Sungtae “Jacky” Park is research associate for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This is a preview of his recently published Atlantic Council report, The Korean Pivot and the Return of Great Power Politics in Northeast Asia. The views expressed in the report are his own and his own only. Read the full report here.
The element of unpredictability and unintended consequences surrounding North Korea’s future raises the possibility that the Korean peninsula might turn into a sudden flashpoint in Northeast Asia at any moment. If the U.S.-China relationship deteriorates further, a North Korean collapse scenario could become a dangerous source of conflict for the wider region. Moreover, a crumbling North Korea with far more developed nuclear and missile capabilities could become a serious problem if the Kim regime decides to militarily lash out at the United States and its allies while collapsing.
To address these issues, this report recommends that the United States increase its defense budget to bolster the rebalance to Asia, covertly subvert North Korea to bring about regime change and eliminate the Kim regime as a long-term source of instability in the region, keep the alliances and security cooperation with Japan and South Korea strictly bilateral for now, and convince China to discuss Korean unification and its implications for the regional order.