What's Next With North Korea?

May 9, 2017

The Trump Administration says the "era of strategic patience" is over as the secretive country's regime increasingly threatens the region with both actions and words.  We examine the tensions today, their roots going back decades, and the huge importance of North Korea's neighbors, including China and South Korea.


GUESTS:

  • Jennifer Lind - Associate Professor of Government at Dartmouth College. She focuses on international relations and East Asian international security. 
  • Lawrence C. Reardon -  Associate Professor of Political Science and founder of Asian Studies at the University of New Hampshire.

CONVERSATION HIGHLIGHTS:

The Korean War ended in an armistice in 1953. What does that mean and how has that affected relations with North Korea?

JENNIFER LIND: We are still at war, technically. It was a cease fire, but the war is still technically going on, and it really draws our attention to the fact that we have this  situation.  It has settled into this uneasy stalemate over the last several decades, but we have been in this standoff, and any time there is this risk that it could launch into a much broader conflict, an active war.

There have been numerous very uneasy moments in relations over the past several decades where people have been really, really fearful that this would lead to a general war.

It’s precarious but yet it’s lasted for such a long time. So we have that combination of, we’ve settled into this standoff but at the same time it remains very dangerous as we’ve seen in recent weeks with people getting more and more concerned about this.

LAWRENCE (CHRIS) REARDON:  The idea of being able to transform that armistice into more of a peace treaty I believe is one of the primary goals of the North Korean government. They want to push this conflict to the side and be able to continue on. Thus, when they are being belligerent, I think in many ways they will say we will stop being belligerent if you actually bilaterally engage with the United States in peace talks.

How will the election of a new President in South Korea affect U.S. relations?

REARDON: I’m not sure President Moon Jae-in will be willing to go along with the United States. Instead, he now seems to be willing to work closer with the Chinese.  He’s representing a very strong political group within South Korea that has not necessarily wanted a more aggressive approach toward North Korea. They have been very aware of Chinese objections to THAAD -- the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system  -- that the U.S. has recently moved into South Korea. The Chinese have been  aggressive not just toward the placement of these but they’ve been boycotting South Korean goods and stores in China. 

Some listener comments: 

My son who was born in Korea and has studied and worked there off and on just returned from South Korea. When I asked about North Korea, he said that it was definitely not the #1 topic among the Koreans. It is seen as a much bigger deal to the U.S. South Korea has lived under the threat of being over run (and has been very run) throughout its history.  It is a real part of their everyday life.  The U.S. is now more interested as the new weapons can threaten our West coast.  -- Mary

The solution is diplomatic;  over time, the goal can be met with skilled diplomatic efforts. The "North Korean threat” is intensified through poor diplomacy and fear mongering.   Even if North Korea is capable of reaching the U.S. or its allies with nuclear weapons, what is the scenario that they would foolishly launch one of these weapons, a move that would be met with such a fierce and devastating response?  Any other solution—military or subversive—will result in incredibly foolish, costly and deadly outcomes.  Letting Iran out of jail was a move and a model for dealing with North Korea.  Support the Sunshine Policy of the new president in South Korea and let them work their way to reunification. Reducing US troops might be a good gesture in support of the Sunshine Policy.  -- Roger

Understanding others is important to peace but so is the past.How many past deals has the North reneged on? Do your guests wish to see the North continue the policies of labor camps and repression? Let Moon try a deal but don't be surprised when/if it fails.  If Moon wants US troops out then I say leave. -- Matt from Vermont.