In the first panel, two main questions were discussed: 1) How have developments like the war in Ukraine and the COVID pandemic affected the security of the Korean Peninsula? 2) What are the views of the key regional players in regard to the threat from North Korea?
Dr. Joseph Nye pointed out how the Russian invasion has become a partial turning point in world politics, as it has changed the behavior of countries like Germany, and NATO. Dr. Nye added, however, that there has been no dramatic change in the underlying balance of power in world politics. He assessed that Russia and China have had major losses in global perceptions of military power, economic power, and soft power. As the result, the U.S.-ROK alliance is in a stronger position.
Former Minister Yoon Young-kwan spoke on the implications of the Ukraine War on the direction of ROK and U.S. diplomacy. Through the war, he noted that Koreans are being reminded of the importance of values like democracy and freedom, and predicted that President-elect Yoon will emphasize the U.S.-ROK alliance. He also indicated that it has been difficult for the Biden administration to concentrate on North Korea due to the war; meanwhile Kim Jong-un will continue to justify and advance his nuclear program by linking Russia’s invasion to Ukraine’s denuclearization.
Professor Lee Sook Jong focused on several implications of the Russian invasion. First, she pointed out that the Korean public will be both reminded of the importance of the U.S.-ROK alliance, and may also begin to reassess introducing nuclear weapons to South Korea. Then, Dr. Lee highlighted that external threats can unite democracies: she pushed that Korea should be contributing to democratic resilience in the Indo-Pacific not just for democracy’s sake, but also for peace and stability in the region.
Lastly, Dr. Sue Mi Terry commented on the North’s internal situation. COVID-19 has created serious challenges for North Korea, especially in conjunction with closing its Chinese border. However, the external environment is relatively good for the DPRK: the Russian invasion has distracted the world, and the U.S.-China relationship is deteriorating. She also judged that the North is gleaning unhelpful lessons from Ukraine, as their denuclearization—like Iraq and Libya’s—has only led to invasion. In the coming weeks, she predicted that North Korea will only continue to test their weapons systems.
Joseph NYE, Harvard University
YOON Young-kwan, Seoul National University
LEE Sook Jong, Sungkyunkwan University
Sue Mi TERRY, CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies)
The second panel focused on two main questions: 1) What can we expect from North Korea going forward? 2) What practical steps can the Biden and Yoon administrations take to achieve the denuclearization objective?
General Vincent Brooks spoke on North Korea's future moves and discussed options for countermeasures on the part of South Korea and the United States. General Brooks predicted that North Korea will send a signal that it will not denuclearize in the future; however, although the DPRK’s words and actions may be aggressive, they will leave the door open for dialogue. He stated that If North Korea's security concerns are resolved, denuclearization would still be possible. Finally, he emphasized that ROK-U.S. efforts for dialogue should not be abandoned.
Ambassador Ahn Ho-young noted that North Korea’s nuclear doctrine was made public for the first time this April, when North Korea stated that if a war broke out with the South, it would fire a nuclear missile to annihilate the ROK military at the beginning of said war. In response, a strategy against this threat should be added to the U.S.-ROK operational plan. At the same time, Ambassador Ahn emphasized that though the possibility of North Korea's denuclearization is low, North Korea's security concerns should be taken seriously and the door to dialogue should be kept open.
Professor Kim Byung-yeon estimated that in recent years, North Korea's GDP may have declined by 20 to 30 percent. He also predicted that North Korea would intensify its provocations to elicit dialogue on the easing of economic sanctions. Professor Kim noted that there is less political capital in the U.S. to invest in North Korean issues; however, he recommended appointing a full-time special representative for the DPRK to give a concrete signal that the U.S. is ready for diplomacy.
Vincent BROOKS, Korea Defense Veterans Association (KDVA)
AHN Ho Young, University of North Korean Studies
KIM Byung-yeon, Seoul National University