Publications

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From the time Chairman Kim Jong-Un started his “charm offensive” early last year until the fallout of the second summit meeting between Kim and President Donald Trump in Hanoi in February 2019, officials and experts have debated whether North Korea is ready for denuclearization on the terms of the United States and its allies. Rather than focus negotiations on a foundation of unverifiable assumptions about Kim Jong-Un’s “intentions,” the United States and its allies in Northeast Asia (Japan and South Korea) need to start by asking themselves about their own priorities and interests.
The purpose of “Priority-Based Approach to the North Korean Nuclear Issue— An Enlightened Dose of Self-Centeredness," a comprehensive report by Taisuke Mibae, visiting senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, is to present important questions that should be answered for negotiating with North Korea and review elements to be taken into account when deciding the answers. Although it is still unclear if and how US-North Korea denuclearization talks will reset and resume, this report will be a valuable measure for stepping back and viewing the current stalemate.
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For more than half a century, the US-Japan and US-ROK alliances have played critical roles for maintenance and enhancement of peace and security in Northeast Asia, the entire Asia-Pacific region, and even the world. The future course of US-North Korea and inter-Korea negotiations over denuclearization and building a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula is hard to predict, but whatever the endstate, it will have an impact on the United States’ and its allies’ plans for the appropriate posture of US forces in Northeast Asia.

Efforts to denuclearize North Korea and reduce military threats on the Korean Peninsula could dramatically affect the size and structure of US Forces Korea, as well as political support for US military presence in Northeast Asia. The growth of China’s military capabilities and its behavior will also influence decision-making in Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington. The United States and its allies should seriously examine political and security dynamics in the region and discuss alternative military postures, so that they are prepared to respond positively and cohesively to future developments.


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What are the contours, challenges, and opportunities in the all-important US-South Korean-Japanese trilateral security relationship during a period of rapidly evolving geopolitics in and around the Korean Peninsula? The trilateral relationship is more salient than ever in the aftermath of the accelerated nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Although assessing the intensity and depth of trilateral security cooperation or a lack thereof is hardly a new issue, the stakes are arguably the highest since the outbreak of the North Korean nuclear crisis in the early 1990s. In this Atlantic Council report, Dr. Chung-min Lee tackles the important questions of how the trilateral security relationship will respond to developments on the Korean Peninsula, and what the road ahead for the US-South Korean-Japanese relationship look like.
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Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have vexed US policy makers for generations. But for American citizens, problems of stability on the peninsula, and North Korean threats to its neighbors were problems over there. Not anymore. North Korea’s dual advances in nuclear weapons and intercontinental delivery systems are edging the situation toward profound. Ever since the term proliferation of weapons of mass destruction entered the lexicon, we have dreaded the idea of a dangerous, wildly unpredictable state—seemingly impervious to sanction—acquiring the capability to hold the US homeland hostage. Yet, that time is approaching. North Korea may be a few years off, as it still needs to perfect its long-range ballistic missiles and miniaturize a nuclear warhead on its cone, but strategic thresholds have been crossed, and we appear no closer to solving the problem.

 
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It is no secret that China and the United States have different opinions about world order. South Korea, meanwhile, is caught in the middle of these two great powers who want to push their weight around the global stage. South Korea has always sought to balance relations between the two countries, but it may be forced to choose.

 
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Security challenges in East Asia are becoming acute. North Korea is developing a missile-deliverable nuclear weapon, and the long-term stability of the Pyongyang regime is questionable. Taiwan, which Beijing claims as part of Chinese territory, is about to have a presidential election in which a candidate from a pro-independence party is the front-runner. China has also become increasingly assertive in its territorial disputes with Japan and several Southeast Asian countries. Meanwhile, Japan's leaders are attempting to redefine the role Japan plays in regional security affairs. Indeed, Japan's legislature recently enacted revisions to the country's national security laws that would loosen limitations on the use of Japan's armed forces, and the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to increase defense spending.
US leadership, undergirded by the US military, has played a central role in ensuring the stability necessary to produce remarkable economic and political transformations in Northeast Asia. More specifically, American commitments to defend its allies in Northeast Asia, with nuclear weapons if necessary, have deterred major power war, prevented regional conflict, stemmed nuclear proliferation, and limited the use of coercion. Over time, however, US security commitments to the region have become increasingly interwoven within a more comprehensive and multifaceted fabric, with US conventional and nuclear forces still at their foundation, but supplemented by allied capabilities, commercial interdependence, and evolving regional institutions.

But US extended deterrence in East Asia—an essential ingredient to sustain regional peace and prosperity—is increasingly under strain. Revitalizing the strength of US security commitments is therefore a first-order task in Washington’s Asia policy. Two new publications by the Atlantic Council's Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security explore how the United States can adapt its military posture and prepare for future challenges to deterrence in Asia:

The Future of US Extended Deterrence in Asia to 2025, by Brent Scowcroft Center Senior Fellow Robert A. Manning, examines the past, present, and future of US extended deterrence in Asia and outlines how the United States, along with its allies and partners in the region, can counter China's growing military and economic power. The report covers a number of future concerns for the US-South Korea alliance, the US-Japan alliance, and new threats to deterrence in the cyber and space domains.

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