The ICAS Lectures


ICAS Spring Symposium: Comments as Discussant

Larry Niksch

ICAS Spring Symposium

May 10, 2013 Friday 1:30 PM - 4:30 PM
Rayburn Office Building Room B318
United States House of Repreesentatives Capitol Hill, Washington, DC 20515

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

Biographic sketch & Links: Larry Niksch

ICAS Spring Symposium: Comments as Discussant

Larry Niksch
Senior Associate, CSIS

Comments on Joseph Bosco's Presentation:

I agree with much of Joe Bosco's analysis of China's policy toward North Korea. He is correct in asserting that China does little to enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea but that China also has acted as an enabler of the advances North Korea has made in its nuclear and missile programs. One example: we know from the Wikileaks documents that during the last two years of the Bush Administration, Secretary of State Rice instructed the U.S. Ambassador to China to make strong representations to the Chinese Government to prevent North Korea from using Chinese airspace and even Beijing airport to transport North Korean arms, missile components, and nuclear and missile scientists to Iran. This effort proved to be futile. We now see Iran sending missile and nuclear scientists (and probably money) to North Korea to assist Pyongyang in these program, no doubt using Chinese airspace and airports in the same way.

However, in the wake of North Korea's December 2012 missile test and February 2013 nuclear test, an unprecedented level of Chinese criticism of North Korea has arisen in China. Prominent Chinese academics and experts are more outspoken in calling for the Chinese Government to reassess its support of North Korea. The Chinese internet reportedly contains thousands of commentaries denouncing North Korea. Street protests reportedly have occurred outside North Korean diplomatic missions in China.

The Chinese Government has shown a new coolness toward Pyongyang. Now, one should not expect a drastic change of Chinese Government policy in the near future. But the rise of this public sentiment critical of North Korea presents the United States and South Korea with an opportunity to help strengthen Chinese public pressure on the Government over the long term. It seems to me that the question for Seoul and Washington is what strategy and tactics toward North Korea would be attractive to these Chinese critics of North Korea, strengthen them in their resolve, and add to their numbers. My point is that U.S. and R.O.K. strategy and tactics toward North Korea should be aimed at several audiences, not just the North Korean leadership. The Chinese critics are a very important audience to influence.

Comments on Steven Bucci's Presentation:

In responding to Mr. Bucci's comments on U.S. military forces in the Western Pacific, I would give special emphasis to the importance of U.S. airpower in the future. Cuts in Army and Marine Corps strength may result in some decrease in U.S. ground forces in Japan and South Korea. U.S. navy strength probably will remain level. U.S. airpower is the major component of U.S. forces where there is potential to strengthen U.S. military power in the Western Pacific.

This was demonstrated dramatically in March 2013 when Secretary of Defense Hagel ordered U.S. B-52 and B-2 heavy bombers deployed from bases in the continental U.S. to the Korean peninsula as a show of force in the face of North Korea's campaign of threats and tirades. The North Korean reaction to the heavy bombers was loud and shrill. I was not surprised. In the 1970s and 1980s, I observed that nothing impressed the North Koreans more about U.S. military forces in the Western Pacific than the squadron of B- 52 bombers stationed on Guam. North Korean propaganda organs literally went crazy whenever the B-52s ran up to the Korean peninsula for exercises. North Korean fear of the B-52s was clear.

Thus, I have advocated for several years that the U.S. Secretary of Defense return a full squadron of heavy bombers to Guam. With North Korea on the eve of mounting nuclear warheads on its Nodong missiles (see my December 2011 paper, When North Korea Mounts Nuclear Warheads on Its Missiles) it seems to me that a permanent presence of heavy bombers in the region should be a central element in our "enhanced deterrence" against the rising threat of nuclear crises that North Korea will pose once it has nuclear warheads on the Nodongs.

Comments on Ambassador Robert King's Presentation:

In Ambassador King's discussion of a strategy toward North Korea on the human rights issue, it seems to me that we overlook that North Korea has its own "human rights" agenda toward South Korea. Pyongyang constantly demands that the R.O.K. Government abrogate South Korea's National Security Law. It also demands that the R.O.K. Government stop blocking pro-North Korean websites from reaching computers in South Korea. The South Korean Government also is to stop prosecuting South Korean citizens from visiting North Korea without authorization, and end restrictions on leftist South Korean labor unions and organizations sympathetic to North Korea.

It seems to me that this North Korean so-called human rights agenda gives us an opportunity to press North Korea on its terrible suppression of basic human rights. In a paper I have submitted to the South Korean Unification Ministry for publication in its journal, I propose that President Park Geun-hye propose to North Korea negotiations on multiple issues. One of these issues I call "citizen security," the relationship between Korean citizens and their governments. In short, President Park would offer to negotiate with North Korea over its demands on Seoul, but Pyongyang would have to agree to negotiate over its concentration camps, its jamming of outside radio broadcasts and prohibition of listening to such broadcasts, its holding of several hundred South Korean prisoners of war from the Korean War and kidnapping victims, its prohibition on North Koreans watching South Korean video cassettes and DVDs, its restrictions on free labor activity, its restrictions on religious practices, etc.

This kind of South Korean approach would complement and lay out a second avenue parallel to the upcoming United Nations commission of inquiry into North Korea's human rights conditions. It would turn Pyongyang's demands into a vehicle for putting real pressure on North Korea over human rights. Ambassador King and the Obama Administration should encourage President Park to develop such a negotiating strategy on human rights.

This page last updated May 25, 2013 jdb