Expert Voices: The Future of U.S.–Korean Peninsula Relations amid Changes in Leadership
Published on March 14, 2017
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From North Korea's provocative missile launches to South Korea's impeachment and removal of president Park Geun-hye from office, the Korean Peninsula has made prominent headlines during a time when the United States enters a new stage of diplomacy in the region.
Following the U.S. presidential election, NBR hosted a roundtable discussion on the future of U.S.-Korean Peninsula relations in the new administration. Representatives from the United States and South Korea discussed a range of topics, including alliance management, prospects for Korean unification, human rights and security dimensions in North Korea, and the status of economic sanctions on the Kim Jong-un regime.
The excerpts below from the NBR Special Report "The Future of the U.S.-ROK Alliance: Change and Continuity in North Korea Policy" incorporate and elaborate on these discussions. The essays in the report reflect the continuity of U.S. and South Korean interests amid leadership changes in both countries.
THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION:
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE U.S.-ROK ALLIANCE AND POLICY TOWARD NORTH KOREA
Even without Park Geun-hye’s downfall, the democratic transitions in the United States and the ROK were bound to create vulnerability in the alliance. Kim, perceiving irresolution and chaos in both countries, might seize the moment to provoke Washington and Seoul with the aim of winning new concessions. In doing so, he could underestimate alliance resolve and matters could quickly escalate. For these reasons, President Trump’s security team should build on recent attempts to buttress deterrence.
PATRICK M. CRONIN
Senior Advisor and Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program, Center for New American Security
U.S. POLICY TOWARD NORTH KOREA:
SECURITY AND HUMAN RIGHTS GO HAND IN HAND
It is well-known that the Kim regime considers its survival to be dependent on both the possession of nuclear weapons and political repression. But North Korea also needs economic and political support from other countries to succeed. Strengthened U.S. and UN sanctions that limit North Korea’s sources of revenue could lead the regime to some rethinking of its position. In the area of human rights, more potent steps to align human rights and security might also give North Korea pause. The Trump administration should formulate a comprehensive policy that encompasses both denuclearization and human rights so as to move forward in a coordinated way on both fronts.
Co-Chair Emeritus of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea; Member of the National Coalition of Independent Scholars
TIGHTENING THE ECONOMIC NOOSE ON THE NORTH KOREAN REGIME
Trump has not yet articulated a plan for maintaining or augmenting sanctions on North Korea for its serial violations of U.S. law and UN resolutions. Uncertainty about the potential for a bilateral nuclear deal between the United States and North Korea or induced regime change could lead to trepidation among U.S. allies about being left on the sidelines or embroiled in a conflict. It could also be a catalyst for allies to adopt hedging strategies, including greater accommodation of China.... At present, any offer of economic inducements to entice North Korea to abandon its nuclear arsenal is an ill-conceived plan with little chance of success. Meaningful change will not occur until North Korea is effectively sanctioned and China becomes concerned about the consequences of Pyongyang’s actions and abandons its own obstructionism.
Senior Research Fellow on Northeast Asia, Heritage Foundation