Strengthening the “Comprehensive Strategic Alliance” Between the United States and South Korea
Sang Hyun Lee, president of the Sejong Institute; Jung-Yeop Woo, senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute; Sue Mi Terry, director of the Wilson Center's Hyundai Motor-Korea Foundation Center for Korean History and Public Policy; and Bruce Klingner, senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, will be discussing the coordination of North Korea policy under the U.S.-South Korea alliance.
SNYDER: Welcome, everyone to our workshop with Sejong Institute, the 2022 Seoul-Washington Forum on “Strengthening the ‘Comprehensive Strategic Alliance’ Between the United States and South Korea.” I’m Scott Snyder. I’m senior fellow for Korea studies here at CFR.
And we’re very pleased to welcome a delegation from Sejong Institute. We’ve been partnering together with Sejong for actually about five or six years, but we’ve been interrupted by the pandemic and have done this virtually on a number of occasions. But now that we are back in person, I see that there is a real hunger to actually be in person, and we’re really pleased to be able try to—to try to meet some of that demand.
The last time that we had a delegation from Sejong over was last June. It was a month after the Biden visit to South Korea and Japan for the first Yoon-Biden summit of the Yoon administration, and of course, President Biden was in Japan for the launch of the Indo-Pacific Forum. At that time, there were rumors of a seventh North Korean nuclear test that were beginning to surface and North Korean missile testing was on the upswing, with one reported ICBM that was launched in May of 2022.
Here we are, five months later, and we have a lot more to talk about because President Yoon and President Biden just met in Cambodia a few days ago. We had a very interesting trilateral U.S.-Japan-South Korea summit in Cambodia that I hope we’re able to talk about. And South Korea presented its first Indo-Pacific Strategy to allies and strategic partners. And of course, the seventh North Korean nuclear test has not yet occurred, but North Korea has launched scores of missiles. And on this pace and trajectory, I imagine we’ll have to have our next Sejong—meeting with Sejong maybe in about three months or so, something like that.
In any event, we’re really focused today. We’ve got three main subjects: North Korea, the regional security environment, and the economic security relationship. And I just wanted to put forward a few questions for consideration throughout the course of the day.
The questions that I am really interested in seeing our panels address are: Regarding North Korea, are there additional tools that the alliance can mobilize to discourage North Korean opportunism in the face of geopolitical trends that appear to have steepened the incline button on the U.S.-South Korea alliance coordination treadmill? What can we do to give Pyongyang less room for maneuver?
Second, what—to what extent does the deepening geopolitical rivalry in Northeast Asia enable North Korea? And in what ways might it constrain North Korea by increasing dependency on China and Russia?
As part of our second panel, I’m hoping that we can talk about whether or not there’s a tension in the alliance between the focus on China that has emerged and the focus on North Korea. And also, as South Korea has put forward an Indo-Pacific Strategy and the U.S. has an Indo-Pacific Strategy, how can we align those in implementation?
And then, thirdly, the Biden administration has a challenge that has been a focal point, I think, in the South Korean media, a kind of contradiction between strengthening alliance partnership and supply chain resiliency and the protectionist aspects of the Inflation Reduction Act. And we’re right at a moment where maybe that could be addressed as part of the lame duck. I don’t know what it would look like in a new Congress. I’m hoping that we can talk a little bit about how that set of issues might be resolved.
And also, just the challenge—this is really, I think, quite striking, the effort to develop what I would call a whole-of-alliance public-private partnership in the areas of integrating South Korea into the U.S. economy a little bit more and developing an integrated alliance-based supply chain. So I’m really hoping that we can dig into that.
In any event, very much looking forward to the discussion, and I want to also turn it over to President Lee for his welcoming remarks.
LEE: Is it on?
SNYDER: Yeah, it’s on.
LEE: Yeah. Well, thank you, Scott. You already gave us a whole overview of all panel, so—(laughs)—that’s a pretty much good start, I think.
Well, yeah, it’s good to be back on CFR. This is part of the Seoul-Washington program that Sejong has been working on many think tanks in Washington, D.C. I remember last year we had this meeting, but it was online—series of online meeting between Sejong and many think tanks in Washington, D.C. I am indeed happy that we can finally meet in person, like this big group.
And as Scott mentioned, the situation is quite volatile. North Korea’s continuing missile and nuclear development program—continue the program. And unfortunately, because of the many other geopolitical factors, there’s not many policy option to stop North Korean provocation. So in a sense, North Korea may enjoying this lucky moment that nobody can care fully about North Korea’s behavior, whatever they do.
So, beginning this year, I remember North Korea had test-fired almost one hundred missiles. Nevertheless, international community cannot do any substantial measure to stop their assertive or aggressive behavior.
So that’s where we are and that’s the context that we have a conference today. As Scott mentioned, we’ll talk how can we, both the U.S. and Korea, can work together to reduce North Korea’s provocative action, and how can we manage increasing risk on the peninsula. I think that’s going to be a good challenge for us in the coming years.
And also, as you mentioned, the supply chain disruption. And because of that, there may be many pending issues between Korea and the United States like IRA Act. And, suddenly, South Korean automakers are quite in—(laughs)—in shock too because of that law.
And also, battery, AI, and high-tech rivalry between U.S. and China. I think that will all have some important implication for Korea-U.S. relations.
I hope that today, through three sessions, we can frankly discuss some of the challenge we face and some of the solution that we can find to navigate through this complex situation. And once again, I appreciate CFR for organizing this wonderful group and thank you for all of you joining today’s meeting for your time. Thank you.
SNYDER: OK. We’re just going to move right into the first session, which is chaired by Paul Stares, my colleague.
STARES: Great. Well, thank you, Scott. Good morning, everybody. I see many familiar faces in the audience this morning. But for those who don’t know me, I’m Paul Stares. I am a senior fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations in the Washington office, where I also direct the Center for Preventive Action. And some of you are familiar with the work we do. Much of it includes focusing on the challenge from North Korea.
Well, we’re already demonstrating good coordination by the fact that we are off to a good start in terms of timing of this first session. I don’t need to, I think, emphasize to this group the importance of good coordination between the United States and ROK when it comes to North Korea. As Scott mentioned, we have the likelihood of a seventh nuclear test coming up soon; continuing high tempo of missile tests from North Korea that require both, you know, careful management, careful attention, for obvious reasons; we have the possibility of other provocations from North Korea in the context of the current situation in Northeast Asia; and then there’s the general question of how North Korea fits into the larger question of U.S.-ROK coordination and policy toward China at this pivotal moment in our relationship.
So there’s much to discuss here. We need to think, obviously, of coordination at the political level, at the military level, economic, and other areas that require very careful orchestration given these very complex challenges.
So I’m going to dispense with lengthy bios for everybody. They’re all in the packet. We’re going to start, I believe, with the Korean side, beginning firstly with President Lee and then Jung-Yeop Woo. And then we will turn to the American side. President Lee?
LEE: OK. Thank you.
Well, I’ll talk briefly about current update about North Korean situation, what they are doing. And secondly, I’ll focus on Yoon government’s response to that development. And finally, I’ll talk briefly about what Korea and the U.S. can do together to stop this situation.
So as I mentioned, North Korea’s all-around provocation continues.
Since the beginning of this year, North Korea test-fired almost one hundred missile, ranging from short distance to ICBM and even SLBM.
And also, we see many indication that—around the Punggye-ri nuclear test site—we have many indication that North Korea may be preparing a seventh nuclear test. So most people believe North Korea’s almost completed preparation, but they are calculating the timing to give most impact with that.
And even on November 2, North Korea launched the ballistic missile into South Korean waters south of the NLL in the East Sea for the first time since the division of the two Koreas. And of course, in response South Korea also dispatched air force planes to launch missiles into northern waters of the NLL.
So, given this series of provocation and response, we definitely see that tension is rising on the Korean Peninsula and with the risk also rising on the peninsula.
And North Korea condemned the resumption of a joint exercise by South Korea and the U.S. earlier this year, and threatening to take an enhanced countermeasure against them, calling them the final stage of a war scenario for invasion of North Korea. For example, Pak Jong Chon, a member of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee and the vice chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission, said he would respond to the joint air force drill with a special means of force featuring maybe nuclear, and face a horrible outcome and pay the most terrible price ever.
And not much—although not much is known about North Korea’s whole missile program and its intentions, but what is clear is that North Korean missiles are rapidly diversifying and strengthening survivability, and also enhancing capacity to penetrate the missile defense network and conducting both conventional and nuclear tests. North Korea these days seems to be focusing on securing nuclear deterrence against the U.S. by combining nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missiles while also focusing on developing tactical nuclear weapons.
So we know that since the pandemic, we all know the North Korean economy is not very good. But why are they doing this? There are many—we guess that there are maybe—there can be many reasons for this. The first is the political motivation, above all the achievements of Kim Jong-un’s era, which he show off at home and abroad, needed to overcome diplomatic isolation caused by the economic failure and deepening strategic competition between U.S. and China during the ten years of Kim Jong-un’s rule.
Of course, second reason may be the military preparation. North Korea declared that—the completion of nuclear weapons in 2017, but still it has a limited access to a minimum nuclear deterrence against the U.S. And the advancement of North Korean nuclear capability is essential to the improvement over the minimum nuclear deterrence and the reduction of conventional military capabilities with the U.S. So, for this end, it isn’t necessary to expand the production of the nuclear material like HEU, PU, and deuterium, and tritium, and develop tactical nuclear weapons can be used in the battlefield, including large strategic nuclear warheads.
So that’s the current—some of the summary trends of North Korea provocation in recent years.
And what is the Yoon Suk-yeol administration policy against this? As we mentioned, as we all know that, Yoon Suk-yeol government, which inaugurated in May this year, such as the new North Korea policy. He—Yoon—emphasized that the abolition of North Korea’s nuclear weapon program is a prerequisite for all further engagement with the North. Making the realization of North Korea’s complete denuclearization is the top foreign and security policy priority.
And with that, he also suggested the “audacious initiative” that President Yoon elaborating in his August 15 National Liberation Day speech. So in that speech, he said that if North Korea takes practical denuclearization measure, he will push for a wide-range economic support and cooperation measures from the beginning. I think this is a more specific proposal that has been discussed in the past, that are front-loading, meaning that implementing a major support or assistance measures at the beginning of the negotiation. So the key is to push for the RFEP—resource food exchange program—on the Korean Peninsula even before comprehensive denuclearization measures are drawn up, and to first promote cooperative projects in the areas of improving North Korea’s infrastructure, people’s livelihood, and economic development.
But as we know, North Korea clearly declined this offer from the South, and we don’t know how can we start this audacious initiative to engage North Korea. And what can you do? Then, if that’s the current situation, what can you do? There are a lot of internal and external challenges facing the Yoon administration. In domestic politics, Yoon Suk-yeol, who has won the election by such a narrow margin, faces a huge challenge from inside. You know, National Assembly is still dominated by opposition party. And also, because many domestic problems, Yoon’s foreign policy agenda is quite distracted. Maybe you heard the tragic accident in Itaewon a few days ago. So something like that always distracts many attention on the foreign policy and North Korean issue. And also, continuing systemic fragmentation since the pandemic erupted and the deepening of the new cold war makes international cooperation difficult to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. And of course, the latest geopolitical impact—the Ukraine war—will surely have a negative impact on the future negotiation with North Korea.
What South Korea can do in the current situation is strengthen its own counter capabilities along with solid cooperation in curbing expansion between South Korea and the U.S., the nuclear extended deterrence. Recently, at the 54th SCM—Security Consultative Meeting—held in Washington, D.C., the joint statement reaffirmed that the U.S. commitment to provide extended deterrence to the Republic of Korea by utilizing all categories of military capabilities including nuclear, conventional, missile defense, and advanced nuclear capabilities. The statement warned that any nuclear attack, including non-strategic nuclear weapons—meaning tactical nuclear weapons—against the U.S. or its allies would not be tolerated, which will lead to the termination of the Kim Jong-un regime. In particular, it is an important step forward to hold the annual DSC TTX, which outlines a North Korean nuclear use scenario to cope with the recent changes in its nuclear strategy and capabilities.
And I will say that, along with the extended nuclear deterrence, the three-pillar defensive system that South Korean military is developing should be completed early. The three-pillar system is a key part of the Yoon Suk-yeol government’s response to North Korea’s nuclear weapon program. One is the kill chain, which is a system that detects/tracks North Korean nuclear and missile launches in advance and preemptively strike it. Second is Korea Air and Missile Defense, KAMD. And third is the Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation, KMPR. And of course, none of this is complete. And that’s why I said with this three-pillar system and U.S. nuclear extended deterrence should be combined to make a solid defense against the North Korean threat.
And regarding nuclear issue, Yoon Suk-yeol government is trying to promote a substantial nuclear sharing between South Korea and the United States in response to North Korean nuclear threat. This includes a nuclear submarine, regular deployment of carrier fleet, and regular operation of strategic assets around the Korean Peninsula. And with that, we also should pay attention to how can we enhance crisis management on the Korean Peninsula? As we, you know, that because of North Korea’s aggressive nuclear doctrine, perhaps you can say then North Korea much lowered the threshold of the actual use of nuclear weapons. So deterrence, at the same time crisis management. I think that’s the two future challenges on the Korean Peninsula.
And that’s pretty much what I have to say. And I expect good comments on this—on my presentation. Thank you.
STARES: Thank you very much, President Lee. We’re now going to hear from Jung-Yeop Woo, also from the Sejong Institute, before turning to Bruce and Sue Mi.
WOO: Thank you. Thank you all for joining us this morning. And whenever I come to D.C. to discuss North Korean matter, it feels like déjà vu all the time. Like, we are all talking about North Korean issues over and over and again. And maybe the only difference is that I need the multifocal lenses right now compared to about ten years ago. (Laughter.)
So it’s the same problem that we have dealt with, but there are government changes, mostly in South Korea and the United States. And we proposed—we proposed policies to deal with the North Korean issues. And when Yoon Suk-yeol administration laid out its plan to approach North Korean issues and others, there are some criticisms and there are some misunderstandings about the policy. So I would—(audio break)—part of the misunderstandings of the Yoon Suk-yeol’s administration’s North Korea policy.
So, first, when President Yoon laid out his Audacious Initiative toward the DPRK, many people misunderstood that the Audacious Initiative is audacious incentive toward the DPRK. So some argued that President Yoon’s plan was not audacious enough to bring North Korea back to the negotiation. But I would say that Audacious Initiative is not about giving audacious incentive toward the DPRK. We all know that economic incentives are not the only condition that will bring North Korea back to the negotiation. So some argue that for the Audacious Initiative to be successful, we have to give something audacious enough. That means that we need to lift sanctions or we need to reduce some sanctions so North Korea can see some economic benefits.
So they argue that in the long run, if we relieve sanctions onto DPRK, DPRK would develop its economy. And that can lead to the social change in DPRK, so North Korea does not need the nuclear weapon anymore. They acknowledge that it’s going to be a long-term process. But as we all know, that the sanctions on DPRK became very—became effective in 2016 and 2017 period. And what did North Korea do before 2016, when the effective sanctions were not there? North Korea didn’t have any intention to develop its economy. They just need some cash. And they don’t need economic development that can—that could lead to the social change in the DPRK. Social change is the worst fear of the Kim regime, so they don’t want that.
So Audacious Initiative is something that we can offer when North Korea is going to change its approach to its own people and its own nuclear program, and the global community. So the Audacious Initiative is not the audacious incentive that we are trying to get North Korea back to the negotiation. We don’t really believe that proposing economic incentives to DPRK would bring North Korea back to the negotiation.
And second, when President Yoon explained his Audacious Initiative, there were some Korean media asked questions to President Yoon that it’s not the economic incentives but it’s a security guarantee that North Korea needs to have to denuclearize itself. So President Yoon answered that we cannot provide or offer a security guarantee to DPRK. No other country can do it. What we can do is to promise that we are not seeking unilateral change of the status quo by force. South Korea and the United States has never stated that we are seeking regime change of the DPRK, nor we are trying to change the status quo by force. North Korea, Kim regime, needs imagined external threat to justify their existence to their people, and to justify spending all the money for the nuclear and the missile program at the sacrifice of the wellbeing of their people.
So when some would argue that the international community needs to provide security guarantee to the DPRK for North Korea to change its approach to nuclear weapon, I don’t think it’s correct. We already mentioned so many times that we are not seeking regime change, or we are not seeking unilateral change of the status quo by force. So then what kind of things that we can do to bring North Korea back to negotiation? I don’t have the answer. (Laughter.) But we could continue to pressure DPRK with increased readiness of Combined Forces Command and the U.S.—ROK-U.S. alliance. And we increase the level of cooperation with the international community to make sanctions more effective.
You all know that for the last two or three years that the implementation sanctions got much looser. So it’s not about whether we can put another sanctions after North Korea’s possible nuclear test. It’s more about how we can tight implementing the sanctions already there in the international community.
And third, as President Lee Sang Hyun just mentioned, that South Korean government is not only about pressuring North Korea with military tools and economic sanctions. We are proposing that we can have dialogue without any condition. And President Yoon also mentioned that we can provide some kind of economic assistance program if North Korea agrees to define what’s the end state of the denuclearization of North Korea.
In 2018 and 2019 period, when Kim Jong-un met President Trump, he never defined what’s the end state of the denuclearization of DPRK. So we believe that if North Korea change its approach enough to agree to define the end state of the denuclearization of the DPRK, we could provide something. That’s what President Yoon mentioned. So without change in North Korea’s approach to its own nuclear weapons, it’s unlikely that international community—including South Korea and the United States—could change its approach to DPRK. Our previous administration tried to provide something to DPRK, but it was not successful because even our previous administration knew that without violating international sanctions there is no way that we can provide something to DPRK.
So improving inter-Korean relations should go along with the substantial progress made in North Korea’s denuclearization. However, Yoon Suk-yeol administration is not against engaging with the DPRK, as long as the sanctions are not hurt by those who are trying to engage with the DPRK. So President Yoon and our unification minister mentioned that even if North Korea fired its missile, we can still provide humanitarian aid to DPRK because we don’t link humanitarian aid with other political issues, including denuclearization negotiation. So it’s not up to what we can do, what South Korea and the U.S. can do. It’s more about what North Korea can do.
So these days I am usually ending my speech with this: North Korea needs to be audacious, not South Korea or the United States. So we have to see whether North Korea can change its policy and whether they can think more of their people rather than their nuclear weapon. Let me stop here. Thanks.
STARES: Well, thank you very much, Jung-Yeop. We’re now going to turn, I think, to Bruce Klingner first. Bruce is senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, familiar to many of us. And then we will hear from Sue Mi Terry.
KLINGNER: OK. I had hoped I was going to go fourth, because then I could say, well, the advantage of going fourth is that all of the really brilliant stuff has already been said, and if I give a mundane presentation you’ll all just think, oh, that’s only because all the smart stuff has been said, but—
TERRY: You just took my line.
KLINGNER: Oh, OK. (Laughter.) Anyway, it’s good to be back. And as I get older, I no longer say it’s good to see old colleagues, but it’s good to see long-time colleagues. The title of the panel, as you see, is the Coordination of North Korean Policy under the U.S.-ROK alliance. Well, it’s gotten a lot easier with the change of administrations in both Washington and Seoul. So both sides have abandoned policies that were unnecessarily causing strains in the alliance.
For the Biden administration, it was abandoning President Trump’s vision of the alliance as a transactional relationship, ending the demeaning language towards our allies, and abandoning the efforts to try to make a profit off of our servicemen and -women stationed overseas. For the Yoon administration, it was dropping the advocacy for a premature OPCON transition before Seoul had fulfilled the agreed-upon requirements, and also dropping the push for a meaningless peace declaration, which even its advocates said would have no effect whatsoever.
Beyond that, the Biden administration returned to U.S. policy to a more traditional long-time bipartisan kind of policy, returning to the bottom-up approach rather than a top-down, where we condition summit meetings on actual progress at the working level. But we still don’t know the details of what would be an acceptable denuclearization accord for the Biden administration. They want to save that detail for the negotiations with North Korea. And obviously Pyongyang has rejected all attempts at dialogue.
We’ve also seen the end of the bromance with Kim, and we’ll no longer—as Biden had said—we’re no longer going to cozy up to dictators. And the Biden administration vowed to resume criticism on North Korean human rights. I think it’s still underachieved on that. It’s been two years in, and we still don’t have a North Korean human rights envoy, although talking to some officials they said something is in work, it’s just it seems the process is cumbersome. Also, they’ve pledged to more fully enforce sanctions and laws and increase pressure. And again, like previous administrations, they’ve underachieved on that. But they did pledge to resume military exercises and the rotational deployment of U.S. strategic assets, and certainly have done that, both because of the change in U.S. and South Korean administrations.
So on the Korean side, certainly President Yoon’s policies is quite different from those of President Moon. He’s offering conditional engagement in summit meetings. The audacious benefits, you know, were offered, but he’s—unlike Moon—not endlessly offering more, and more, and more options. I stopped counting after about fifty different initiatives that the Moon administration had offered. And just to put it in a context, the first one they offered was fulfilling the promises of the 2007 inter-Korean summit, which at the time the minister of unification had estimated would cost $27 billion. Also, we’ve seen other changes with the Moon administration.
I won’t go into those, but in addition to, I think, the improved relations with the U.S. we’ve also seen, I think, a very sincere, very aggressive effort by President Yoon to try to improve relations with Tokyo. We’ve had the first trilateral summit in five years. We’ve had the first trilateral military exercises in five years. We’ve had calls for upgrading the reconnaissance and intelligence assets and military cooperation between Korea and Japan. And just in the recent trilateral summit statement, which itself was an accomplishment I think, we’ve seen a pledge to have real-time sharing of North Korean missile information. So we’re seeing, I think, improved coordination between the U.S. and South Korea, as well as trilaterally.
On coordinating nuclear policy towards North Korea, Washington and Seoul are very much in agreement. But it’s sort of the outsiders who disagree. There are a number of outside experts who are offering views which both governments have rejected. So Washington and Seoul have both affirmed that denuclearization remains their objective, though it would be implemented in incremental steps with reciprocal provision of benefits. They’ve also said the door to diplomacy is open, but neither government is willing to offer concessions just to get North Korea back to the table. And they’ve all—both said no to the three nuclear options. That’s the reintroduction of U.S. tactical nukes into South Korea, South Korea going nuclear weapons program, and, three, a nuclear sharing agreement.
So they’re in agreement. But let me go into kind of some of the reasons why I think it’s good that the governments have been pushing back on those ideas. So on the denuclearization versus arms control, it would be counter to the UN resolutions as well as U.S. law, the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act. It would undermine the legal basis for the UN sanctions on North Korea for their repeated violations of UN resolutions. It would undermine the NPT and U.S. policy of nonproliferation for the past several decades, a dangerous signal to nuclear aspirants like Iran. It would be a significant concession to North Korea in the hope that it would induce North Korea to come back to talks, let alone negotiations. And there’s no indication, no evidence, that North Korea would be amenable to such approach.
Also, abandoning denuclearization as an end goal in favor of a limit and freeze policy kind of ignores the fact that the first four failed agreements with North Korea were arms control agreement, and that they were trying to cap the nuclear arsenal at zero. And denuclearization as an end goal, as required in UN resolutions, can be implemented in the manner of arms control negotiations with the Soviet Union, which was incrementally, based on reciprocal actions by both parties and over a—what would be a lengthy period of time. And walking away from denuclearization because North Korea will never do it is to acknowledge that the regime’s previous pledges and previous agreements were false, including Kim Jong-un’s personal pledge of denuclearization in the Singapore summit. So if that’s the case, why would we trust its signature on a partial arms control agreement?
On the offering concessions to North Korea, some of the conciliatory gestures that people have advocated are an end-of-war declaration, security guarantees, continued cancellation of military exercises, and degradation of alliance deterrence capability, non-criticism of human rights violations, non-enforcement of U.S. laws, reduction of sanctions, and economic benefits. All of those have been tried in the past, to no avail. And at various times, North Korea proclaimed that the lack of a peace treaty, a security guarantee, sanctions relief, and curtailment of allied military exercises was each the single-biggest impediment to denuclearization, and then only to dismiss their importance later. And during the last working-level meeting between the U.S. and North Korea in October 2019, North Korean diplomats refused even to define what they meant by denuclearization, security guarantee, or peace declaration.
On the three nuclear options, President Yoon during the presidential campaign had advocated all three of them, but then he dropped them upon inauguration. And but there is much, much, greater South Korean advocacy for all three options. It’s certainly something we hear a lot more during our travels to Korea than we hear, I think, in discussions amongst Korea watchers here in Washington. All three of the options are no longer really fringe elements. They’re really in the mainstream. There’s much more public support for them. In the interests of time, I won’t go into my arguments against each three of them—or, all three of them. But they’re certainly driven by South Korean concerns.
So it’s the increasing North Korean threat, highlighted by the numerous new systems that they’ve revealed, either in testing or parades since 2019, and the new nuclear law—which I kind of put new in air-quotes. So it’s the growing threat that South Korea feels more vulnerable to North Korea’s growing particularly short-range ballistic missiles. There are also growing questions about the viability of the U.S. extended deterrence guarantee.
And that has two parts. One is the, would we really trade San Francisco for Seoul? And then also, what happens if Trump is reelected? Will he blow up the alliance, as several of his senior advisors said he wanted to do? Would he resume the threats to reduce or remove U.S. forces? So that, I think, is driving a lot of the concern. So the U.S. remains firmly against all three of those nuclear options, but trying not to make it a big public disagreement with our ally. But instead, trying to keep it behind closed doors. We don’t want it to be a strain on the alliance.
So in conclusion, as we continue to argue over the best path forward, the biggest impediment remains North Korea’s refusal to talk and unwillingness to abide by their previous commitments. And we should be forward leaning in calling for dialogue and negotiations with North Korean officials but, I believe, reticent to offer benefits just to get them back into the room. Thank you.
STARES: Terrific. Thank you so much, Bruce. That was an excellent overview. We now turn to Sue Mi.
TERRY: So you know what Bruce said in the beginning of his talk, benefit of going last, blah, blah? I’m saying that right now. So, no, honestly everything was already said, so I’ll just make this brief. Jung-Yeop said something about déjà vu. Wow, guys. I mean, I, myself, have been a North Korea analyst for two decades. I didn’t start during the Clinton years, at least, right, but I started right as Bush was starting with whole axis of evil. That’s sort of my start as a Korea analyst.
So we did the axis of evil. We did the pivot to the Six-Party Talks. We did the nuclear test. And Bush administration really, really tried towards the end of his second term to make something happen. We have the 2005, we have 2007. And then we went through the Obama strategic patience, and the Leap Day deal, and the failure of that. And, you know, strategic patience for two terms. And we all rode that rollercoaster of the Trump years, the fire and fury, maximum pressure, bloody nose. Remember that? That’s 2017. And then all of a sudden the shift to summitry and diplomacy 2018. Three times Trump sat down with Kim Jong-un. I still remember I was on MSNBC on the Singapore summit night, and just watching Kim Jong-un speak. I’m, like, mesmerized because I’m actually hearing his voice. Because Kim Jong-un only does, like, recording of one time speaking.
All that, you know, expectation and some—and look at where we are. I mean, you know, we just heard—this is all group of North Korea experts. We don’t even need to go into what North Koreans have been doing since the failure of the Hanoi summit past several years. Really expanding their nuclear program in the past year. We just heard, you know, a hundred missile test in just recent months. You talk about déjà vu, I mean, I got all my wrinkles because of North Korea. This is my work husband. I mean, he—Bruce and I have been doing this circus for, like, I don’t know how many years. I don’t—I said, I asked to go last because I knew exactly what he was going to say. I’m sorry. I mean—
KLINGNER: Yes, dear. (Laughter.)
TERRY: We have this thing.
KLINGNER: Yes, dear.
TERRY: So I’m just very frustrated. I don’t know—you know, they are on their way to perfecting, diversifying. They are qualitatively refining. They are quantitatively expanding. They’ve been focused on—also, one thing that I’ve been really focused on, besides the diversity of their program, to really defeat our defenses. And they’re getting close, right? I mean, they already miniaturized, we think. They have up to sixty nuclear warheads. They are making enough—churning out enough fissile material for, what, a dozen a year. And now we’re all bracing ourselves for the seventh nuclear weapons test, possibly a tactical nuclear weapons test. Working towards a MIRV capability. And I don’t how we’re going to stop that, right? They are looking for a smaller, lighter, miniaturized warhead.
And then with all this, they make this—they threaten preemptive use, which they’ve done before. But that was disconcerting, right? They have Kim Jong-un threatening preemptive use, we had Kim Yo-jong earlier this year also threatening preemptive use. And then we have the September 9th, right, where they’re talking about first-use nuclear weapons, right? First, they talk about the nuclear weapons program being irreversible and non-negotiable. Which we knew. They said—we knew that. But it’s—with all of this—when they’re doing one-hundred missile tests, and then they make this statement again, and then they come out with this first-use nuclear doctrine, while they are focused on tactical nuclear weapons. You combine all of that, this is concerning, right?
And the earlier tests in the—you said April—when they tested these eight missiles—was it five missiles, eight missiles? I lose count. You know, towards, like, five different locations in South Korea. That really looked like it was more than R&D, right? It looked like it was sort of operational—testing of operational deployment of these tactical nuclear weapons. So all of this combined I think is very concerning. You know, the United Nations POE, Panel of Experts, they say it’s unprecedented intensity, diversity, and operational capability. And that’s exactly right.
So we are here. And we’re—you know, Scott asked what we can do. Is there any more additional tools we can do to discourage North Korea’s opportunism? I don’t know what we can do. In terms of policy, I agree with everything that, you know, President Lee said, Bruce said, and Jung-Yeop said, right? We said we’re going to increase readiness. Sure. Let’s do that. Let’s make sanctions more effective. Let’s try to do that, although I don’t know how we do that with China and Russia really not being on board. Let’s strengthen our own counter-capability. Yes, yes, yes. Three pillar defense system, you say Kill Chain, KAMD, KMPR. Deploy nuclear submarine, enhance crisis management—that’s all good, and I’m glad we’re going to do that.
And the question is not about U.S.-South Korea coordination, because thankfully they are coordinating. I mean, there is no more of this—like, we’ve been talking about let’s get everybody on the same page. And I think everybody’s on the same page. Even Japan. It was really good to see this trilateral meeting in Cambodia where they talk about now, you know, how they’re going to trilaterally—three countries are going to work together. So the issue is not about the Moon administration talking about peace declaration while we’re talking about something else. Everybody’s on the same page.
But my question, and I don’t really have an answer to, is let’s not fool ourselves. North Korean are—have been expanding, modernizing. They are getting closer by day. They are on their path to perfecting their capability like they said, Kim Jong-un promised that they would. And there’s nothing we can do to stop that. Like, we can do all of these things to make ourselves in terms of deterrence capabilities and defense. But there’s nothing we can do to stop them advancing their nuclear missile capabilities. So what do we do about that? I mean, we talk about years of—like, you know, so that’s my—you know, my frustration.
You know, Bruce talked very well about the three nuclear options. And Bruce said he doesn’t want to go into right now about why we should not—or, why you are against those three options. I think we should actually talk about why you’re against those three options, and what we can do—
KLINGNER: I didn’t have enough time.
TERRY: I know. (Laughs.) I’m just saying, during our conversation, because I think it’s just not enough at this point to sort of say, you know, we’re just going to continually just do more joint exercises or all these things that we’re talking about. And we know geopolitical environment is favorable for North Korea. Like we already talked about. It’s a very different kind of environment right now post-Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with this loose alignment between Xi and Putin, and North Koreans are helping the Russians, right? They’re sending artilleries. And now, more importantly, Russia and China are not helping at all.
I mean, you talked about 2016-2017 sanctions, we actually saw China do more in that period, fall of 2017, which surprised a lot of Korea watchers, including myself, because I was very, oh, China is going to do a few days and that’s it. And we actually had something going in 2017. But 2022 is not 2017. I think it’s very hard to get back to that. So while I wish for effective sanctions, and I’m not saying we should just, you know, ease sanctions, but I don’t know if—I just think the geopolitical environment is not favorable for North Korea. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—literally if Kim Jong-un—even there was 1 percent chance, or .001 percent chance that they were going to do something about giving up nuclear weapons, or do something to denuclearize, that—I think Russia’s invasion of Ukraine really showed Kim that that’s just not in the cards.
The environment, political environment, is favorable for North Korea because there’s not going to be a real repercussion whatsoever. Yeah, we can do all this deterrence and more unilateral sanctions, but it’s still favorable for North Korea. There’s no real repercussion after doing the seventh nuclear test. So we do have to think about four, five—three, four, and five years down the road, because when we meet again in two years, or whatever, it’s going to be a different scenario because we’re not doing anything to stop that. So, you know, Soo’s here. Like, RAND Corporation, you said, when last year the report where they talked about in five years they will have 200 nuclear warheads, right?
So I do think that we have to talk a little bit more about not audacious plan, because you said—and I agree with you—you said it’s North Korea that needs to be audacious, North Korea that needs to be bold. I agree with you. But we know they’re not going to. I mean, who gives it, like, is there even a 1 percent chance? So then we have to talk realistically about what can we do beyond all of this? And this is why if we are against the three options for nuclear options, fine. But we have to talk about it. And we have to talk about what that means.
Between denuclearization or arms control debate, it was really interesting because, you know, you were talking about, like, Jeffrey Lewis, very respected scholar, wrote a New York Times piece arguing for arms control. Yesterday I happened to have a conversation with a couple national assemblymen from South Korea, you know, who is in the opposition camp, but even they were saying: If we go down the path of saying we accept North Korea’s nuclearization, South Korea will have to think about nuclearizing themselves. And this is coming from the progressive camp.
So I do think that in terms of that debate we do have to think about—I mean, there is repercussions of the arms—like, there is a regional proliferation risk. But my—I will just conclude with the point that we didn’t want to get into, but I do think we do have to think about what we can do much more because I don’t see how any of the options that were brought up this morning will lead to North Korea slowing down because of this environment that they are in, and because there’s no repercussions.
STARES: OK. Thank you, Sue Mi. We have about forty-five minutes before the break. We could extend a little bit beyond that if necessary. We’re going to open it up for Q&A now, and other commentary. And folks should do what is customary, put up their—as Sharon is already showing the way, and so is Alex. (Laughter.) I believe before I call on you, Sharon—I believe, Bong-Geun Jun, did you have some remarks to make, short remarks? And I believe, yes, Yong-Sup Han, too. So if you just want to make some brief remarks.
Q: Do I need to be brief?
STARES: You do need to be brief. (Laughter.)
Q: I think we share frustrations. You said that you’re following for two decades, but some of us—many of us are following almost for three decades. And now we are having four big nuclear issues to deal with. Still denuclearization negotiations are on the table. Secondly, how do we have our deterrence fully ready with a fully armed North Korea—nuclear-armed North Korea? Thirdly, as was mentioned, you know, Korean nuclear armament argument is rising. How to respond to that? And fourthly, also very importantly, nuclear use, risk from North Korea, is increasing very rapidly. They are having probably the most aggressive and dangerous nuclear doctrine, and probably the most aggressive and dangerous nuclear posture. And also, South Korea has a preemptive strike military plan. So when we are seeing both of these parties are having preemptive strike military plans, that’s going to be very dangerous.
And so I have a lot to say, but I wanted just to go for a couple of these issues. You said that—both Woo Jung-Yeop and Sue Mi said that there’s a déjà vu. In my counting, there was about seven cycles. We are entering eighth cycle. There was seven denuclearization agreement, beginning with 1991 Inter-Korean Denuclearization Declaration, up to 2017 Singapore summit or Panmunjom summit agreements. All of them, DPRK have said that we are going to agree to denuclearize, but that never happened. And what I meant—when I said cycles, the cycle is like this: DRPK does some provocations, and then it all of a sudden there is a very serious nuclear or war crisis. Then there is some negotiation and agreement. And definitely that agreement are collapsing sooner than later.
We have turned the cycle. So in fact, I have some to my own senses about ten to fifteen years ago about this sequence or pattern. So it’s pretty easy for me to predict what will happen. When we have this Singapore and Panmunjom agreement, we know those are very, you know, excellent statement, but we know that the details are missing there. They said, we are going to have a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. It’s more like U.S. saying I’m aiming at, you know, a nuclear-free world. But you are not going to give up the weapons. And also we know DPRK is not going to give up the weapons quickly. And they have to come up with some, you know, short-term, you know, first stage denuclearization plan, and second stage measures. But DPRK always refused to do that.
And the problem is that at least in the DPRK they have about fifty nuclear weapons for the moment, and they are making about five to ten of them every year. So within five, ten years probably they may have more than probably Israel or some other—Pakistan. So it’s—denuclearization negotiation is really one thing that we are frustrated about. But we still should focus on, have this denuclearization negotiation to be resumed. All of us are saying always that we have done everything—all the sanctions, all the incentives, everything. But for me, we have not done fully enough. All our sanctions are half-done. All our incentives are only half-done. And coordination between U.S. and Korean government is not fully effective. And also, South Korea has—our government have changed every five years.
So none of our really denuclearization plans have been, you know, fully implemented more than ten years. Only just very short. So DPRK, I believe, that there always should be—you know, they should have a Plan B, you know? So it’s—that is a—so, for me, while it’s easy to say we have done everything, but for me, are we? And whenever also there’s some denuclearization success case in the world, like Argentina-Brazil of 1991, we immediately applied that formula to the Korean Peninsula, so that we could have inter-Korean denuclearization declaration. But situation is totally different. Argentina-Brazil, they changed their government from military to civilian. But in North Korea, they are not. And also, we tried to apply the JCPOA formula, but there is, you know, president elected by the popular vote in Iran, but in North Korea no. So I have been arguing for that. We need a Korean Peninsula-specific denuclearization strategy. Without that we probably, you know, return the same—this cyclical pattern.
I just have one more word about this nuclear use risk problem. Bonnie Jenkins in the U.S. mentioned a few weeks ago that we need to have some sort of arms control dialogue with the DPRK. When I heard that, it’s not nuclear disarmament negotiations. Nuclear disarmament negotiations are reached among nuclear weapon states. But I thought that what she was mentioning at the time was that DPRK is too dangerous. You know, they are using all sorts of weapons—conventional, military—and that they are very aggressive at the moment. So really to engage in some sort of dialogue to calm down the situation, that’s exactly what the Korean government has been proposing to the DPRK. We need to have some arms control negotiations and agreement.
So I expect on the one hand nuclear disarmament agreement—you know, nuclear disarmament negotiations between U.S. and DPRK is not—it is not an acceptable agenda. But on the other hand, if things are too dangerous on the Korean Peninsula, as it is today, there should be some sort of a military or political dialogue between U.S.-DPRK, and also inter-Korea. That’s what—in my view, that’s why we need to look at it. Otherwise, at the moment this—you know, in Korea the popular support for nuclear disarmament is about 70 percent. Who knows, it may go up to— you know, it goes up even much higher. And I’ll stop.
STARES: Great. Thank you so much.
Q: Thank you. Please understand me and my red jacket doesn’t have anything to do with the red waves in Washington politics. (Laughter.) Nor for Moon’s North Korea policy.
I have two points to make, given the time constraint. And first one is we have to develop political ideology to legitimize denuclearization and peace doctrine. North Korea developed—Kim Jong-un developed nuclear peace ideology by making nuclear weapons. They ensure the permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, and also peace in North Asia. United States is going to undermine North Korea’s nuclear peace logic by asking for unconditional denuclearization. So this is brainwashed result of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un dictatorship—family dictatorship.
Maybe Kim Jong-un believes now. In his belief system, United States was warmonger and also dividing Korean Peninsula, and also threatening to use nuclear weapons, with deploying tactical nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. So this nuclear peace logic is a very strong and built in North Korean belief system. So without attacking those belief system, it is useless. We only approaching technical or military approach, you know. So inside South Korea, 50 percent of South Korean people are contaminated by those nuclear peace logic, spread by North Korean political propaganda. So this is—South Korean government and also U.S. government, they keep changing—we bring in new brand every time. But this is not targeting directly at North Korean political belief system. It’s very important for you to bring—to delegitimize/illegalize North Korean nuclear peace logic. That is very important.
Second topic, second point I’d like to make, is that now is the time for us—you know, South Korea, United States, and Japan—to address necessity for extended deterrence. But we have to included expanded deterrence to include Japan in this concept of extended deterrence. Extended deterrence is in scope, and also you have to broaden it to include Japan because North Korean nuclear threat is reaching beyond Japan in Western Pacific, together with the Chinese development of nuclear weapons and doctrine and updating that. So the threat is now regional, not only specific to Korean Peninsula. So you have to develop some new strategy of extended deterrence and also expanded deterrence to include Japan. So that is my two arguments to make for the next five years. Thank you.
STARES: OK. Thank you, both of you. Did anybody on the panel have any just quick responses to what was said just now? Or we can—we can open it up? OK. I think, Sharon, you’re first—Sharon Squassoni. It comes on automatically. You don’t have to press anything.
Q: Oh, great. OK. Thank you. Thanks for this.
STARES: And just a reminder, the discussion is on the record today. So I just want to remind everybody that that’s the record.
Q: OK. Then I’m not going to ask my question. No. (Laughs.) Thanks. Fascinating discussion.
I am reminded a little bit of Groundhog Day. I don’t know if—I know Americans will know this movie, where Bill Murray wakes up every day, it’s Groundhog Day again. (Laughs.) But the key point about that is he actually learns over time. So he corrects his mistakes. And I think that we’re—and he gets the girl in the end, I think. (Laughs.) But so I think we’re in a little danger when, yes, the situation seems pretty dire now, but there has—there was progress, halting progress, over time. And I think back to the Comprehensive Military Agreement, right? Where there was very good implementation of some very specific, small steps. So that’s just an aside.
Bruce, I wonder why—I don’t think we should accept Jeffrey Lewis’ formulation of this process, right? I don’t see it as arms control versus denuclearization. I think you can keep denuclearization as the goal, as we have. And I think we have to be creative, but there are—you know, arms control is going to be what we define it. Tom Schelling’s defined it very broadly; you know, all forms of military cooperation. So I think there may be small things. It’s not going to happen all at once, but it may be tension-reduction measures. They may be very specific things. And the trick will be not to let North Korea drive the narrative, right, because—I think Sue Mi Terry brought this up—the language recently from Kim Jong-un has been really off the charts about, you know, not negotiating.
The nuclear-testing issue and our, I don’t know, prognostications about when this is going to happen—(laughs)—this is a great example of why we need dialogue with North Korea, right? We’ve been saying all year long they’re about to test, but we really don’t know.
So one thing I would say that argues in favor of arms control versus nonproliferation is the nonproliferation framework puts you in a very punitive mode, right—you know, North Korea has violated all its agreements; it needs to make the action. But we and I would say President Lee made a critical point: this is really about crisis stability. And so there are things you can do. You can call it arms control or dialogue or whatever. You need—we need to sit down with North Korea to establish some kinds of mechanisms. And you know, honestly, the whole debate about nuclear weapons and how they contribute to security doesn’t help us there, because as long as you’re saying nuclear weapons keep the peace that makes it hard—(laughs)—to combat the North Korean narrative of, you know, like, as long as we all have nuclear weapons, you know, there will be peace in our time. So it’s not easy, but I don’t think we should be falling back on, you know, our old habits.
So I would just encourage everyone to be a little more creative. (Laughs.) I guess that wasn’t a question. I apologize. Thanks. (Laughter.)
STARES: OK. Thank you, Sharon.
Did—Bruce or Sue Mi, did you have any—
KLINGNER: Yeah, I’ll jump in. I did depict it as arms control versus denuclearization, but I have written elsewhere where I think there is more overlap than it seems and it is definitional in some ways.
So it also kind of flows into the, you know, sanctions or diplomacy. It’s like, both, along with all the other instruments of national power. But it often gets into, OK, if you advocate for enforcing U.S. laws, it’s, oh, you don’t believe in diplomacy.
So, you know, I think, you know—and I was on the arms—you know, I was head of the arms control staff at the agency. I was on the CFE delegation. I love arms control. But, you know, I think if you abandon denuclearization as a stated goal, I think it has the negative ramifications that I mentioned.
I think denuclearization has been depicted by some as, you know, the John Bolton Libya model; it’s got to be done in twelve to eighteen months and they get nothing until we get everything. Even other statements by Bolton and Pompeo and others in the Trump administration showed that wasn’t what the policy was.
So an analogy that I’ve often used is, you know, denuclearization may be a hundred-yard agreement where you have a defined goal line, and then you implement it in five-yard increments. Others have argued for a five-yard agreement and then, if everyone is happy with the success, then you negotiate another five-yard and five-yard. Good argument for both sides, but I think you do need to—I’m more in favor of the big, comprehensive thing where, like the arms control treaties we negotiated, you define everything, you define the parameters of a verification accord, et cetera.
So, I mean, at this point, we even disagree with North Korea over what the Korean Peninsula is. They think it’s anything that impacts the Korean Peninsula, including bases in Guam and Hawaii. And when I once asked a North Korean, I said, well, what about the ICBMs in North and South Dakota targeted at North Korea, they said, yeah, that’s part of the Korean Peninsula. So, yeah, we do need to talk with them for definitional purposes, and also tension reduction and that, force reduction talks, but they won’t talk to us.
So, you know, the CMA, I think, was oversold by the Moon administration. I think it was a good tension-reduction, confidence, and security-building measure—agreement. Now, in the history of warfare, you know, concrete guard posts and minefields have never attacked another nation. So I think it was a good step towards reducing the potential for an accidental clash on the DMZ escalating into much more, you know, and I am in favor of tension reduction and, you know, conventional force-reduction talks.
So, like I said, some of it is definitional, but it requires North Korea to actually sit in the room with us to talk. And it is going to be incremental. It’s going to take a long time. But I don’t believe in abandoning that final goal.
TERRY: So just thirty seconds. I mean, I hear you. I agree with you in that arms control and denuclearization does not have to be either/or thing. You can still keep it as a long-term goal and try to engage. But being creative, it requires—there’s a cost to this, right?
So on behalf of defending the Biden administration—which I’m not normally defending because I really don’t get what their North Korea policy actually is—(laughs)—but—they keep saying it’s not this, it’s not that, but I don’t know what it is—but still, what—in the defense of the Biden administration, they tried. They tried to reach out to the North Koreans. They said they would sit down with the North Koreans unconditionally. So at this point, for North Koreans to come and sit down with us—and you were saying they are the ones who have to make the audacious decision, because we’re not—what are we proposing? So, then, should we, in the middle of the hundred missile tests, just give unilateral sanctions relief, just lift our sanctions off? Because that seems like that’s the only thing that would get them to sit down.
So if you say we got to give them more incentive, like, what are we talking about? Because they’re not—they’re not willing to sit down for any other reason. Perhaps sanctions relief would get us there, but are we then saying—would you then be comfortable saying in the middle of all this we should just lift sanctions, right? So that’s—what will get them to sit down? I guess that’s the question.
STARES: OK. I think Alex Lennon is next.
Q: Thanks very much. I particularly want to thank you all for coming over. It’s been a long time since we’ve had discussions in person with others, and this is really valuable as someone who hasn’t been able to engage them for about two-and-a-half years. A couple of near misses, but not quite.
I’ve got two questions for the panel on sort of big strategy. The first is for President Lee, although, Jung-Yeop, if you want to weigh in as well. Forgive me if I misheard; I think part of what you talked about in your presentation was the strategic goal of increasing North Korea’s dependence on China and Russia to increase the leverage over North Korea. My sense is that was part of the strategy five years ago. In the United States right now, I think that would be much more difficult. Do we want a relationship strategically to encourage North Korea to be more dependent on China and Russia or more isolated from them, given the geopolitical relations over the last five years?
Sue Mi, you ready for the softball?
TERRY: Sure. (Laughs.)
Q: Which of the three nuclear options do you think is the most likely first step and which would you recommend? Unlike the arms control-denuclearization conversation, I think these are three alternatives. I think I know in the United States what the least popular of the three nuclear options is. I know I am getting the most submissions about nuclear sharing and investigating it, but I think that’s because it’s the least understood of the three—reintroducing tactical weapons, having independent South Korean nuclear. Sort of obvious what nuclear sharing means. There’s a lot more uncertainty to it. Which do you think is politically the most likely first step and which would you recommend should be in investigating and focusing our initial efforts on those three nuclear options? And, Bruce, if you want to weigh in as the other circus clown on this one, be my guest.
TERRY: Are we answering those questions first?
STARES: We’ll go to President Lee first.
LEE: OK. North Korea’s dependence on China and Russia, will it be leverage? I think it can be leverage, but also it can be liability; meaning that at least if North Korea get out of diplomatic isolation and getting closer to Russia and China, perhaps it will have some moderating effect about North Korea’s adventurous behavior or reckless behavior. And of course, there will be some practical interests for North Korea to getting close to China and Russia in terms of economic assistance or more strategic coordination. But it means—it can also mean that North Korea is far away from engagement or negotiating table, so it will be much more difficult to get back North Korea from that to the negotiating table.
I understand that perhaps watching Ukraine crisis North Korea will get some—would have get some lessons. One is quite negative, watching what happens to Ukraine’s fate by giving up nuclear weapon. Kim Jong-un may have a more strong belief that he gives up nuclear weapon, he can be—fall victim of the geopolitical situation. So because perhaps Ukraine war may be a very bad lesson for Kim Jong-un and it will be—it will be much more difficult to bring—to pull out North Korea from that situation.
That’s my response.
STARES: Sue Mi, do you want to take the softball?
TERRY: Yeah. The softball, obviously, I mean, it’s most preferable if those are the only three options would be the first one and the second one—the third one, the worst being South Korea fully going—developing their own indigenous capability for the exact reasons you also mentioned, though. First one, I think there is not much—there is not—people don’t quite know what we are talking about when we are talking about that, right?
So I am actually an advocate for let’s study it. Let’s not say let’s dismiss it; let’s look into it. Maybe—even though Koreans who are advocating or say ooh, if you really look at the consequences of it, they’re not going to like that. Like, when you poll the Koreans, they say, right, sure, we’ll have—we’ll develop our own nuclear capability, because they don’t understand what the consequences of that would be. They think—they don’t know that means they will be internationally isolated. Maybe there will be sanctions on South Korea. Does the public understand that when they say we’re for it?
So talking about it and researching it, there’s no downside to that. And I, in fact, think that does send a message to the North Koreans and China just like what Jake Sullivan was talking about, like, oh, maybe we need to also send more—you know, USFK forces should be expanded or so on. Talking about this indicates that there is going to be consequences to what North Korea doing what they’re doing, right? So looking into it and talking about it, I think, is the first step.
Q: And it being nuclear sharing, would you say the first?
KLINGNER: I would say 3.5—nuclear planning. So the reintroduction—well, overall, I think there needs to be a push on the Koreans of, OK, what objectives are you trying to achieve by any of these three options? You know, please define that because we haven’t really heard it. It’s either we’re nuclearizing in order to denuclearize or it’s, hey, we’re trying to be a better, stronger partner with the U.S. We will go together. Or is it, yeah, we don’t really trust the Americans, so we think we better start building nukes now? Or, well, 28,500 hostages aren’t enough; I want some nuke weapons on the ground too to make sure the U.S. lives up to its commitments?
So the tac nukes, it’s—the ground stuff we took out doesn’t exist anymore. The air and ground—the air and naval stuff is on really hard-to-find, really hard-to-target launch platforms. And if you take the weapons off of them and put them in a big “hit me first” bunker—(laughter)—you’ve taken—you’ve degraded our capabilities. It’s like, you know, a policeman walking in the bad neighborhoods in a town, you’ve taken all their bullets and put them at headquarters. Well, you’ve now made them less capable, and then you have a really good preemptive target for North Korea. And then if you were to say, you know, things are getting tense, we better put them back on the platforms, well, you wouldn’t want to do that because it’s escalatory.
The going nuke, yeah, it’s—they could be subject to sanctions or they have to withdraw from the NPT. The International Nuclear Suppliers Group could cut—could or would cut them off from their fissile—you know, their nuclear material for even their civilian things. Would the nukes be integrated with CFC or not? You know, all that.
The nuclear sharing, you know, when I’ve talked—and I need to learn more about it, but what I’ve heard from, you know, military officers is, like, it’s not as good as what South Korea thinks it is. The Europeans don’t get as much as they think, but we don’t want to say it because then—you know. You know, and also I understand the airplanes would be twice as expensive, you know, nuclear-capable aircraft. And then it’s—the U.S. would still control the one or two keys for the nuke weapon; you know, what does that get—anyway.
So nuclear planning—and I think that’s probably what we’re seeing with the extended deterrence working group—is talking more about what our planning would be, what our targeting would be. Hopefully, that would be reassuring. But I think a cynical American view would be: What more do you need to assure you of our extended deterrence guarantee? We have a treaty. We have repeated assurances. You know, we’ve got the extended deterrence guarantee. We’ve got our forces there. And think of what would happen to American credibility with our alliances around the world if we didn’t live up to our agreement to defend South Korea.
STARES: OK. We have five speakers, fifteen minutes, so we’re going to have to pick up the pace. I think Bob Einhorn is next, followed by Youngjun Kim at the end there. Bob?
Q: Thank you, Paul.
I’d like to pick up on this discussion about extended deterrence and three noes. And Bruce pointed out that both the Biden and Yoon administrations don’t support any—you know, any of those three options. But my sense is, even within the Yoon administration and with a lot of experts outside the government, there’s dissatisfaction with the state of the dialogue between the two allies on what’s necessary to give South Koreans confidence in the reliability of the deterrent. I think we saw it last week in the SCM. You know, a close reading of the joint communique as well as looking at the two ministers and their body language and so forth suggested to me that the U.S. was not really meeting South Korean concerns and frustration and so forth.
It impressed me when Secretary Austin said we will—the most emphatic thing he said was we will not permanently deploy U.S. strategic assets, you know, in South Korea. So—which told me—as a connoisseur of, you know, these kind of, you know, private negotiations, it told me that they had disagreed. They had worked this issue a lot and that, you know—that, you know, the reiteration of rotational deployment and we’re going to retain the capability to forward deploy. We’re not going to exercise that capability. We’re not going—but we retain that—it’s not enough. Sure, you have, you know, submarines calling at Busan and you fly B-52s or B-1s over the peninsula, but my sense is that that’s—you know, that’s not scratching the itch. And if the—if the choice is between the ROK making bad decisions—choosing one of those really bad options—and trying to do more to scratch that itch, I would really look at it. And I agree with Sue Mi Terry about, you know, we need to look at this.
And you know, and I agree with Bruce. I mean, I don’t think—as I understand nuclear sharing, you know, I think it’s problematic. It involves, I think, you know, training South Korean pilots to deliver U.S. nuclear weapons in wartime. And where are those weapons coming from? Are we going to forward deploy them in a crisis and escalate the—you know, the situation? Are we going to station them in bunkers—refurbished bunkers in South Korea and make them targets of preemptive attack? It’s not a very good option. So what more can we do? And I think Bruce’s 3.5 is probably the right solution.
Engaging the South Koreans more directly, importantly, prominently, visibly in the planning process, planning for, you know, the—and even in some respects, operation of the extended deterrent. We have NATO non-nuclear allies who would—who would fly missions not with nuclear weapons, but to, you know, suppress air defense or to escort. You know, there are missions that can be performed. And I think we need to think seriously about it.
And I think, sure, there’s this bilateral extended deterrence working group that operates at a high level and working levels. You know, I don’t think it really has gotten to what can really satisfy the South Koreans, and I think we—the U.S. really needs to do more to try to increase confidence.
And I welcome not just the panelists’ reaction, but you know, our South Korean friends who are here. You know, what do they think about this? Am I right? You know, are they frustrated? Do they want more? What do they really want? And I agree there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what, you know, nuclear sharing is. But I think it needs to be gone into in depth.
STARES: OK. I’m going to ask you to hold off and I think come back to Bob’s very important question at the end because I’m worried that we’re not going to hear from everybody. I think, Youngjun Kim, you’re next, and then Miles Pomper.
Q: Thank you very much. It’s a wonderful discussion, especially Sue Mi and Bruce and Dr. Lee, and Dr. Woo’s an old friend of mine. Also, Scott is a very productive discussion.
Two years ago, I and Toby Dalton actually conducted some research project on nuclear arms control sponsored by ROK government. It’s kind of classified research project. At the time, nobody supported idea. And after finishing my project, we—(inaudible)—Richard Johnson and Toby Dalton and I invited Bob and Victor and the other guy, Dr. Heckel, with Harry Harris, the ambassador in the webinar. And then at the time, as everybody say, it’s not a new concept of nuclear arms control because it’s similar, like, to the step-by-step approach of denuclearization. Actually, I and Toby defined nuclear arms control as a step-by-step approach of denuclearization, never allow North Korea as a nuclear arms state.
So but then the problem is we need a solution, rather than just blaming Kim Jong-un as a crazy nuclear ambition guy, because now is—Korean Peninsula has a lot of crisis situation. Maybe next year will be another Lee Myung-bak government’s crisis situation, another maybe Yeonpyeong Island attack, another maybe Cheonan sinking incident. South Korean population doesn’t want to have it. And maybe whether we love or not, accomplishing military agreement is one of the small step approach for the reduction of tension, just like assurance idea, and I really support that.
So we need to maybe change the idea of the denuclearization instead of about the all-or-nothing approach. We have do that already for the last three decade, but all-or-nothing approach is not very productive for the Korean Peninsula peace and security. So I need to ask Bruce and Sue Mi, also Scott, about the—what should be the goal of the ROK and U.S. approach on North Korea? Maybe first option is the status quo, nothing doing, just blaming. And second will be end of North Korean regime by sanction, but China and Russia never will join, maybe for the next decade. And third option will be balance of nuclear deterrence, including—(inaudible)—introduction of tactical nuclear weapons. Or fourth thing is another approach, like the Bonnie Jenkins or Jeffrey Lewis and Toby—(inaudible)—today, but maybe a more realistic approach on the kind of tension-reduction or threat-reduction approach rather than all-or-nothing approach.
So we need to have some kind of grand strategy rather than just saying denuclearization or not saying, or sanction, sanction, and sanction, because we forgot some cost, the worst scenario. The worst scenario will be not another nuclear weapon test or a tactical nuclear weapon.
Another scenario will be combined exercise between PLA and KPA in the North Korean territory. You know that over seven decades, North Korea never want any kind of Chinese forces in North Korean territory since 1956 with the role of Chinese voluntary forces because North Korea never want it. But now a solution China has a combined exercise—(inaudible)—2018 and 2022. Now North Korea has option to join them, and maybe we can see another thousand PLA officer in North Korean territory in five years or in ten years; or another KPA soldier in Manchuria, maybe in ten years, combined exercise between them.
This is a game changer rather than another nuclear weapons test. So we need to think about cost when we strengthen about ROK-U.S.-Japan military exercise or NATO cooperation, which I strongly support. But at the same time, we need to calculate another course, another possible worst scenario about North Korea KPA-PLA nuclear umbrella exercise, whatever. Maybe PLA target Seoul in their operation exercise in ten years.
So I just wonder, what kind of—should be the goal of the ROK-U.S. on North Korea? To Scott, Sue Mi, or Bruce. Thank you.
STARES: OK. Thank you, Youngjun.
Q: I’ve been sort of struck by how much of this discussion—I mean, you talk about déjà vu, but the analysis seems to be déjà vu, too. I mean, we seem to be ignoring the main strategic development in the region, which is China’s increase in its nuclear arsenal.
And that seems to have an effect—you know, we’re treating this as just the Korean Peninsula, but there’s a regional issue here that’s happening, and we should—I think we should be looking at regional measures. And if we’re talking about tension reduction, it shouldn’t just be Korean Peninsula tension reduction, it should be regional tension reduction, and I haven’t heard any discussion of that.
STARES: Interesting. I think Yonho Kim, you’re next?
Q: Thank you. I think my question has been answered—almost answered by the remarks by Sue Mi and Bob, but just in case you have anything to add.
My question is this, I think there is a growing perception in South Korea that there’s a big gap between the U.S. and South Korea on the sense of urgency about North Korea advancing its nuclear capability, and so Sue Mi and Bob just, you know, suggested, you know, what we can do to deal with that.
But if that discussion is just limited to the people in this room, and we don’t see any big, you know, changes, then what will be the impact on the U.S.-ROK alliance in the long-term? Thank you.
STARES: OK. I think a final question from Jeff Smith, and then we will go back to the panel for any wrap-up.
Q: Thank you. Fascinating discussion.
We’ve talked a great deal about what we can do, and what we can’t do, and what the implications would be. This may be, I think—this may be a question for Bruce and Sue Mi, and your experience in the intelligence community. What do we know about what Kim wants and what he might be willing to accept?
We know he wants us off the peninsula. He knows—you know, he’d like to somehow take over South Korea. But what is he willing to accept? Do we have any idea what’s going on inside his head, and with his immediate entourage? Very hard to negotiate if you don’t have some sense of what might work.
STARES: All right. Who wants to go first? A lot of the questions have been put to you, Bruce, and Sue Mi, but I do want to give Jung-Yeop and President Lee a chance to say anything. Who wants to go first?
KLINGNER: Why don’t they go?
STARES: Yeah, OK.
WOO: Yeah, I can go first. I’m not speaking for our government, but I can say that, as far as I know, South Korean government has not like requested redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons, or discussing about the nuclear sharing, or our government is not thinking of making our indigenous nuclear weapons for ourselves.
But since, as we all agree, that the tensions has been rising on the Korean Peninsula, we need to discuss all the options on the table. So let them know that we are serious.
And second, I really don’t think there’s a gap of the sense of urgency between Korea and the United States, as far as I know, and all those people that I met from the U.S. government, they are very serious about the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
Some criticize in South Korea that the priority is really low by the Biden administration with regard to DPRK, but I really don’t understand. So if—so they argue that since Biden administration is not proposing any concrete idea towards DPRK because priority is low. I don’t agree with that.
We are proposing everything to DPRK. It’s DPRK that doesn’t come to the negotiation. So when those who criticize and argue that the priority is very low, they argue that we need to provide something to DPRK for them to come back to the negotiation.
We already propose all the things that we could provide, we could offer. It’s DPRK that they refuse to come back to the negotiation. So it’s not about us. It’s not about us not proposing enough. We propose enough with the condition that the sanctions imposed on DPRK, and we cannot acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.
So within those constraints the U.S. and South Korean government are offering much more things than probably North Korea expected. So it’s not about us not doing anything, it’s about DPRK.
So we are trying to—we are going to repeatedly propose to DPRK all the things that we already offered them, but again, I think it’s about DPRK. And I really don’t want South Korea or the U.S. government to operate on short-term wishes. Just bring North Korea to the negotiation.
It did really hurt—it will really have long-term consequences. We saw in the last five years that if you leave on the short-term wishes, it has long-term consequences. So I think it’s time for the U.S. and South Korea to be more patient, not live on the short-term wishes.
STARES: Thank you.
TERRY: Should we just go down the row, or?
STARES: Let’s go with President Lee.
LEE: Great. Let me go first. (Laughs.)
Well, I think the key to extended deterrence is the—we already indicated assurance and credibility. This is the key. We all know that United States has offered enough measures to provide extended deterrence, whatever methods they use.
But I think this is kind of a(n) ongoing process, meaning that we constantly have some mechanism to give assurance to Korean audience, and also the case that both nations will maintain some kind of mechanism to constantly consult each other about U.S. commitment and South Korea’s credibility toward the U.S. And in that process, I think I would like to argue that in messaging discipline is quite important. For example, between Korea-U.S. SCM, if there’s some noise, people may think about, oh, there may be some disagreement between two government. I think that should be avoided in the future.
And, all right, the last question: What does Kim Jong—what does Kim Jong-un want? And what’s the bottom line that he can accommodate? One of the concern is that recent North Korean nuclear weapon act. That’s actually happened in the seventh meeting of the 14thSupreme People’s Assembly in September this year. In his speech, Kim Jong-un declared some of the key principles what he think. One is establishing irreversible status as a nuclear power and North Korea will never give up nuclear weapons, and that at the same time they will enhance transparency and legitimacy in the nation’s nuclear weapon policy.
And with that, he—North Korea elaborated five conditions that they will use nuclear weapons. One of them is that if they believe North Korean leadership is under attack from outside, their military will automatically start using nuclear weapons.
So having said that, is there any backup from Kim Jong-un’s position? It will be quite difficult and maybe impossible. So that’s the way, then, North Korea will continue in the future. That gives us a little bit pessimistic expectation about future of North Korea and denuclearization talks with North Korea.
But anyway, sometimes I think that we all understand—most people understand that North Korea will never give up nuclear weapon. Then why should they continue bothering us with denuclearization talk? I think—personally, I think that denuclearization, a nuclear-weapon-free Korean Peninsula, is a kind of end state that we all want. As a Korean citizen, I don’t want to live on the Korean Peninsula that is plagued with nuclear weapon. So that is our end state and that’s a desirable goal. And that should be our declaratory policy: We want a nuclear-weapon-free Korean Peninsula.
And will North Korea accept that? It depends to Kim Jong-un. And of course, he can live—he can maintain his regime even with nuclear weapons, but if he gives it up their future will be much better. That should be our messaging.
STARES: Great. Sue Mi and then Bruce.
TERRY: Sure. So thanks to Jung-Yeop, who’s most sympathetic to Biden administration’s perspective.
In terms of the prioritization that Yonho asked about, I agree with you. I do think it’s really North Korea. I mean, we said we were going to meet with them unconditionally.
The issue, I guess, is, you know, when he made the UN speech, there’s one line on North Korea. He just sat down with Xi Jinping for three hours to talk about everything under the sun. It’s like a little bit on North Korea was even after.
So the sense that he gives is that it’s a lower priority, but I think it’s because also—because there’s some frustration that’s involved. Like we already said we’re going to sit down with you unconditionally, what is it that we could possibly do?
So that brings back to, you know—who was it, Dr. Jung who talked about, you know, we’ve got sanctions—have—you know, incentives, also have. What incentives are enough to give to Kim Jong-un?
So again, I’m—is it just enough? So we know they want sanctions relief, so should we give it in advance of sitting down? Otherwise, we’ve done enough because we said we’ll sit down with them unconditionally. So I ask anybody who says this is not creative enough, what is it that we need to do to bring them to the negotiating table?
Bob’s excellent comments about the nuclear deterrence and different nuclear plans—you know, the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations came out with this report, and they talked about creating an Asian Nuclear Planning Group. I don’t know if anybody has seen that report.
South Korea, Japan, Australia sitting down and starting with an Asian Nuclear Planning Group, and sort of 3.5 that Bruce mentioned—I think that might be a start to start having this kind of planning group, having this discussion because of some of the excellent points you made. This is not feasible, but why don’t we sit down and start having the discussion.
Somebody—and then the question about assurance, credibility of extended nuclear deterrence—the question, I guess, to the Koreans is, are you sure—do you have credible—like do we have credibility anymore?
Bruce said, what more credibility do you want? You know, you have 28,500 American soldiers there. We have our presence there.
Well, maybe we shouldn’t have a president who talk about pulling out troops. You know, maybe there’s a little bit nervousness what’s going to happen with the next election. So we have to be a little bit sympathetic. I mean, of course Koreans are going to say, yeah, we are sure, but are you really assured?
The last comment I will make in terms of Jeff’s question on what does Kim Jong-un want—you know, a lot of times it’s true, you know, North Korea is hardest of hard target country. There’s a lot of questions, a lot of things that we don’t know.
Like, I don’t know with the other focus on tactical nuclear weapons, is Kim Jong-un ever crazy enough to really think that if they attack something—like a ship off the coast of the peninsula—that maybe that will lead to delinking of U.S. and South Korea? Is he—that—is he somebody who thinks that way? We don’t know.
But oftentimes, we also do know because Kim Jong-un says what he’s going to do, what he wants to do, and I think he made it very clear, you know, with this new nuclear doctrine in saying that this nuclear program is no longer negotiable. It’s irreversible.
Sometimes he tells us exactly what they’re going to do, and they do it. So sometimes we need to believe them.
STARES: OK. Bruce, final word?
KLINGNER: Yeah, on Miles’ point about we should be talking about China and regionally, I absolutely agree. But I’d say, the first panel, we were just supposed to solve North Korea. It’s the second panel that will solve China.
But I do have—I did write a paper recently on South Korea needs to embrace a more expansive role in Asia. But anyway, we’ll leave it to panel two to solve China.
Yeah, Bob’s excellent points—I think, you know, one, we need to be listening to the Koreans. Americans don’t always tend to be good listeners or perceived not to be good listeners, and—whereas I think a lot of the Korea watchers in Washington are like, boy, things are great with the alliance. Yoon’s policies are like stuff we’ve been recommending for years. The people, the senior leadership, are folks we’ve known for decades. Things are great.
And then, you go to Seoul, and it’s, you know, extended deterrence, concerns about our viability. And spoiler alert on panel three, they don’t like the Inflation Reduction Act. So those are two very big, you know, disagreements where we sort of think everything’s fine.
You know, we do need to be listening to Korea in the sense of, OK, what is it you want? How will nuclear weapons of whatever three options solve your concerns, or will they? Can it be done with conventional weapons?
You know, we are updating OPLAN 5015 to incorporate the changes that not only North Korea has implemented over the years, but also the new capabilities that the U.S. and South Korea have been doing. So we need to do that.
And also, to pick up on the point of expanded extended deterrence with Japan, yes, we need to—and extended deterrence is not only nukes, but it’s missile defense and conventional forces. So one, South Korea should integrate its ballistic missile defense system into the allied system, which they’ve refused to do for years, even though it would be a more effective trilateral defense for all three of our nations and our peoples, and embrace Japan’s strike capabilities because they’d be directed towards North Korean threats, as well as, perhaps, Chinese threats. So those would be things that would improve allied deterrence against the North Korean threat.
On what does Kim want? Everything. If you compile the list of things that North Korea has said over the years of what they want, it’s, you know, end of the alliance, end of U.S. forces, anything west of Hawaii, it’s, you know, total abandonment of any U.S. or UN sanctions. It’s an end to constitutionally protected freedom of speech and media in South Korea. No demonstrations against North Korea in the streets of Seoul, et cetera, et cetera.
So it’s a very long list, although they tend to just emphasize one at a time. But you know, what does North Korea want? If they would just sit in a room with our diplomats—you know, when in October 2019 they tried to do that—OK, let’s talk definitions, and they—nope, not going to tell you what a security guarantee is from our point of view. And it’s kind of hard to have that.
So you know, negotiations is I want all of this, you want all of this, and now we sort of try to negotiate it. But I think it’s—you know, Kim wants nuclear acceptance. He wants maintaining his regime. He wants end of all—sanctions relief. He wants benefits without any responsibilities. But if they would just come into the same room, then we could, you know, work on that.
On what is our goal? I think longstanding U.S. policy has been we want a peacefully reunited South Korea based on the principles of freedom and democracy, and—you know, which is article four of the South Korean constitution.
In the meantime, kind of a shorter-term goal is end of the nuclear threat to South Korea, the end of the conventional forces threat. Kind of short of that is, at least, no war.
And so when we are trying to deter things, we’re not trying to deter every violation of UN resolutions by North Korea. We’re not trying to deter every missile launch—although we’d like to. What we’re trying to deter is, you know, North Korean attacks on the South, and—at least at the strategic level, so.
STARES: OK. Well, thank you to all four of you. This has been a terrific start to the workshop. We’re going to take a break now for lunch and reconvene back here at 1:15 PM. If there’s any other instructions, please tell me, Scott.
But as I say, we have much to think about this morning, and please join me in showing your appreciation for the panelists. (Applause.)
This is an uncorrected transcript.