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The National Committee on North Korea

Updated Issue Brief: DPRK Diplomatic Relations

June 26, 2015

NCNK has updated its Issue Brief on North Korea's diplomatic relations, which provides a brief overview of the history of Pyongyang's foreign relations and tallies countries with which it has established diplomatic relations. Revisions include an updated list of countries hosting DPRK embassies, and foreign embassies in Pyongyang.

The Issue Brief is available here.

Trying to Demystify the UN's Humanitarian Aid to North Korea

June 25, 2015

Jerome Sauvage, the UN Resident Coordinator in North Korea from 2009 to 2013, addresses some of the myths surrounding the humanitarian situation in and and to North Korea. While admitting that he remains far from a full understanding of the country, Sauvage argues that these myths have led to misguided policies.

First, Sauvage says, it should be understood that North Korea is not in a permanent humanitarian crisis, in which the only remedy is external support, as it was during the famine years. But even though the humanitarian situation has marginally improved over the past year, chronic malnutrition remains a major concern, access to health care is lacking, and the population remains highly vulnerable to shocks. 

Humanitarian aid from the UN is not in a position to prop up the regime and helps disadvantaged population, Sauvage adds, pointing out the highly-targeted nature of the UN programs taking place in the country. He also notes that while the UN program in North Korea is small compared to the UN programs in place in countries with similar populations and development levels, it has one of the most expansive mandates. The UN programs have also faced challenges from North Korea's failure to meet its obligations for cooperation, such as providing access and adequate data.

Sauvage concludes by discussing how the nuclear issue and international focus on North Korean human rights may affect resident UN agencies in the future, for example by incorporating a "rights up front" approach to their work. Despite the challenges that the UN agencies face, he argues, their role in comprehensively engaging North Korea on political, humanitarian, and human rights issues is worth preserving.

For the full article, click here.

Leon Sigal on Lost Opportunities to Negotiate with North Korea

June 22, 2015

Writing in The National Interest, NCNK Member Leon Sigal argues that the U.S. lost the chance to engage in meaningful negotiations with North Korea earlier this year, and that Pyongyang now appears likely to conduct another satellite launch this fall and possibly another nuclear test after that.

Sigal states that although North Korea's January offer of a nuclear test moratorium in return for the suspension of US-ROK joint military exercises was unacceptable, the US should have used it as an opportunity to restart dialogue. "It turned out," he adds, "that the North seemed ready to settle for modulating rather than cancelling the largest exercises and seemed prepared to suspend not just nuclear testing, but also missile and satellite launches and fissile material production in return."

Sigal concludes that increasing pressure on Pyongyang in the hope of regime collapse is unlikely to succeed. Instead, he writes, "Better to hope that Pyongyang’s tests fail and look for another opening to negotiate."

For the full article, click here.

New Research on North Korea from the East-West Center

June 18, 2015

The East-West Center has recently released a pair of new research reports that tackle two important policy issues related to North Korea: the relatively new challenge of how to deter cyber attacks, and the older challenge of effective policy coordination among allies and partners in East Asia.

"North Korea and the Sony Hack: Exporting Instability Through Cyberspace" by Stephan Haggard and Jon Lindsay analyzes North Korea’s hacking of Sony Pictures. Rather that diving into the technical aspects of the issue, the authors focus on North Korea’s use of asymmetrical attacks against South Korea and the United States. They note that the Sony hack is unique because it resulted in the U.S. government’s first attribution of a cyber attack to foreign nation. The authors explain that the situation on the Korean peninsula can be characterized as a stability-instability paradox – wherein mutual deterrence decreases the likelihood of a major war, but increases the likelihood of smaller provocations – and argue that the Sony hack was a digital manifestation of this paradox. Cyber attacks have traditionally been hard to attribute with certainty, making deterrence particularly difficult, but Haggard and Lindsey identify several unique aspects of the Sony hack that forced the U.S. government to respond. They conclude by suggesting that visible improvements in the U.S. capability to attribute cyber attacks, as well as the credible threat of retaliation, could be a way to deter future cyber aggression.

The North Korean Crisis and Regional Responses” by Utpal Vyas, Ching-Chang Chen, and Denny Roy, is a collection of essays that address different aspects of the challenges presented by North Korea's nuclear weapons program, and brings in regional perspectives on the crisis. Although North Korea's neighbors all have an urgent interest in resolving the nuclear issue, effective regional cooperation on the matter has been elusive, because of the greatly varying national interests at stake. The result, the study finds, is that this lack of regional coordination will continue to preclude an effective solution to the problem, leaving North Korea isolated but continuing to build its nuclear stockpile and delivery systems for the foreseeable future. This book will help researchers identify the gaps that distinguish regional policies toward North Korea, and includes some perspectives that are not always represented in such collections, such as Taiwan's view of the North Korea problem.

Updated Issue Brief: North Korea-Japan Relations

June 16, 2015

NCNK has released an updated issue brief on North Korea-Japan Relations, concisely covering topics including the abduction issue, the role of Chongryon (the ethnic Korean pro-DPRK organization in Japan), and the history of diplomatic talks between Japan and the DPRK,

The updated issue brief is available here.

Perspectives on "Women Cross DMZ"

June 15, 2015

Last month, an international group of 30 women with backgrounds in peace and human rights advocacy crossed the Korean DMZ from North to South, holding events in Pyongyang and Seoul before and after the crossing. In a statement released after the crossing, Women Cross DMZ noted that "This is our first meeting with women of North and South Korea as an organized international body, and the beginning of relationships that we hope will foster deeper conversations about the impact of militarism on the North and South, including issues of human rights and nuclear disarmament."

While the march attracted criticism, Kathy Moon of the Brookings Institution argues that many of the women participating in it have a long history of standing up for human rights and promoting peace:

Although critics condemned these women as naïve dupes of the Pyongyang regime (e.g., South Korean protesters harangued them with insults such as “useful idiots” and “don’t deceive the world–you are unqualified for peace”), they are strategic actors and savvy activists. The fact is that most observers and critics knew little about the women and their work—and even less about global women’s activism. These women have walked over and been raked over political coals many-a-time and do not bend to knee-jerk criticism and sexist insults.

At the Witness to Transformation blog, Stephan Haggard walks through the day-by-day developments of the march, and analyzes the different issues promoted by Women Cross DMZ. He argues that the organization lacked an effective media strategy, and critiques its calls for dropping sanctions and establishing a "peace regime" without addressing the nuclear issue, but expresses support for its emphasis on person-to-person engagement. Haggard concludes, however, by noting that "the reaction to the march was in my view way out of proportion to its likely effect one way or the other."


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.