The ICAS Lectures


Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness on the Korea Peninsula

Thomas C. Hubbard

ICAS Annual Liberty Award 2018

December 3, 2018 Monday 6:30 PM - 9:15 PM
Capitol Hill Club
300 First Street, SE
Washington DC 20003

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

Biographic sketch & Links: Thomas C. Hubbard

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness on the Korea Peninsula
Thomas C. Hubbard

Remarks by Amb. Tom Hubbard for the ICAS Annual Liberty Celebration Dinner on Dec. 3, 2018

I am truly honored and grateful for the award you are presenting me today. I see many friends in the audience tonight, and I appreciate the warm words some have said about me. It is great to have a chance to speak to such a knowledgeable and distinguished audience.

In asking me to say a few words tonight, Dr. Kim, you suggested that I talk about "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." As a former diplomat with a practical bent, I'm not really accustomed to talking about such abstract concepts, but it occurs to me that the Korean Peninsula is one of the places in the world where these words are not at all abstract. They have very concrete meaning on the divided Peninsula.

Koreans are a unified people with an ancient history. But for the last 65 years, they have been most starkly divided by their ability to enjoy these basic rights - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

In the South, we see a lively prosperous democracy where people are free to pursue happiness in their own ways. They enjoy the rule of law and choose their leaders in free elections.

To the North, by contrast, we see Koreans who are under the thumb of a Stalinist regime, one of the most isolated nations in the world. The Kim family dynasty is now in its third generation, but it still cannot adequately feed its own people. Instead of improving the lives of its people, the North Korean regime has devoted its meager resources to the pursuit of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

The biggest threat to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on the Korean Peninsula is a North Korean regime that continues to deprive its people of the most basic needs while threatening the world with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. A senior Moon Jae-in cabinet official recently commented in New York that South Koreans cannot really rest in peace so long as North Korea has nuclear weapons.

We are seeing some signs of change in the North. In his New Year's speech this year, Kim Jong Un declared that he was no longer pursuing a dual policy of nuclear weapons and economic development. Claiming success in achieving a nuclear deterrent, he declared he was now free to pursue economic development -- to improve the lives of the North Korean people. This signal of concern for the people's welfare - something his father and grandfather rarely offered - was a hopeful sign. While he said nothing about "liberty," North Korea's leader had seemingly declared the "pursuit of happiness" to be a valid goal for his people.

We all want that, too. But it is far from clear whether Kim Jong Un realizes that possession of nuclear weapons is incompatible with happiness for his people.

In the meetings with Presidents Trump and Moon Jae-in this year, Kim Jong Un also signaled a willingness to give up his nuclear weapons in the right circumstances, but we have yet to see concrete steps in that direction.

It is hard to be optimistic about North Korea's willingness to give up its nuclear weapons, but Kim Jong Un's proclaimed concern for the welfare of his people gives us an opening that we should continue to pursue. Presidents Trump and Moon have offered a vision of a better life for North Koreans during their meetings with Kim Jong Un this year. Let us hope he was listening.

This page last updated December 8, 2018 jdb