Stephen W. Bosworth: It's Not Just North Korea That Makes U.S. Engagement Difficult

The current leadership transition in North Korea, with the attendant possibility of an unstable transition leading to the regime's collapse, is certainly one issue complicating the United States' engagement with North Korea, according to former U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Stephen W. Bosworth.

Bosworth was discussing U.S. policy toward North Korea last night in an Asia Society New York discussion with Columbia University Professor and Asia Society Associate Fellow Charles K. Armstrong. Bosworth explained that while the Pyongyang regime's position "has been unsustainable for a long time," nonetheless "they have managed to hold it all together."

In explaining the reasons for America's long-running impasse with North Korea, Bosworth framed a more multipolar world where China and South Korea are key players and the American political system makes it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to put pressure on North Korea in a successful way. "No administration has done it well," Bosworth said, explaining that American elections play a big part. "No one thinks that there are any votes to be gained by engaging with North Korea. There are probably more votes to be gained by condemning North Korea at every moment." In his view, this makes 2012, another Presidential election year, a particularly difficult one to progress on North Korea issues.

However, Bosworth predicts that Pyongyang is also seeking a period of relative tranquility at this time in order to deal with the transition of power — which includes using more collective power to rule North Korea — as Kim Jong Un matures as a leader.

This program was funded with the generous support of HBO, as part of the HBO Series on Asian Hotspots.

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Rebecca is a reporter for Asia Blog. She is also currently a graduate student at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.