JOANNE MYERS: Good evening, everyone. I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council and the Korean Consulate, our sponsor of this event, I'd like to thank you all for spending this part of your evening with us.
Before we begin, I'd like to take a moment to recognize Consul General Kim and YunJu Ko, who were instrumental in suggesting this program and for introducing me to our distinguished panelists, who, in alphabetical order, are Scott Snyder and Sue Mi Terry. Both are widely respected in the United States and in Korea for their intimate knowledge about North and South Korea and their experience working on issues that affect both countries.
As a reading of their bios indicates, I'm sure you will agree that it is an exceptional opportunity to have them on this podium. They will share their thoughts about the current situation, what they see as the most immediate threats and likely opportunities on the Korean Peninsula.
The Asia-Pacific region has always been of interest, but no more so than in recent years, especially since the rise of Kim Jong-un, North Korea's supreme leader and party chairman. His aggressive and erratic behavior, whether launching missiles or cyber-attacks, has emerged as one of the most serious threats to peace and security in the 21st century. His provocations harm not only the citizens of North Korea, but threaten the entire Korean Peninsula and have the potential to destabilize the entire world.
In the next 30 minutes or so, our distinguished panelists will discuss South Korea's policy towards North Korea, the nuclear threat coming out of Pyongyang, and opportunities for unification of the North and the South.
At this time I'd like to ask that Consul General Kim come to the podium for his opening remarks.
So that we all can begin, please join me in giving all of our panelists a very warm welcome. Thank you.
GHEEWHAN KIM: Good evening. I'm the Korean consul general to New York. My name is Gheewhan Kim. I have been posted to New York as consul general for more than one year.
This is one of the most important events that the Korean Consulate is hosting with the Carnegie Council on the timely topic of "Threats and Opportunities on the Korean Peninsula."
First of all, I would like to thank President Joel Rosenthal, the Carnegie Council president, for co-hosting this timely event; and also thank Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs Programs, for moderating today; and also thank my old colleagues and friends, Mr. Scott Snyder and Ms. Sue Mi Terry, for their renowned professional insights on today's topic on the Korean Peninsula and North Korea.
As you know, North Korea's Workers' Party Congress was held for four days, from May 6–9. This was the seventh Party Congress held in 36 years. The Party Congress endorsed Kim Jong-un, the young leader, as supreme leader of the party, chairman of the Workers' Party, while outlining priority work programs and setting up the party structures to support Kim Jong-un's leadership. In his speech to the Party Congress, the young leader, Kim Jong-un, reaffirmed his intentions to continue his Byungjin policy, which aims to achieve nuclear weapons and economic development simultaneously. It has been his consistent policy since March 2013. So it is more than three years now.
On the nuclear weapons front, North Korea is in the throes of achieving technological advances, such as miniaturizing warheads, long-range intercontinental capability, a technology of reentry into the atmosphere, and striking accuracy. North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong-un, made strong efforts to impress his leadership by making a fourth nuclear bomb test in January and by launching intercontinental ballistic missiles—they call it "satellite launch," but basically it is intercontinental ballistic missiles—in February. Last month, North Korea launched three intermediate-range ballistic missiles, named Musudan, but failed. North Korea also test launched a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), which was not fully successful.
In economic development, the North Korean economy is in bad shape. I think many reporters visited the Seventh Party Congress and just described how Pyongyang is like a Potemkin village—it is for show-off, but real stuff is not there. There is some diversity in Pyongyang, but this is for show-off. The population of North Korea is under a heavy famine and has been neglected for a long time.
Since Kim Jung-un announced his Byungjin policy in March 2013, North Korea's public distribution system has all but failed. It is now only used to reward the elites of the establishment. Because of this, black markets have mushroomed to fill the widening gaps. Actually, the black market is a kind of lifeline when the public distribution system fails. Many construction projects were undertaken, but most have been for show and to award the elites, such as theme parks and high-rise apartments. North Korea's infrastructure and industry is operating at below 40 percent.
Simply put, North Korea still needs to go a long way to achieve sophisticated levels of mid- to long-range nuclear missiles. Neither has North Korea achieved the level of economic development to sufficiently feed the North Korean people yet. The North Korean regime's capability to reward the elites of the establishment is shrinking.
North Korea is now under unprecedented multilateral and bilateral sanctions because North Korea tested their nuclear bombs in January and launched long-range ballistic missiles in February. The Korean government added bilateral sanction measures by suspending the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which had generated a total of $560 million. This was a kind of peace project that survived the ups and downs of North-South relations, but at this time this project is suspended. About 70 percent of the money generated from the project was suspected to have financed the North Korean leader's projects, including nuclear and missile programs and luxury goods for reward. This was stopped.
In the United States the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2016 was signed into law on February 18 of this year. This is a strong measure, which includes secondary sanctions against any third party doing business with North Korea. Also the European Union and Japan have imposed bilateral sanctions against North Korea.
Multilaterally, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously adopted Resolution 2270 on March 2. This is the strongest sanction resolution on North Korea to date. For example, the resolution contains mandatory cargo inspections, robust financial sanctions, sectoral sanctions targeting North Korea's trade in natural resources, like aviation rocket fuels, coal, iron, iron ore, as well as gold and rare earth minerals. The resolution identified 16 individuals and 20 entities, such as government agencies, for travel bans and asset freezes, also 31 vessels were identified to be impounded, and broad categories of luxury goods were banned.
Now around two months have passed since Resolution 2270 passed the Security Council. The unprecedented sanctions are beginning to bite North Korea. Among others, the role of China is growing important to make sanctions effective and painful, so that North Korea will think twice on the option of nuclear weapons and delivery missiles.
Constant monitoring of trade along the North Korean border is very important. In this regard, U.S. secondary sanctions will drive further the enforced ban. If North Korea tests a fifth nuclear bomb in the future, the United Nations Security Council and the international community will add additional tough sanctions. Perhaps it is a speculative thought, but the oil supply is a remaining lifeline to North Korea. When they go to test a fifth nuclear bomb, I think the international community will discuss further sanctions. But we squeezed a lot already. To squeeze further I think is—the remaining few things are very important, crucial lifelines to North Korea.
Now Kim Jong-un keeps control in North Korea through a reign of terror. The sustainability of his regime is increasingly weakening, as his ability to compensate the elites of the establishment continues to diminish.
North Korea must realize that the Byungjin policy is a fallacy and is unattainable. Korea and the international community will continue to thoroughly enforce sanctions until North Korea abandons nuclear ambitions in a complete, irreversible, and verifiable way.
The key question is, can North Korea sustain, and for how long? The North Korean regime's survival could be measured by the elites' loyalty. Some intelligence sources describe the current condition that if loyalty of the elites to Kim Il-sung, the grandfather leader, was 100, Kim Jong-il, the father leader, would be at 50 to 70, and the young third-generation leader, Kim Jong-un, would be at 10 or less. I'm not sure whether this intelligence is correct not, but I think compared with his grandfather's popularity in the establishment, Kim Jong-un is much less, less than one-tenth. That is why he is mimicking his grandfather during the whole Party Congress ceremonies. It seems the young, inexperienced North Korean leader's regime is being shaken. There is a loyalty deficit among the establishment. We may see some cracks emerging.
In early April there were a series of defections from North Korea. Thirteen workers from a government-run restaurant in China defected to the South. They were the largest group to defect in recent years. These workers are no ordinary restaurant workers. These restaurants are part of North Korea's Workers' Party Office 39, which operates many illicit activities abroad to earn money. It is likely that these restaurants are used as fronts to make and launder money. These workers are sons and daughters of North Korea's establishment. They are sent abroad to earn foreign currencies for the regime.
Actually, there are some restaurant workers who went back to North Korea. They insist the 13 restaurant workers were kidnapped by our intelligence people. But this is to the contrary. When you go back, then you have to argue to the contrary. Otherwise, you are harshly treated and sent to a political camp, a notorious political camp, or executed.
Also a colonel at North Korea's top spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, defected to the South in December of last year. Actually, this Reconnaissance General Bureau was the organ that made a cyber-attack on Sony Pictures in the United States.
It is important to see that sanctions are only a means to an end. What is essential going forward is to thoroughly enforce bilateral and multilateral sanctions so that North Korea realizes it cannot ensure its own regime's security unless it abandons its nuclear weapons. I think there are many other mass-destruction weapons, biological and chemical weapons, but by abandoning nuclear weapons, I think North Korea should abandon other WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) as well. But the focus at this time is on nuclear weapons and missiles.
Past efforts have been unsuccessful. The six-party talks kind of failed because North Korea cheated and created its brinkmanship. I think The Wall Street Journal's editorial on Monday described the situation and some suggestions for the North Korean problem. I think they give us very good guidance on what to do in the future.
This time is very different—condemnation by international communities is firm, even by countries that had close ties with North Korea so far, China and Russia. In April, the Sri Lankan government intercepted and seized a large cash transfer to North Korea. On May 3, President Park and President Rouhani held a Korea-Iran summit as well. They issued a joint statement affirming their position on non-tolerance for a nuclear North Korea and the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. This is quite a step we achieved with Iran, because Iran has been considered as a close friend to North Korea, exchanging technologies and missiles and other weapons. So this is kind of a delinking of Iran and North Korea. Actually, when we make progress, there is a good lesson for North Korea. If you have a bad precedent in North Korea, it is a bad lesson to Iran. So it is co-linked. So we need to be successful at both ends. This is our emphasis at this time.
Wendy Sherman, a former undersecretary at the State Department, spoke on the possibility of a collapse of North Korea during a CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies)-JoongAng Ilbo forum a couple of weeks ago. She suggested preparing contingency plans among neighboring countries on the issues of securing North Korea's nuclear weapons facilities and materials, managing migrant refugees, the role of status of U.S. troops at the immediate crisis, how the Korean Peninsula ought to be governed, immediate unification or a confederate system.
I think in Seoul all these issues are pending, but we need to discuss these issues among neighboring countries, including China. I think bilateral/trilateral/multilateral diplomacy needs to be pursued so that we have success. Otherwise, we have a bad precedent on the Korean Peninsula and also in Iran as well.
Nobody is sure whether or not North Korea could collapse or how soon. However, what Wendy Sherman, a chief negotiator on the Iranian deal, points out are worthwhile considerations. We need to be prepared for everything, every contingency at this time. Kim Jung-un once again is trying to solidify his rule at home and be recognized as a nuclear state abroad, especially through continued provocations. Korea and the international community will continue to squeeze. Once North Korea gives up nuclear ambitions in a complete, irreversible, verifiable way, we can begin our discussion on a peace treaty or eventual unification.
SCOTT SNYDER: I want to thank the Carnegie Council for holding this event and inviting me here. Thank you so much, Joanne, for the opportunity to come up.
Ambassador Kim just gave us, I think, a very comprehensive situation report. I very much appreciate that, because it relieves my burden. We are talking about threats and opportunities on the Korean Peninsula today, and I had been tasked with threats. It meant that I was very worried about how I was going to be able to contain my remarks into a short period of time and a little bit worried about the opportunity side of the equation. I'm sure that Sue Mi will find some to talk about.
Ambassador Kim really laid out, I think very comprehensively, what we have seen over the course of the past two decades and also the past few months. So I just want to make a few remarks to try to put that into context, try to dig in a little bit to North Korean intent, and then identify four challenges for the future.
There are two points, I think, that are critical as context for understanding what we are dealing with when we are dealing with the North Korean nuclear challenge. One is, this is a challenge that the U.S. government has been concerned about now for almost three decades, actively. It really is a history, some people would say, of diplomatic failure to be able to find a way of containing North Korea's persistent efforts to try to achieve a nuclear capability.
But I would also argue that what we have seen in the first two decades was a gradual evolution, at times seemingly contained, of North Korean capabilities. But I think over the course of the past three to six years what we have actually seen is a bit of a mutation, not just an evolution. A lot of people compare the North Korean nuclear threat today to the past, but I think that the Obama administration has actually faced a different kind of challenge. And it is a challenge that has become more serious as a result of the transition from Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un.
Up through Kim Jong-il, up through 2011, we were dealing with a situation where North Korea's stated interest in nuclear development was ambiguous. But, as Ambassador Kim said, what Kim Jong-un has done has been to adopt it as a very clear and overt policy of the North Korean government. This is a big problem because it reduces space for negotiation. That clarity makes it more difficult for the United States to engage. And we have seen, I think, some struggle in terms of the debate in the United States about how to grapple with this situation.
But there are a couple of other things about North Korean intent that I think are important to put forward.
One, let's face it, Kim Jong-un is faced with an enormous challenge because, compared to his grandfather and his father, it's pretty clear that he has been losing the competition for legitimacy on the Korean Peninsula to South Korea. That has been the core root cause and driver of the inter-Korean competition since the Korean War. So he is facing a situation where he feels vulnerability.
I think that the nuclear capability looks like some kind of "silver bullet" to him, some way of trying to save the day. So he is pursuing a nuclear capability, in part, for legacy reasons. His grandfather and father invested in it. Now he is reaping some fruit from it. He stated just in the past few months that he was pursuing it for reasons of national dignity. That means that the North Korean nuclear program is becoming a source for him of domestic legitimatization, and I think that makes this problem even more difficult to grapple with. Frankly, because North Korea is weak and because it has lost its allies at the end of the Cold War, there is also a desire to have a nuclear capability as a deterrent against not only external threats—a more powerful South Korea, a United States that, from the perspective of Jong-un, remains hostile—but also in order to provide some internal justification for his own rule.
And then also, another aspect, I think, of North Korea's intent is related to the fact that historically North Korea has been the master of asymmetrical strategies. Historians from the 1980s have called North Korea the "guerilla state." Really, North Korea, from its inception, has always in a way conceived of itself as in opposition to the international system. It is the only country that actually has faced opposition from a UN command on the other side. The asymmetric strategy is particularly important, because a North Korea with nuclear capability, in Kim Jong-un's mind, justifies him being able to sit across the table with the United States, and it gives him a weapon in terms of something that South Korea doesn't have.
All these factors are factors that make this situation actually even more severe, I think, today than it has been previously, because the North Korean nuclear development program remains unchecked, and Kim Jong-un at the Workers' Party Congress just declared, in his view, that North Korea is going to become a "permanent nuclear state." So he is basically betting his survival on the nuclear program.
So how do we deal with this situation? It's pretty clear that we are in a phase, as Ambassador Kim described, that is very much focused on sanctions as a way of trying to squeeze North Korea, to try to shape the environment in order to get North Korea to change its mind and come back. There are a number of challenges, I think, related to implementing that strategy. I just want to point out four issues.
One, here we are in May of 2016; we are going to have a new president in January of 2017. South Korea next year is going to have a presidential election. So one issue is a transition challenge. We have to coordinate our policies together with South Korea in the context of a transition from administration to administration.
Secondly, there is a coordination challenge. Ambassador Kim referred to the need for cooperation with China. Really, this is critical, because China owns the lifeline to North Korea. Ninety percent of its food and fuel, essentially, is coming through China. But China is interested in stability on the Korean Peninsula. China will squeeze North Korea, but not to the point that it could risk the regime. And yet, I think what we have seen from North Korea is that unless the regime is put at risk, it's probably not going to change direction.
So this is a real dilemma. It's a real dilemma in terms of being able to coordinate diplomatically with China to get them to continue to move forward on sanctions. And it means that there is a big gap in terms of preference longer term about how China thinks about what they want from the future of the Korean Peninsula versus the way that South Korea and the United States are thinking about it. I'm sure that Sue Mi will talk more about that.
The third challenge is what I would call the "closed-door challenge." What I mean by this is that North Korea really is different from Iran, because North Korea has already tested. The challenge of actually getting a state that has tested to reverse course without changing leadership—well, frankly, it is an unprecedented challenge. Never been done. And yet, that is what we are trying to grapple with, with North Korea.
Finally—and I think this is actually the biggest challenge that I'm going to put on the table—we have a huge plan B challenge, beyond sanctions coordination. What I mean by that is that if sanctions don't work, are the United States and South Korea and China all going to be able to find a way to agree on what comes next? Can we live with a North Korean nuclear state? If not, how are the three countries going to approach the challenge of dealing with a North Korea that is dead-set on attaining both a nuclear survival capability and a strike capability on the United States? That is really where they are going. That is what they want to achieve. Frankly, if they get there, it's going to make the coordination task, both for plan A and for plan B, even more incredibly complex.
I think that is enough of threats. I'll stop there, and we will talk about something more positive.
SUE MI TERRY: Good evening. Thank you, everyone, for coming out. I would like to thank the Carnegie Council and Joanne and Ambassador Kim for giving me this opportunity to be part of this important discussion with you guys, with also my esteemed colleague and good friend, Scott Snyder.
The topic of discussion tonight is "Threats and Opportunities on the Korean Peninsula." It's kind of unfair that Scott got to talk about the threats, because we can talk ad nauseum, hours, endlessly, about threats. I have to talk about opportunities. I don't know what opportunities, but I will find something. [Laughter]
North Korea has proven, obviously, as you know, to be one of the most vexing, persistent, most frustrating problems for U.S. foreign policy since 1950, the Korean War. It continues to pose major risks to U.S. and regional interests. A lot of people thought at the end of the Cold War maybe the North Korean threat would subside. But it didn't. Now it has a nuclear weapons program. It is continually improving it. It has missiles that can reach many parts of the United States and, of course, the ultimate threat of nuclear proliferation.
I'm getting to opportunities, but I just want to point out that the North Korean problem is not a fault of one particular U.S. administration or South Korean administration. Both Washington and South Korea have tried different approaches of dealing with North Korea, as Scott mentioned, over three decades. This goes back to the early 1990s, Bill Clinton years. We had George W.'s administration, two terms; Barack Obama, now two terms. Very different presidents.
My point is we have been dealing with this crisis for many, many years, mostly trying to deal within negotiations, first bilateral, now multilateral—no longer multilateral, but we tried multilateral through the six-party mechanism. These talks, for whatever reasons and whatever format, have failed in achieving North Korean de-nuclearization.
We can all see now that neither negotiations nor economic inducements have really—not $1.3 billion the U.S. actually gave to North Korea in terms of food and energy assistance, not $8 billion that the South Korean government gave to North Korea over the Sunshine Policy years—none of these inducements have really the weaned the North Korean state away from continuing to build nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and ratcheting up tensions with the United States, with South Korea, with Japan over the years.
I think it's also useful to remember that North Korea has its own strategic agenda. They have their own reasons for pursuing these policies. They are not merely reacting to signals coming out of Seoul or Washington. North Korea has relentlessly pursued a nuclear weapons program for decades because they see nuclear weapons as having its own important symbolic and strategic value. There is a value to acquisition of a nuclear arsenal for North Korea—the equal power, prestige, and now, under Kim Jong-un, legitimacy.
For the North, when you compare it with the South, it basically does extremely poorly in all indices of measuring state power—political, economic, soft power, all of it. Nuclear weapons is the only thing they really have over the South. I think now most people would agree, and most North Korea watchers would agree, from engagers to hardliners, that it's very unlikely that North Korea will dismantle its nuclear weapons program for any number of political and economic concessions.
So here we are, after multiple decades of dealing with the North Korean crisis. And it is indeed difficult to see opportunities when it comes to North Korea. So what can be done?
I don't think that in the immediate term how Washington and Seoul are reacting right now to the recent North Korean crisis—I think they are on the right track, and that is tight coordination between the two allies, which has not always been the case, even though we have tried. In the past, governments both in Washington and Seoul have oscillated between different policies—soft line, hard line—at different times, and not necessarily always coordinating closely, even though we try. For example, during the Kim Dae-jung Sunshine Policy years, we had the Bush administration and so on. So not always did we work in tight coordination.
But in the aftermath of the fourth nuclear test in January, I would say that there is now a joint approach and coordination effort that contains sort of harder elements of pressure vis-à-vis the North. Currently, right now, there is no daylight between Washington and Seoul in terms of pursuing their North Korea policies.
I fully agree with Scott that it is concerning in terms of transition and coordination challenges with new administrations. But currently, right now, they are working together; the two allies are. Seoul and Washington have successfully pushed to expand UNSC sanctions, which resulted in the UNSC's unanimous adoption of Resolution 2270, as Ambassador Kim talked about. Seoul and Washington jointly announced that they would begin the discussion of possible deployment of THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense), the ballistic missile defense system, in South Korea. President Park even shut down the 11-year-old Kaesong Industrial Complex, which Ambassador Kim talked about, which generated over $500 million for the North Korean regime, hard currency for Pyongyang, which, I have to admit, came as a surprise to me.
So in the immediate term, I do think Seoul and Washington should continue to coordinate very closely together, and I think they should continue to stay strong in terms of staying on this path. Let's try an approach—any approach—in terms of doing it jointly and, in this particular case, pressuring the regime, particularly if there is going to be renewed provocations from North Korea, such as a fifth nuclear test, which I think is forthcoming.
Even if our goal is eventually to return to the six-party talks or some sort of dialogue with North Korea, I do think the best way to get there is by, first, staying united between the allies and being consistent in our message, in our policies, and really implementing existing policies of containment with rigor, with more rigor than previously tried. So continue to strengthen and enforce sanctions, strengthen deterrence with an enhanced missile defense system or on the Korean Peninsula enhanced counter-proliferation measures and so on.
Of course, at the same time, Washington and Seoul should work to continue to take steps—and we have been already doing that, but do more—to help the people of North Korea, for example, assisting in the efforts to break the information blockade that is imposed by the King Jung-un regime. I think this is one thing that everyone can agree is important, whoever you talk to. There is no question that we need to double up our efforts and support radio broadcasts and other efforts to transmit information into North Korea.
Another important step that everybody can also agree on, whatever your political beliefs and your leanings, I think, is to draw the global attention to the human rights violations that are going on in North Korea—the political prison camps and other gross violations, human rights violations, that are going on in North Korea.
As Scott mentioned, there is a China factor. I know that Washington and Seoul have been working behind the scenes and that President Park has been very focused on that. But they need to continue to work behind the scenes to make Beijing understand that continuing to provide North Korea with this blank check is a strategic liability for China's interests. Now, that is a very tall order. It's something very difficult to do. It's not easy. People have been trying. But it is still something that is very important, the China factor.
What about the longer-term plan? So that's what we will do in the short term. I think here is where the unification agenda fits in terms of potential longer-term opportunities. That is Washington adopting a policy of encouraging a peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula—and I mean more than rhetorically, because we always rhetorically support that, of course.
I'm sure a lot of you have been hearing about or have seen or heard President Park's renewed emphasis on unification since she came into office, calling unification a jackpot or bonanza and so on. Admittedly—let me be the first one to point out—promoting unification between the two Koreas is no panacea in terms of solving all problems, or even that the United States or South Korea necessarily have a lot of leverage to bring this about, achieving this outcome. We don't have a lot of things that we can do. It could also take a long time to show results.
There are obviously, clearly risks on the way. There are risks involved—for example, the risk of making North Korea even more belligerent by increasing its sense of existential threat by talking about unification. There are other pressing challenges, particularly in an instability scenario leading to unification, and we should not underestimate them, from securing North Korea's loose nuclear weapons to averting the kind of chaos that gripped post-Qaddafi Libya. When I worked in the U.S. government, I spent a couple of years really focused on looking at all the things that could go wrong in a unification scenario or in an instability scenario. There are many. I don't want to underestimate those challenges, including a massive potential humanitarian crisis, like refugee flow.
But even with such challenges—I'm just going to focus a little bit on Washington's policy, because we heard about South Korean policy—I think Washington's policy towards the Korean Peninsula can no longer be limited to just de-nuclearization. What we need is a long-term—I know it's hard to ask the government to actually have a long-term strategic vision and a strategy, but I do think we need to have a vision and a strategy in seeking an opportunity on the Korean Peninsula.
What I mean by that is that, although the primary and most immediate focus has to be de-nuclearization and the nuclear program and missiles and all that, we must now proactively support a broader strategy—namely, to promote and actively pursue policies that in the long term will bring about unification of the Korean Peninsula to the kind of unified Korea that we want to see, which is a democratic, pro-free market, pro-Western state that would be essentially a bigger version of South Korea.
What this means, obviously, is for Washington to launch a deliberate and intensive diplomatic effort, eventually with interests of regional powers, to promote coordination and preparedness for all contingency scenarios. But, of course, the process has to start between the United States and South Korea to augment—and they do have military planning in place—to augment this military plan with a coordinated political, economic, diplomatic, and legal strategy to really tackle all the core unification issues that are going to come about. This bilateral discussion should be frank and should include really candid discussions about the structure and nature of U.S. military presence in Korea, the future of the alliance—where is that going to go post-unification?—and even outline a post-unification security structure.
Just to sum up, let's not underestimate challenges, both present and even future challenges, involved with unification. I don't mean to underestimate that. But I just want to emphasize that there are potentially manifold benefits that are involved with a unified Korean state—not only for Korea and the Korean Peninsula, but for the region and for the United States as well.
We don't even have to talk about incalculable security gains, what it means for the region when you don't have the biggest source of instability in the region, the biggest weapons proliferation source in the region. And economically, too, the region could benefit, because a unified Korea could be something like a unified Germany and prove to be a valuable partner to existing trade partners like China and the United States.
Of course, needless to say—and we don't talk enough about this—creation of a unified state would be a huge human rights boon for the region. Oftentimes I think human rights issues get to be under the table. We don't talk about them enough. We are always so much focused on security concerns. But just think about freeing the 23 million, 24 million, 25 million North Koreans from the grip of the last remaining Stalinist dictatorship. That would not only be a win for, I think, America's security interests, but our values as well.
I think my time is up, so we will go for Q&A. Thank you.
QUESTION: My name is Katsuo Takeda.
My question is to Sue Mi. The two biggest neighboring countries to North Korea are Russia and China. This is an area far from a democratic society. My question is like a pre-101 question. My impression is that both nations are kind of supporting because they share the same type of society system. You briefly mentioned about the relationship between North Korea and China. Would you elaborate a little bit more on the historical and the present relationships between North Korea and Russia and North Korea and China?
SUE MI TERRY: China right now, first of all, is the last remaining benefactor, supporter—if you can call it an ally—ally, lifeline to North Korea. It gives some food, 90 percent of energy, consumer products, trade—everything is through China. But China's interests—it's not that China does not care about de-nuclearization. They do. It's just that the priority between China and Washington is a little bit different. Where we put de-nuclearization as the number-one priority, China puts stability, as Scott mentioned, as a top priority. Because of that, it does not want instability in the Peninsula. Right now I don't think it judges that unification is beneficial to China, because they don't want a pro-U.S. unified Korea, potentially with American troops in the Northern part of the territory.
For a whole host of reasons, China prefers status quo, even though it is increasingly, I would argue, displeased with the Kim Jong-un regime. Before, I think, in the past, there was a genuine bond between China and North Korea. Mao lost his son in the Korean War. So there was an actual bond and respect between Mao and Kim Il-sung. But China had a little bit less respect under Kim Jong-il. Now, under Kim Jong-un, do we think the Chinese government really thinks highly of this, I would say, kid leader? Xi Jinping has yet to meet with Kim Jong-un, has not invited him over for a summit. Xi has met with President Park I don't know how many times—three summits already, very successful summits with the South Korean counterpart.
So China is, I would say, very irritated with North Korea. But it's just not enough, because their strategic interest is still preferring the status quo.
Russia was obviously a much more valuable player in the Soviet Union days, but after the fall—or the collapse—of the Soviet Union, I think Russia is just more of a marginal player right now. But it probably still does not prefer a unification or a unified Korea. It still prefers status quo.
SCOTT SNYDER: I'll just say that especially DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea/North Korea) and China really were ideological brothers in terms of how they started and when they started. But they have grown apart. The same thing in terms of the North Korean relationship with Russia. At the end of the Soviet Union, that really changed things.
And so, yes, Kim Il-sung went to Mao and Stalin to look for support to start the Korean War. It's really impossible to imagine that Kim Jong-un could make the same case, because he's so isolated.
So I think that the North Korean regime is really the historical outlier that has, I think, been left behind in many respects by the direction and evolution of the state in China and Russia.
GHEEWHAN KIM: China, I think, has a common stake and benefits they would enjoy from de-nuclearizing North Korea. Actually, nobody wants proliferation of nuclear weapons or an arms race due to that. So I think they have a clear stake.
But they also have a strategic position towards North Korea. So we need to convince China that a unified Korea would not be a threat to China eventually. This is why we need some detailed preparation among the powers surrounding the Korean Peninsula.
Nobody controls—even China cannot control—the possibility of collapse of North Korea. Then they need to prepare for the second-best option. I think a friendly South Korea is, no doubt, a good environment for the future to China as well. That is the reason my president visits China, just having informal talks, even though it is not disclosed. We have very close talks on many issues, on many possibilities and contingencies in North Korea, and also some possible future issues, U.S. forces after unification, something like that.
This is a good confidence-building discussion, even though it's not disclosed, it's not agreed. That is why my president decided to visit China in September last year. The optics were not very good to Westerners. But the real purpose is to [inaudible] China on North Korean issues for the benefit of allies and friends of Korea.
QUESTION: W. Pal Sidhu from NYU, New York University.
Thank you for three fascinating, if pessimistic, presentations. Let me add to that pessimism.
The North Koreans may also argue that the United States has been inconsistent in its interactions. I'll give you one instance. The Clinton administration took a long time to engage. They did, right toward the end of the second term. You remember that very famous exchange where Kim Jong-un is telling Madeleine Albright, "Email me and we'll get in touch." The North Koreans said the next thing they heard was them being branded as the "axis of evil." So there was clearly a break, a missed opportunity, one might argue.
Again, the point is, is there going to be another missed opportunity as we are getting into this transition era? That's one question. How do you make U.S. policy more consistent?
Second—and I think this was brought out in terms of the plan B—can we live with a nuclear-armed North Korea? I think it would be fair to say perhaps the United States can, but there is a little bit of an open question about South Korea and Japan. It also then raises the question about whether South Korea and Japan may want to exercise similar options.
The third is, is there any possibility of a plan C, the use of force or some kind of a military operation to actually physically or militarily disarm North Korea's nuclear capabilities? Or is that really off the table entirely?
This is for the entire panel. Thank you.
SCOTT SNYDER: Certainly we can see various types of inconsistencies in U.S. policy toward North Korea. There are also some inconsistencies in North Korea's policy toward the United States. It is undoubtedly the case that one of the challenges that we have here is that actually this is the state, I think, with which the United States has had the longest record of enmity of any other state in the world. So there is undoubtedly hostility between the United States and DPRK in many aspects.
But I also think that the Clinton-Bush transition was a very challenging one. But some of those challenges were driven, in part, by the fact that the Bush administration discovered that the North Koreans were trying to break out from a deal that they had made with the Clinton administration. The fact that we have a record of failure, the abandonment of a joint project between the United States and North Korea in an international consortium, actually makes it more difficult.
Now the North Koreans have basically moved on. Essentially what they are saying right now is, "United States, abandon its hostile policy, and then de-nuclearization, maybe. And by the way, when you get to the last 20 nuclear weapons, call us," essentially. That is not really a good starting point, I think, for an engagement on de-nuclearization.
The issue of whether or not the United States can live with North Korea as a nuclear weapons state is actually, I think, a very interesting question, and it's a complicated question. I come down on the side of the idea that there is actually something distinctive and different about the nature of the North Korean regime. It's still totalitarian. There is too much concentration of power inside the North Korean state for the United States or its neighbors to be willing to live with a nuclear North Korea. I think in degree and in type it's actually different even from Pakistan.
And then, the issue of the use of force—in a way, I think that that issue is kind of the poster child for the fact that deterrence works. In this case it is North Korean deterrence that works. It is the fact that if the United States strikes North Korea, they have to be concerned about crisis escalation and the fact that it puts Seoul at risk. So I would say that the space to watch on that issue is really related to whether or not we are running into a situation where, from a South Korean perspective, living with really an inherently unstable North Korean neighbor becomes so intolerable that they feel that something has to be done about it.
SUE MI TERRY: I'll just add a little bit, since Scott so comprehensively answered the question.
In terms of your first question about consistency/inconsistency with U.S. foreign policy, how to make it more consistent, I think that it is just very difficult to do that. There is definitely a trust deficit problem between North Korea and Washington. It is very unfortunate that when President Bush came into office, with the 2002 State of the Union Address, he labeled North Korea with "axis of evil." But, as Scott mentioned, that year, in October, was when we found out also that North Korea was pursuing a uranium enrichment program, both before and after the Agreed Framework of 1994. So even after the deal, they were pursuing it. So there is definitely a trust issue, but I'm not sure what we can do about it. We do live in a democracy.
Your question about use of force—I would just say, whether we can live with a nuclear North Korea or not, I think one red line for Washington is potentially nuclear proliferation. North Korea has not yet, I don't believe, proliferated nuclear fissile material. But I think that is the red line. So when we are often concerned about North Korea's nuclear program, we are not necessarily thinking that North Korea would actually use a nuclear weapon against the United States. But nuclear proliferation is a serious concern. That is a legitimate concern because North Korea is a serial proliferator. It has proliferated absolutely everything under the sun for money. So the track record here is not good. But I think that would be sort of the red line. I hate to use the term "red line" now. But that should be our red line in terms of how Washington sees things.
GHEEWHAN KIM: De-nuclearization is a consistent policy toward North Korea, no doubt. We have no change in our stance. My president recently emphasized the importance of de-nuclearization.
I think if you go nuclear altogether, like the Wall Street Journal op-ed suggestion is heading—if South Korea and Japan go nuclear together with North Korea, this is a kind of bad scenario that we need to avoid. So we should be successful on de-nuclearizing North Korea.
In my opinion, it is not inconsistency from U.S. administration to administration. I think the difference between Iran and North Korea is, with Iran, when we discuss de-nuclearization, there is a very solid sanction against Iran; but in the case of North Korea, we didn't have a solid sanction against North Korea when we tried some possibility of dialogue. That is the main difference. Now we are building up our unprecedented sanctions. So we need to pursue in the end the dialogue. But we need some evidence of sincerity on the part of North Korea.
So we were cheated. We had a brinkmanship [inaudible] from North Korea past the six-party talks. We need to avoid the same mistake. We need to be very successful. Otherwise, I think it is a bad lesson to the other part of the world, Iran.
QUESTION: Going back to China, you had mentioned that China would be afraid of U.S. troops in North Korea. To try to induce China to be more supportive of our goals, would it help—and I don't know if it's feasible—to say if it was unified, the U.S. would withdraw their troops and, in some way, try to make China more comfortable in what the results would be?
QUESTION: George Paik. It would probably be unfair to put the ambassador on the spot, but are there analyses of the prospects for South Korea's upcoming election? Who are the likely players? What are their known dispositions? What might result in the overall leanings of the country after their elections?
QUESTION: Youssef Bahammi. A question to get back to what you said about the famine problem that is starting again in North Korea. Could it be through the international aid a potential route for negotiation, as it was under the Kim Jong-il time in the 1990s, when he had the negotiations with Madeleine Albright?
SUE MI TERRY: Maybe you read some of my articles. I don't advocate, obviously, pulling out U.S. troops. But in a unified Korea scenario, I think that's something the United States should be prepared to do. I don't know how much we have been talking to the Chinese about it, but I think if we get to a discussion with China about that—because our interest is in China seeing that it is in its interests and it is beneficial for China if unification occurs. I know that is not necessarily popular with a lot of people, but personally I think that should be on the table, because I think getting China's support is critical. But China is not going to move on the unification issue unless it sees its interests being served.
And I don't think we are so far off, even though we talked about how China's interest is in promoting status quo and stability. China and South Korea are already very close. China is the number-one trading partner for South Korea. China and South Korea's trading volume was more than double, more than that of South Korea-U.S. and South Korea-Japan combined.
I think that is what President Park was trying to do, is to sort of have that kind of dialogue with China. But I think this is way down the road. This is not something that we can discuss right at this early stage.
GHEEWHAN KIM: I think there's no doubt the United States is a strong ally to us, and also Japan is an ally to the United States. In close coordination to allies, we are countering threats from North Korea. It's a basic, fundamental diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula.
On top of that, we pursue strategic relations with China because we need China's positive influence on North Korea. So we need to build up good relations in case of many possibilities in North Korea. Also trade relations, no doubt, are a very important consideration.
But I think this alliance, and also the strategic decision related to de-nuclearization and unification, is more of a work with our friends, allies. Then we will just engage China in positive perspectives. No doubt China has a strong stake in doing this. Remember, Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, tried to suggest major country relations with the United States. China wants to play a role as a regional power and a global power. North Korea gives China such a status. If they are cooperative enough on this issue so that we can make a very good solution, I think it is a boon and a benefit to both major countries—and also climate change, development, and many other security issues. This is what the United States and China have in common. But success should come; otherwise, a disaster to both relations.
SCOTT SNYDER: I guess I'm left with the South Korean election. What I would say about that is that I cannot even predict what's happening in the U.S. election here. The South Korean election is in December of 2017. But interestingly enough, there is one parallel between the U.S. and South Korean elections. That is, in South Korea also people are wondering whether someone from New York may run, the secretary-general.
GHEEWHAN KIM: Actually, the April 13 general election produced a three-party system. Before then, it was a two-party system, majority ruling party and opposition party. But the opposition party split into two, with different dynamics of support. Actually, the ruling party was defeated in many ways, and also the first opposition party was defeated in Honam, a certain very core area. That produced a three-party system. No party can pass legislation without helping each other. For example, there are many issues, economic and social issues. They need to build up a coalition to pass them through.
But on the issue of North Korea, I don't think there are divergent opinions. There is a consistency. We feel we are having threats from North Korea, whether opposition or ruling party or third party.
To become the next president, to win the election in December 2017, they need to prove their leadership. Otherwise, they will have no chance. But if you become a president with three parties, there is no legislation or new agenda that a new administration can pass. This is a bad, bad scenario for all possible hopefuls in South Korea.
I don't make any comments on the American candidates here. But some campaign issues—for example, some military cost, 100 percent or so—now I'm glad it is adjusted. It's a kind of position to aim for, not an end result. This is a good gesture. But anyhow, Korea—and, no doubt, Japan—is a strong ally. We are offering our best efforts to share the cost. I think it is a matter of negotiation.
JOANNE MYERS: I thank you, Ambassador Kim, Scott, and Sue Mi, for just a wonderful discussion.