In the recent back and forth between pundits over how to get the Six Party Talks back on track and over the pros and cons of President Park Geun-hye’s recent speech in Dresden, the problem of developing a long-term vision for the security of a unified Korea that involves the military has been overlooked. Hoping to address this critical point, The Arirang Institute and the Asia Institute held a seminar on April 9 at the University of North Korean Studies, bringing together leading experts, including current military commanders, for an honest discussion of the larger implications of reunification for the region.
Daniel Pinkston, renowned North Korea expert and current deputy project director for Northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group, opened the discussion with the topic of conditions for integrating North Korea into the larger regional security architecture. Pinkston stressed that the biggest barrier is simply the uncooperative behavior of North Koreans. He suggested that there is an unfortunate tendency for Pyongyang officials to project their own paranoia on the rest of the world, thereby blocking new avenues for dialog. Pinkston suggested that there is tremendous potential for cooperative approaches to security that would bring North Korea back into the region in a serious manner, but stressed that deterrence will still be necessary as long as the North continues is provocations.
Tak Sung-han, the head of North Korean research at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, drew attention to the misunderstanding of the North Korean nuclear weapons programs found among analysts outside of Korea. He described how the current program for economic growth in Pyongyang, the “Byungjin” policy, combines the development of nuclear weapons and economic advancement as part of one program. North Koreans have been told by their government, Tak explained, that such weapons can be developed without any additional burdens to the economy. Therefore, unlike pundits in the international community who think North Korea must make a choice between either the economy or the military, many Pyongyang bureaucrats assume that the two must advance together. “Nuclear weapons,” Dr. Tak explained, “are not just a means to get some foreign currency, but a goal that is part of a comprehensive developmental strategy.”
Dr. Emanuel Pastreich, director of the Asia Institute, suggested that the primary problem is that we have become so accustomed to North Korea as the central issue in security for the region that we are blind to profound shifts such as the development of drones or the encroachment of deserts and other forms of climate change that are transforming the equation. Pastreich noted that because North Korea “serves as the bad boy and the explicit threat, Pyongyang has become the keystone in an imbricated security architecture that assures stability in Northeast Asia. To start hacking away at the foundations of such architecture, even if the intentions are good, is perceived as risky business.”
Michael Lammbrau, Seoul Bureau Representative of the Arirang Institute, spoke about the power of social networks and how it is not enough to merely connect with each other online, through Facebook and Twitter, but rather that individuals and groups must actually connect in person in order to build trust, understanding, and a sense of shared sacrifice between diverse groups of individuals on controversial topics.