3 dynamics shaping the future of security on the Korean peninsula

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Joo-Ok Lee, Head, Regional Agenda – Asia-Pacific; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum & Ariel Kastner, Lead, Geopolitical Agenda, World Economic Forum


  • The Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) recently restored communications.
  • Chatham House, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, hosted a dialogue exploring the dynamics shaping the security on the peninsula.
  • Experts discussed the peninsula’s approach to international affairs, food security and politics.

The Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) recently restored a communications hotline between their capitals after Pyongyang had severed the connection 14 months earlier. The restoration of this link raises some hope that strain that had intensified over the past several months can be replaced by additional steps toward dialogue. Yet, lasting, long-term security requires a more comprehensive approach that aligns stakeholders, addresses humanitarian issues, and accounts for domestic politics in key countries.

Within this complex context, Chatham House, in partnership with the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Councils on Geopolitics and the Korean Peninsula, hosted a dialogue exploring the dynamics shaping the security on the peninsula.

The discussion featured Hazel Smith, Professor at SOAS; Moon Chung-in, Chairman of the Sejong Institute, and Jean Lee, Director of the Center for Korean History and Public Policy, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. John Nilsson-Wright, Korea Foundation Korea Fellow at Chatham House, chaired the discussion, with Robin Niblett, Director and Chief Executive of Chatham House, offering opening remarks. https://www.youtube.com/embed/7diySJKl4d0?enablejsapi=1&wmode=transparent

Will allies and adversaries align?

The ROK is looking to create a “virtuous cycle”, according to Moon Chung-in, in which Seoul deepen its already close ties with Washington and also with Pyongyang. In this way, Seoul hopes to be an axis of sorts, moving all three toward deeper engagement.

Whether this approach will be successful, Jean Lee said, is an open question as Washington looks to place the issue of security on the peninsula within wider strategic context: the US-China relationship. According to Lee, the Biden Administration is taking a “regional and global approach”, strengthening ties with traditional partners, most notably, Japan and South Korea, but also with China. Members of the Biden Administration are meeting with counterparts in China at a time when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for his part has been reaching out to China and Russia to reaffirm his ties with these countries.

The key question will be whether Washington, Seoul and Tokyo can not only align among themselves but also identify common ground with Beijing and Moscow. “Trying to present a united front among the regional partners is absolutely key to bringing North Korea back into the international fold,” Lee said.

Is food security national security?

North Korea is facing severe food shortages, according to United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which estimates the “food gap” in the country to be around 860,000 tons—equivalent to approximately 2.3 months of food use. North Korea, Smith said, views food security as “a national security issue” because the government is facing weakening legitimacy, particularly among younger people.

Beyond the magnitude of the impact of food shortage on its population (vulnerable sectors of society, particularly the young and elderly, will likely suffer disproportionately) losing ideological control of the younger generation represents a national security threat to the regime. It is for this reason that Pyongyang has ignored recent overtures from Washington, instead focusing on its own internal challenges, feeling its nuclear program offers protection from external threats.

The underlying cause of food insecurity is the North’s policies, which has inhibited economic growth. But UN sanctions, argued Smith, particularly those imposed in 2017 targeting natural gas, trucks and machinery, have had a dire effect as well. These items are critical to agriculture, which represents a third of the North’s economy. Therefore, advancing security on the peninsula will need to account for the food crisis itself and for the national-security prism through which Pyongyang views it.

What role will politics play?

The coming year, 2022, will bring presidential elections in South Korea and midterm elections in the US, both of which may offer some additional challenge. Lee said the Biden Administration likely will have “bigger issues” to deal with, particularly on the domestic and economic fronts, in the runup to congressional elections than focusing on North Korea. All the more so, because North Korea does not represent an imminent threat to US interests.

The danger, though, is that North Korea may take provocative steps to try to reassert itself and gain attention. Moon agreed that politics could inject further challenge in that one of the few bipartisan areas of agreement in Washington is strong distaste for engaging North Korea. But Smith said that the active engagement of North Korea by the Trump Administration—specifically the former president’s meeting with Kim in Singapore in June 2018—neutralizes any criticism that Republicans could make if the Biden Administration more fully engaged Pyongyang.

On the North Korean side, Lee said, Pyongyang has been using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to more fully seal the country off. Emerging from this deepened isolation would therefore require a narrative that legitimizes its decision to do so. Otherwise, the regime would lose additional legitimacy among its population.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

4 innovative renewable energy projects powering Europe’s green future

Financing economic recovery, written by United Nations Under-Secretary-General

Is your smart home as safe as you think?

45th Anniversary of the French Confederation (Confédération Nationale des Junior Entreprises)

A Europe that delivers: EU citizens expect more EU level action in future

Islamophobia is driving more US Muslims to become politically engaged, suggests report

MEPs condemn attacks on civilians, including children, in Yemen

The banks first to benefit from the new euro trillion ECB plans to print

8 fascinating and fearsome frontiers of science you should know about

Making the move to more sustainable mobility – three steps for companies

Colombia: Rights experts condemn killing of reintegrated former rebel fighter, call for respect of peace process

EU-Russia summit in the shadows of Kiev’s fumes

The Parliament sets the way for the European Banking Union

6.1 billion EUR for sustainable fisheries and safeguarding fishing communities

Thursday’s Daily Brief: Safeguarding civilians, strengthening Ebola response in DR Congo, marking Fistula Day, updates on CAR and Syria

This is how India can become the next Silicon Valley

Turkey: Commission continues humanitarian support for refugees

19th EU-China Summit: A historical advance in the Chino-European rapprochement

The woman who wanted to be treated the same as the man

These countries are the most peaceful – in 3 charts

Alternative proteins will transform food, mitigate climate change and drive profits. Here’s how

Estonia: use robust growth to improve income equality and well-being

The use of mobile technologies in Radiation Oncology: helping medical care

These countries are leading the way in green finance

Shenzhen just made all its buses electric, and taxis are next

4 eco-friendly products put sustainable spins on classic practices, from teacups to hankies

Why the future is bright for drone technology

‘Jerusalem is not for sale’ Palestinian President Abbas tells world leaders at UN Assembly

US-China trade war: Washington now wants control of the renminbi-yuan

Look Mom, even the House of Lords says the #righttobeforgotten is not right

Portuguese Presidency outlines priorities to EP committees

An economist explains how to value the internet

Investing in rural women and girls, ‘essential’ for everyone’s future: UN chief

Cum-ex tax fraud scandal: MEPs call for inquiry, justice, and stronger tax authorities

Libyan authorities must shoulder the burden to support country’s ‘vulnerable’ south

COVID 19 Vaccine: A new terror or a savior for mankind?

State aid: Commission approves €150 million Austrian subordinated loan to compensate Austrian Airlines for damages suffered due to coronavirus outbreak

The status of the Code of Medical Ethics: loading

UN Security Council offers Yemen Special Envoy ‘their full support’

Over 1 million health consultations provided in Yemen in 2019: UN migration agency

Why the ECB prepares to flood the markets with more and free of charge euro; everybody needs that now

“I believe that startups are for grown-up men, those, who have already achieved something “

Do not jeopardise future-oriented EU programmes, say EP’s budget negotiators

‘Global sisterhood’ tells perpetrators ‘time is up’ for pandemic of violence

One Hundred Years of Qipao History: from Shanghai to EU

Finland is a world leader in clean energy. Here’s what’s driving its success

Nearly four million North Koreans in urgent need, as food production slumps by almost 10 per cent

Will the Greek economy ever come back to growth?

3 important lessons from 20 years of working with social entrepreneurs

At this ‘critical moment’, UN chief urges anti-corruption conference to adopt united front

We are stronger than this pandemic (COVID-19)

EU lawmakers vote to reintroduce visas for Americans over “reciprocity principle”

‘Endemic’ sexual violence surging in South Sudan: UN human rights office

Public Policies for LGBT in Brazil

A faster, fairer way to retire carbon-emitting assets

Amid pandemic detours, mental health matters

Coronavirus: Commission concludes talks to secure future coronavirus vaccine for Europeans

Why hourly workers should have the same benefits as salaried ones

How do we design an inclusive energy transition?

State aid: Commission approves €300 million Austrian scheme to support organisers of events affected by coronavirus outbreak

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s