August 28, 2018

Why Washington and Seoul Need to Harmonize Their Approaches to North Korea

Otherwise, Pyongyang is going to drive a wedge between America and South Korea.

By Patrick M. Cronin and Kristine Lee

For the past sixty-five years, amidst the ebb and flow of heightened tensions with North Korea, the U.S.-ROK relationship has remained the cornerstone of a successful alliance. South Korean support for the alliance remains remarkably high . But as the euphoria of unprecedented summitry with Pyongyang fades, uncertainty about the trajectory of diplomacy underscores the grave risks that inadequate coordination between the American and South Korean governments could bring to bear.

The current state of play can be summed up in one of three possible contingencies. We could either be on the cusp of a breakthrough with North Korea; on the verge of declaring experimental diplomacy with Pyongyang a failure; or mired in a permanent impasse. In either of the latter two scenarios, Washington will need to contend with the possibility that the Moon administration may forge ahead with its coveted peace deal with Pyongyang, even as denuclearization negotiations sputter.

Washington and Seoul urgently need to bring their approaches to North Korea back into alignment. In particular, the Trump administration needs to bear down on its plan for how to harmonize Seoul’s primary objective of inter-Korean peace with its own priority of ensuring North Korea’s denuclearization. The appointment of a widely respected professional in Steve Biegun to serve as full-time special envoy for North Korea certainly enhances the U.S. diplomatic team.

However, North Korea policy remains tricky. President Donald Trump’s abrupt cancellation of Secretary of State Pompeo’s planned trip to Pyongyang spotlights his growing frustration with the plodding pace of progress vis-à-vis North Korea’s nuclear program and suggests the administration may be approaching a new decision point.

Some South Koreans like to think the problem is that President Trump lacks the patience for making a deal with North Korea. Trump is undeniably impatient, but patience will not convince North Korea to start dismantling its nuclear program. The fact that South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha called her American counterpart to express regret at the potential loss of diplomatic momentum highlighted the gap between the two allies.


Read the Full Article at The National Interest

  • Reports
    • March 29, 2020
    Forging an Alliance Innovation Base

    Executive Summary This report presents a blueprint for a community of technology innovation and protection anchored by America and its allies. Unless the United States builds ...

    By Daniel Kliman, Ben FitzGerald, Kristine Lee & Joshua Fitt

  • Commentary
    • March 27, 2020
    Sharper: Global Coronavirus Response

    As regions across the United States enforce states of emergency and a growing list of countries restrict travel, close schools, and quarantine citizens, the economic and human...

    By Chris Estep & Cole Stevens

  • Podcast
    • March 27, 2020
    China, Europe, and COVID-19 with CNAS’s Ashley Feng and Kristine Lee

    Ashley Feng and Kristine Lee join Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Jim Townsend to explain China’s response to COVID-19 on the latest episode of Brussels Sprouts. Feng is a Research ...

    By Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Jim Townsend, Kristine Lee & Ashley Feng

  • Commentary
    • The National Interest
    • March 22, 2020
    Breakthrough or Crisis? How Will Coronavirus Impact Tensions with North Korea?

    The novel coronavirus pandemic has accelerated geopolitical tensions first in Northeast Asia, with the original outbreak in China, and now around the world as the United State...

    By Duyeon Kim

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia