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Korea Update October 2016: Kim Jong-un's Nuclear Sprint

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Korea Update October 2016: Kim Jong-un’s Nuclear Sprint

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Four Ways to Unilaterally Sanction North Korea

With China unwilling or unable to enforce UN sanctions on North Korea, the United States needs to be prepared to unilaterally sanction Chinese companies and banks that deal with North Korea and to strengthen the enforcement of sanctions on North Korean shipping, writes Scott A. Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the U.S.-Korea Policy program at the Council on Foreign Relations. Read more on Asia Unbound »

North Korea’s Nuclear Ambition Lives in the Gap Between the U.S. and China—So Close It

North Korea thrives on U.S.-China strategic mistrust, and the most dangerous threat to the Kim regime’s legitimacy comes from South Korea. Therefore, the most effective way of conveying to Kim Jong-un that his regime’s survival depends on denuclearization would be a trilateral strategy among the United States, China, and South Korea, writes Snyder. Read more in the Guardian »

The U.S. Reacts

President Barack Obama responded with strong words immediately after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test: “[T]he United States does not, and never will, accept North Korea as a nuclear state.” In a CFR blog post, Snyder explains why the United States is firmly against a nuclear North Korea. Read more on Asia Unbound »

Calibrating an International Response

The goal of enhancing external pressure on North Korea through sanctions will only work if it induces a recognition among the regime’s elites that a nuclear weapons program is not a viable security option, Snyder explains. However, even this step represents a threat to Kim Jong-un. If nuclear weapons development has truly become a central tool by which the Kim family justifies the perpetuation of its rule, denuclearization is possible only as a product of regime change—and the only alternative to regime change is acquiescence to North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. Read more on Asia Unbound »

North Korea's Dangerous Nuclear Escalation

The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) hosted a conference call Wednesday morning on the implications of North Korea’s recent nuclear test—its fifth overall. FPI executive director Christopher J. Griffin moderated a discussion between Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, Thomas Karako of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Snyder. Read the event summary on »

A Sharper Choice on North Korea

Snyder previews the 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 report finds that the United States’ policy of “strategic patience” with North Korea will neither halt that country’s recurring and dangerous cycle of provocation nor ensure the stability of Northeast Asia in the future. The Task Force proposes that the United States take steps to sharpen the consequences for North Korea by imposing escalating costs on continued defiance and offering incentives for cooperation. Read more on Asia Unbound »

Launch Event Highlights Challenges of U.S. Policy Toward North Korea

Mount, Mullen, and Nunn presented the CFR Task Force report on North Korea at a launch event on September 16. Judy Woodruff, coanchor and managing editor of PBS NewsHour, moderated the discussion. Watch the event and read the transcript on »

How to Deal With North Korea

Mullen and Nunn summarize the findings of the task force report in a Washington Post op-ed. Read more in the Washington Post »

China Is Vital to Countering a More Dangerous North Korea

In an interview with Eleanor Albert, online writer/editor for, Mullen argues that the United States, Japan, and South Korea should forge stronger diplomatic and military ties to motivate China to take a larger role in mitigating the North Korean nuclear threat. Read more on »

Preparing for Confrontation With North Korea

North Korea carried out its fifth test (apparently successful) of a nuclear explosive device just days after testing several ballistic missiles. Absent a major intervention, asserts CFR President Richard N. Haass, it is only a matter of time before North Korea increases its nuclear arsenal (now estimated at eight to twelve devices) and figures out how to miniaturize its weapons for delivery by missiles of increasing range and accuracy. The United States has no good option to deal with this problem, he writes. Read more in the Project Syndicate »

THAAD and Thucydides

Since the July 7 announcement by the U.S.-Korea alliance to deploy the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system on the Korean peninsula, analysts have been discussing whether and how Beijing would retaliate against Seoul and whether the decision would lead to a dangerous arms race between the United States and China. These are important questions, but Thucydides might say that the commentators are missing the forest for the trees. By itself, the THAAD controversy is not a make-or-break issue in China-South Korea relations or in the U.S.-China arms race; it is simply a symptom of the increasingly zero-sum nature of U.S.-China competition in Asia and the evolution in strategic military technologies, writes Sungtae “Jacky” Park, research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations. Read more in the National Interest »

China-South Korea Relations in "Kim Jong-un’s Era"

Although China and South Korea seek to advance trade and security within various frameworks, such efforts only highlight a widening gap between the economic and political aspects of their relationship. Snyder and See Won Byun, PhD candidate in political science at the George Washington University, explain that current security priorities require effective approaches to both immediate differences over THAAD and exclusive economic zones and longer-term preferences over how to effectively promote lasting stability on the Korean Peninsula. Read more in the Comparative Connections »


A Return to the Old Normal

The first nine months of 2016 have been good for Japan-South Korea relations, argue Snyder and Brad Glosserman, executive director at the Pacific Forum CSIS. 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 makes clear 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 and trends in the geopolitical environment that have underscored the advantages of cooperation. Unfortunately, however, both domestic political factors and the geopolitical context will constrain additional progress. Therefore, both governments and supporters of closer Japan-Korea ties should safeguard the gains that have been made while they work against possibly growing resistance to moving the relationship forward. Read more on Asia Unbound »


Won Appreciates, South Korea Intervenes

South Korea has plenty of fiscal space; it could move toward a better equilibrium, one with more internal demand, less intervention, and less dependence on exports, writes Brad W. Setser, senior fellow and acting director of CFR’s Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies. Read more on Follow the Money »

Korea’s Foreign Exchange Gains

With short-term external debt of around $100 billion and over $400 billion in reserves, Korea is well reserved by traditional metrics. It even has more than enough reserves based on the metric of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), writes Setser. Read more on Follow the Money »

What to Do When Countries With Fiscal Space Do Not Use It

Like Germany, Korea has a tight fiscal policy, Setser argues. Korea retained a structural fiscal surplus throughout the global crisis; it relied on exports to drive its initial recovery, thanks to the won’s large depreciation in the crisis. After sliding just a bit between 2012 and 2015, Korea’s fiscal surplus is now heading up again. Read more on Follow the Money »


Yonhap (Korean): “U.S. Experts Against South Korean Nuclearization … Rather Difficult

MBC News (Korean): “U.S. Nuclear Umbrella Sufficient. Opposes South Korean Nuclearization

Los Angeles Times: “North Korea’s Deadly Floods Undermine the Nation’s Projection of Power

Yonhap: “U.S. Experts Call for Ensuring U.S. Security Commitment Amid Calls in S. Korea for Going Nuclear

Radio Free Asia (Korean): “South Korean Nuclearization May Be difficult

Washington Times: “U.S.-China Divide Undercuts Response to Nuke Test

KBS Radio (Korean): “To Prevent North Korea’s Nuclear Desires, Extreme Pressure From South Korean, U.S., and Chinese Cooperation Necessary

Yonhap (Korean): “Amidst U.S. and Chinese Opposition, North Korean Nuclear Desire Exists … Trilateral Pressure From South Korea, China, and United States Required

Seoul Shinmun (Korean): “[‘North Korean Nuclear Test’ Japanese, U.S., Chinese Experts Discussion] North Korean Nuclear Test Was for Capability, Not Negotiation”

SBS News (Korean): “Chinese Experts, THAAD Will Soon Be Deployed … Provoking Weapons Competition

Hankook Ilbo (Korean): “Scott Snyder: North Korean Solution Is ‘Regime Change’

Chosun Ilbo (Korean): “President Obama: Defense of South Korea Includes All Methods Including Nuclear Umbrella

Yonhap (Korean): “U.S. Expert, Review of North Korean Policies for Tougher Enforcement Mechanisms May Come About

Yonhap (Korean): “ U.S. Experts, “Nuclear Weaponization Imminent”… Growing Concerns

Yonhap (Korean): “ U.S. Experts, “Unbridled Nuclear Program” Will Get 1st Attention in U.S. Government

USA Today: “Why China Won’t Halt North Korea’s Nuclear Program

Yonhap: “(News Focus) U.S. Experts Call for Non-Verbal, Real Consequences for N.K. Nuclear Test

Washington Post: “Outrage Over North Korean Nuclear Test, but Few Options on the Table

Korea Herald Business (Korean): “AFP, Reuters Etc.: Emergency Detection of Nuclear Tests U.S., Japan, South Korean Intelligence Agencies Are Blank, Capabilities Stretched

YTN (Korean): “United States: North Korean Execution of Kim Yong Jin Is a Case of Extreme Violence” Human Rights Pressure May Need to Be Employed

Washington Post: “Another North Korean Execution, but Is This a Sign of Instability or Strength?”

Hankyoreh (Korean): “In The Midst of South Korean-Chinese Tensions Over THAAD Deployment, Chinese-Japanese Relations See Overtures

Voice of America: “China Ups Pressure on South Korea Over Missile Plan


The program on U.S.-Korea policy was established at the Council on Foreign Relations in September 2011. It aims to strengthen the U.S.-Korea relationship by providing relevant policy recommendations and promoting dialogue on sensitive bilateral, regional, and global issues facing the two countries. The program acknowledges the generous support it has received from the Smith Richardson Foundation, Korea Foundation, and the South Korean private sponsor, Korea International Trade Association. It also acknowledges with thanks additional support received from individual donor Sandor Hau.

Scott A. Snyder, Director

Sungtae "Jacky" Park, Research Associate