Insights and Analysis

“North Korea’s Nuclear and Missile Tests and Six-Party Talks: Where Do We Go From Here?”

June 17, 2009

By Scott Snyder

Snyder on The Six Party Process: A Regional Framework for North Korea’s Denuclearization: “North Korea’s unilateral pursuit of nuclear weapons capabilities over the last two decades has ironically been a primary catalyst for strengthened regional cooperation in Northeast Asia. But this cooperation has thus far been insufficient to deter North Korea’s nuclear development given the existence of longstanding regional security cleavages. … No single actor, including the United States, can meet this challenge without cooperation and collective action from North Korea’s neighbors. But the concerned parties most directly affected by North Korea’s destabilizing actions have been least willing to challenge or block North Korea’s nuclear development.”

Snyder on North Korea’s Nuclear Threat: Implications for the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-ROK Alliances: “In contrast to the aftermath of the 2006 North Korean missile and nuclear tests, at which time the United States, Japan, and South Korea seemed to have divergent responses, the responses of the three administrations appear to be converging following North Korea’s 2009 provocations. The Obama administration’s initial emphasis on reassurance and consultation with allies, the political transition in Seoul from the progressive Roh Moo-hyun administration to the more conservative Lee Myung-bak administration, and the emergence in Japan of a view that North Korea’s missile and nuclear development must be dealt with alongside the abduction issue have opened the prospect for more intensive coordination on North Korea policies among the three governments. The deeper the consensus that can be achieved among the United States, Japan, and South Korea, the more likely the prospects that a firm and coordinated stance will be able to influence China and Russia to take a stronger position toward North Korea in the context of the six-party process. … New administrations in Japan and South Korea have for the time being been able to set aside chronic territorial and textbook disputes and have begun to seek practical forms of cooperation (e.g., joint development projects in Afghanistan).”

Snyder on Prospects for a Strategic Understanding with China Regarding the Future of North Korea: “China faces a moment of decision in its own policies toward North Korea, given that North Korean actions continue to place Chinese strategic interests at risk. North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests have driven it higher on the overloaded agenda of items in the U.S.-China relationship, but it remains to be seen whether the United States and China might engage in strategic policy coordination over how to deal with North Korea. Ultimately, the prospects for such a dialogue appear to be slim at this stage since such a dialogue would probably be successful only if the North Korea issue were to rise to the top of the U.S.-China agenda, either as a result of renewed conflict or North Korea’s political collapse.”

Snyder on Political Implications of Pyongyang’s Inward Focus: “An even more challenging aspect of North Korea’s rapid series of provocations is that they appear to be connected to North Korea’s attempts to lay the institutional and political foundations for a succession process from Kim Jong Il to a successor leadership. This is a complicating factor because it appears to make North Korea’s elite more conservative and inward-focused. Or, North Korea’s leadership may have made an assessment that the external environment is sufficiently unfavorable that North Korea’s best strategy is to hunker down in the porcupine position as the best way to cover its vulnerabilities. Certainly, in light of his recent illness, Kim Jong Il personally must feel that time is not on his side.”

Scott Snyder directs The Asia Foundation’s Center for U.S.-Korea Policy. Below are excerpts from his June 17, 2009, testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade. The transcript of his full testimony is posted on our website. He can be reached at [email protected].

Related locations: Korea
Related topics: Center for U.S.-Korea Policy, North Korea


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