Roundtable: The Nuclearization of North Korea
American Political Science Association Annual Conference
08:00 – 10:00, September 1, 2007
Sheraton Hotel, Chicago, IL
Professors Andrew Scobell (Texas A&M), Suk Kim (University of Detroit Mercy), and John Mersheimer (University of Chicago) presented perspectives September 1, 2007 on the causes of North Korea’s nuclearization at the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting. Professor Scobell highlighted the interaction of domestic and international factors, Professor Kim explained the economic drivers, and Professor Mersheimer noted the strategic reasons for North Korea’s nuclearization. Professor Michael Chambers (Indiana State University) commented on each of the panelists’ arguments and led the discussion.
Professor Scobell argued North Korea’s nuclearization can be understood as a two-level game where both domestic and international factors matter. He demonstrated that internal factors matter even in totalitarian regimes. Kim Jong Il has staying power, because he has been able to manipulate those around him. He is not crazy, but must come to terms with other internal powers.
North Korea’s policy decisions have zig-zagged on economic reform, defense and foreign policy, and other areas. There are different ways to explain this. Kim could simply be indecisive or unsure about how to proceed. Alternatively, different opinions may exist within Pyongyang among reformists or conservatives. Indeed, some level of debate can be seen in guns versus butter debates in the North Korea media. Scobell sees North Korea as come closely resembling a totalitarian state, and even totalitarian states have domestic politics. One rationale for nuclearizing is to give money and prestige to the military and play different groups off one another. Professor Mersheimer argued that North Korea wants nuclear weapons for strategic reasons, and they will not give them up. Historically, Japan, China, and Russia have fought over Korea like Germany and Russia would fight over Poland. Their bad geography encourages North Korea to nuclearize for their own security. The number of nuclear weapons is not so important, because even one or two nuclear weapons deters.
Professor Mersheimer continued that the rise of China may prompt Japan to nuclearize. Taiwan and Korea matter in the U.S.-China competition, and South Korea may come to view North Korea’s nuclear weapons as favorable. That is, it could become a Korean nuclear weapon as Korea’s nuclearization becomes frozen in place.
Professor Kim stated that the Bush administration appears to be serious about the denucleariztion agreement of February 13, 2007. If so, North Korea will have to do the following four things for its long-term survival. First, fully comply with the agreement of February 13, 2007; Second, stop its aid seeking strategy through military threats; third, reduce its spending on military to that of the level of South Korea; and fourth, reform its economy as much as Vietnam or China.
Professor Kim continuted that oddly enough, for many years, the United States, North Korea, and many North Korean experts all have believed that the United States should hand out economic aid and security assurance if North Korea dismantles its nuclear program and settles the nuclear deadlock. Therefore, a U.S. policy of engagement and reconciliation with North Korea based on the agreement of February 13, 2007 would make it possible to alleviate tensions on the Korean peninsula as well as accelerate North Korean internal reform. Of course, there is no guarantee that any negotiated strategy, such as this agreement, with the unpredictable regime would work, but only this kind of agreement would enable the United States to put the other parties (South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia) in a position to increase pressure on North Korea in case a reasonable deal such as this agreement is rejected. In my opinion, the time has come for North Korea to honor the agreement and then reform its economy boldly, reduce its military budget radically, and stop international military extortion in the interests of its long-term survival. North Korean bold reform and radical reduction on military spending would definitely lead to the most efficient use of its scarce resources, thereby assuring its long-
Note: Patrick McEachern of the US Department of State wrote this article
19-5 Roundtable: The Nuclearization of North Korea
American Political Science Association 103rd Annual Meeting
Date: September 1, 2007: 8:00 AM to 9:45 AM
Place: Sheraton Ballroom, Sheraton Hotel, Chicago, Illinois
Chair: Michael Chambers, Indiana State University
- Suk Kim, University of Detroit Mercy
- Andrew Scobell, Texas A&M University
- John Mersheimer, University of Chicago