Korean Kontext is an initiative by the Korea Economic Institute in Washington, D.C. Its aim is to provide listeners with a source for broad-based, substantive information about the U.S.-Korean relationship from all angles: political, cultural, economic, and social. Tackling major topics using current and historical context, interviews with prominent policy leaders, scholars,and artists, and in-depth analysis, Korean Kontext is crafted to inform the newcomer and the Korea guru alike.
Divided Families: Soojin Park, Paul Lee, Ambassador Robert King
You’ve probably heard the Korean War referred to as an unfinished conflict - but that’s not just a reference to the frozen war on the Peninsula. The sudden outbreak of war in 1950 and the rapid movement of the battlefront up and down the peninsula left countless people separated from their family members. Children separated from their parents - siblings losing one another in the chaos.
The scale of this tragedy was so immense that reunions efforts by South Koreans to reunite with relatives within South Korea would be ongoing well into the 1980s. Of course, reuniting family members separated by the demilitarized zone between the Koreas proved more challenging - arguably increasingly so in the past two decades. Will there ever be closure for these last victims of the Korean War?
Our guests today - Woodrow Wilson Center’s Soojin Park and Paul Lee from the U.S. Institute of Peace are intimately familiar with efforts by both governments and non-governmental organizations to reunite divided families. They are joined by Korea Economic Institute’s non-resident fellow and former special envoy for North Korea human rights issues.
You can find the issues brief on divided families that Paul Lee drafted for the National Committee on North Korea here:
The Ethics of Sanctions on North Korea: Hazel Smith
We often talk about whether the sanctions against North Korea are working. And we have spoken occasionally on this very podcast about the ways North Korea also cheats and gets around sanctions.
But less frequently discussed at KEI or elsewhere in policymaking circles is whether it is ethical to impose the sanctions that we have on North Korea currently.
To discuss this issue, we have with us today Dr. Hazel Smith, a professorial research associate in Korean studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies and Professor Emerita of International Security at Cranfield University.
KEI Vice President Mark Tokola caught up with her for a discussion on this very important subject.
You can read more on Dr. Hazel Smith's research in an article recently published on the Pacific Forum. Link to the article here: https://pacforum.org/publication/pacnet-24-the-destruction-of-north-korean-agriculture-we-need-to-rethink-un-sanctions
Also, Hope to see you on Wednesday, August 5, for a joint webinar event with the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy on how we should think about global value chains in the context of COVID-19 and U.S.-China trade war. It will be an important discussion that charts where international trade might be headed in the coming years.
RSVP here: https://share.hsforms.com/1NSpkIoKAQtyf6qjAi9wzEQ2ztzy
How North Korea Responds to a Black Swan Event: Markus Garlauskas
North Korea is putting on a tough face as the world confronts the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities in Pyongyang continue to reassure the rest of the world that nothing is wrong and that the country remains completely immune from the pandemic. And yet previous international crises - like the global rice panic of 2008 - had an outsized impact on North Korea because the country stands so precariously on the edge of economic collapse. Similarly, the country’s decision to close its borders to both goods and people in response to the pandemic is expected to have severe consequences on the livelihood of many people.
Simultaneously, the country has also been maintaining diplomatic isolation - waving away overtures from South Korea and demolishing the inter-Korean liaison office that had symbolized the great advances made since the summits between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un in 2018.
But now, Pyongyang faces a tough decision - will it maintain this isolation even as South Korean voters extend overwhelming support to its pro-engagement administration, and as the United States prepares for an election where Donald Trump - the U.S. president who has extended legitimacy to the North Korean leadership - faces a very tough competition?
To discuss Pyongyang’s strategic choices at this critical juncture, we have with us today, Markus Garlauskas - a former U.S. National Intelligence Officer for North Korea. KEI Senior Director Troy Stangarone caught up with him for a quick discussion.
Staying on the subject of North Korea, KEI will host Dr. Hazel Smith on July 28, 2020 at 2 p.m. EDT for a discussion on the ethics of international sanctions on North Korea - she asks whether the illegality of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal justifies the current pressures placed on the country by the international community.
You can RSVP for the event here:
The Retreat (And Return?) of the United States: Gordon Flake
Since Donald Trump took over as president in 2017, the United States has been retreating from the world - and from the Indo-Pacific region more specifically. Most notably, the country has backed out from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the nuclear agreement with Iran, and the Paris Climate Agreement.
How do countries in the Indo-Pacific region see the diminishing role of the United States on the global and regional stage?
Korea Economic Institute Senior Director Troy Stangarone spoke with Professor Gordon Flake on the views from Australia - one of America’s closest and oldest allies in the Western Pacific. He explains why the Trump administration’s isolation has been particularly concerning to Australia and what roles middle powers like Australia and South Korea have taken up at this time.
We have an exciting upcoming event at KEI next week - Former National Intelligence Officer for North Korea Markus Garlauskas will join us for a conversation on how COVID-19 has become a factor in North Korea’s engagement with the United States - and what the impending U.S. presidential election means for negotiations going forward.
You will find the RSVP here: https://share.hsforms.com/1a-RlfE_oQLuohzb5rvfcow2ztzy
When Cold Warriors Sued for Peace: Mark Tokola
Looking back on the Korean War, one might assume that the outbreak of a violent conflict that killed millions of people would preclude the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the division on the peninsula. Surprisingly, however, there was an effort in 1954 - only a year after the armistice that halted military engagements in Korea - to resolve the Korea question through diplomacy.
It’s not a secret that this conference failed to resolve the issues - but it was nonetheless historic. And while the international environment has changed drastically since, the lessons that the meeting offers to summit goers today is critical.
Our guest today is KEI Vice President Mark Tokola, who has done extensive research into this event using declassified state department documents.
If you are interested in reading up more about this event, you can find Mark Tokola’s full research paper here: http://www.theasanforum.org/9324-2/
Lasting Legacies of An Unfinished War: James Person and William Stueck
It would not be an exaggeration to claim that the Korean War shaped world history. There had been bloodshed elsewhere that bookmarked the start of the bitter conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union that would rage until 1991 - but it was Korea where the conflict was most pronounced.
But this pivotal event - as we observe it today in retrospect is also often deeply flawed.
We assume that the Korean War left the United States and South Korea closer together - military allies that would go on to fight together in Vietnam and the Middle East. And we assume that North Korea was determined to try their luck at a military invasion of South Korea again. History could not be further from the truth - the early years of the U.S.-Korea alliance were tenuous - one that was not expected to last too long - and the North Korean regime focused on developing its economy to garner legitimacy vis-a-vis their rival state in Seoul.
Discussing this and more, we have Professors James Person and William Stueck.
Just as a quick heads up, we have a really exciting event next week with Dr. Gordon Flake on what it means for Australia and South Korea to attend the G7 summit and what roles they might play in the geopolitical tension between China and the United States.
RSVP Here: https://share.hsforms.com/1xwC-DeCIRJ2JlQWXaum_wA2ztzy