Small Wars Journal

Five Decades Analyzing North Korea and the Bomb: A 'Foreign Affairs' Anthology

Five Decades Analyzing North Korea and the Bomb: A Foreign Affairs Anthology

“Much of the current brouhaha over North Korean weapons development is overdone. The geopolitical situation on the Korean Peninsula has been frozen in place for more than half a century and shows no signs of thawing soon,” writes Editor Gideon Rose in his introduction to the new Foreign Affairs collection “North Korea and the Bomb.” “So why is everybody so riled up?”

“A failure of deterrence would be devastating, so even small changes in the odds are worth watching closely. . . . But as so often in the past when dealing with this problem, wise policymakers today would try to dampen tensions rather than escalate them,” observes Rose.

The anthology places into context the current uproar over Pyongyang’s weapons program and points to what may come next. Selections include:

The Man Who Would Be Kim” by Yonsei University Professor Byung-joon Ahn in 1994: “Kim Jong Il's dilemma is this: the North's increasing isolation and impoverishment make political and economic reform imperative; but Kim may find reform impossible. . . .  The need for economic opening is so overwhelming, the North's isolationist course and pursuit of nuclear weapons so untenable, and Kim's apparent abilities so limited that his regime will almost surely be short-lived.”

The Fire Last Time” by Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Scott Snyder in 2004: “The only feasible approach to North Korea today is one that effectively integrates a range of threats and incentives. . . . Washington has been able to muster that kind of focus in the past, narrowly averting a crisis in 1994 through top-level attention supported by effective interagency coordination. Since then, however, North Korea has benefited from American neglect and inattention. If this lack of focus persists, the second Korean nuclear crisis could reach a disastrous climax.”

Regime Change and Its Limits” by Council on Foreign Relations President Richard N. Haass in 2005: “It is essential to appreciate not only the limits of regime change but also its nature. A refusal to engage tyrannies allows them to wrap themselves in nationalism and to maintain control; offering regimes enhanced security and economic and political interaction if they meet specified requirements can deny them their rationale for tight control and their ability to maintain it. A foreign policy that chooses to integrate, not isolate, despotic regimes can be the Trojan horse that moderates their behavior in the short run and their nature in the long run.”

Staying Alive” by Kookmin University Professor Andrei Lankov in 2008: “Aid and cooperation [from China and South Korea]—as well as spontaneous exchanges with the outside world—will eventually undermine Pyongyang. They will facilitate the spread of rumors about life in South Korea and thus erode the major pillar of Kim's legitimacy. The North Koreans will gradually learn that their brethren across the border enjoy material conditions and social freedoms that would be unthinkable in North Korea, and sooner or later the masses will be tempted to join in that prosperity—and quite likely by getting rid of the government whose policies have been disastrous.”

The Once and Future Kim” by Dartmouth College Professor Jennifer Lind in 2010: “However dim Kim Jong Un’s prospects appear, several factors, both internal and external, will work in his favor. He will rely on the system designed by his grandfather, the founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung—a system that, as Daniel Byman and I have written, was designed for resilience. Kim Il Sung devised this system to deter revolution from below and military coups from within.” 

Trump and North Korea” by Yonsei University Associate Professor John Delury in 2017: “Washington’s immediate goal should therefore be to negotiate a freeze of North Korea’s nuclear program in return for a U.S. security guarantee, since that is the only measure that could enable Kim to start concentrating on economic development and the belated transformation of North Korea.”

Caught in the Middle” by Wellesley College Professor Katharine H. S. Moon in 2017: “The Trump administration is intent on pushing tougher trade demands on both China and South Korea while pressing each to deal collaboratively with the nuclear challenge from North Korea. This puts South Korea on a tough path: it must balance its security and economic priorities while also improving relations with two indispensable powers. Seen in this light, it is no wonder that the North, sensing a lack of solidarity among those who could rein it in, has decided in recent weeks to test the strength of the alliance.”

The Korean Missile Crisis” by Stanford University Professor Scott D. Sagan in 2017: “Officials in the Pentagon and the White House face a new and unprecedented challenge: they must deter North Korean leader Kim Jong Un while also preventing U.S. President Donald Trump from bumbling into war. . . . The same approach that prevented nuclear catastrophe during the Cold War can deter Pyongyang until the day that communist North Korea, like the Soviet Union before it, collapses under its own weight.”

Preventing Nuclear War With North Korea” by Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies Associate Professor Van Jackson in 2016: “The Korean Peninsula’s best chance of avoiding a mushroom-cloud fate is by adapting to—not downplaying—the unique risks and requirements of deterrence against a second-tier nuclear-armed adversary. . . . Two steps toward adaptation are in order: reducing the role of nukes in alliance military signaling and planning and curbing the objectives and scope of conflicts that break out.”

A Korea Whole and Free” by Columbia University Senior Research Scholar and former CIA Analyst Sue Mi Terry in 2014: “Contrary to popular belief, a merger [of North and South] would not spell disaster for South Korea, nor would it pose an unacceptable risk for the United States, China, and Japan. Rather, it would produce massive economic and social benefits for the peninsula and the region. There can be only one happy ending to the long-running saga of the North: the emergence of a single, democratic Korea. Outsiders should do all they can to promote and plan for this outcome.”

The full anthology contains selections from 26 articles. If you are interested in receiving guest links or in interviewing Rose or authors, please contact Zachary Hastings Hooper, 202.531.2512 or zhh@caliboguecomms.com