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Challenges in Designing an Effective North Korean Human Rights Policy

by Scott A. Snyder
refugee-interview-photos North Korean refugees provide some of the mounting evidence against systemic human rights abuses in North Korea. Here, one refugee shows pictures of his family in North Korea. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy Reuters).

There is no more vexing issue than the challenge of how to support the improvement of human rights in North Korea, a country that has consistently ranked at the bottom of international indices rating human freedom around the world.  The U.S. Congress passed the North Korea Human Rights Act almost a decade ago, the United Nations has appointed a rapporteur to examine the human rights situation inside North Korea for almost as long, and the Korean Institute for National Unification has published an ever-growing annual white paper on North Korean human rights since 1996.  This year the UN Human Rights Council appointed a Commission of Inquiry that has held public hearings in Seoul, Tokyo, London, and Washington, DC; the commission will report back to the UN Human Rights Council with its assessment and recommendations by spring of next year.  But the stream of North Korean refugee testimony to unspeakable atrocities and evidence of systemic abuses inside North Korea continues to grow. Read more »

The Economic Costs of North Korean Nuclear Development

by Scott A. Snyder
Kim Jong-un, here at the May 11 Factory, is taking a greater interest in economic reforms that may impact the international trade prospects for North Korea. Kim Jong-un, here at the May 11 Factory, is taking a greater interest in economic reforms that may impact the international trade prospects for North Korea (KCNA/Courtesy Reuters).

International sanctions have thus far failed to convince North Korean leadership that they cannot survive as a nuclear weapons state.  With its policy of simultaneously pursuing economic and nuclear development, North Korean leaders clearly assume they can manage the economic costs resulting from nuclear development. But the costs of such a policy are staggering compared to the economic benefits North Korea might enjoy without nuclear weapons. Comparing the estimated costs of the nuclear program to economic growth with the benefits of becoming a normal economy integrated with its neighbors reveals the steep price of the byungjin policy. Read more »

The Motivations Behind North Korea’s Pursuit of Simultaneous Economic and Nuclear Development

by Scott A. Snyder
In a plenary meeting of the Workers' Party of Korea on March 31, 2013, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un first announced the dual policy to pursue economic development and continue its nuclear program. In a plenary meeting of the Workers' Party of Korea on March 31, 2013, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un first announced the dual policy to pursue economic development and continue its nuclear program (KCNA/Courtesy Reuters).

North Korea has been relatively straightforward in revealing both its aspirations and perceived constraints as it tries to improve its economy while strengthening its nuclear “deterrent” through its dual policy (the byungjin line), announced by Kim Jong Un at a Korean Workers’ Party meeting in March 2013. The policy prioritizes the nuclear and munitions industrial sector; the electric power, coal, metal and railway transport sectors; and new applications of science and technology, while also rejecting that it must make a “strategic choice” for denuclearization as a primary means of survival, as the Obama administration has insisted. Thus, North Korea’s welcome emphasis on improving its economy could also be a “breakout” strategy by which North Korean leaders may believe they can survive as a nuclear weapons state. Read more »

Engage DPRK: Mapping International Projects in North Korea

by Scott A. Snyder
A group of tourists from Shanghai, China arrives at an airport in Pyongyang on an Air Koryo Tupolev Tu-2004-300 passenger jet in this picture taken on July 1, 2011 and released on July 2, 2011 by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA said that the group was the first Chinese tourists to arrive in North Korea via the Shanghai-Pyongyang air route, and that they would visit monuments in Pyongyang, the International Friendship Exhibition House, Panmunjom, Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong area during four nights and five days (KCNA/Courtesy Reuters). A group of tourists from Shanghai, China arrives at an airport in Pyongyang on an Air Koryo Tupolev Tu-2004-300 passenger jet in this picture taken on July 1, 2011 and released on July 2, 2011 by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA said that the group was the first Chinese tourists to arrive in North Korea via the Shanghai-Pyongyang air route, and that they would visit monuments in Pyongyang, the International Friendship Exhibition House, Panmunjom, Mt. Kumgang and Kaesong area during four nights and five days (KCNA/Courtesy Reuters).

Former ambassador Donald Gregg has labeled North Korea “our longest-running intelligence failure.” North Korea’s long-running quest to keep the veil over the “hermit kingdom” has vexed scholars who have tried to gain empirical data on how North Korea works. However, a project to map out almost two decades of non-governmental engagement with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) reveals that it has more foreign exposure than most people think, and that the number of outsiders visiting sanctions-weary North Korea for tourism and business reasons has been going up sharply. Read more »

South Korea and Vietnam Between Beijing and Washington

by Scott A. Snyder
South Korea's President Park Geun-hye (L) shakes hands with her Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang after a news briefing at the Presidential Palace during her official visit in Hanoi on September 9, 2013. (Luong Thai Linh/courtesy Reuters) South Korea's President Park Geun-hye (L) shakes hands with her Vietnamese counterpart Truong Tan Sang after a news briefing at the Presidential Palace during her official visit in Hanoi on September 9, 2013. (Luong Thai Linh/courtesy Reuters)

One of the most dramatic effects of China’s economic rise has been the potential strategic dilemma facing South Korea (and the other countries in East Asia), as it depends on relations with China as a major source of economic growth while it still relies on Washington for security. As reflected in President Park Geun-hye’s discussion of the “Asian paradox” and her Northeast Asian cooperation proposals, South Korea’s strategic preference is to avoid having to make a choice between Washington and Beijing. Therefore, South Korea has a major stake in good China-U.S. relations. Nonetheless, what are the hypothetical circumstances under which South Korea would make a strategic choice in favor of China over the United States? Read more »

Big Decisions Facing South Korea’s New Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman

by Scott A. Snyder
South Korean Admiral Choi Yun-hee (2nd L, front) talks with officers in front of launch pad equipped with cruise missiles on South Korean Navy's Aegis destroyer Sejong on the sea off Busan, southeast of Seoul February 14, 2013. (courtesy Reuters) South Korean Admiral Choi Yun-hee (2nd L, front) talks with officers in front of launch pad equipped with cruise missiles on South Korean Navy's Aegis destroyer Sejong on the sea off Busan, southeast of Seoul February 14, 2013. (courtesy Reuters)

South Korea’s National Assembly confirmed for the first time this week a naval officer, Admiral Choi Yun-hee, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). Given the historic dominance of the army in South Korea’s military, which once focused solely on deterring an all out land war with North Korea, Admiral Choi’s appointment corresponds to a widening scope in South Korea’s thinking about defense. This evolving outlook should help South Korea better address the country’s increasing interest in protecting maritime trade routes and challenges posed by rising regional maritime tensions in Asia. Read more »

Sixtieth Anniversary of the U.S.-ROK Alliance: Where Do We Stand?

by Scott A. Snyder
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (C) and South Korea's Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin (R) leave a welcoming ceremony at the headquarters of the Defense Ministry in Seoul October 2, 2013. (Kim Hong-Ji/courtesy Reuters) U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (C) and South Korea's Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin (R) leave a welcoming ceremony at the headquarters of the Defense Ministry in Seoul October 2, 2013. (Kim Hong-Ji/courtesy Reuters)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spent four days in South Korea this week feting the sixtieth anniversary of the U.S.-ROK alliance, observing one the biggest South Korean military parades in a decade, and providing new direction to the alliance through a meeting with President Park Geun-hye and through his participation in the annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) with his South Korean counterpart. Secretary Hagel’s activities and the SCM highlighted the following main accomplishments and challenges for the alliance at sixty. Read more »

Korean Middle Power Diplomacy: The Establishment of MIKTA

by Scott A. Snyder
South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se (R) and his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa share a moment before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-South Korea Ministerial Meeting at the 46th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan on July 1, 2013. (Ahim Rani/courtesy Reuters) South Korea's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se (R) and his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa share a moment before the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-South Korea Ministerial Meeting at the 46th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Bandar Seri Begawan on July 1, 2013. (Ahim Rani/courtesy Reuters)

Amidst the flurry of diplomatic consultations that focused on Syria and Iran among other issues at the UN General Assembly, five countries that consider themselves as newly emerging middle powers and G-20 members have banded together in a little-noticed move to form a new consultative group and to create a new acronym: MIKTA (Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey, and Australia). Read more »

Anniversary of Six Party Talks: Commemoration, Wake, or Revival?

by Scott A. Snyder
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the tenth anniversary of the Six Party Talks at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, September 18, 2013. (Jason Lee/courtesy Reuters) China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the tenth anniversary of the Six Party Talks at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, September 18, 2013. (Jason Lee/courtesy Reuters)

The Chinese government held an unusual commemorative ceremony this week to mark the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Six Party Talks and the eighth anniversary of the Six Party Joint Statement. The Joint Statement at the time seemed vague and incomplete, but it turns out that the consensus forged in favor of Korean peninsular denuclearization, peace, diplomatic normalization, and economic development was a high-water mark for the talks. In light of North Korea’s repeated nuclear tests and its open rejection of its Joint Statement commitment to abandon nuclear weapons, the Six Party Talks have stalemated for five years. Now China is trying to revive the Joint Statement and breathe new life into the Six Party process. Read more »

Intervention In Syria: The View From Pyongyang

by Scott A. Snyder
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (front R) walks with Abdullah al-Ahmar (2nd L), deputy general secretary of Syria's Baath Arab Socialist Party and his delegation, who are visiting North Korea to participate in the 60th anniversary of the truce of the Korean War, in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on July 24, 2013. (KCNA/courtesy Reuters) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (front R) walks with Abdullah al-Ahmar (2nd L), deputy general secretary of Syria's Baath Arab Socialist Party and his delegation, who are visiting North Korea to participate in the 60th anniversary of the truce of the Korean War, in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang on July 24, 2013. (KCNA/courtesy Reuters)

At Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on authorization of use of force in Syria, Secretary of State Kerry stated that “North Korea is hoping that ambivalence carries the day. They are listening for our silence.” Defense Secretary Hagel mentioned North Korea’s chemical weapons stockpiles, arguing that weakening of the norm against use of such weapons would “embolden other regimes to use or acquire chemical weapons.”  No doubt North Korean leaders are closely watching the U.S. debate over intervention in Syria, but they will exploit Syrian intervention for their own ends regardless of what action the United States decides to take. Read more »