Haass vs. Schake on North Korea Policy

January 22, 2015 7:00 AM

This blog welcomes informed debate on US policy toward North Korea, and The Diplomat's Joseph Bosco reminded us of one we should replay. In late December, Richard Haass, with long policy experience in the Middle East and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a piece on North Korea policy on the Wall Street Journal blog. The headline of his piece was that the US should make a policy objective of “ending North Korea’s existence as an independent entity and reunifying the Korean Peninsula.” We have argued since the Bush administration that regime change is an outcome, not a policy. What matters therefore is how you would go about the job and how to manage any costs of stating such an objective so clearly. Here, Haass seems to rely primarily on Chinese disaffection with Pyonyang, a bet we equate with Waiting for Godot. However, he also rightly outlines a wide-ranging information strategy, which we strongly endorse.

But at Foreign Policy, Hoover’s Kori Schake goes a step farther arguing—rightly in our view—that announcing such an objective is counterproductive. Schake is overly concerned about the risks of destabilizing the peninsula; the risks to us are less cataclysmic, but nonetheless serious. The U.S. would embrace a policy objective it has no real way of achieving, while assuring that North Korea has even fewer excuses to be conciliatory (if they needed any such excuses to be confrontational). Schake concludes that we should continue to go after the money by pursing more aggressive financial sanctions, a strategy about which we are also cautious.

In any case, the two posts constitute a good introduction to the policy issues. For a related debate, see our analysis of dueling pieces on unification by Sue Mi Terry and Chung-in Moon and John DeLury. For a review of the current state of play around the peninsula, see our New Year’s analysis and our follow-up from last week.

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Stephan Haggard Senior Research Staff

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