Korea Briefing, Center for Defense and Strategic Studies

Korea Briefing, Center for Defense and Strategic Studies



 Briefing to the Center for Defense and Strategic Studies, Canberra

Peter Hayes

April 20, 2004


The learning objectives for your presentation are for course members to:

  • Understand the half century crisis on the Korean Peninsula;
  • Appreciate the internal and external drivers of contemporary dynamics;
  • Assess the policy options for resolving the current nuclear crisis.



The Korean crisis has deep historical origins ranging back to Japanese imperialism in East Asia and colonialism in Korea specifically; the division of Korea at the end of World War II by the United States; the eruption and suppression of a civil war by a Soviet-backed regime in the North and a US-backed counterinsurgency campaign and regime in the South; the catastrophic eruption of the Korean War; and the overlay and deep imprint on both Koreas of the Cold War superpower standoff and the introduction of nuclear deterrence into Korea by the United States.



B. Cumings chapter from E. Abrahamian et al, Inventing the Axis of Evil, New Press, 2004.

P. Hayes, Pacific Powderkeg, Part 1, Bonus Fear, pp. 3-88 in American Nuclear Dilemmas in Korea.



The North Korean nuclear proliferation threat is a classic example of a complicated, over-determined global problem. Like a badly tangled pile of ropes, each aspect of the Korean security dilemma is intertwined: the on-going division of the Peninsula and inter-Korean reconciliation, threat of nuclear proliferation and war, domestic downward spiral of North Korea, relations of the great powers to the Peninsula and to each other, weight of history and culture, and North Korea’s barrier to regional economic integration. The more you tug on one strand to undo the tangle, the more other knots in the pile tighten.

The issues can be framed as geopolitical, that is, what are the driving national interests of the great powers that intersect in the Korean Peninsula and what capabilities can these great powers bring to bear with respect to each other via their Korea policies? Conversely, what opportunities does this flux of great power force swirling around the Peninsula offer to the two Koreas in terms of small power diplomacy and alliances to obtain offsetting balances of power both with respect to each other and with respect to external insecurities arising from enduring great power interests in Korea.

Alternately, the issues may be framed as primarily inter-Korean, that is, as the result of competition between the two Koreas for legitimacy and power in a divided nation. In this view, the DMZ represents best the mutual lethal intent of the two Koreas with respect to each other. As this conflict is complete and antagonistic, inter-Korean cooperation is purely tactical and the underlying competition constrains any geopolitically imposed or derived resolution in Korea. In the short-term, rapprochement and reconciliation can postpone the eventual day of reckoning between the two Koreas, but eventually one or other of the two Koreas must dominate.

Finally, the issues may be framed as intra-Korean, that is, the domestic dynamics of power and control in North and South Korea make geopolitical or inter-Korean conflict resolution difficult or even impossible. In this view, the rigidity of the DPRK regime is contrasted with the inevitability of transition on the one hand; and the roller coaster ride of the rising social forces of the 386 generation that collide with the conservative old guard in South Korea is viewed as a critical alliance management problem for the United States in the context of global nuclear non proliferation and the war on terrorism, on the other.


Patrick Norton, partner in law firm Alston & Bird, March 1997. Legal Issues of Ending Armistice Agreement

Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, Dept. of Defense, May 1997. North Korea Country Handbook

Jonathan Pollack, Naval War College Review, 2003. The End of the Agreed Framework

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, 1999, Report Critical of Clinton’s DPRK Policy

Alexandre Mansourov, Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, 2003. Challenge of Modernity for Kim Jong-Il

J. Wit et al, “Seven Lessons for Dealing With Today’s North Korea Nuclear Crisis,” Arms Control Today, April, 2004, on-line at: http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2004_04/GoingCritical.asp

Congressional Research Service, 2003. Anti-Americanism in South Korea



The international community and the United States in particular confronts several contingencies in the next weeks and months: that the DPRK deepens its nuclear opacity, declares itself a nuclear state (and maybe tests a weapon or two), or shifts back to sustained ambiguity as to its weapons capacities and intentions. The possibility remains that the regime could collapse altogether, thereby altering the tangle very quickly.

How has such a tiny state held out for so long against international trends toward globalization on the one hand and sustained American pressure on the other? The DPRK’s strategic goals vary diametrically from those of the United States. The two antagonists align only in putting Korean reconciliation last in priority.


DPRK: Kim Jong-Il’s Goals US: George Bush’s Goals
 regime survival  de-linkage of WMD and terrorism
 strong military  de-nuclearization of the DPRK
 nuclear weapons procurement  stability (non-war) on the peninsula
 economic recovery  Korean reconciliation
 Korean reconciliation   


American and North Korean political cultures are mirror images of one another. In the DPRK, political power is personalized, centralized, and absolute. In the United States, however, political power is bureaucratic, relative, devolved by constitutional design, and legal in foundation. These antagonistic, overarching goals and profound cultural antitheses are driving the two countries into a collision.

Some analysts argue that the United States is currently heading for a major failure in its nuclear non-proliferation and security policy in the Korean Peninsula. The Bush Administration holds the DPRK solely responsible for the failure of the October 1994 US-DPRK Agreed Framework, and states that the DPRK must dismantle all its nuclear activities with IAEA monitoring and verification before the US will negotiate. As a result, for better or worse, the DPRK is now hurling itself across the nuclear red line.

Many who engaged the DPRK and wrestled it to the ground in 1994 believe in straightforward solutions that can cut through the interconnected knots. For example, the United States should open a direct dialogue with the DPRK to settle the nuclear issue contingent upon the DPRK taking the first, unilateral steps: freezing and refreezing its enrichment and plutonium fuel cycle activities (including those that are currently being activated or reactivated) and allowing the establishment and re-establishment of monitoring of its uranium and plutonium activities, respectively.

In contrast, the Bush Administration’s North Korea policy rejects this “narrow” approach. In fact, the Administration’s policy eludes concrete identification, short of President Bush’s January 2003 statement: “I believe the situation with North Korea will be resolved peacefully. As I said, it’s a diplomatic issue, not a military issue and we’re working all fronts.”

This policy goal relies on various general principles applied to North Korea:

  • “Verifiable dismantlement of DPRK nuclear capacities before negotiations”
  • “No rewards for bad behavior.”
  • “All options are on the table.”

Some cynics describe this policy as an attitude; almost daily leaks and counter-leaks in Washington reveal the different policy currents. Despite the public rhetoric, the essence of the Bush Administration’s position appears-at least in Pyongyang-as “regime transformation” and delay-not engagement and rapid resolution of the nuclear issue.

For its part, in late February-early April 2003, the DPRK made strident reference to a “military-first” policy built around a “massive physical deterrent.” In June, the DPRK explicitly declared that if the United States did not engage it and address its economic concerns, then the DPRK would rely on nuclear weapons. In 2004, the regime virtually begged the United States to accept that it has nuclear weapons whereas the United States resisted admitting such a possibility.

Further, critics such as former Defense Secretary William Perry argues against the Administration’s complacency about the possibility of DPRK’s export of fissile material or other WMD-related weapons to possible state and non-state actors. Some policymakers in the Administration, however, appear relaxed about this trend, including the possibility of near-term nuclear tests-partly because such tests would reduce the fissile material available to North Korea. Policymakers in the hardline current appear to believe the following:

  • The more the DPRK plays with nuclear fire, the more it will hurt itself by alienating China and Russia.
  • The Kim Jong-Il clique is irrevocably committed to its corrupt economic base and to obtaining nuclear weapons at any cost, even of having an economy. Therefore, the only US policy options are either to induce a coup, squeeze it to collapse, or ratchet up pressure to force capitulation.
  • If the DPRK goes nuclear, then the US, allies, and friends will contain the DPRK until it disarms or collapses.
  • The only way to contain the DPRK, regardless of nuclear capacity, is for other states to share the burden and to maximize US leverage over Pyongyang, by architecting a global coalition-a building whose construction will require a lot of time and effort. This building is based on the principles of anti-terrorism, no criminal exports (drugs), non-proliferation, human rights, etc. and until its creation, the exact principle that will lead the engagement of the DPRK remains unknown.

Far from preparing to engage, therefore, the hardliners focus on blocking pragmatic moves by the State Department, specifically those that would engender an urgent bilateral deal (e.g. put a refreeze of plutonium first, followed closely by a freeze of enrichment). Provided that President Bush is not driving engagement from the top, if the hardliners succeed in maintaining the status quo, then they will win the policy battle by default.



Nautilus Institute, 2003, DPRK Scenarios 2003 Report (summarized in Peter Hayes Last Chance To Avert A Korean Krakatoa, August 11, 2003: PFO #03-39A, on-line at: https://nautilus.org/fora/security/0339_Hayes.html

Watson Institute at Brown. 2003 North Korea and Nuclear Weapons – Policy Options.

Center for International Policy and Center for East Asian Studies at U. of Chicago, 2003. Report of the Task Force on US-Korea Policy

Peter Hayes, “Kim Jong Il Should Read George Bush’s Lips,” PFO 04-20, April 30, 2004, on-line at: https://nautilus.org/fora/security/0420_Hayes.html O 04-20: April 30, 2004

Peter Hayes, Nautilus Institute, November 18, 2003. Seven Step Policy to Solve the North Korean Nuclear Problem

Peter Hayes, Nautilus Institute, February 20, 2004 The Multilateral Mantra And North Korea

Peter Hayes, Arms Control Today, October 2003 Looming Failure of Multilateral Talks

Peter Hayes, Nautilus Institute, 2003. DPRK Energy Security Without Rewarding Bad Behavior

Peter Hayes, Plutonium Pineapples: Avoiding Awful Choices Over North Korean Nuclear Exports, August 20, 2003: PFO #03-40A on-line at: https://nautilus.org/fora/security/0340_Hayes.html

Nicholas Eberstadt, American Enterprise Institute, February 12, 2004. The Illusion of North Korean Diplomacy

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace & Nautilus Institute, 2003. Verifying DPRK Nuclear Disarmament

Benjamin Friedman, Global Security Institute, September 4, 2003. Legal Challenge of PSI

Balbina Hwang, Heritage Foundation, August 25, 2003. Curtailing DPRK Narco-Trafficking with the PSI