Responding to Change on the Korean Peninsula
May 6, 2010
Recent events in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) demonstrate that stability and regime survival are not guaranteed. Kim Jong Il’s deteriorating health has led to speculation of coming leadership struggles, while currency revaluation and tightened international sanctions have resulted in runaway inflation, shortages of goods, and reports of unrest in a totalitarian nation with few prior episodes of dissent. North Korea’s continued decline and the possibility that the country might eventually become a failed state pose threats to regional security and economic prosperity. Absent coordination of an effective response to spillover effects from possible instability in North Korea, the actors most directly involved, namely China, South Korea, and the United States, are unlikely to build the mutual understanding necessary to stabilize the region and lay the basis for cooperative security over the long term.
This report proposes a set of specific policy recommendations for the United States, South Korea, and China requiring unilateral, bilateral, and trilateral actions aimed at ameliorating mistrust and enhancing prospects for dialogue and cooperation on security issues, including coping with instability in North Korea. The key to building mutual trust is for each nation to identify potential common areas of interest regarding the principles and conditions that are needed to promote stability in North Korea and the region. On this basis, it should be possible for each to provide reassurances to the other parties about intentions and plans for responding to North Korean instability. Undertaking this effort will also likely increase the three nations’ ability to more effectively coordinate and cooperate on other matters relating to North Korea, particularly denuclearization.