BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The weekend test of a hydrogen bomb in North Korea has escalated the tensions surrounding the regime of Kim Jong-un. Several Indiana University experts offer perspectives on the standoff including areas of diplomacy, international law and the view from South Korea.
Talk is necessary
Former U.S. Congressman Lee Hamilton, now a distinguished scholar at the School of Global and International Studies and professor of practice in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, said the move toward confrontation must be redirected toward engagement.
During his time in the U.S. House from 1965 to 1999, Hamilton chaired the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran. After retiring from Congress, he served as vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission and co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group.
While difficult, he said, engagement with the North Koreans is not impossible.
“I don’t know how you make peace without talking to your adversaries,” Hamilton said. “You cannot make peace just talking to your friends. So we have to find a way to begin the dialogue.
"Saying that, I don’t want to raise expectations, because that dialogue is going to be difficult. It took us decades to work through the dialogue of the Soviet Union. It’s going to take a long time for the dialogue with North Korea to work. It’s better to talk than to fight.”
Hamilton can be reached at [email protected]
Past negotiations do not provide hope
Mark C. Minton played a leading role in U.S. relations in Asia during his 32 years as a senior foreign-service officer. The former U.S. ambassador to Mongolia, Minton was also heavily involved in relations with North Korea as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Korea. He was also previously the State Department’s country director for Korea and deputy country director for Japan.
As words are exchanged between the sides and the North Korean actions become more provocative, Minton said, history gives little reason for optimism regarding negotiations.
"At this point, one cannot be sanguine about the North Koreans negotiating this away," said Minton, who served as president of the Korea Society in New York before joining the IU School of Global and International Studies as a professor of practice in East Asian studies and diplomacy.
He added that while North Korea hasn’t eliminated its nuclear programs, efforts by previous administrations have slowed developments. He said there must be talks with North Korea.
“Despite frustrations and the failure of negotiations under the three previous U.S. administrations to achieve elimination of North Korea's nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs, it is hard to see how other countries can manage the dangers in the situation without engaging North Korea diplomatically again,” he said.
“Certainly there is a role for the pressure of economic sanctions and military deterrence, but to achieve some degree of North Korean restraint -- as previous negotiations have done -- we probably need to address their obsession with preserving their regime, which is what their weapons programs are meant to do. In other words, their weapons programs are meant as a kind of ‘insurance policy’ to give the regime protection from the sort of actions that toppled Gadhafi in Libya or Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
"In this situation, using all tools at our disposal -- deterrence, diplomacy and economic penalties -- to contain the North Korean threat is probably our best option."
Minton can be reached at [email protected].
Despite declarations, legal questions abound regarding U.S. actions
David Bosco, associate professor of international studies in the IU School of Global and International Studies, said that even as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley says North Korea is “begging” for war, there are uncertainties about the role of international organizations and international law in any conflict.
An expert on international organizations and international law, Bosco specifically researches the U.N. Security Council and International Criminal Court. He is author of “Five to Rule Them All: the UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World.”
“Heightened tensions with North Korea raise important international legal questions,” Bosco said. “The Security Council has been unanimous in its condemnations of North Korean action -- but is there anything that it can actually accomplish at this point?
"The Trump administration has been clear that military action remains on the table. The possibility of some kind of strike raises important legal questions, including whether pre-emptive military action against North Korean missile and nuclear facilities would be legal and whether the likely impact of military action on civilians would make an attack contrary to international law.”
Bosco may be reached at [email protected] or 812-856-3501.
South Koreans have largely watched as pressures mount
Seung-kyung Kim, director of the Institute for Korean Studies and professor of East Asian languages and cultures, said the building of tensions has happened largely without South Korean involvement. Kim has researched Korean society, authoring “Class Struggle or Family Struggle: Lives of Women Factory Workers in South Korea.”
“President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have been going at each other without involving anyone else, especially the South Korean government,” Kim said. “The South Korean government is not a part of this verbal duel, and South Koreans are left on the sidelines. North Korea has been spouting bellicose rhetoric for six decades, and South Koreans are used to it.”
The escalation in rhetoric, she said, has caused South Koreans to pay attention.
“Two things have changed: North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons makes them a threat to other countries besides South Korea, and Donald Trump’s threats have raised the stakes for everyone. South Koreans were euphoric about resolving their own political issues with the election this year and are only starting to notice what has been happening in the U.S.”
Kim may be reached at [email protected] or 812-856-9757.