December 16, 2010

Greetings from Seoul…

This week, the CNAS Asia-Pacific Security team is in South Korea where we co-hosted a conference with the Seoul-based East Asia Institute, The ROK-US Alliance: Planning for the Future, and launched a new CNAS report – which you should definitely checkout when it becomes available tomorrow – Securing South Korea: A Strategic Alliance for the 21st Century.

Concerning natural security, I wanted to highlight two points from the conference that were particularly memorable.

First, according to a few panelists, more attention should be paid to the desperate state of human security in North Korea as a component contributing to potential instability. Indeed, two aspects of human security in North Korea deserve examination: the lack of food and environmental security. For years, North Koreans have suffered from food shortages, exacerbated by both perennial drought and flooding. Further, environmental issues such as soil degradation and deforestation plague rural areas of North Korea, hindering effective farming practices and intensifying food shortages. While the international community remains focused on North Korea’s aggressive provocations and recent nuclear revelations, food shortages, widespread starvation and environmental woes persist. In short, the North Korean people quietly suffer as their regime loudly provokes the international community, devoting resources to enhance military capabilities rather than the delivery of desperately needed public goods and services.

Second, as the threat from North Korea becomes increasingly ominous and China is marginalized because of its continued relationship with the DPRK, the United States has a golden opportunity to augment cooperation with its East Asian allies – such as Japan and South Korea – in various areas that may not otherwise be given as much multilateral attention. While the United States, South Korea, and Japan collaborate on ways to mitigate the threat from the North, they can strengthen other aspects of their trilateral alliance in areas such as energy, environmental conservation, counter-proliferation, and maritime security. Thus, trilateral collaboration on natural security issues could emerge as a consequence of a greater focus on Northeast Asia and an array of threats facing the future of the region.

Bailey Culp is a Joseph S. Nye, Jr. National Security researcher with the Asia-Pacific Security program at the Center for a New American Security, and a graduate student at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies focusing on International Security.