Ambassador Responds" (July 22, 2013)

Radio Free Asia, "Interview: Stability Focus for China-South Korea Cooperation" (July 15, 2013)

World Politics Review, "Park-Xi Summit Shows Mutual Interest in Improved South Korea-China Ties" (July 2, 2013)

China Daily, "Kerry Hails China's Denuclearization Bid" (July 1, 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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