This article was originally published by the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) on 20 April 2017.
April has been an eventful month geopolitically so far. President Trump carried out a much-trumpeted-about Tomahawk missile strike at the Syrian regime, held responsible by him for a nerve-agent attack on the village of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib, a province largely held by rebels. Trump has changed his mind on China, which he previously accused as a ‘currency manipulator’. He has also changed his mind on ‘resetting’ relations with Putin and US-Russia relations are at their ‘lowest point’ in years. Trump has issued a harsh warning to North Korea to stop missile and nuclear tests. There are signals that Trump would scale up the US military engagement in Afghanistan. Trump has congratulated, with alacrity, Turkey’s President Erdogan on his referendum victory. Are all these developments related to one another?
On March 30, 2017, the US stated that it no longer wanted to topple President Basher al-Assad and would instead concentrate on defeating and destroying the Islamic State (IS). Assad, on life-support provided by Russia and Iran, must have heaved a sigh of relief. He might have thought that over time he could free himself from the life-support system and even recover the lost territory in full.
This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 21 April 2017.
The US has been contending with the challenge of the North Korean nuclear program for decades, yet we are no closer to the goal of convincing the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Indeed, that goal now appears unattainable under current circumstances.
Meanwhile the most serious threat facing the world today is the danger of nuclear proliferation. Both North Korea and Iran continue to develop nuclear weapons production capabilities. If they succeed, their regional neighbors will go nuclear in response, triggering a global cascade of proliferation. The resulting worldwide availability of nuclear weapons and fissile material to rogue states and terrorist groups will rapidly lead to a chaotic situation out of control.
The end goal of this strategy is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, a North Korean economy that can sustain itself, a regional security environment free of military threats from North Korea, and decisive actions addressing the deplorable human rights situation throughout North Korea.
This article was originally published by Pacific Forum CSIS on 9 March 2017.
On Feb. 13, 2017, Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was assassinated in Malaysia. South Korean responses to the murder have been mixed. For some, it is confirmation of the tyrannical, despotic nature of the Pyongyang leadership, a call to stiffen South Korean resolve and a reminder to double down on security measures. For others, it is proof of North Korean insecurity and one more example of the need to reach out to Pyongyang and convince it that the outside world is not implacably hostile. We believe this act is an opportunity for young South Koreans to forge a bipartisan consensus on how to deal with North Korea.
There has long been a generational divide within South Korea when thinking about how to deal with the North. Unlike older generations who felt the pains of Korean division, younger South Koreans have no personal ties to the North and have thus made reunification less of a priority than their elders. It is widely believed that younger South Koreans are not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make reunification a reality; they are more inclined to accept continuing division even if the price is high. A survey conducted by the Korea Institute for National Unification revealed that 55.1 percent of the younger generation in South Korea prefers division in the Korean Peninsula while only 19 percent of 60 year olds share that view.
Courtesy Gilad Rom/Flickr
This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations on 7 October 2016.
A decade has passed since North Korea first tested a nuclear weapon, on October 9, 2006. It conducted its fifth nuclear test last September, and there are rumors that a sixth will come within weeks or months. The United States has tried to both negotiate with and sanction North Korea while strengthening deterrence with South Korea and conducting shows of force to underscore the U.S. commitment to South Korean defense, but these measures have not halted, much less reversed, North Korea’s nuclear program.
Instead, following the leadership transition from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un, North Korea has elevated its nuclear program to a primary strategic commitment, reigniting debates among U.S. experts over whether the U.S. goal of “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” is feasible. North Korea has conducted four tests during the Obama administration, and the president reiterated after the latest one that the United States “does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state.” Yet the longer that North Korea is able to expand its nuclear delivery capability, the more empty U.S. condemnations may become and the closer North Korea will edge toward winning de facto acceptance of its nuclear status.
This article was originally published by E-International Relations (E-IR) on 14 March 2016.
In the wake of the nuclear and missile tests by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) calls were renewed for further sanctions on the regime in Pyongyang. It was claimed, as it was in 2006, 2009, and 2013, that with China fully on board these sanctions had a chance of greater success in producing a cessation of the DPRK’s nuclear ambitions. The weeks of discussion between the US and China to craft the sanctions also indicated that the 2016 resolution would be a landmark agreement. Surprisingly then, in the immediate assessments, it may be that for the first time it is Russia (rather than China) that has become the ‘wild card’ regarding sanctions and the DPRK.
However, there are reasons to doubt whether extended sanctions will produce the outcomes that key players want to achieve and also how much of a step change these sanctions actually present. The reason for my caution is two-fold. First, this claim is based on a judgement that China’s interests are now more in-step with the US and other powers than they had previously been (and that Russia won’t be a problem). Second, it suggests that a key stumbling block was in the scope and scale of the sanctions rather than their implementation.