A Stronger Partnership: Recommendations for U.S.-ROK Civil Nuclear Cooperation and the 123 Negotiations

Korea Chair Platform

For the past four years, the CSIS Korea Chair has organized a small project on U.S.-ROK alliance issues, including the 123 negotiations. Stakeholder meetings took place at CSIS offices in DC, involving experts, U.S. officials, and former officials that aimed at understanding the negotiating positions of both sides and the potential “win-sets” that were available. On occasion, the project also hosted conferences with South Korean institutions in order to hear the viewpoints and opinions of their experts and officials. One of the research foci of the project was also to look at the factors outside of the bilateral negotiations that might “reverberate” onto the positions of both sides, potentially even impacting the outcome. A full report of the project will be due out this summer. However, with the current agreement set to expire one year from March 19, 2015 we offer these interim findings and recommendations of the project.

This report takes neither the side of the United States government nor the side of the Republic of Korea government, but operates from the core assumption that there is an undeniable interdependence in the U.S. and ROK nuclear industries that is time-honored and an organic product of years of interaction under the previous 123 agreement. Whether it is ROK-made pressure vessels in U.S. reactors or U.S.-origin fuel in ROK reactors, the cooperation is deep and mutually beneficial. Moreover, ROK participation in the global civil nuclear energy industry benefits not just Korea, but also the United States as a result of this interdependence. The UAE deal, for example, benefits Korea, but it also brings some $2 billion to U.S. suppliers. On the one hand, the negotiation has many complexities. The overlap in win-sets is fairly small and there is a lot of room for misunderstanding and failure. On the other, the negotiation provides an opportunity for the two allies in their 62nd year of partnership to scale up their nuclear cooperation and set 21st century standards for the non-proliferation regime and for the nuclear energy industry.

The findings and recommendations regarding the 123 negotiations are framed in four contexts: 1) the global context of the negotiation; 2) the context of the U.S.-ROK alliance; 3) the negotiation strategies; and 4) the reverberation context.

We do not intend to offer specific formulae for an agreement as we are not privy to the details of a confidential discussion between governments. Our suggestions are aimed at broader principles and negotiation mindsets that would be helpful to a successful conclusion of these very important talks.

Marie DuMond