North Korea: Recent Developments and Future Direction

Sydney Seiler

Michael Breen (Left) and Sydney A. Seiler (Right)

Asia Society Korea held its second Monthly Luncheon of 2018. Those fortunate enough to secure a ticket to the event had the opportunity to listen to another distinguished guest speaker analyze the current situation on the peninsula. Asia Society Korea’s Honorary Chairman, Dr. Hong-Koo Lee, commented on his delight at the successful hosting of the Winter Olympics, which has once again proven South Korea’s ability to host a major world event. Furthermore, he noted that all of the Korea Center’s New Year programs are underway and running as planned.

At this month’s Luncheon, Sydney Seiler, the USFK Senior Analyst and Senior Defense Intelligence Expert for North Korea, was on hand to share his knowledge based on following North Korea issues for well over three decades and being involved in past involvement in negotiations with North Korea, and to answer questions from the audience. The talk was titled “North Korea: Recent Developments and Future Direction,” and once again it was moderated by Mike Breen (CEO, Insight Communication Consultants).

Breen opened by asking about the complicacies of getting intelligence out of North Korea, to which Seiler responded noting that decades of observing DPRK’s behavior, listening to its rhetoric and narrative, and negotiating with it on the nuclear issue have provided important lessons upon which we can craft strategy and policy moving forward.  In terms of the success or failure of past policies, Seiler noted that ultimate blame rests with North Korea for not taking up the opportunities for security and prosperity available when choosing the path of denuclearization. The North’s provocative actions in recent times have led the U.S. and its allies to increase pressure diplomatically and economically, which he suggested brought Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table.  

Breen went on to ask if the U.S. and its allies would need to concede anything were talks to happen, and Seiler asserted that the North was well aware of the international community’s insistence that the North move down the path of denuclearization and was also aware of the benefits of embarking on that path.  Additionally, Seiler believes these talks could prove more fruitful as the North Korean leader has had time to reflect on the pressure his country is under, the seriousness with which the United States is pursuing denuclearization, and the need for a change in his policy.  Seiler acknowledged the likelihood that Kim will try to play the U.S. and South Korea off against each other, but that as close allies with a long history of working together on the North Korean issue we are all aware of this and remain committed to a united approach in dealing with the North. 

Seiler pointed out that there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about these talks when considering differences from past engagement.  Kim Jong Un has claimed to be open to talks, and open to talks about denuclearization.  There is value in testing these claims.  Although Kim had been hoping the world would eventually accept the North’s nuclear capabilities as a fait accompli, the U.S. and the international community have been clear that this is not going to happen, Seiler asserted.

In sum, it seems the upcoming talks will be pivotal in determining where the future lies on the nuclear issue. While opinion in the ROK is split on the possibility and desire for reunification, a more open and less hostile North will certainly benefit everyone in the region.