Bahng Tae-seop and his colleagues at SERI have released the 2013 first quarter report on the Korean peninsula security outlook. It may come as no surprise that the experts surveyed forecast heavy weather.
The index of current conditions fell for the fourth consecutive quarter to 42, approaching the all-time minimum of 41 at the time of the first nuclear test in October 2006. The outlook index dropped to 45, falling for the fifth consecutive quarter. The sub-index on voluntary nuclear disarmament fell to 16, its lowest level since the exercise began in 2005. The China-DPRK relations sub-index also hit an all-time low of 31. Russia-DPRK relations fell 14 points from 52 to 38 in one quarter. Russian experts polled also had the most negative assessment of the current outlook (35), followed by American respondents (of which I am one) (39), South Koreans (41), Chinese (46), and Japanese (47). The report indicates that the experts believe that the North Korea has successfully used external provocations to solidify external support. Many of the experts surveyed also support intensification of sanctions on North Korea.
The report does not indicate the numbers of experts surveyed, their breakdown by nationality or other characteristics, nor the stability of the respondent pool over time. So it is hard to assess, for example, how much of the negativity of the Russians, or the plunge in the Russia-DPRK relations index, reflects true changes in view and how much may be an artifact of the compositional change of a small sample. Likewise, Japanese opinion seems oddly positive, and one wonders exactly who these respondents are. Nevertheless, the SERI effort represents possibly the only attempt to systematically poll expert opinion on an ongoing basis and as such warrants at least some attention.
And now, some Heavy Weather…