Managing a nuclear-armed North Korea is South Korea’s grand strategy to protect the nation’s vital security interest in the short term and achieve peaceful unification in the long term. Its foundation rests on two pillars of containing the North’s military expansion and nuclear coercion, and promoting constructive changes in North Korean society. This strategy of management is neither appeasement based on unfounded optimism of the North Korean leadership nor an intimidation tactic to overthrow the Kim Family Regime. Under the assumption that genuine peace or national integration is not possible unless North Korea is denuclearized and its society transformed, it is a strategy that exercises full vigilance toward the North and applies all available means and methods to reduce political and military threats from Pyongyang. It also patiently encourages gradual and fundamental changes in North Korea as the ultimate path to a denuclearized and unified Korean peninsula. The management strategy understands that no dialogue with North Korea could resolve the nuclear problem at a single stroke, and thus, it keeps expectations low and objectives achievable. It does not anticipate a sweeping deal to denuclearize North Korea. This article articulates flawed assumptions and failed policies held by six South Korean administrations over the past 26 years and presents ten policy recommendations for fulfilling South Korea’s grand strategy in the future.

Keywords: South Korea, North Korea, United States, grand strategy, denuclearization, unification, ROK-U.S. alliance, ‘One Korea’ principle, deterrence, retaliation, assurance



The terms ‘grand strategy’ and ‘management’ are seldom used together. ‘Grand strategy’ is professed in the rarefied atmosphere of war colleges and exercised on a global stage, the exclusive province of statesmen, diplomats, and generals. ‘Management’ is taught in business schools and practiced in the boardroom, the vernacular of accountants, consultants, efficiency experts, and corporate chieftains. Historians and political scientists assess the success of grand strategies decades after implementation. Ruthlessly efficient markets judge the performance of managers quarterly.

For the Republic of Korea (ROK)—faced with the threats from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) nuclear tests, ballistic missiles, chemical weapons, and sizable special operations and conventional forces—using ‘management’ and ‘grand strategy’ together is entirely appropriate. North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons is a major threat to the South’s national security and a key obstacle on the path toward peaceful unification and prosperity for the Korean people. South Korea’s vital interests are denuclearizing North Korea completely and irreversibly and achieving unification through fundamental changes in the North. Seoul’s statesmen should exercise the full capacity of the government to achieve these two national objectives, denuclearization and peaceful unification. Thus, South Korea’s grand strategy should be formulated to attain these objectives through the use of all available means and methods.

Yet the immediacy, proximity, and lethality of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program also demands that the threat be managed. Practitioners and pundits increasingly call for global acceptance of a nuclear-armed North Korea in the short-term while maintaining the long-term objective of denuclearization.1 The concept of managing recognizes that resolving the North Korean nuclear issue is not feasible at present. Instead, managing focuses on preventing further aggravation of the problem and deterring consequential threats. Managing neither abandons the objective of denuclearization nor advocates immediate resolution of the problem. Rather, it focuses on fostering an environment for complete denuclearization in the future, recognizing that it may take a long time. In addition, ‘managing’ doesn’t view the object of its efforts—the Kim Family Regime (KFR)—as a constructive and equal partner. Rather, the KFR is a subject that should be reined in to prevent its dangerous or reckless behavior.

This paper argues that managing a nuclear-armed North Korea is at the core of South Korea’s grand strategy. Management has two objectives: first, to contain the North’s military expansion and nuclear coercion by reinforcing ROK-U.S. military preparedness, including the redeployment of American tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea; second, to promote constructive changes in North Korean society and induce its people to develop ways of thinking that are different from those of the KFR.

To understand the urgency and necessity of this approach, it is important to acknowledge that previous policies designed to prevent the KFR from acquiring nuclear weapons have failed. Accordingly, this paper first summarizes the faulty assumptions and lessons learned that span six South Korean administrations dating to March 1991, when the North’s nuclear ambitions first became public.2 Second, it describes the policies needed to manage a nuclear-armed North Korea that will facilitate South Korea’s strategic objective of a denuclearized and unified Korean Peninsula.

Flawed Assumptions and Failed Policies

From 1991 to 2017, none of the major diplomatic or military initiatives by four American presidents and six South Korean presidents have borne fruit. During this period, a variety of platforms, including inter-Korean dialogue, the U.S.-DPRK negotiations, the four-party talks, and the six-party talks have been used, and occasionally produced major agreements like the Agreed Framework, the Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks, and the February 13th Agreement. Whenever such deals were made, officials in Seoul and Washington appeared in public, celebrating the deals and boasting of the resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem. However, a nuclear-armed North Korea remains the stark reality on the Korean Peninsula today.

No phrase other than ‘policy failure’ describes the reality in which one side has succeeded in developing nuclear weapons despite the other’s persistent efforts to prevent it from doing so.3 Officials in Seoul and Washington have always insisted that they would neither accept nor live with North Korean nuclear weapons, but the reality is exactly the opposite. They cannot mislead the public any longer with eloquent rhetoric. We are now living under North Korea’s nuclear threats, and our future generations will have to do so for a considerable period of time.4

Failed policies are the result of flawed assumptions. Policymakers enacted measures without a clear understanding of Pyongyang’s position on nuclear strategy or the durability of the KFR. These erroneous assumptions led to withdrawing American nuclear weapons from South Korea, the abandoning South Korean nuclear arms development, compensating of Pyongyang for compliance, delaying of action in hopes of dealing with a new government, and neglecting to promote changes in North Korea. Because future policies require a deep understanding of past actions, this section examines these failures.

Withdrawing American and Forsaking South Korean Nuclear Weapons

On September 27, 1991, President George H.W. Bush announced steep reductions in America’s nuclear arsenal, including the withdrawal of land- and sea-based nuclear weapons from South Korea.5 The Presidential Nuclear Initiative was unique in its scope and scale of the reductions, unilateral cuts, and speed and secrecy in which the PNI was developed.6 Although the South Korean government had been secretly informed of the planned withdrawal, President Bush and President Roh Tae-woo did not discuss the issue in a meeting four days before the PNI was announced.7 Less than a month later, the Bush administration announced that nuclear weapons that could be delivered by American F-16 aircraft at Kunsan Air Base would also be withdrawn.8

The PNI marked a significant change in U.S. defense policy. Analysts noted the American government had deployed nuclear weapons to South Korea beginning in January 1958.9 Nuclear artillery shells were positioned so close to the Demilitarized Zone that a congressional committee feared they would be overrun in a North Korean attack.10 At the peak in the 1970s, there were an estimated 680 nuclear weapons in South Korea. By the time of President Bush’s announcement, only 100 nuclear weapons remained.11

In November 1991, President Roh also relinquished the nuclear option, declaring his intention not to develop nuclear weapons.12 The following month he confirmed there were no nuclear weapons in South Korea.13 Like the PNI, President Roh’s declaration was a significant departure from the nuclear aspirations of his predecessors. Under orders from President Park Chung-hee, the Agency for Defense Development launched Project 890, a highly secret program to develop nuclear weapons.14 Although American pressure forced Park to abandon the program, his successor believed nuclear weapons were critical to dealing with North Korea. When the Reagan administration dispatched an envoy to Seoul to discuss arms control in 1986, President Chun Doo-hwan stated, “North Korea will comply with a call for inter-Korean dialogue only if we have three nuclear weapons.”15

Policymakers believed maintaining nuclear weapons in South Korea was not only unnecessary, but was an obstacle to convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The recently concluded Persian Gulf War showcased American precision weaponry. The U.S. would continue to deter North Korea with nuclear weapons based elsewhere, including Guam-based B-52 bombers.

While assumptions on the efficacy of technology proved correct, policymakers’ belief that removing American nuclear bombs and artillery and unilaterally forsaking the development of South Korean nuclear weapons would increase their leverage over the Pyongyang government proved false. Many policymakers and analysts claimed that nuclear development in the South would justify Pyongyang’s nuclear armaments or, conversely, that Seoul should be a nonproliferation role model for Pyongyang to follow. However, despite signing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1985, North Korea hadn’t allowed international inspections of its nuclear facilities. Pyongyang offered several reasons for failing to fulfill its treaty obligations, including the presence of U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea.16 When South and North Korea signed the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Pyongyang was operating a reprocessing facility that was prohibited by the Declaration. North Korea’s nuclear tests represent a complete violation of the Declaration. The U.S. withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons and South Korea’s own unilateral decision to forsake its nuclear option enabled North Korea to develop its nuclear weapons without any hindrance. Seoul should discard the hackneyed logic behind these failed policies.

Compensating the KFR for Compliance

With the ambitious aim of resolving North Korea’s nuclear problem within their terms of office, every South Korean and American president has offered Pyongyang deals in exchange for North Korea’s compliance with its international obligations prohibiting the development of nuclear weapons. Many of these deals included political, economic, and even military incentives demanded by Pyongyang government. A cursory review of attempts to compensate North Korea for complying with international agreements highlights the failures of this approach.

As noted, although North Korea signed the NPT, the country had not permitted international inspections of its nuclear sites since becoming party to the treaty in 1985. In the months following President Bush’s PNI and President Roh’s announcement to unilaterally forsake development of nuclear weapons, representatives from Seoul and Pyongyang signed the Joint Declaration of South and North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The 1992 Joint Declaration was even more ambitious than the NPT, prohibiting nuclear fuel reprocessing, uranium enrichment, and the deployment of nuclear weapons in either country.17 Separately, the NPT Safeguards Agreement entered into force on April 10, 1992. North Korea was now subject to international inspections from South Korea and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Pyongyang provided the IAEA with an initial declaration of its nuclear activities and permitted inspections beginning in May 1992. At the same time, North Korea supported the establishment of the South-North Joint Nuclear Control Commission (JNCC) to implement the Joint Declaration, sending nuclear policy and technical experts to meet with their South Korean counterparts. Although the JNCC met 13 times, South Korean inspectors were never allowed into North Korea. After IAEA inspections uncovered discrepancies with the initial declaration, North Korea refused the agency’s request to inspect additional facilities. Shortly thereafter, Pyongyang threatened to withdraw from the NPT.18

The 1994 U.S.-DPRK Agreed Framework was the first attempt to compensate Pyongyang for complying with its international treaty obligations. North Korea agreed to remain in the NPT, implement the Joint Declaration, suspend operations at the Yongbyon reactor, and freeze the construction of two other graphite moderate reactors. The U.S. agreed to provide two modern nuclear power plants, as well as 500,000 tons of heavy oil annually, with South Korea and Japan bearing much of the $4 billion cost.19 Negotiators would consider North Korea’s demand an additional $1 billion for power lines and electrical infrastructure in future discussions.20

The George W. Bush administration accused North Korea of violating the Agreed Framework by secretly pursuing a uranium enrichment program, which was refuted by the North. As a result, the Agreed Framework collapsed and North Korea withdrew from the NPT in 2003. When the Six-Party Talks convened in August 2003, Pyongyang was able to extract concessions for complying with its international obligations. Following the fourth round of talks, delegates released a Joint Statement on September 19, 2005 in which all countries agreed to promote economic cooperation with North Korea. They stated “their willingness to provide energy assistance to the DPRK.”21 South Korea agreed to provide two million kilowatts of electricity if North Korea abandoned its nuclear weapons program.22 North Korea conducted its first nuclear test on October 9, 2006.

The talks continued despite Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear tests. On February 13, 2007, the Chairman’s Statement following the fifth round of the Six-Party Talks required a “complete declaration of all nuclear programs and disablement of all existing nuclear facilities including graphite-moderated reactors and reprocessing plants” in exchange for one million tons of heavy fuel oil; 50,000 tons were to be provided within 30 days.23 At the sixth round of talks, the parties agreed to provide Pyongyang with one million tons of heavy fuel oil, which included the 100,000 tons previously supplied.24 Following separate, bilateral negotiations with Pyongyang, the Bush administration removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, rescinded the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act, and waived sanctions imposed following the 2006 nuclear test.25 Following the launch of a three-stage Taepo-dong missile in April 2009, North Korea announced that it would no longer participate in the Six-Party Talks and that it wouldn’t be bound by any of the previous agreements.

The Joint Declaration, Agreed Framework, and Six Party Talks produced a number of agreements and pronouncements, but failed to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. It is important to note that Pyongyang rebuffed many of the unilateral or joint initiatives put forth by Seoul or Washington during this period, including the Grand Bargain (2003), Peace Regime (2006), Denuclearization, Openness and 3,000 Proposal (2007) and Vision Korea Project (2013). Repeatedly offering North Korea compensation in anticipation of compliance manifests a pattern of policy failures due to underestimating Pyongyang’s determination to acquire nuclear weapons and overestimating economic and political clout on the part of Seoul and Washington. Nuclear weapons were and are critical to the KFR’s survival. It is critical to understand that North Korea will not forgo nuclear weapons. As long as the KFR remains in power, complete denuclearization is not a feasible goal. It is merely irresponsible political rhetoric.

Anticipating Changes in North Korea

Over the past quarter century, there have been several events that gave outsiders the impression that significant leadership changes were imminent in North Korea. Policymakers and military analysts believed changes to the international political and economic systems at the end of the Cold War would force the North Korean government to change. Others questioned whether the system established by Kim Il-sung would survive without its founder. Despite a series of internal and external shocks, assumptions on the regime’s pending collapse proved incorrect.

President Roh’s Nordpolitik changed the strategic landscape in Northeast Asia as the South Korean government sought to establish diplomatic ties with the North’s traditional allies. Following Hungary’s announcement four days before the 1988 Olympics, other eastern European nations moved quickly to establish ties with South Korea. Moscow and Seoul established diplomatic relations in 1990. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the former Soviet Socialist Republics recognized South Korea. China and Vietnam established diplomatic relations with South Korea in the fall and winter of 1992.

Journalist Don Oberdorfer describes the success of the Nordpolitik policy as “alter[ing] the strategic alignments around the Korean peninsula in historic fashion.”26 Within four years, the Roh administration gained diplomatic recognition from nearly all of Pyongyang’s traditional allies, including the North’s former patrons and the South’s wartime enemies.27 In addition to the diplomatic recognition, many countries sought trade and investment from Seoul while ending barter agreements and ‘friendship prices’ with Pyongyang. In December 1992, Beijing announced that North Korea would have to pay cash for Chinese exports, though it continued to provide oil out of fear the regime would collapse.28

Kim Il-sung’s unexpected death from a heart attack in 1994 raised further questions about the government’s stability and survivability. Scholars, intelligence analysts, and North Korea watchers concur that the Seventh Plenum of the Fifth Congress of the Korean Workers Party (KWP) held in September 1973 marked “the first formal acknowledgement of Kim Jong-il as the designated successor to his father.”29 The Sixth Congress in October 1980 was a watershed, formally installing the younger Kim as the second man in Pyongyang’s power structure and giving him important positions in the Party Secretariat, Politburo, and Military Committee; Kim Il-sung was the only other leader to hold these three positions.30 This was followed by a carefully choreographed series of events to position Kim Jong-il as the successor to his father. By 1988, Kim Jong-il was running the country, while Kim Il-sung was “the infallible father of the regime.”31 Nonetheless, analysts questioned whether the government would survive following the 82-year old founder’s ‘sudden’ death.

A succession of events following Kim Il-sung’s death raised similar questions about the KFR’s durability. In 1995, senior officers assigned to the Sixth Corps were reportedly planning a coup with another corps-sized unit before security forces intervened, disbanded the unit, and executed the conspirators.32 Famine gripped the nation from 1994 to 1998, leading to the deaths of millions. Hwang Jang-yop, the founder of the Juche ideology, defected to South Korea in February 1997. Amidst these changes, American and South Korean military planners began developing contingency plans for the regime’s collapse. Years later, Kim Jong-il’s ‘sudden’ death raised questions about Kim Jong-un’s ability to rule the country absent the extensive preparations that preceded the transfer of power from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il.

The KFR has endured significant changes in geopolitics and trade. It has survived coups, famines, and defections. Although periodic cracks have emerged, the KFR and its internal security forces have been ruthlessly efficient in eliminating obstacles to their continued rule. A second successful transfer of power followed the first hereditary success of power in the Communist world, from son to grandson.

Thus, the KFR will remain stable for the time being. South Korea should not underestimate Pyongyang’s internal durability. While it is certainly prudent for the military to consider and develop plans for the regime’s collapse, Seoul’s North Korea policy should not be based on an expectation that the removal of Kim Jong-un will lead to a government interested in surrendering it nuclear weapons. Whether the new leadership replacing Kim Jong-un will give up nuclear arsenal will depend on the nature of the leadership. A reform-minded leader (or collective leadership) is more likely to take steps toward denuclearization than the old guard, fixated on the traditional values of the KFR.

Neglecting to Promote Societal Changes in North Korea

As emphasized above, the KFR won’t voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons. Resolving the nuclear issue will only occur if North Korean society undergoes fundamental changes. Elites and the general public must recognize that abandoning nuclear weapons is a better option than possessing them. That is, if and when societal desires for reform and openness occur, a window of opportunity for the complete resolution of the nuclear problem will arise. Promoting change requires both a message and a means to deliver it to the North Korean people.

There has been some recent work on developing the messages designed to transform North Koreans’ thinking in accordance with civilized norms of the international community. Some South Koreans use such terms as ‘Koreanization’, ‘pro-Korea’, or ‘South Korea friendly’, reflecting their wishes to see North Korea transform on South Korea’s terms. Taking account of North Koreans’ possible sensitivities to such expressions, it may be wise to use more value-neutral terms. If the direction of societal changes moves toward globalization rather than Koreanization, North Koreans may show fewer reservations. The former has a positive connotation, in which South and North Korea live together for the common values of the 21st century. The latter may have a negative connotation for some North Koreans who might view Koreanization as forcing them to submit to the more prosperous South Korea.

Attempts to communicate with the general population of North Korea date to the Korean War. Although the American Far Eastern Command hastily assembled psychological operations (PSYOPS) personnel, PSYOPS were generally viewed as ineffective due to the deployment of inexperienced personnel.33 By the 1960s, ROK Army PSYOPS personnel had developed an effective message and means of delivery. Kim Tong, who was responsible for producing propaganda leaflets recalled, “we tried to stress the benefits of freedom and democracy to influence the attitude of our audience positively toward the South, while discrediting Pyongyang’s political propaganda claims that South Korea was a “puppet of U.S. imperialism . . .’”34 Leaflets dropped from aircraft flying at high altitudes could travel as far as Pyongyang, communicating the South’s message to a populations whose radios were fixed to receive only North Korean broadcasts.35 Recognizing the importance of PSYOPS, the Combined (ROK-U.S.) Forces Command established the Combined Psychological Operations Task Force in 1992.

The Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression and Exchanges and Cooperation Between the South and the North stated, “the two sides shall not slander or vilify each other.”36 Both sides agreed to end radio transmissions and dismantle the loudspeaker systems at the 2000 Inter-Korean Summit. The ROK Army ceased loudspeaker broadcasts and removed the systems from the Demilitarized Zone in 2004. Following the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan in 2010, the ROK Minister of National Defense ordered PSYOPS personnel to reinstall some broadcast equipment, prepare to send AM radios and leaflets to North Korea via balloons, and stand-by to resume radio broadcasts.37

Recognizing that outside information threatens the KFR, North Korean defectors began a separate information campaign. The leaflets created by the defectors focused on describing the disparities between the economies and living standards in the two countries, detailing the luxurious life the KFR enjoys, and providing historical information that contradicts the North Korean accounts.38 At other times, defectors have sent memory sticks, socks, digital bibles and one-dollar bills; activists floated hundreds of Choco-Pies north of the border after Kim Jong-un reportedly banned the sweets as a symbol of capitalism.39

Despite the effectiveness of grassroots efforts to communicate directly with the North Korean people, government efforts to encourage the information flow required to promote societal changes have been sporadic and contradictory. As noted, the South Korean government ceased military PSYOPS from 2004 to 2010. When Pyongyang threatened Seoul with a “merciless military strike” in 2012, the South Korean government banned activists from traveling to sites near the DMZ where they planned to launch their balloons.40 Since the end of the Cold War, South Korean administrations were overly confident that the South’s economic power would prevail North Korea and lead to unification on its terms, overlooking the importance of societal changes in the North.

Policy Recommendations to Manage North Korea

The second part of this article focuses on ten policy recommendations to manage a nuclear-armed North Korea, based on the author’s 28 years of experience in academia and government.41 In order to achieve the two objectives of its grand strategy—denuclearization and reunification—South Korea should adopt the following policy measures.

Recommendation One: Adhere the ‘One Korea’ principle

The division of the Korean peninsula started with the ideological struggle between democracy and communism and was firmly entrenched by the Korean War. The question of which system—either the North’s communism or the South’s liberal democracy—inheriting the Korean nation’s legitimacy is a matter of historical responsibility that cannot be compromised. The history of Korea’s division is an ideological struggle and systemic competition that continues to this very moment. From an objective point of view, the rivalry of which side better served the Korean people is already over. Unfortunately, South Korea is still hamstrung by divisive public opinion and ideological disputes.

A strategy of management maintains as its foundation in domestic and foreign policies the ‘One Korea’ principle. This principle states that the Republic of Korea is the sole legitimate entity to represent the Korean nation on the Korean peninsula. Observing Article 3 of the ROK Constitution is also an inviolable duty, which stipulates, “The territory of the Republic of Korea shall consist of the Korean peninsula and its adjacent islands.” According to the ‘One Korea’ principle, North Korea is a lost territory to be reclaimed and the North Korean people are our fellow citizens. The previous ROK governments have not highlighted the historical significance and meaning of the ‘One Korea’ principle. Facing threats to its vital interests by the North Korean regime, stigmatized as an outlier in the international community, it is time for South Korea to promulgate the ‘One Korea’ principle within Korea and beyond. West Germany never retreated from the ‘One German’ policy, which was fully respected by the United States when it normalized relations with East Germany.42 By pivoting on the ‘One Korea’ principle and committing to implement the Korean National Community Unification Formula, South Korea can take consistent and unwavering steps towards the denuclearization and societal transformation of North Korea.

Recommendation Two: Make full use of national power founded upon long-term strategic thinking to achieve the denuclearization of North Korea and unification

Dealing with North Korea’s nuclear development is a complex challenge where many sensitive issues—inter-Korean relations, diplomacy, military, intelligence, science and technology, and domestic politics—overlap. It is a major obstacle in inter-Korean relations, a diplomatic issue involving the international community and the four powers in Northeast Asia, a military threat to the nation’s survival, and a technological issue to assess and counter Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities. At the same time, it requires intelligence on North Korea’s nuclear intentions and strategy and is also an internal political issue to overcome national division. Since the current North Korean regime is unlikely to give up nuclear weapons in the near future, it is also an issue that demands a long-term perspective and strategic thinking from South Korea. Unification mirrors the nuclear problem in terms of its multi-dimensional nature and its importance as a vital national interest.

South Korea is required to furnish itself with long-term perspectives and strategies, exercise full-scale national power, and take an integrated approach to resolve the complicated issues stemming from several policy areas. To attain the two national objectives also requires constant attention and guidance from the nation’s highest leadership. In short, South Korea should formulate a long-term grand strategy encompassing denuclearization of North Korea and unification. Under this national strategic framework, minute policy issues must be managed. Such a holistic approach will enable different policy options to be utilized in a mutually complementary way, increase the flexibility and broaden the scope of policy implementation.

Recommendation Three: Concentrate national resources on countering North Korean nuclear threat and reshuffle the National Security Council

South Korea should have a nationwide system encompassing all the capabilities of the various governmental branches working on North Korean nuclear and missile issues and manage inter-Korean relations in conjunction with those issues. It also needs to create a new policy making culture where experts and officials understand the multi-dimensional nature of the North Korean nuclear problem and are not influenced by the vested interests of their own organizations. It would be desirable to create an institution to take charge of North Korea’s nuclear problem, unification, and other related issues under the direct guidance of the ROK president.

There are two possible options. One is to turn the current National Security Council into the National Strategy Council, which would assume the responsibility of the North Korean nuclear problem, inter-Korean relations, unification policy, and long-term external strategy.43 The other is to maintain the National Security Council but to reassign the tasks of the two Deputy offices. The first Deputy should take charge of strategic issues, including North Korea’s nuclear problem and unification, and the second Deputy should coordinate policies on pending issues in foreign, military, cyber, and crisis management. In order to draw lessons from past policy failures, it is also necessary to make a fair assessment of whether relevant government agencies have been up to their missions. Stark policy failures would not have occurred if they had done their jobs properly. So the first step to remedy these issues is to hold accountable any agency that was at the center of failed policies. In this respect, the Office of Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must be carefully evaluated and any problems be properly addressed.

Recommendation Four: Launch an aggressive campaign to promote fundamental changes in North Korean society and to adopt the bifurcation policy

A basic assumption behind the management strategy is that the resolution of North Korea’s nuclear and missile problems precondition fundamental changes in North Korean society. Except for the core leadership, who equates their survival with nuclear-tipped missiles, the elites and the public should be induced to realize that nuclear weapons and missiles are the cause of their miserable economic conditions and that reform is the only path to bring an end to their suffering.

In order to support and facilitate changes in North Korea, South Korea needs to adopt the ‘bifurcation policy’ to distinguish North Korean leadership from the rest of the country.44 The Kim family leadership has sustained its power by setting up external threats as a means to galvanize internal cohesion. The international community must keep sending positive messages that it is not the people but the leadership who is subject to criticism around the world. The bifurcation policy of discriminating the regime as a subject of pressure and the people as a target of assistance is a strategic initiative that can unravel the governing ideology and philosophical foundation of the Kim Family Regime. In their narrative, the regime and the people are one flesh and community bound by a common fate. In this regard, a lesson from the Middle East will be useful to Korea. To consider the whole Muslim world an extremist terrorist group, rather than separating a few extremists from the vast majority of moderates, causes anger within Islamic communities and instigates more terror activities. According to the bifurcation policy, sanctions and pressure need to be carefully designed to minimize collateral damage to the people.

In addition, South Korea should maximize its efforts to send information into North Korea so as to foster a favorable opinion on the ground level for denuclearization and reform.45 The key to societal changes in North Korea is how often and to what degree ordinary people can access news of the outside world. They can be disillusioned at their reality and begin to search for a new path only if they gain a perspective to compare their country with the outside world. Testifying before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, former Deputy Ambassador Thae Yong-ho urged the Americans to focus less on military options and more on spreading outside information within North Korea.46 The high-ranking North Korean defector stated, “The citizens do not care about state propaganda but increasingly watch illegally imported South Korean movies and dramas. The domestic system of control is weakening as the days go by.”47

In this respect, it is imperative to reinforce international efforts to make North Korea conform to global standards. The more North Korean society is globalized and public awareness is increased, the more North Korea is likely to distance itself from nuclear weapons. The South Korean government also needs to establish a sophisticated monitoring system to watch minute changes in North Korea and to infer their implications correctly. And the international community should keep sending strategic messages that it is economic development and human rights, not the collapse of North Korea, that it pursues, and thereby build trust with the people in the North.

Recommendation Five: Strengthen smart sanctions targeting the Kim Family Regime

The international community must pressure North Korea to an extent that the KFR is isolated from the rest of the world, similar to how the international community sanctioned South Africa due to its apartheid. For this purpose, South Korea should take the lead in the United Nations’ efforts to sanction North Korea. Seoul should encourage member states to faithfully implement the Security Council resolutions, and also close loopholes by mustering like-minded countries to strengthen their individual sanctions on Pyongyang.

Keeping in mind that the sole purpose of sanctions is to make the leadership change its course, the international community should make every effort to devise sanction mechanisms sophisticated enough to minimize collateral damage to the people. Smart sanctions will put pressure on the leadership to change their positions on nuclear weapons and missiles, and also send a message to the people that their suffering sanctions is caused by their leadership’s defiance of the world. Smart sanctions could impose primary burdens on the leadership and, as a secondary effect, distance the people from the regime, thereby motivating changes in individual and societal thought.

Sanctions and pressure should not stop at simply bringing North Korea back to the negotiating table. They must undermine the Kim Jong-un regime’s legitimacy and authority, bring about positive change to North Korea’s reckless adventure with nuclear and missiles programs, and hopefully trigger dynamic societal changes in the North. In particular, it is critical that these burdens are heavy enough to make North Korean leadership realize that its survival is at risk if it continues developing nuclear weapons and missiles. Given that the Confucian tradition of valuing honor and reputation remains strong in North Korea, political or diplomatic measures to undermine Kim Jong-un’s legitimacy will be effective. Sanctions to degrade the leadership’s authority and dignity will deepen international isolation of the North Korean regime, precipitate the loss of public support, and increase chances of societal changes.48 In this regard, it should be noted that major political events such as a summit meeting or high-level talks run the risk of legitimizing the Kim Jong-un regime.

Recommendation Six: Establish a special export-import control regime targeting North Korea

A smart sanction targeting the North Korean regime would control the major goods, materials, and technologies that flow in and out of North Korea. Since North Korea’s WMD and missile capabilities are not only threats to the people of Korea but also threats to peace and stability in the world, South Korea, being faithful to the ‘One Korea’ principle, should lead international efforts to create an export-import control regime targeting Pyongyang. For controlling exports to North Korea, the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Control (COCOM) of the Cold War era can be a model, which was a ban on sensitive materials and technologies to the communist bloc. For checking imports from the North, member countries of the export-import regime should not receive WMD-related materials and technologies, ballistic missiles or even major conventional armaments from Pyongyang. In short, South Korea should lead international efforts to create a comprehensive ‘North Korea Export-Import Control Regime’ (NKEICON) to disrupt and dismantle the technical foundations of the North’s WMD and missile programs.

The NKEICON would encompass the rules and regulations of the existing export control regimes, such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), Australia Group (AG), and Wassenaar Arrangement, as well as adopting the United Nations Security Council resolutions. Furthermore, the loopholes should be closed to tightly control the flow of goods and technologies in and out of North Korea. Since NKEICON’s purpose is to curtail the growing danger posed by North Korea’s WMD and missile developments and does not target the people’s livelihood, China could not find any logical ground to oppose its establishment.

The NKEICON will send a strong message to the Kim Jong-un regime that its so-called parallel policy to develop its nuclear capability and economy will fail in the end. By blocking North Korea’s access to advanced technologies, the NKEICON will make North Korea realize that its economy will continue to suffer in miserable conditions only observed in underdeveloped countries. Once the NKEICON is fully activated, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology will also have to close. As a result, it would be difficult for North Korea to extricate itself from the status of an underdeveloped country without giving up its nuclear and missile programs. Hence, the NKEICON will deliver a heavy blow to a leadership that highly values prestige in all aspects, including economy, science, and technology.

Recommendation Seven: Apply all available means to guarantee national security and the people’s safety from North Korean threats

Under the assumption that threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles will remain for a considerable period of time, the South Korean government should be ready to deal with North Korea’s increasing threats and daring provocations by mustering all available means independently and with its ally, the United States. Appropriate measures for deterrence, retaliation capabilities in case of deterrence failure, and assurances to the South Korean public should be taken.


South Korea should be prepared to thwart North Korea’s threats and possible uses of nuclear weapons in full cooperation with the United States. It is critical that the U.S. extended nuclear deterrence does not remain limited to familiar rhetoric or occasional displays of force by heavy bombers and aircraft carriers dispatched to South Korea.49 Extended nuclear deterrence specifically tailored to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats should be reinforced. The reintroduction of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea is one option that deserves serious consideration. It will be an equalizer to counteract the strategic imbalance of the North’s nuclear monopoly and leverage to help negotiate away its nuclear weapons in future nuclear disarmament talks. If the United States refuses South Korea’s request to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons, Seoul should temporarily withdraw from the NPT according to Article X of the treaty and launch its own nuclear development program. South Korea could persuade member states of the NPT that its strenuous efforts to peacefully resolve North Korea’s nuclear problem have borne no fruit in the past three decades and make it absolutely clear that the terms of rejoining the NPT will be nothing less than the complete and mutual nuclear disarmament with North Korea.


South Korea should be ready to deliver a heavy blow to North Korea to the extent that the survival of the regime is threatened, as would be the case of North Korea using nuclear weapons. Retaliation implies absorbing the North’s first strike and thus demonstrates the South’s intention not to act preemptively, which is in line with its traditional policy of deterrence and defense. A preemptive strike that is not based on clear evidence of an imminent attack by North Korea amounts to nothing more than an invasion and will draw enormous criticism from the international community.50 There is no guarantee that South Korea could successfully deal with the new situations created in the wake of the preemptive strike, either. Discussions of preemption or decapitation demonstrate the insecurity within a South Korean military that does not possess nuclear capabilities. North Korea responds with its own intimidation of preemptive or decapitating attacks. Belligerent rhetorical exchanges can exacerbate misunderstandings, escalate tension, and may even lead to a military clash. In this regard, tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea could be beneficial to allay the sense of insecurity that the South Korean military harbors and avoid the danger of overreaction in times of crisis.


As North Korea ratchets up threats and escalates tensions, the alliance should take measures to allay the fears of South Korean people. Visible and concrete measures to enhance deterrence could assuage their sense of terror. The redeployment of American tactical nuclear weapons will be useful in this regard.51 An effective strategic communication and a well-designed plan of action will be essential to draw strong support for the redeployment and thwart any malicious attempts to block it. Similar efforts are necessary to defend against objections or concerns of the major countries in the region and beyond, especially the nonproliferation community. Presumably, China and Russia would oppose, Japan would be suspicious, and the nonproliferation activists would be critical. It should be made absolutely clear from the beginning that the sole purpose of reintroducing tactical nuclear weapons is to deter any North Korean threat or its use of nuclear weapons, and that it is to be used as a bargaining chip to negotiate away the North’s nuclear weapons. The end result would be a nuclear-weapons-free Korean peninsula through the dismantling of nuclear weapons in North Korea and the concurrent withdrawal of American tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea.

Recommendation Eight: Strengthen humanitarian assistance and improve human rights for the North Korean people

Adhering to the ‘One Korea’ principle, South Korea cannot turn away from the suffering of the North Korean people. It is the North Korean people who are most afflicted by the Kim family regime’s frantic obsession with nuclear weapons. Regardless of North Korea’s nuclear development or hostile political atmosphere on the Korean peninsula, humanitarian assistance should continue in order to reduce the suffering of ordinary people in the North. It will help minimize the impact of the collateral damage caused by international sanctions and also send a strong message to the people that the world is with them, thereby planting valuable seeds for societal changes.

While humanitarian assistance gives material help to North Korean people, the international community can provide moral support by pushing to improve human rights. By constantly putting pressure on the regime to improve human rights, South Korea can reduce and even prevent human rights violations in North Korea. There are signs that North Korean authorities are sensitive to international allegations on their human rights violations. By encouraging ordinary people to have the hope and courage to stand up against the complete disregard for human rights shown by the leadership, such efforts will awaken the public and facilitate fundamental changes in North Korea.

Recommendation Nine: Pursue inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation within the framework of international norms and rules

Despite all-encompassing sanctions and pressure, South Korea should keep communication channels open and continue limited contacts with North Korea. Inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation, although restricted in its nature due to international sanctions, can facilitate the flow of information into North Korea, which will be the key to open the window of change. Exchanges and cooperation aim to provide North Korean people with the perspective to compare their current path of nuclear weapons and missiles with an alternative future without them. It creates an environment for people to decide the path for openness and reform in the short term and a denuclearized and peacefully unified Korea in the long term.

Of course, it is important to recognize that as a responsible member of the international community, South Korea should manage inter-Korean relations in accordance with international norms and rules. Any dialogue not in accordance with these norms and rules will be quickly turned to North Korea’s advantage and criticized as a naïve appeasement. An overambitious dialogue that does not accept its obvious limits will mislead the South Korean people by creating unrealistic expectations in inter-Korean relations and discredit the South Korean government in the eyes of the international community.52

Recommendation Ten: Launch inter-Korean negotiations for arms control and confidence building

An action-reaction cycle originating from North Korea’s nuclear and missile developments, followed by international sanctions and ROK-U.S. responses, has inevitably increased tensions on the Korean peninsula. A dialogue between North and South Korea is necessary to prevent tensions from turning into military conflicts and to stabilize bilateral relations.

Arms control talks are to be divided into two parallel tracks: one on conventional arms control and the other on nuclear disarmament. A recent proposal by China and Russia to trade the freezing on North Korea’s nuclear and missile developments with that of conventional military exercises by South Korea and the United States53 is unbalanced in that it gives Pyongyang unilateral strategic advantages and binds Seoul to an asymmetric position detrimental to its national interests. This so-called ‘mutual freeze’ proposal, if adopted, will surely become another security disaster for South Korea by admitting and succumbing to North Korea’s nuclear monopoly. In the history of arms control, there is no precedent in which one side’s conventional capabilities are traded for the other’s nuclear ones. South Korea and the United States should uphold a principle of ‘equal subjects of negotiations’ and set two parallel tracks of negotiations—one for nuclear and the other for conventional military issues. The separate arms control negotiations should be able to stabilize the security situation by establishing two mutual deterrence structures—nuclear and conventional, respectively.

For conventional arms control, North and South Korea could agree on confidence building, arms limitation, and nonaggression. The two sides’ experiences in the early 1990s can be useful in this regard. They could revise the Nonaggression Declaration agreed in September 1991 to reflect changes in the security environment since then. For nuclear disarmament, the two Koreas and the United States could hold a three-party talk to agree on confidence building measures to prevent misunderstanding or misperception arising from nuclear weapons as early as possible and to negotiate away the North’s nuclear weapons with U.S. extended nuclear deterrence assets in due course. North Korea is a longtime proponent of nuclear disarmament talks with the United States.54 As a way to peacefully resolve North Korea’s nuclear problem, the mutual reduction of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the U.S. nuclear assets in defense of South Korea could be a pragmatic alternative that deserves closer attention in Seoul and Washington.

For this purpose, the United States is required to bring back an appropriate number of tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea and use them as bargaining leverage for mutual nuclear disarmament with North Korea. It is far-fetched even to think of reducing American nuclear assets in the mainland U.S. or other areas in exchange for dismantling North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. North Korea simply is not a strong enough opponent for Washington to consider strategic arms reduction talks. The U.S. nuclear assets in Europe are not mandated to deter North Korea, and thus, cannot be the subject of mutual disarmament talks. Only if the United States redeploys its tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea and establishes a nuclear sharing mechanism similar to that in Europe55 could North Korea be led to seriously consider denuclearization to remove the tangible nuclear threat under its very nose. In this respect, the more South Korea has access to U.S. nuclear assets, the higher the sense of terror that will be instilled into the North Korean regime. It thus becomes more likely that North Korea would return to the negotiating table.

If the United States refuses to redeploy tactical nuclear weapons, South Korea should declare a temporary withdrawal from the NPT under Article X of the treaty. It should explicate to the international community that its withdrawal is only an interim measure and that it will rejoin the treaty once North Korean nuclear threat is removed by mutual disarmament. While launching its own nuclear development program, South Korea should propose nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea in parallel in order to denuclearize the entire Korean peninsula. If Pyongyang comes forward to the talks and these talks produce a positive outcome, Seoul will be ready to return to the NPT at a moment’s notice.

If the United States and North Korea negotiate in the future, they are most likely to reach a freeze deal on the North’s nuclear and missile capabilities at the current level. It is a reasonable compromise between Pyongyang wanting to maintain certain nuclear capabilities and Washington trying to stop further development of North Korea’s long-range, nuclear-tipped missiles. The agreement will be positively described as a steppingstone to the complete denuclearization, but a freeze is not a final solution, only a temporary expedient. Thus, there should only be limited compensation for North Korea, if any. Any rush to change the nature of the ROK-U.S. alliance, to replace the Armistice Agreement with a peace regime, or to provide enormous political or economic reparation to support Kim Jong-un’s parallel policy of economic and nuclear developments will be recorded in history as another security disaster stemming from the failure to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. In addition, U.S. tactical nuclear weapons should be redeployed in South Korea before the freeze deal is reached as a security equalizer to counter the remaining nuclear capabilities in North Korea and to maintain a stable balance of terror on the Korean peninsula.


The Korean Peninsula is in a unique and unenviable position. While both the South and North still bear the painful scars of war, the ROK has unilaterally renounced its nuclear option and allowed the DPRK to monopolize nuclear capabilities. Learning the lessons from the policy failures of the last 26 years, South Korea should make a fresh start with a renewed determination not to repeat the same mistakes. Moving beyond divisive views on North Korea and partisan politics, the South Korean government must consolidate public opinion to implement a grand strategy that can bring a denuclearized and unified Korea into reality—the ultimate guarantor of security and safety for the Korean nation.

The KFR requires an external threat to justify its internal and external actions. Accordingly, the North Korean government is not a counterpart with equal standing. Rather, it is a subject that must be managed through constant vigilance and abundant caution. Understanding this is a prerequisite for devising a grand strategy based on the reality that the KFR equates nuclear weapons with its own survival. South Korea cannot yield to North Korea, but the South cannot have the North succumb to it, either.

The North Korean nuclear problem will not be resolved in the short-term. It will likely require considerable time, perhaps another generation or two. Expectations that the KFR will abandon its nuclear weapons once its demands are met reveal an ignorance of Pyongyang’s nuclear strategy, as well as deficient strategic thinking on the part of South Korean policymakers. South Korean or American politicians who pursue politically ambitious and hasty attempts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue within their terms of office will continue to end in failure, falling into another North Korean trap.

The strategy of management neither recognizes North Korea as a nuclear weapon state nor abandons the determination to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities. Based on a clear understanding of the reality, this strategy seeks to confront the threat posed by North Korea proactively. Past policy failures have occurred, in part, by allowing Pyongyang to make the first move. Policymakers in Seoul and Washington have always been reactive. Indeed, the latter were locked into a nuclear framework established by the former.

The strategy of management seeks to break out of the framework that has existed for the past 26 years. By making a definitive move, South Korea and the United States can regain the initiative and force North Korea to follow their path. Reintroducing American nuclear weapons to South Korea would demonstrate the alliance partners’ resolve to establish a new paradigm. If Washington refuses, Seoul has no choice but to announce its withdrawal from the NPT and pursue its own nuclear weapons program.

In the end, attaining the objectives of South Korea’s grand strategy will be done through fundamental changes in North Korean society. These changes will occur when ordinary people realize that nuclear weapons and missiles do not provide for their wellbeing and happiness, much less their prestige. South Korea must continue building its national power, increasing public awareness and readiness, and fostering a favorable international environment for a denuclearized and unified Korea. Kim Jong-un’s policies must be thwarted by severe sanctions and pressure, while providing humanitarian assistance to reduce the suffering of ordinary people. Balancing sanctions and assistance will fall to South Korea’s president. He or she can galvanize support within and beyond South Korea by keeping a cool-headed perspective on the North Korean leadership, respecting international norms and rules, consolidating divisive public opinions, and never losing sight of taking care of all Koreans.

* This paper was published in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of the International Journal of Korean Studies (IJKS), Volume XXI, Number 1, pp. 119-149. The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.​

  • 1. A growing view emerges that the world should accept nuclear-armed North Korea as reality and should pursue a long-term resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem. For instance, Robert Gates said in an interview, “I think you cannot get the North to give up their nuclear weapons. Kim sees them as vital to survival.” He further hinted that the United States would accept a diplomatic solution that allows a limited nuclear stockpile of no more than a dozen or two dozen nuclear weapons as well as invasive inspections to ensure no further nuclear development by North Korea. Gerald Seib, “What would Gates do? a defense chief’s plan for North Korea,” Wall Street Journal, July 10, 2017. It is argued that the world must keep calm and contain Kim Jung Un until North Koreans will be rid of their repulsive ruler, and the Korean peninsula will reunite as a democracy, like Germany. “How to avoid nuclear war with North Korea,” Leaders, The Economist, August 5, 2017. Thomas Friedman also argues that the least bad option now is to gear up for a long game that contains, deters, and isolates a nuclear-armed North Korea, and to keep that game going until North Korea either relents or cracks. Thomas Friedman, “Be strategic, not impulsive, on North Korea,” New York Times, August 10, 2017. Fareed Zakaria points out that the world is already living with a nuclear North Korea and what is needed is a robust system of deterrence, the kind that kept the peace with Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China. Fareed Zakaria, “Trump has been making ominous threats his whole life,” Washington Post, August 10, 2017. Robert Einhorn also agrees that a long-term strategy of pressure, deterrence, and containment is the most plausible and realistic alternative, compared to complete elimination of North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities at an early date or a phased approach seeking interim limits freezing North Korea’s capabilities in key areas. Robert Einhorn, “Approaching the North Korea challenge realistically,” Brookings, August 14, 2017. Michael Swaine asserts that it is time to adopt a more realistic focus on deterrence, containment, and crisis management measures rather than pursuing low-probability attempts to denuclearize the peninsula in short order. Michael Swaine, “Time to accept reality and manage a nuclear-armed North Korea,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 11, 2017. Scott Sagan argued George Kennan’s strategy of containment and deterrence can continue to work on North Korea, as it did on the Soviet Union, adding, “the United States must wait with patience and vigilance until the Kim regime collapses under the weight of its own economic and political weaknesses.” Scott Sagan, “The Korean missile crisis: why deterrence is still the best option,” Foreign Affairs, September 10, 2017.
  • 2. Leonard Spector and Jacqueline Smith, “North Korea: the next nuclear nightmare?” Arms Control Today (March 1991), pp. 8-13.
  • 3. Similar views are presented in the United States. For example, Robert Joseph argues that over the past decade, three American presidents have failed in their pursuit to denuclearize North Korea and the key to a successful strategy in the future is containment of the North. Robert Joseph, “The North Korean nuclear threat, and how to address it,” National Review, July 3, 2017. It is said that the U.S. president should admit the failure of America’s North Korea policy since 1990s, accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons-capable state, and revamp U.S. policy toward explicit containment and deterrence of North Korea. Michael Auslin, “Trump’s biggest North Korea mistake is coming,” POLITICO, August 29, 2017.
  • 4. Opinions are rendered that the United States set new ground rules to deal with or sign a peace treaty with nuclear-armed North Korea. For example, James Acton argues that the time for denial is over; denuclearization is no longer a practical policy; and Washington should establish some basic rules of the road with a newly nuclear Pyongyang. James Acton, “Some nuclear ground rules for Kim Jong-un,” Foreign Policy, August 16, 2017. David Ignatius offers four American positions of a possible peace treaty: assurances of North Korean regime survival, security guarantee to South Korea, pledge not to seek any quick unification, and willingness to discuss the future status of U.S. military presence in South Korea. David Ignatius, “Here’s what a permanent treaty with North Korea might look like,” Washington Post, August 15, 2017.
  • 5. Hans Kristensen, Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons, Special Report No 3, Federation of American Scientists, May 2012, p. 11.
  • 6. Susan J. Koch, The Presidential Nuclear Initiatives of 1991-1992, (Washington: National Defense University Press, 2012), p. 1.
  • 7. Don Oberdorfer, “U.S. Decides to Withdraw A-Weapons from S. Korea,” The Washington Post, October 19, 1991, Available online at
  • 8. David E. Rosenbaum, “U.S. to Pull A-Bombs From South Korea,” The New York Times, October 20, 1991, Available online at
  • 9. Peter Hayes, Pacific Powderkeg: American Nuclear Dilemmas in Korea, (Lexington: Lexington Books, 1991), p. 35.
  • 10. Oberdorfer.
  • 11. Ibid.
  • 12. On November 8, 1991, President Roh issued the Declaration for Denuclearization of Korean Peninsula and Peace Construction and announced not to manufacture, possess, store, deploy or use nuclear weapons. He also declared not to possess enrichment or reprocessing facilities.
  • 13. On December 18, 1991, President Roh announced that “at this time, there does not exist a single nuclear weapon on the South Korean soil.” The Chosun Ilbo, December 19, 1991. (in Korean)
  • 14. William Burr, Ed., “The United States and South Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program, Part I,” The Nuclear Vault, March 22, 2017, Available online at,-1974-1976,-Part-1/
  • 15. Yi Hwan-woo, “S.Korea tried to have nuclear bombs in 1980s: declassified papers,” The Korea Times, April 12, 2017, Available online at
  • 16. Oberdorfer.
  • 17. B.K. Kim, “Step-by-Step Nuclear Confidence Building on the Korean Peninsula: Where Do We Start?” Building Nuclear Confidence on the Korean Peninsula, (Washington: Institute for Science and International Security, 2001), pp. 153-4, Available online at
  • 18. International Atomic Energy Agency, Fact Sheet on DPRK Nuclear Safeguards, Available online at
  • 19. “Nuclear Blackmail: The U.S.-Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Agreed Framework on North Korea’s Nuclear Program,” Hoover Institution, Stanford University, April 1, 1997, Available online at
  • 20. Andrew Pollack, “U.S. and North Korea Agree on Deal for Nuclear Reactors,” New York Times, June 13, 1995.
  • 21. “Joint Statement of the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks,” September 19, 2005, Available online at
  • 22. Ibid.
  • 23. “Chairman’s Statement of the Fifth Round of the Six-Party Talks,” February 13, 2007, Available online at
  • 24. “Six Party Agreement on North Korean Nuclear Program,” October 3, 2007, Available online at
  • 25. Arms Control Association, “Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy,” Available online at
  • 26. Don Oberdorfer, The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History, (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1997), p. 186.
  • 27. Cuba, Syria and Macedonia are the only three U.N. member states that do not have diplomatic ties with South Korea. The Roh administration did not include Cuba in its Nordpolitik outreach. Although the South Korean government officially approached Cuba in 2000, Havana continues to recognize North Korea.
  • 28. Nicholas D. Kristof, “The World; China and North Korea: Not-So-Best of Friends,” New York Times, April 11, 1993, Available online at
  • 29. Kong-dan Oh, Leadership Change in North Korean Politics: The Succession to Kim Il Sung,” (Santa Monica, California: RAND Corporation, 1988), p. 6.
  • 30. Ibid, pp. 13-14.
  • 31. Ibid, p. 68.
  • 32. See Ralph Hassig and Kong-dan Oh, The Hidden People of North Korea: Everyday Life in the Hermit Kingdom, (Lanham, Maryland: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2009), p. 68 and Armin Rosen, “Why The Utterly Bizarre Situation in North Korea Might Remain a Total Mystery,” Business Insider, October 7, 2014, Available online at
  • 33. Jeremy S. Mushtare, “PSYOP in Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations: Preparing for Korean Reunification,” masters thesis, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, March 2005), p. 4, Available online at
  • 34. Tong Kim, “Impact of Leaflet Operations,” Korea Times, November 2, 2008, Available online at
  • 35. Ibid.
  • 36. Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression and Exchanges, and Cooperation Between the South and the North, Signed December 13, 1991, Available online at
  • 37. “Gov’t in Drive to Send Radios to N. Korea,” Chosun Ilbo, October 10, 2010, Available online at
  • 38. Julian Ryall and Colin Freeman, “The defectors attacking North Korea with helium balloons,” The Telegraph, December 17, 2014, Available online at
  • 39. See Sang-hoon Choe, “A ‘Balloon Warrior’ Subverts North Korea, Thousands of Leaflets at a Time,” New York Times, October 14, 2016, Available online at, Terrence McCoy, “North Korea has reportedly banned Choco Pies,” Washington Post, July 1, 2014, Available online at, and “South Korean activists launch ‘Choco Pie’ Balloons,” The Guardian, July 30, 2014, Available online at
  • 40. Donald Kirk, “South Korea blocks activists from air dropping leaflets over North,” Christian Science Monitor, October 22, 2012, Available online at
  • 41. The author worked for the Ministry of Defense from 1990 to 1991, studied various topics on North Korea, Korean unification, and strategic issues from 1991 to 2014 at the Korea Institute for National Unification, and then served as the Secretary to the President for Security Strategy at the Blue House from 2014 to 2017.
  • 42. The United States regarded West Germany as the sole legitimate successor government of the historical German state and of a future reunified Germany. James Dobbins and Jeffrey Hornung, “End the Korean War, finally,” New York Times, June 8, 2017.
  • 43. South Korea, in both governmental and academic dimensions, has recognized the importance of a grand strategy that will guide the nation’s future in a consistent and coherent manner. There were occasional attempts to establish a National Strategy Institute to develop nation’s long-term grand strategy.
  • 44. Seong Whun Cheon, “Let’s win the hearts and minds of ordinary North Koreans,” The Kukmin Daily, January 3, 2011. (in Korean)
  • 45. Promoting internal changes of adversaries through information provision is a common element shared by the management strategy and the containment strategy. For example, propaganda and psychological warfare techniques attracted increasing attention as the containment strategy was implemented. John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of American National Security Policy during the Cold War, p. 62. Susan Rice argues that seeding information into North Korea is an important part of a pressure campaign to raise the costs to North Korea of maintaining its nuclear programs. Susan Rice, “It’s not too late on North Korea,” New York Times, August 10, 2017. Tom Malinowski proposes three layers of information flowing into North Korea by reminding that soft power like the spread of democratic ideas and culture did more than hard power to bring down the Iron Curtain. Tom Malinowski, “How to take down Kim Jong-un,” POLITICO, July 24, 2017. A study proposed that the United States should work with South Korea to develop an information campaign designed to reduce the risks of conflict or regime collapse by convincing regime elites that their best options in these circumstances would be to support ROK-U.S. Alliance efforts. Fredrick “Skip” Vincenzo, An Information Based Strategy to Reduce North Korea’s Increasing Threat: Recommendations for ROK & U.S. Policy Makers (Washington, D.C.: Center for a New American Security, October 2016).
  • 46. James Law, “Kim Jong-un can be defeated by spread of information, North Korean defector says,”, November 3, 2017, Available online at
  • 47. Ibid.
  • 48. In the wake of North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, North Korean ambassadors were expelled and other diplomatic sanctions imposed by Mexico, Peru, Kuwait and Spain. “Factbox: countries which have expelled North Korean ambassadors after nuclear test,” Reuters, September 19, 2017.
  • 49. It is noted that B1-B bombers frequently flying from Guam to Korea and naval aircraft are not nuclear capable.
  • 50. Neither the United States nor South Korea should run the risk of repeating the same policy debacle as happened in the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the wake of the 9/11 terror. The U.S. accusation of Iraq’s WMD programs turned out to be false, tarnishing Washington’s credibility.
  • 51. It is a reasonable policy alternative with steady support in South Korea, enjoying more than 60% approval in numerous polls over many years. The two polls conducted right after North Korea’s sixth nuclear test confirmed this established trend. According to Gallup Korea and Korea Society Opinion Institute, 65% and 68.2% of the public approved the reintroduction of American tactical nuclear weapons to counter North Korea’s nuclear threat, respectively. Korea JoongAng Daily, September 11, 2017.
  • 52. Excessive ambitions and overconfidence on improving relations with the North Korean regime of the previous progressive governments under Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun faced backlashes in South Korea, facilitating a power transition to the conservative government of Lee Myung Bak in 2008.
  • 53. Putin said at a press conference after meeting with Xi Jinping, in Moscow that “We’ve agreed to promote our joint initiative, based on Russian step-by-step Korean settlement plan and Chinese ideas to simultaneously freeze North Korean nuclear and missile activities, and US and South Korean joint military drills.” “Russia, China: N. Korea must freeze nuclear activities, US halt THAAD deployment,” July 4, 2017,
  • 54. In was in the DPRK Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s statement on March 31, 2005 that Pyongyang first proposed the idea of turning the 6-party talks to be a nuclear arms reduction talks on equal footings. Since then, North Korea has kept floating the idea of disarmament talks while expressing no intention of complete denuclearization.
  • 55. As of 2014, a total of 180 U.S. tactical nuclear warheads were stationed in six air bases among five NATO member countries. Hans Kristensen, B61-12: The New Guided Standoff Nuclear Bomb, presented to the Third Preparatory Committee Meeting for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, United Nations, New York, May 2, 2014, p. 5.

About Experts

Cheon Seong Whun
Cheon Seong Whun

Visiting Research Fellow

Dr. CHEON Seong Whun is a visiting research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Dr. Cheon received his B.Sc. in industrial engineering from Korea University, M.Sc. in industrial economics from Stanford University, and Ph.D. in management science from the University of Waterloo, Canada. The subject of his Ph.D. dissertation was an analysis of arms control negotiation and verification. From 2014 to 2017, he was the Secretary to the President for Security Strategy at the Office of National Security of the Blue House (the ROK Presidential Office). Prior to this position, he had worked more than twenty years (1991-2014) at the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) and served in various positions, including senior research associate, research fellow, senior research fellow, and finally, the 13th president of the KINU. His research focuses on inter-Korean relations, North Korea policy and unification strategy, North Korean nuclear issues and arms control, international security and nuclear strategy, and mid-to-long term national strategy. He was a member of the Foreign Affairs and Security Bureau of the Presidential Council for Future & Vision and an expert member of the Foreign Affairs, National Defense and Unification Subcommittee at the Commission on Presidential Transition for the 18th ROK President. He has worked as a member of the Policy Advisory Committees for the Ministry of National Defense, the Ministry of Unification, the National Crisis Management Center at the Blue House and the National Unification Advisory Council. He also served as a board member for the Korean Political Science Association and the Korean Association of International Studies. He has been an editorial consultant for Radio Free Asia from 2000 to 2013. Dr. Cheon is the recipient of the Commendation of the President of the ROK in 2003 and has received awards for excellent research from the Korea Research Council for Humanities & Social Sciences in 2001, 2002, and 2003.