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The National Committee on North Korea

Robert Einhorn and Duyeon Kim on South Korea's Nuclear Future

August 16, 2016

Writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, NCNK Member Duyeon Kim and Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Robert Einhorn assess the current debate among South Korean politicians, commentators, and researchers about their country's nuclear future:

North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January led to renewed calls in South Korea for the country to build its own nuclear arsenal. Comments by high-profile politicians, conservative media outlets, and some academics are a source of much concern in Washington and the international security community. But these highly publicized, pro-nuclear reactions from a small minority provide a misleading impression of the likelihood that the Republic of Korea will actually pursue its own nuclear capability.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye and other senior officials have firmly rejected the pursuit of nuclear arms and, at least at the present time, few South Koreans believe their country will actually head down the military nuclear path. Nonetheless, even opponents of the nuclear option share much of the frustration and anxiety felt by the nuclear advocates; they believe that there is value in a public discussion of the nuclear weapons issue and warn that, unless Pyongyang’s strategic programs are curbed and the US nuclear umbrella remains reliable, voices urging South Korea to go nuclear will only grow.

To better understand the current debate in South Korea on its future nuclear options, we carried out an extensive series of interviews in April and May with a wide range of prominent South Korean leaders who support and oppose nuclear weapons: incumbent and former senior diplomats and government officials, serving and retired military commanders, National Assembly members in leadership positions, media commentators and editorial writers, leaders and emerging leaders of the business community, experts from South Korean research and academic institutions, and leaders in the South Korean civilian nuclear establishment. This assessment of the South Korean nuclear debate is based largely on those interviews, many of which were conducted on a not-for-attribution basis to encourage candor.


And About Those Americans Long Left Behind in North Korea...

August 11, 2016

The Coalition of Families of Korean and Cold War POW/MIAs collaborates with the National Committee on North Korea to remind policy makers and the general public about American POW/MIA/human remains issues which remain outstanding from the Korean War.

While consecutive U.S. Administrations have pursued American human remains issues from the War, the matter of Americans who were alive and in North Korea at the War’s end has largely been an elusive topic in recent decades, usually absent from the talking points of American officials as they have interacted with North Korean counterparts.

Here is the link to the Coalition’s website. Their most recent newsletter is available here.

The Need for a U.S. Policy Enforcer on North Korea

July 24, 2016

Writing in NK News, NCNK Executive Director Keith Luse argues that the next U.S. administration should give its full support to a "Policy Envoy/Enforcer" to implement a comprehensive North Korea policy.

Earlier this year, South Korean media reported an aim of joint U.S. – Republic of Korea (ROK) military maneuvers included the decapitation of North Korea’s leader. More recently, the U.S. governmentdesignated Kim Jong Un as “having engaged in, facilitated or been responsible for an abuse or violation of human rights by the Government of North Korea or the Korea Workers’ Party”. These are only a couple of indicators that the U.S. and South Korea are now taking personal and public aim at North Korea’s leader.

From the North Korean side, rants toward individual United States leaders have been the norm, such as this year’s references to “thick-headed Hillary” or President Obama as “the worst nuclear criminal in the world”. And in this context, unsurprisingly, both sides blame the other for elevating tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Looking ahead, more surprise provocations are likely from North Korea during the U.S. Presidential election season and transition process, something which could lead the U.S. and the ROK to very well responding in reciprocal fashion.

As such, the next U.S. Administration must demonstrate a heightened level of seriousness in resolving the North Korea situation, by developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy and appointing a Special Envoy-Enforcer to carry out the President’s policy will. And that’s because to date, U.S. policy has failed to bring about an end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program or contribute toward a peaceful resolution of the overall situation.


New Human Rights Sanctions, and the North Korean Response

July 11, 2016

Last week, the State Department published a report on North Korean human rights, as required by the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016. The report identified North Korea's National Defense Commission, Organization and Guidance Department, Ministry of State Security, Ministry of People's Security, Propaganda and Agitation Department, and Reconnaissance General Bureau as the institutions most responsible for human rights abuses inside the country. Concurrently, the Treasury Department issued sanctions designations targeting North Korean individuals and entities involved in human rights abuses, including Kim Jong Un.

A statement by the DPRK Foreign Ministry said that by adopting sanctions targeting the country's leader, "the U.S. has passed over the 'red line' in the overall showdown with the DPRK." The statement called for the U.S. to "immediately and unconditionally retract" the sanctions, adding that "every lever and channel for diplomatic contact between the DPRK and the U.S. will be cut off at once" if this did not happen. The DPRK Foreign Ministry also stated that any future problems with the U.S. would be handled by North Korea's "wartime law," and also pledged unspecified "toughest countermeasures to resolutely shatter the hostility of the U.S."

In a follow-up statement released today, the North Korean government announced that it "would totally cut off New York DPRK-U.S. contact channel," and specified that detained Americans would be dealt with under North Korea's wartime laws. Asked about the statement, a State Department spokesperson said that "we continue to call on the North to cease what is obviously an improper and unjust detention of these individuals."

Recent Legislation on North Korea

June 30, 2016

In recent months, several Members of Congress have introduced new legislation or resolutions addressing U.S. policy toward North Korea, calling for renewed efforts to address various longstanding issues.

Most recently, Representatives Charles Rangel, John Conyers, and Sam Johnson -- all Korean War veterans -- introduced House Resolution 799, calling for the U.S. government to resume talks with North Korea to account for the thousands of U.S. service members who remained unaccounted for at the end of the Korean War. "This resolution would ensure that the heroic service members of the Korean War are identified and brought back to their loved ones in the United States, where they belong," Rep. Rangel said in a press release.

Earlier this month, Senator Mark Kirk introduced a resolution encouraging the reunion of Korean-Americans with their family members in North Korea. The resolution states that "the inclusion of Korean American families in the reunion process would constitute a positive humanitarian gesture by North Korea and contribute to the long-term goal of peace on the Korean Peninsula shared by the governments of North Korea, South Korea, and the United States."

Finally, the FY 2016 State Department Operations Authorization and Embassy Security Act, a major piece of legislation that passed the Senate in April, includes a section creating the position of an "Interagency Hostage Recovery Coordinator." This individual would work to coordinate U.S. government efforts "to secure the release of United States persons who are hostages of hostile groups or state sponsors of terrorism." The Act specifies that North Korea is to be considered a state sponsor of terrorism for such purposes. The House of Representatives has not yet acted upon the legislation.


Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump In Their Own Words

May 25, 2016

NCNK has compiled a briefing book of North Korea-related quotes by Clinton, Sanders and Trump. This resource will be updated on a regular basis for readers' benefit. Statements included are not restricted to the present campaign season, but also reflect earlier sentiments. 

To what degree will the next President maintain the North Korea policy of the Obama Administration? Will the new Administration undertake a policy review? Is it likely the next U.S. President will develop and implement a comprehensive strategy in an effort to engage with North Korea?

What do we know about the respective North Korea position of each candidate based on their statements to date?



Who We Are

The National Committee is a non-partisan coalition of individuals with extensive and complementary knowledge of and direct experience related to the society, economy, government, and history of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

We are a diverse group. A number of members served as diplomats in some of the landmark U.S.-DPRK negotiations. Some have authored major books on the history, society, and security of the Korean Peninsula. Other members have worked in virtually all parts of North Korea, and on issues related to the country's current economic, humanitarian, refugee, and medical crises. Some of our experience reaches back to the era of the Korean War. Most have extensive contacts in the Republic of Korea, China, Japan, and Russia related to the Korean Peninsula. While the National Committee on North Korea is non-governmental, several of the members have worked in official positions and have ongoing ties with current or past administrations and with the United States Congress.

The idea to form a National Committee on North Korea originated during The Musgrove III Conference held in mid-May 2004, which was attended by many of the founding committee members. The first meeting was held on November 4, 2004.