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  • Author: Daniel Wertz
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: North Korea’s tumultuous path over the past few years from nuclear standoff to summit diplomacy put a spotlight on Pyongyang’s bilateral relations across the Indo-Pacific. The February 2017 assassination of Kim Jong Un’s exiled half-brother at the Kuala Lumpur airport dramatized the malign aspects of North Korea’s overseas presence, and presaged Southeast Asia’s role as an important front in the incipient U.S.-led maximum pressure campaign against Pyongyang. As maximum pressure transitioned to engagement with North Korea, U.S.-DPRK summits in Singapore and Vietnam raised hopes that North Korea could follow the examples of these host nations, and move forward on a more hopeful path toward economic development and reconciliation with old adversaries.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Sanctions
  • Political Geography: Asia, North Korea, Pyongyang
  • Author: Torrey Froscher
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Nonproliferation Policy Education Center
  • Abstract: The North Korean nuclear program has been a major intelligence and policy challenge for more than 30 years. Former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry described the problem as “perhaps the most unsuccessful exercise of diplomacy in our country’s history.”1 Donald Gregg, who was CIA station chief in Seoul as well as US ambassador to South Korea, called North Korea the “longest running intelligence failure in the history of American espionage.”2 To be fair, Gregg was referring specifically to a lack of success in recruiting human sources—not necessarily errors in specific or overall assessments. Nonetheless, his comment underscores the difficulty of figuring out what North Korea is up to. In 2005, the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), which was convened to investigate the failed 2002 national intelligence estimate on Iraqi WMD capabilities, indicated that we know “disturbingly little about the weapons programs and even less about the intentions of many of our most dangerous adversaries,”3 presumably including North Korea. Today we know a lot more about North Korea’s nuclear program— but mostly it is what they want us to know. Pyongyang has conducted six nuclear tests. We know that North Korea has nuclear weapons, a significant fissile material production capacity, and an ambitious nuclear and missile development effort. These programs are completely unconstrained. The United States has tried many approaches to deal with the problem over the years, and intelligence has played a key role in support. Are there lessons to be learned from this experience? Obviously, it’s a very big question and I will sketch out just a few thoughts, mostly from an intelligence perspective: What we knew and when and how we thought about the problem. North Korea was one of many issues I worked on as an analyst and manager in CIA until my retirement in 2006. The views that follow are my own, of course, and the specific information is drawn from the extensive public literature on the issue, as well as declassified intelligence documents.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Intelligence, Nuclear Weapons, History
  • Political Geography: Asia, North Korea, United States of America
  • Author: Anthony H. Cordesman
  • Publication Date: 03-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: The analysis concludes that the sudden breakdown in the latest round of U.S.-Korean nuclear arms control talks in Vietnam should scarcely come as a surprise to anyone. Both sides sought too much too soon and did so despite a long history of previous failures. Heads of state engaged before their staffs had reached a clear compromise and did so seeking goals the other leader could not accept. It is not clear that an agreement was reachable at this point in time, but each side's search for its "best" ensured that the two sides could not compromise on the "good." This failure sent yet another warning that agreements like the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear arms agreement with Iran that offers major progress in limiting a nation's nuclear weapons efforts can be far better than no agreement, and of the danger in letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. The failed U.S. negotiations with Korea sends a warning that any set of compromises that preserves Iran's compliance with the JCPOA, and creates a structure where negotiation can continue, will be better than provoking a crisis with Iran that can end in no agreement at all and alienate America's European allies in the process.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, Arms Control and Proliferation, Diplomacy, Military Strategy, Denuclearization, JCPOA
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Asia, South Korea, North Korea, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Daniel R. Russel
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Asia Society
  • Abstract: After decades of broken promises and failed diplomatic efforts, North Korea has become a nuclear power. Kim Jong Un’s charm offensive over the past year, as seen in summit meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump and other leaders, has enabled him to shed his pariah status without shedding his nuclear weapons. While Kim has frozen testing, he continues to expand the country’s nuclear arsenal, defy and evade Security Council resolutions, and is now getting support from China in his call for sanctions relief. In the wake of the failed February 2019 Hanoi Summit, North Korea is warning of a return to testing by year’s end. But even if Kim were to reverse course and agree to freeze his entire nuclear and missile program, North Korea’s capacity to threaten the U.S. and its allies with a formidable arsenal would be undiminished. What’s worse, Kim seems to be turning to a powerful new weapon of mass destruction to gain leverage. Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) Vice President for International Security and Diplomacy Daniel Russel asserts in this ASPI issue paper that North Korea’s next weapon of choice is likely to be cyber: a high-impact, low-cost, and low-risk digital-age weapon that North Korea already can and does use to steal money, hack secrets, and terrorize nations. In the 5G era, developed nations such as the United States are particularly vulnerable. North Korean cyber-attacks have already succeeded in crippling critical overseas infrastructure and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars, reducing the efficacy of international sanctions. Future Scenarios: What to Expect from a Nuclear North Korea details the consequences of North Korea’s slow but steady trajectory toward acceptance as a nuclear power. The report highlights the urgency of focusing U.S. national security efforts against the threat from North Korea’s rapidly growing cyber warfare capability. Russel writes that the combined threat from North Korea’s nuclear and cyber programs can only be reduced through “coercive containment” — a multi-pronged strategy of diplomacy, defense, deterrence, and denial that will require substantial cooperation among key international players.
  • Topic: International Relations, Diplomacy, Nuclear Power, Cybersecurity, Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un
  • Political Geography: Asia, North Korea, United States of America
  • Author: Naoko Aoki
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM)
  • Abstract: After conducting a record number of missile and nuclear tests in 2016 and 2017, North Korea dramatically changed its policy approach and embarked on a diplomatic initiative in 2018. It announced a self-imposed halt on missile and nuclear tests and held summit meetings with the United States, China, and South Korea from spring of that year. Why did North Korea shift its policy approach? This paper evaluates four alternative explanations. The first is that the change was driven by North Korea’s security calculus. In other words, North Korea planned to achieve its security goals first before turning to diplomacy and successfully followed through with this plan. The second is that U.S. military threats forced North Korea to change its course. The third is that U.S.-led sanctions caused North Korea to shift its policy by increasing economic pain on the country. The fourth is that diplomatic initiatives by South Korea and others prompted North Korea to change its position. This paper examines the actions and statements of the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, and Russia leading up to and during this period to assess these four explanations. It concludes that military threats and economic pain did not dissuade North Korea from obtaining what it considered an adequate level of nuclear deterrence against the United States and that North Korea turned to diplomacy only after achieving its security goals. External pressure may have encouraged North Korea to speed up its efforts to develop the capacity to strike the United States with a nuclear-armed missile, the opposite of its intended effect. Diplomatic and economic pressure may have compelled Kim Jong Un to declare that North Korea had achieved its “state nuclear force” before conducting all the nuclear and ballistic missile tests needed to be fully confident that it could hit targets in the continental United States. These findings suggest that if a pressure campaign against North Korea is to achieve its intended impact, the United States has to more carefully consider how pressure would interact with North Korean policy priorities. Pressure should be applied only to pursue specific achievable goals and should be frequently assessed for its impact.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Nuclear Weapons, Military Strategy, Nonproliferation, Deterrence
  • Political Geography: United States, Japan, China, Asia, South Korea, North Korea
  • Author: Anthony H. Cordesman
  • Publication Date: 05-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Strategic and International Studies
  • Abstract: President Trump's cancellation of the summit with North Korea is a warning as to just how difficult it is to bring any kind of stability to the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia. It is also a warning that the U.S. cannot focus on the nuclear issue and ICBM, rather than the overall military balance in the Koreas and the impact that any kind of war fighting can have on the civil population of South Korea and the other states in Northeast Asia. The nuclear balance is an all too critical aspect of regional security, but it is only part of the story and military capability do not address the potential impact and cost of any given form of conflict.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Military Strategy, Conflict
  • Political Geography: United States, Japan, China, Asia, South Korea, North Korea
  • Author: Scott A. Snyder, Geun Lee, You Young Kim, Jiyoon Kim
  • Publication Date: 01-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Despite becoming influential on the world scene, South Korea remains a relatively weak country surrounded by larger, more powerful neigh- bors. This contrast between its global rank as a top-twenty economy and its regional status as the weakest country in Northeast Asia (with the exception of North Korea) poses a paradox for South Korean for- eign policy strategists. Despite successes addressing nontraditional security challenges in areas such as international development, global health, and UN peacekeeping, South Korea is limited in its capacity to act on regional security threats. South Korea has historically been a victim of geopolitical rivalries among contenders for regional hegemony in East Asia. But the coun- try’s rise in influence provides a glimmer of hope that it can break from its historical role by using its expanded capabilities as leverage to shape its strategic environment. The pressing dilemma for South Korean strategic thinkers is how to do so. As the regional security environment becomes more tense, South Korea’s strategic options are characterized by constraint, given potentially conflicting great-power rivalries and Pyongyang’s efforts to pursue asymmetric nuclear or cyber capabilities at Seoul’s expense. South Korea’s relative weakness puts a premium on its ability to achieve the internal political unity necessary to maximize its influence in foreign policy. Students of Korean history will recall that domestic factionalism among political elites was a chronic factor that hamstrung Korea’s dynastic leadership and contributed to its weakness in dealing with outside forces.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Regional Cooperation, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, South Korea, North Korea
  • Author: Andrew O'Neil, Brendan Taylor, William T. Tow
  • Publication Date: 04-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Australian National University Department of International Relations
  • Abstract: In this Centre of Gravity paper, Professors O’Neil, Taylor and Tow argued that the apparent optimism surrounding the upcoming ‘season of summitry’ on the Korean Peninsula should be tempered by the fact that there are potential risks attached to engaging the North Korean leadership without preconditions. They argue these include legitimising its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs, alliance decoupling, and a serious deterioration in Asia’s strategic climate if the Trump-Kim summit fails to deliver concrete results. Building on a series of important policy roundtables in Australia, along with decades of experience, these three senior figures argue that Australian policy makers should look to develop a more integrated national approach to the Korean Peninsula. Policymakers should anticipate and prepare for a full range of possible outcomes. A clear definition and articulation of Australia’s considerable national interests in Northeast Asia—independent from those of the US—should be derived. Initially, the Turnbull Government should begin a whole-of-government review, managed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This process would identify and implement policy initiatives where Australia can pursue a distinctly national approach to safeguarding its long-term interests on the Korean Peninsula, including future bilateral relations with North Korea.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Nuclear Weapons, United Nations, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: Asia, South Korea, North Korea, Australia, Pyongyang
  • Author: Naoko Aoki
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM)
  • Abstract: Policy-makers, scholars, and analysts disagree about whether North Korea will take any meaningful denuclearization steps after its leader Kim Jong Un met with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018. Many believe that the breakdowns of the 1994 Agreed Framework and the Six Party Talks process in the 2000s show that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program cannot be constrained through cooperation. According to this view, Pyongyang violated its previous commitments once it received economic and political benefits, and it will do so again. The underlying assumption is that Washington was fully implementing its own commitments until Pyongyang broke the deal. But is this true? This paper discusses three key findings drawn from an analysis of U.S. implementation of past denuclearization agreements with North Korea. The first is that the United Stated did not always follow through with its cooperative commitments because of domestic political constraints, even when North Korea was fulfilling its commitments. This makes it difficult to determine whether North Korea ultimately did not honor its obligations because it never intended to or because it was responding to U.S. actions. The second is that some parts of past deals were more susceptible than others to being undercut by domestic opposition because they received insufficient political attention. The third is that such domestic interference could be minimized by obtaining the widest possible coalition of domestic support from the negotiation stage. The roadmap for North Korea’s denuclearization is unclear, as the Singapore summit did not determine concrete steps toward that goal. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang in early July also did not yield specifics such as the scope and timeline of denuclearization. But based on the findings from past agreements, this paper argues that the only way for the United States to find out if engagement will work this time is to test North Korea’s intentions by carrying out Washington’s own cooperative commitments more consistently than in the past.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Nuclear Weapons, Military Strategy, Nonproliferation, Deterrence
  • Political Geography: United States, Japan, China, Asia, South Korea, North Korea, Korea
  • Author: Assaf Orion, Amos Yadlin
  • Publication Date: 04-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Institute for National Security Studies (INSS)
  • Abstract: At the strategic level, the convergence in time and space of the events following the chemical weapons attack in Duma by the Syrian regime portend a dramatic development with substantial potential impact for Israel’s security environment. The attack on the T4 airbase, attributed to Israel, falls within the context of the last red line that Israel drew, whereby it cannot accept Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria. The attack in Duma reflects the Syrian regime’s considerable self-confidence at this time. As for Trump, the attack provides him with another opportunity to demonstrate his insistence on the red lines that he drew and take a determined stance opposite Putin. Thus, Israel’s enforcement of its red line and the United States’ enforcement of its red line have met, while Russia finds itself exerting efforts to deter both countries from taking further action that could undermine its achievements in Syria and its positioning as the dominant world power in the theater. However, the strategic convergence does not stop at Syria’s borders, and is unfolding against the backdrop of the crisis emerging around the Trump administration’s demands to improve the JCPOA, or run the risk of the re-imposition of sanctions and the US exiting the agreement. Indeed, the context is even wider, with preparations for Trump’s meeting with North Korean President Kim on the nuclear issue in the far background. Therefore, the clash between Israel and Iran in Syria on the eve of deliberations on the nuclear deal could potentially lead to a change from separate approaches to distinct issues to a broader and more comprehensive framework with interfaces and linkages between the issues.
  • Topic: Arms Control and Proliferation, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Military Strategy, Hezbollah
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, Europe, Iran, Middle East, Israel, Asia, North Korea, Syria, North America
  • Author: Marco Milani
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI)
  • Abstract: In recent years the North Korean nuclear program has increasingly become a major concern for East Asian security. Pyongyang has repeatedly demonstrated its advancements in both missile and nuclear technology, with the final goal of acquiring a credible nuclear deterrent. To achieve this goal, the regime has committed a vast amount of state resources and has jeopardized relations with neighboring countries and major powers. This dangerous situation has created instability in the region and has hindered the possibilities of inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation. The traditional interpretation of the North Korean nuclear program focuses on the survival of the regime and emphasizes the military aspect of security. While these factors play a significant role, over the last twenty-five years new roles have emerged for the nuclear program. Survival remains the priority, but in addition to the military level of nuclear deterrence this paper introduces two different aspects directly connected to the security of the regime: economic security and domestic ideological legitimization. The development of nuclear weapons has been repeatedly used by Pyongyang as leverage in negotiations and to strengthen its political legitimacy. Understanding the complexity and the different factors behind this strategy is crucial to design and implement a viable and effective strategy aimed at limiting or eliminating the North Korean nuclear threat.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Nuclear Weapons, Bilateral Relations, Denuclearization
  • Political Geography: East Asia, Asia, South Korea, North Korea, Korea
  • Author: James Hackett
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Institute for Strategic Studies
  • Abstract: As US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meet in Singapore on 12 June, it is useful to keep in mind what is at stake. The long-standing tinderbox of the Korean Peninsula, if ignited through another provocation or miscalculation, could spark a full-scale war that could well go nuclear. The prize of diplomacy – sustainable peace on the peninsula – is all the more valuable when one considers the range of military capabilities potentially in play. This information is of use in assessing both the goals of diplomacy and the risks should the current efforts fail. Weapons based on the Korean Peninsula have become faster, more precise and more powerful. North Korea has tested a thermonuclear weapon, an intercontinental ballistic missile and more accurate shorter-range missiles, all designed to offset the relative qualitative weakness of its broader conventional forces. It has also pursued advanced cyber capabilities. South Korea, meanwhile, has focused on developing military systems allowing for more rapid and precise strikes. US forces on the peninsula have introduced yet more advanced capabilities. For these reasons the IISS provides this independent, measured and detailed analysis of military dynamics on the peninsula. The report focuses on the defence policies and military capabilities of the two Koreas, and the US military forces stationed in South Korea which can be brought to bear in a crisis. While it does not ignore unconventional systems, it principally focuses on conventional capabilities. Due to its poverty and isolation, North Korea’s conventional forces have become relatively weaker, compared with those of South Korea and its US ally. Aware of this qualitative inferiority, Pyongyang has invested in asymmetric capabilities, particularly the pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver them. Nonetheless, Pyongyang’s armed forces remain equipped with a wide range of conventional military systems, including large numbers of artillery pieces and multiple-launch rocket systems. Its armed forces, at around 1.2 million, are the fourth-largest in the world. Its conventional military power remains significant, not least because of these numbers (for instance, 4,000 main battle tanks and 8,500 self-propelled- and towed-artillery systems) and the weight of fire they could rapidly bring to bear if employed. Seoul, for instance, is within range of many of North Korea’s artillery systems. North Korea has also developed increasingly advanced cyber capabilities as another aspect of its asymmetric power. The North will continue to improve these, if only to slow the decline in military parity between it and the South. US and South Korean defence authorities assume that the North will, in the event of major conflict, use cyber attacks against South Korean critical infrastructure and command-and-control networks. However, recent events like the Wannacry ransomware attacks have shown that North Korea is now using its cyber power for another purpose: raising revenue to support the regime. Meanwhile, South Korea’s defence policy and military posture is dominated by the security challenge from the North. This has led Seoul to pursue military capabilities, and strategies, designed to defeat North Korean provocations. These range from developments in air-defence, intended to tackle North Korea’s air force and missile capabilities, to strategies designed to pre-empt a potential North Korean provocation. To enable these strategies, South Korea has developed and procured increasingly advanced military systems, ranging from its own Hyeonmu ballistic- and cruise-missiles, to advanced air-to-ground air-launched weapons and, in the next few years, squadrons of F-35A combat aircraft. Working closely with the South Korean armed forces, the US maintains a military presence some 28,500-strong in South Korea, augmented by advanced military systems on the peninsula like the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) ballistic-missile-defence system, and the military power deployed by the US in the broader Indo-Pacific. This publication builds on the contributions of expert analysts of military power on the Korean Peninsula, and the extensive information holdings available in the IISS Military Balance+ database. It was prepared with the support of the Korea Foundation.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Nuclear Weapons, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: United States, Japan, China, Asia, South Korea, North Korea
  • Author: Michael Elleman
  • Publication Date: 08-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: International Institute for Strategic Studies
  • Abstract: With the Iran nuclear accord currently on life support, it is not too late to pursue diplomatic measures that address the growing challenge posed by Iran’s ballistic missiles, argues Michael Elleman in a new report. The lack of curbs on Iran’s missile programme was cited by President Donald Trump in May 2018 as one of the principal reasons for withdrawing from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). With the nuclear accord consequently on life support, it is not too late to pursue diplomatic measures that address the growing challenge posed by Iran’s ballistic missiles. The most promising would be to lock in, through negotiations, the 2,000 kilometre-range limit that Iran has previously stated is its maximum requirement. While this would not reduce the threat perceived by Iran’s regional neighbours, it would forestall development of systems that could target Western Europe or North America. Tehran is not likely to commit to verification measures for such negotiated range limits, however, without receiving something in return. One bargain that could be considered would be to allow Iran to continue its satellite-launch programme, under certain conditions, while capping the maximum range of its ballistic missiles. Such a trade-off may also be relevant to the North Korean case.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, International Cooperation, Nuclear Weapons, Military Strategy
  • Political Geography: United States, Japan, China, Asia, South Korea, North Korea