CSIS Launches Beyond Parallel Website



Given that no one can claim unique insight into North Korea, Marcus Noland and I have always been of the “more the merrier” persuasion: that intellectual and research crowdsourcing are likely to deepen our understanding of the place. Thus our appreciation (and use) of the work done by 38NorthNorth Korea Economy Watch, North Korea Leadership Watch and others plying this peculiar trade.

Yesterday, the field got an important new entry. Under the direction of Victor Cha and Lisa Collins, CSIS launched Beyond Parallel (in the name of full disclosure, I am on the board). 

What we like about the new site is not only its commitment to non-partisan empirical research as well as commentary, but its focus on unification in particular. It is easy to be jaded, assuming that North Korea will endlessly muddle through. But we know how flat-footed even the most informed proved with respect to the collapse of the Soviet Union; may this focus prove far-sighted. The site aspires to be a network, and makes clear how Victor Cha and his colleagues at CSIS have already become the center of a substantial network of policymakers, academics and policy researchers on the two Koreas.

Proof of concept is important, and among the new material posted on the site are the following examples of where the site will go:

Satellite Imagery. Images taken along the border at Dandong/Sinuiju that suggest that the Chinese might have sent some signals earlier than we thought, clamping down on economic activities after the January 6, 2016 nuclear test and before UN Security Council Resolution 2270 took effect.

Unification Transparency Index. The group is undertaking surveys of experts, officials, scholars, and opinion leaders to gauge how much regional powers actually know about the long-term issues associated with Korean unification. Among the primary findings from this 1st round survey of 110 U.S. policy experts and government officials: domestic stabilization ranked higher than nuclear weapons, underscoring the importance of diplomacy with China on the issue.

Database on North Korean Provocations and U.S.-ROK Military Exercises. Contrary to conventional thinking, data collected by CSIS shows that overall North Korean belligerence is not directly related to U.S.-ROK military exercises, despite Pyongyang’s insistence to the contrary. Rather, the response to exercises is a function of the broader political context, including whether negotiations are in train. At the rollout, this data was released on the website with other databases coming forward over the fall, including one on how the timing of North Korean WMD provocations is related to US elections and whether they have an effect on equity and foreign exchange markets. Data of this sort is useful, and appears like it will be one of the foci of the initiative.

This is clearly an important new initiative that followers of Witness to Transformation will also want to check out on a regular basis; see the site for details on how to subscribe. The CSIS Korea Chair also created a new Twitter handle and hashtag for the project: @BeyondCSISKorea and #BeyondParallelKorea.

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