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Podcast: The True Story of North Korea’s Abduction Project

by Elizabeth C. Economy
A rally celebrating the success of a recent nuclear test is held in Kim Il Sung square in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 13, 2016. KCNA/via Reuters A rally held in North Korea’s Kim Il Sung square in an undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang (KCNA/via Reuters)

On this week’s Asia Unbound podcast, Robert Boynton, the author of The Invitation-Only Zone: The True Story of North Korea’s Abduction Project, takes us inside Pyongyang’s strange and sinister program to recruit spies and language teachers by seizing foreign nationals. More than a dozen Japanese citizens vanished from coastal cities without a trace in the 1970s and 1980s. Read more »

Securing Strategic Buffer Space: Case Studies and Implications for U.S. Global Strategy

by Guest Blogger for Scott A. Snyder
A world map from 1507 world map by cartographer Martin Waldseemuller is pictured in this handout image from the Library of Congress. The map shows two continents across the ocean from Europe, with a skinny isthmus between them, an embryonic Florida peninsula, a western mountain range on the northern continent, and on the southern continent, a clearly-lettered name: "America", the first known recorded instance of the use of the name. The Library of Congress acquired the 1507 map in 2003 for $10 million. (Reuters/Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress/Handout) A world map from 1507 world map by cartographer Martin Waldseemuller is pictured in this handout image from the Library of Congress. The map shows two continents across the ocean from Europe, with a skinny isthmus between them, an embryonic Florida peninsula, a western mountain range on the northern continent, and on the southern continent, a clearly-lettered name: "America", the first known recorded instance of the use of the name. The Library of Congress acquired the 1507 map in 2003 for $10 million. (Reuters/Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress/Handout)

Sungtae “Jacky” Park is research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations.

A series of geopolitical fault lines are coming apart today. There is a hybrid conflict in Ukraine, an arc of destruction from the Levant to Iraq, rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, and instability in the southern Caucasus, just to name a few. What these conflicts have in common is that they are taking place in strategic buffer zones, physical spaces caught between competing regional powers. To address these problems by drawing lessons from the past, my paper for the Center for the National Interest, completed in September and published in October, examines four major cases of strategic buffer space conflicts: the Belgian crisis of 1830-1831, Byzantine-Sassanid and Ottoman-Safavid wars, China-Japan-Russia competition over Korea during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and the Balkan powder keg that led to World War I. A brief summary of the four case studies can be found in The National Interest. Read more »

North Korea: Ten Years After the First Nuclear Test

by Scott A. Snyder
A rally celebrating the success of a recent nuclear test is held in Kim Il Sung square in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 13, 2016. (KCNA/via Reuters) A rally celebrating the success of a recent nuclear test is held in Kim Il Sung square in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 13, 2016. (KCNA/via Reuters)

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. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of September 30, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
pyongyang-womencrossdmz Female activists from around the world representing the group WomenCrossDMZ arrive at Pyongyang airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo taken and released by Kyodo, May 19, 2015. (Kyodo/Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Samir Kumar, Gabriella Meltzer, David O’Connor, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. Women activists urge Ban Ki-moon to formally end Korean War. Over 100 women activists from thirty-eight countries are putting pressure on United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to formally end the Korean War prior to the end of his tenure on December 31, 2016. Read more »

Four Ways to Unilaterally Sanction North Korea

by Scott A. Snyder
Trucks move across the bridge linking North Korea with the Chinese border city of Dandong in this March 3, 2016 file photo. China on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, banned imports of gold and rare earths from North Korea as well as exports to the country of jet fuel and other oil products used to make rocket fuel, a move in line with new United Nations sanctions on Pyongyang. (REUTERS/Megha Rajagopalan) Trucks move across the bridge linking North Korea with the Chinese border city of Dandong in this March 3, 2016 file photo. China on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, banned imports of gold and rare earths from North Korea as well as exports to the country of jet fuel and other oil products used to make rocket fuel, a move in line with new United Nations sanctions on Pyongyang. (REUTERS/Megha Rajagopalan)

It has been almost three weeks since North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test, but China and the United States have not yet reached agreement on the text of a new UN Security Council resolution condemning the country. Read more »

Japan-South Korea Relations in 2016: A Return to the Old Normal

by Scott A. Snyder
South Korean Finance Minister Yoo Il-ho shakes hands with his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso (R) during the 7th Korea-Japan Finance Dialogue at the Government Complex in Seoul, South Korea August 27, 2016. (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji) South Korean Finance Minister Yoo Il-ho shakes hands with his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso (R) during the 7th Korea-Japan Finance Dialogue at the Government Complex in Seoul, South Korea August 27, 2016. (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)

This post was coauthored with Brad Glosserman, executive director at Pacific Forum CSIS.

The first nine months of 2016 have been very good for Japan-South Korea relations. In addition to the conclusion of the comfort women agreement at the end of December 2015, the two countries have reached several other bilateral economic and security agreements. This progress and the routinization of Cabinet-level exchanges since last year make clear that their relationship has bottomed out and that pragmatic considerations are prevailing over ideological or political concerns. Credit for that progress goes to constituencies in each country committed to rebuilding the bilateral relationship. Trends in the geopolitical environment have also underscored the advantages of cooperation—and the very real costs of a failure to do so. Read more »

A Sharper Choice on North Korea

by Scott A. Snyder
A rally celebrating the success of a recent nuclear test is held in Kim Il Sung square in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 13, 2016. (KCNA/via Reuters) A rally celebrating the success of a recent nuclear test is held in Kim Il Sung square in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang September 13, 2016. (KCNA/via Reuters)

The Council on Foreign Relations has just released a report of an independent task force on policy toward North Korea, titled A Sharper Choice on North Korea: Engaging China for a Stable Northeast Asia,  directed by Adam Mount, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and co-chaired by retired Admiral Mike Mullen, former chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, and former Senator Sam Nunn (R-GA). The task force grapples comprehensively with all the dimensions of U.S. policy toward North Korea, breaking new ground in its recommendations in several areas and confirming the stepped up efforts by the Barack Obama administration and Congress to reinvigorate the U.S. response in others. The product benefits from the participation of a diverse group of specialists and former policymakers who bring a wealth of experience to the elusive task of effectively addressing the challenge to U.S. and South Korean interests posed by the North Korean regime, both through its nuclear development and its human rights practices. Read more »

U.S.-North Korea Exchange After the Fifth Nuclear Test

by Scott A. Snyder
A sales assistant watches TV sets broadcasting a news report on North Korea's fifth nuclear test, in Seoul, South Korea, September 9, 2016. (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji) A sales assistant watches TV sets broadcasting a news report on North Korea's fifth nuclear test, in Seoul, South Korea, September 9, 2016. (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)

U.S. President Barack Obama stated clearly immediately following North Korea’s fifth nuclear test that “the United States does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state. Far from achieving its stated national security and economic development goals, North Korea’s provocative and destabilizing actions have instead served to isolate and impoverish its people through its relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capabilities.” Read more »

North Korea’s Nuclear Ambition Lives in the Gap between the United States and China- So Close It

by Scott A. Snyder
A cut-out of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set on fire during an anti-North Korea rally in central Seoul, South Korea, September 10, 2016. (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji) A cut-out of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set on fire during an anti-North Korea rally in central Seoul, South Korea, September 10, 2016. (Reuters/Kim Hong-Ji)

The direction of North Korea’s nuclear program has been clear for more than a decade, since it first tested a nuclear device in October 2006. But the pace has quickened, with two nuclear tests and tests of several missile platforms that will reduce warning time and extend North Korea’s capability to credibly deliver a nuclear weapon. The North Koreans have insisted that they are a “permanent” nuclear state and have signaled that the United States is their ultimate target, threatening nuclear strikes on the mainland. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Five Stories From the Week of September 9, 2016

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
kim-jong-un-nuclear-test KRT bulletin shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in this still image taken from video on September 9, 2016. North Korea conducted its fifth and biggest nuclear test on Friday and said it had mastered the ability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile, ratcheting up a threat that its rivals and the United Nations have been powerless to contain. (KRT via Reuters)

Rachel Brown, Sherry Cho, Theresa Lou, Gabriella Meltzer, and Gabriel Walker look at five stories from Asia this week.

1. North Korea conducts fifth nuclear test. Pyongyang celebrated the sixty-eighth anniversary of the country’s founding today by conducting its fifth and largest nuclear test. The Nuclear Weapons Institute of the DPRK claims that the nuclear warhead “has been standardized to be able to be mounted on strategic ballistic rockets,” and that the DPRK can now produce “a variety of smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear warheads of higher strike power.” Read more »