Korean Reunification and U.S. Interests: Preparing for One Korea

Editor’s Note: On January 20, 2015, Evans Revere gave the following presentation at the 3rd Korea Research Institute for Security-Brookings Joint Conference on “Cooperating for Regional Stability in the Process of Korean Unification: Contingency Preparations with the ROK-U.S. as Anchor” in Seoul, Korea.


Republic of Korea (ROK) President Park Geun-hye is making a determined push to prepare for Korean reunification. Her high-profile effort has mobilized government ministries in an unprecedented way as she seeks to revitalize popular interest in, and support for, national reunification. But despite President Park’s fervor in pursuing reunification, attaining that goal will require overcoming major obstacles, not the least of which is North Korea’s determined opposition to reunification on anything other than its own terms. North Korea will not accede to its own demise and even the most earnest hopes of Seoul are unlikely to change Pyongyang’s antipathy to being absorbed into the ROK.

Other challenges to reunification include North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats, which may require the United States to adopt more aggressive countermeasures, some of which could destabilize the North Korean regime. At a minimum, there is potential for friction between Seoul’s eager pursuit of North-South reconciliation on the one hand, and the U.S. need to prevent the emergence of a dangerous new North Korean threat on the other. The United States and the ROK could face tough choices ahead as they work to keep their approaches in sync.

China’s support for reunification is uncertain. Beijing may prefer the status quo to having a free, united, democratic, economically dynamic, and militarily capable Korea on its border, especially if Korea remains a U.S. ally and host to U.S. troops. But China’s position is evolving, and the United States and the ROK should engage the PRC in a frank and unprecedented conversation about the future of the Korean Peninsula in order to convince Beijing that a reunified Korea is in its interests.

United States support for Korean reunification is firm, reflecting the strong U.S. interest in seeing a united Korea that is free, democratic and led by the ROK. When Korea is inevitably reunified, the major U.S. policy interests will include ensuring a peaceful and stable region, preventing the emergence of new security threats, and supporting Korea as it creates a unified, democratic, market-oriented society and economy that benefits all the Korean people.

The United States will have much to contribute to Korea’s reconstruction, rehabilitation, and reconciliation process when reunification happens. Dismantling the North Korean military machine and eliminating its nuclear weapons will be central priorities for Washington. And a unified Korea will need a security guarantor, a role that the United States should play, even with a downsized military presence and a new rationale for its alliance with Korea.

Despite the U.S. and ROK preference, peaceful reunification is by no means guaranteed. Reunification reached as a result of North Korean collapse, internal chaos in the North, or civil war would impose a massive burden on the Korean people as they seek to build a united nation. But with North Korea living on borrowed time, now is the time for the United States and the ROK, together with China and Korea’s other neighbors, to discuss and plan for an alternative future for the Korean Peninsula.


Republic of Korea (ROK) President Park Geun-hye has made preparing for Korean reunification the centerpiece of her government’s approach on North Korea. [1] More than any Korean President since Syngman Rhee, she has sought to mobilize Korean public opinion and international support for her vision of a reunified Korea. She has emphasized the benefits of reunification and downplayed its costs as a way of building domestic enthusiasm for her policy. [2]

Park’s determined approach on reunification is in part an effort to reverse the flagging interest of younger Koreans in reuniting the country. With the 70th anniversary of Koreas division approaching, she also seeks to use the occasion to revitalize broader popular support for the goal of reunification. And at the midpoint of her presidency, she is no doubt concerned about the legacy that she will leave when she departs the Blue House.

Korea’s national reunification, when it eventually but inevitably comes, will remove one of the most dangerous legacies of the post-World War II era and heal a tragic national division that has lasted almost three-quarters of a century.

Northeast Asia will be a very different place after Korea’s reunification. A newly reunited Korea will establish itself in the region while its neighbors will be digesting the reality of engaging with a dynamic nation of 75 million people – a nation with considerable economic clout, a strong military, impressive human resources, but also with a host of internal challenges as reconstruction, integration, and reconciliation begin in earnest.

The primary U.S. interests in and around the post-unification Korean Peninsula will include ensuring a peaceful and stable region, preventing the emergence of new security threats, and supporting Korea’s task of creating a unified, democratic, market-oriented society and economy for all Koreans. The United States’ pursuit of these interests will be greatly affected by a number of factors, not the least of which is the manner in which reunification occurs.

If the two Koreas reunify peacefully, either through mutual consent or other non-violent means, and if the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is disestablished and absorbed into the Republic of Korea, the region will be well placed to welcome and work with a united Korea, greatly easing the task of the United States in maintaining peace and stability.

If Pyongyang’s nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction capabilities are eliminated as part of the reunification process, prospects for a transition to a peaceful and stable regional order will be considerably enhanced. Such a transition would clearly be in U.S. interests.

And if Korean reunification can be achieved in a way that does not threaten the security interests of Korea’s neighbors, and especially if China’s understanding and support for reunification is obtained, prospects for a stable new regional order will be bright – a situation that would again accord well with U.S. interests.

In sum, U.S. interests will be best served if Korea’s national reunification is achieved peacefully, if the North’s WMD potential is eliminated as part of the reunification process, and if unified Korea’s neighbors are comfortable with both the process of reunification and its outcome.

However, several factors seem likely to complicate greatly the achievement of these goals and throw obstacles and uncertainties into the path of Korean reunification.

Challenges to Peaceful Reunification: The DPRK Factor

The first factor is the likelihood that North Korea will oppose national reunification on anything other than its own terms. Put another way, we should not expect the DPRK to agree to its own demise, accept absorption into the South, or reunify on the ROK’s terms. Accordingly, the greatest challenge to peaceful reunification will be North Korea itself and the Pyongyang regime’s determination not only to retain its own system, but also to impose it on the South.

The United States has long supported the peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula, and ROK President Park Geun-hye’s goal of a reunified Korean Peninsula is one that is today comfortably shared by the United States.

In a major policy development early in the Obama Administration, the United States took its support for a reunified Korea to a new level. In June 2009, the United States and its Republic of Korea ally issued a “Joint Vision Statement” for the bilateral alliance that declared that a central goal of the U.S. and the ROK would now be “…to build a better future for all people on the Korean Peninsula, establishing a durable peace on the Peninsula and leading to peaceful reunification on the principles of free democracy and a market economy.” (Emphasis added.) [3]

This declaration was one of the most explicit policy statements on Korean unification ever made by Washington. It was also the first time that reunification was cited as a specific shared goal of the U.S.-ROK alliance. Most importantly, the Joint Vision Statement made clear the U.S. position that the governing principles of a new Korea would be those of the ROK. Implicit in this view was the U.S.-ROK judgment that reunification would involve the North’s absorption by the ROK.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the DPRK has not responded well to the Republic of Korea’s emphasis on reunification and to Seoul’s call for the two Koreas to take steps to lay the foundation for it. Pyongyang almost certainly sees this ROK approach as a thinly veiled prelude to an eventual attempt to absorb the DPRK. And Pyongyang is not likely to be interested in a process designed to put itself out of business and bring its political and social systems to an end.

It is also no surprise then that, despite Seoul’s hopes and fervor, the actual prospects for near-term reunification seem as distant as ever. There is today no common South-North vision of a united Korea. Indeed, the contrasting visions of what a united Korea might look like are zero-sum mirror images of each other – reflecting the Manichean nature of the South-North struggle for supremacy on the Korean Peninsula.

One of the most important and eloquent statements of Seoul’s vision is to be found in President Park Geun-hye’s trustpolitik policy of seeking to build relations of confidence, cooperation, and transparency with the DPRK. [4] Her idealistic vision is based on the belief that such ties can eventually be forged between North and South, despite their radically different political, economic, and social systems.

North Korea has not only been unwilling to reciprocate this vision with positive actions, it has responded to it with acrimony, accusation, threat and insult. [5] Despite occasional tactical shifts by the North, such as the high-level DPRK delegation’s visit to the ROK in connection with the Asian Games and, more recently, Kim Jong Un’s expressed willingness to consider a North-South summit, [6] military provocations and probing, ad hominem attacks on the ROK president, and threatening language directed at the ROK have more often than not characterized the North’s approach to the South.

All of this suggests that the ROK goal of easing tensions, building transparency, and creating an atmosphere in which reconciliation might lead to reunification is unlikely to be realized any time soon.

Further complicating the ROK’s task is the fact that the DPRK has its own reunification plan – one that would eliminate the ROK and end its democratic system. The gulf between the two Koreas’ respective visions of a united nation suggests that Seoul’s hope for a reconciliation-based reunification faces a major challenge.

Nevertheless, for the United States, supporting the ROK and staying in sync with Seoul’s on reunification serves U.S. interests and should be a priority. Support for Seoul’s approach demonstrates appropriate solidarity with a long-time ally. It also recognizes that South Korea’s pursuit of reconciliation and incremental steps towards peaceful reunification will reduce the possibility of North-South confrontation and accord well with the U.S. goal of maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula. And U.S. support for the ROK’s approach reaffirms that South Korea is usually the best judge of how far and how fast to push North Korea in the direction of reunification, keeping the ROK in the lead in determining the future of the peninsula. But the United States must also be mindful of other priorities, including North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats.

Nuclear Weapons and Reunification

A second factor complicating the path to peaceful reunification is the challenge posed by the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

The DPRK’s growing ability to threaten the region with nuclear weapons may, in the not-too-distant future, require the United States to respond in new, more aggressive ways to defend itself, its interests, and its allies. Some possible responses could affect North Korea’s stability or even bring about the regime’s collapse. At a minimum, North Korea’s goal of posing a credible nuclear threat to its neighbors and the United States will soon compel the United States and the ROK to make difficult choices with important ramifications for peninsular stability.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons- and ballistic missile-related capabilities are expanding. Credible reports and analysis indicate that the DPRK may have constructed an additional uranium enrichment facility at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, boosting the DPRK’s ability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. [7]

A new study warns that the North could have material to make as many as 79 nuclear weapons by 2020. [8] Meanwhile, the DPRK may also be making significant strides in missile development, including in the ability to mount a miniaturized nuclear warhead on a missile. [9]

Pyongyang has long since declared that nuclear weapons development is, together with economic modernization, one of the twin pillars of its byungjin national development plan. The DPRK’s status as a nuclear power is enshrined in its constitution. And during the summer of 2014 a senior DPRK official told a European interlocutor that Pyongyang was prepared to engage in dialogue with the United States “as one nuclear weapons state to another” – another indicator of Pyongyang’s belief that it is now a nuclear weapons state. [10]

Through words and actions, the DPRK has made clear it has no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons program. In doing so it has rejected the central goal of the Six-Party denuclearization talks that were suspended in 2008. And today, there is no diplomatic process capable of slowing or stopping the DPRK’s development of nuclear weapons.

Over the years, the United States and its allies and partners have tried a variety of means to convince the DPRK to end its nuclear pursuit. Nothing has worked.

United States policy remains focused on trying to convince North Korea to resume implementation of its denuclearization commitments. Washington is also mindful that a denuclearized North Korea would make inter-Korean rapprochement more attainable, sustainable, and credible. However, North Korea’s behavior suggests it will not be swayed from its current path.

When North Korea does develop the capability to deliver accurately a miniaturized nuclear warhead using a medium- or long-range missile, it will have a profound effect on the Northeast Asia region. It will change the security calculus and perceptions of many of the region’s actors, who will have to take into account a new threat to regional stability. It will raise concerns among North Korea’s neighbors about their vulnerability to intimidation and nuclear blackmail.

Pyongyang’s possession of a credible nuclear delivery capability may prompt allies to question the U.S. deterrent and the assurances they have received from Washington to defend them. This could, in turn, spark a debate in Seoul and Tokyo about the need to consider developing their own nuclear weapons.

Concern among U.S. allies and partners will probably require the United States to make its deterrent commitments and assurances even more explicit. It may also compel the United States to take other measures to deal with North Korea, including new missile defense-related deployments and exercises, in order to reassure allies and partners.

Some of these steps may be interpreted by the PRC as a U.S. attempt to neutralize China’s strategic forces, using the pretext of a North Korean threat. This would seriously complicate U.S.-China relations. Indeed, there are signs that this issue is already having an effect as witnessed by Beijing’s negative reaction to the possible U.S. deployment of the THAAD missile defense system on the Korean Peninsula. [11]

As North Korea nears the ability to strike regional targets with nuclear weapons, calls for tougher and more direct measures to deal with the DPRK are likely to intensify in U.S. policy circles. With North Korea destined to pose a credible nuclear threat to its neighbors and even the United States, policymakers in the United States and elsewhere may begin to conclude that the only way to achieve the North’s denuclearization is to end the regime itself. Some prominent U.S. figures are already arguing that it is time for the United States to move in this direction. [12]

Even short of a policy of regime change, more intensive economic and banking sanctions would put unprecedented pressure on North Korean and, if effectively crafted and applied, could undermine its ability to sustain itself. Increased efforts to interdict suspect cargoes entering or leaving the DPRK through such initiatives as the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) would also put new strains on a regime that relies on illicit arms trade to earn hard currency. And a sharply focused policy aimed at cutting off financial flows into the DPRK could put the regime’s survival at stake. [13]

While such measures might compel the North Korean regime to resume denuclearization talks, they could also destabilize North Korea and bring about its collapse, with uncertain consequences. Attempts to destabilize or force the collapse of the DPRK would certainly be strongly resisted by Pyongyang, possibly through military means. And absent a major turnabout in China’s policy, the PRC might also oppose such approaches, including via intervention if it believed its own interests were threatened.

The pursuit of significantly more aggressive measures to counter North Korea’s rising nuclear capability would mark a significant shift in U.S. policy away from its current focus. Adoption of a regime change policy would require the United States to run the risks associated with such an approach, including the dangers inherent in the precipitate collapse of the North Korean regime.

Either of these approaches could put the United States at odds with its ROK ally if Seoul were not prepared to abandon its preference for gradualism and its emphasis on reconciliation. For Seoul, abandoning that approach would mark a dramatic turning point in South-North relations – a step that any ROK government might be reluctant to take. Accordingly, a decision to move policy towards the DPRK in a more confrontational direction would be a difficult one to take for both Washington and Seoul.

Nevertheless, North Korea’s current trajectory may eventually present the United States and the ROK with no other choice. Today, there seems to be no prospect of a change in Pyongyang’s determined development of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them. Nor does there seem to be any near-term hope for the resumption of serious denuclearization talks with Pyongyang.

The DPRK’s single-minded pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability and the strides it is making towards that end will soon pose a major new challenge to the Northeast Asia region. Sooner rather than later, that challenge may require Washington and Seoul to choose between continuing their current approach on the one hand, and taking measures on the other that run the risk of instability in order to avoid the greater evil of a nuclear-armed North Korea that can threaten its neighbors with nuclear weapons.

The China Factor

One of the most significant challenges for United States (and ROK) policymakers will be securing China’s cooperation in bringing about a united Korea under the banner of the Republic of Korea. Despite some deterioration in PRC-DPRK ties and a marked improvement in relations between Seoul and Beijing, China may have little interest in helping to bring about a ROK-led Korean Peninsula. For China, the status quo has its attractions.

There is little question that China’s relationship with North Korea has undergone a significant transformation in recent years. A relationship once described as “close as lips and teeth” is today anything but that.

Three years into his rule, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has yet to be invited to visit Beijing. PRC leader Xi Jinping and ROK President Park Geun-hye have not only traded state visits, they have had no fewer than five substantive meetings since each assumed office. ROK-PRC relations are at a historic high point and bilateral ties are today characterized by a high degree of amity.

The same cannot be said for PRC-DPRK relations, which today are cool and distant. China’s state-controlled media frequently carries commentary critical of the DPRK, and prominent Chinese are increasingly being allowed to speak about the DPRK in negative terms. [14] The cooling of China-North Korea relations has been the result of several factors, not the least of which is the DPRK’s unwillingness to return to the Chinese-hosted Six-Party Talks with the intent to engage in serious negotiations on its denuclearization.

Pyongyang’s unwillingness to accept Beijing’s advice to adopt Chinese-style economic and structural reforms has also been a sore point for China, which has for years staked its North Korea policy on the possibility of gradually transforming the nature of the North Korean economy. And North Korea’s attack on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010 greatly elevated tensions in the region and unnerved Beijing by taking the peninsula to the brink of conflict on China’s doorstep.

North Korea’s virulent rhetorical attacks on the ROK, Japan, and the United States in 2013, including its threat to use nuclear weapons against them, took the DPRK’s bellicosity to a new and dangerous level. That year also saw the arrest and execution of Jang Song Thaek, one of the few senior North Korean officials known to have close ties to China. This, too, seems to have unnerved Beijing.

Despite the evident downturn in PRC-DPRK ties, China’s bottom line on the Korean Peninsula continues to focus on maintaining stability and avoiding conflict near its northeast border at all costs. [15] China’s aversion to instability explains the cautious approach that Beijing has generally taken in dealing with North Korea, even when faced with North Korean provocations and Pyongyang’s threats to use nuclear weapons against its neighbors. For Beijing, the collapse of the North Korean regime would be anathema, as would major instability within the DPRK.

Accordingly, Beijing might be expected to oppose any scenario that could increase the risk of violence, refugee flows, or escalated tensions near its border with North Korea. And China would almost certainly reject any approach by the United States and the ROK that did not take the PRC’s security concerns into account. For China, which has a greatly improved relationship with the ROK and proper, if occasionally problematic, ties with Pyongyang, there are worse things than the current status quo.

More fundamentally, China would be deeply suspicious of any scenario that might bring about the creation of a united, democratic, economically dynamic, and militarily capable Korea on its border. This would be especially so if post-unification Korea were to remain an ally of the United States and continued to host a significant U.S. military presence, especially if those forces were to operate north of the 38th parallel.

If the United States and the ROK seek a reunified Korea based on “…the principles of free democracy and a market economy…,” then a major task must be to convince Beijing that the existence of such a Korea is in China’s interests. This would require shaping China’s understanding of what a post-reunification Korean Peninsula would look like and convincing Beijing that the situation that would obtain following the demise of the North Korean regime and its absorption into the ROK would be more in China’s interests than today’s situation on the peninsula.

Making this case to Beijing would be difficult. It would require the United States and the ROK to carry out a frank and unprecedented dialogue with China. The agenda for such a dialogue would necessarily include discussion of the post-reunification nature of the U.S.-ROK alliance, the disposition of U.S. military forces in a reunified Korea, and even the post-reunification roles and missions of the ROK military.

It would also have to address the disposition and role of Chinese forces on a united Korea’s border, as well as the security guarantees and confidence building steps that China might be prepared to take to reassure a reunified Korea. Such steps by the PRC would be essential if the United States and the ROK were to contemplate making any changes in their alliance or force structure to deal with China’s concerns.

The dialogue described above would touch on some of the most sensitive subjects for each of the involved parties. It would also require China to overcome its long-standing aversion to discussing Korean peninsula contingencies, particularly those involving the possible end of the DPRK regime.

For these and other reasons, conducting such a dialogue in the context of the current regional security environment will be difficult, and may be impossible. And yet it is a conversation whose time has come, particularly if the PRC leadership begins to accept what many Chinese experts have already concluded: that the DPRK is a net liability for China and it is time to explore other options.

U.S. Interests and a Reunified Korea

Once Korean reunification takes place, the United States will continue to have a major stake in and around the Korean Peninsula. As noted earlier, the primary U.S. interests will include ensuring a peaceful and stable region, preventing the emergence of new security threats, and supporting Korea as it embarks on building a unified country.

The analysis below generally assumes that Korean reunification will take place peacefully. However, if reunification occurs through other than peaceful means, the environment in which the United States pursues these interests would be highly complex, and the challenges that both the United States and the ROK would face would be considerably greater.

An urgent post-reunification goal for the United States would be to provide all possible assistance to the ROK’s reconstruction, rehabilitation, and reconciliation process. While the leadership and major resources for this process can be expected to come from the ROK itself, the complexity and scope of these tasks will require outside assistance from the United States, Korea’s neighbors, and other elements of the international community, including UN-related organizations.

The United States, because of its role as the ROK’s sole treaty ally and its international leadership role, will be in a unique position to assist Seoul in this endeavor. This could include the provision of economic, food, and other humanitarian assistance to the northern part of united Korea. The United States would also be well placed to work closely with Japan to encourage Tokyo to do its utmost to support Korea’s transition to united nationhood.

The United States will have a significant stake in ROK efforts to dismantle the Korean People’s Army’s offensive military capabilities and to demobilize and integrate former KPA forces into Korean society. Korea’s success in these two areas, and in establishing security and the rule of law in the former North Korea, will be crucial to preventing new security challenges from arising after reunification. A violent collapse of North Korea or a hotly contested absorption of the North by the South would enormously complicate this task.

The United States will also want to play a major role in ensuring that all elements of the DPRK’s WMD programs are removed. This will be a paramount priority, especially in ensuring that custody of WMD and nuclear materials is maintained if reunification occurs by other than purely peaceful means.

The successful elimination of the North’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs would greatly ease the concerns of Korea’s neighbors, particularly China and Japan. It would also send a strongest signal to the region and the international community that a united Korea will not pose a threat to its neighbors and that it will abide by all of its international treaty obligations.

As part of both the pre- and post-reunification processes, the United States will be deeply engaged with Korean counterparts to discuss the nature and structure of the post-reunification U.S.-ROK alliance and ROK security requirements. It is anticipated that a reunified Korea will want and need a continuing security alliance relationship with the United States, although one cannot rule out the possibility that Korea might consider other options, including neutrality.

Assuming that Korea opts to continue its alliance with the United States, the end of the North Korean threat means that the rationale for that alliance will necessarily change. In considering a new rationale, leaders of a reunified Korea will be mindful that they now share a border with China, and the PRC will be a factor in their thinking about future security requirements.

But Koreans will be no less mindful of the need not to provoke China or be perceived by China as a threat, something that U.S. policymakers will want to take into account as they work with the ROK to define the parameters of a post-reunification alliance. Importantly, however, if the U.S. and the ROK have succeeded in working with China in the run-up to reunification to deal with each other’s security concerns, this could be a manageable issue.

Absent any new threats to a united Korea, downsizing and reconfiguration of U.S. forces stationed there seems highly likely, both in response to the end of the North Korean threat and as a result of possible demands from the U.S. Congress to trim the costs associated with the U.S. commitment to Korea. Close consultations between the United States and the Republic of Korea will be needed in order to right-size and rationalize the U.S. force presence and to ensure that even a smaller U.S. presence provides Korea with the security and reassurance it will need.

An alliance relationship with the United States will serve as an important “insurance policy” for Korea as it deals with the wide range of internal challenges that will accompany reunification, and as it establishes itself as a major actor in Northeast Asia. A continuing U.S. military alliance with Korea will also reassure Japan and others in the region about U.S. determination to be a force for peace and stability. At the same time, it will also send a message about U.S. preparedness to defend its allies and interests, even as the region evolves.

Korea’s Reunification Goal

In addition to describing the U.S. stake in Korean reunification, this paper has also explored some of the challenges likely to complicate the process of Korean reunification. Analyzing the full range of such challenges would require a paper of much greater length and scope than this one. Such a paper would also have to explore the possibility, only briefly addressed here, that Korean reunification could occur through other than peaceful means, including as a result of the sudden collapse of North Korea, major internal unrest in the DPRK, or even a second Korean War.

The consequences of such violence would be significant, including widespread destruction and numerous casualties in both the North and the South. The aftermath of violence would impose a major burden on the Korean people and their leaders as they sought to recover and build a united nation. That possibility, however remote, explains why South Korean leaders have acted with considerable prudence and caution is addressing reunification, and why they have consistently stressed the importance of achieving it through only peaceful means.

But Korean policymakers – and their U.S. counterparts – are wise to be contemplating a future in which Korea is reunified by other means, as well. North Korea, despite its military might, its nuclear weapons, and its aggressive posturing, is almost certainly on an unsustainable path.

Pyongyang has rejected the thoroughgoing reforms that would modernize and open its economy. It has refused to implement the denuclearization commitments that would enable it to become a normal member of the international community. Instead, the DPRK is pursuing the chimera of byungjin, oblivious to the fact that, while it may seek both economic growth and nuclear weapons development, it cannot have both.

And with the international community’s attention focused more sharply than ever on the North’s horrific human rights record, it seems only a matter of time before the regime and its leaders will be called to account for what they have inflicted on their people.

North Korea is living on borrowed time. Now is the moment when the United States and the ROK, together with China and Korea’s other neighbors, should begin discussing and planning an alternative future for the Korean Peninsula.

[1] See, for example, “Let’s end the era of division and open up the era of unification,” Joint Press Release issued by the Ministry of Unification, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of National Defense, and Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, January 19, 2015, (available at:

[2] Seo Ji-eun, “Unification may be jackpot: Park,” Korea JoongAng Daily, January 7, 2014 (available at:

[3] “Joint Vision for the Alliance of the United States of America and the Republic of Korea,” The White House, Office of the Press Secretary, June 16, 2009 (available at:

[4] Park Geun-hye, “A New Kind of Korea: Building Trust Between Seoul and Pyongyang,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 2011, (Available at:

[5] See, for example, “North Korea Slander Reaches New Low After Calling South Korea’s President a ‘Repulsive Wench’,” Reuters, Business Insider, April 4, 2014, (Available at:

[1] Alastair Gale, “Kim Jong Un Makes Apparent Summit Offer to South Korea,” The Wall Street Journal, January 1, 2015, (Available at:

[7] “New North Korea nuclear facility could boost weapons fuel: report,” Reuters, November 5, 2014, (Available at:

[8] Josh Rogin and Eli Lake, “North Korea’s Nukes Are Scarier Than Its Hacks,” Bloomberg View, December 23, 2014, (Available at:

[9] Eli Lake, “US Recovery of North Korean Satellite Exposed Nuclear Progress,” The Daily Beast/The Telegraph, April 15, 2013 (Available at:; See also: Luis Martinez, “North Korea Can Put a Nuke on a Missile, U.S. Intelligence Agency Believes,” ABC News, April 11, 2013, (Available at: Latter report also contains important cautionary comments from U.S. Director of National Intelligence Clapper that North Korea may not have mastered the full range of capabilities necessary for a nuclear missile.

[10] Author’s conversation with senior European diplomat, September 16, 2014.

[11] “China’s envoy opposes possible THAAD deployment in S. Korea: lawmaker,” Yonhap News Agency, November 26, 2014, (Available at:

[12] See, for example, Richard N. Haass, “Time to End the North Korean Threat,” The Wall Street Journal, December 23, 2014, (Available at:

[13] Bruce Klingner, “Time to Get North Korean Sanctions Right,” The Heritage Foundation, November 4, 2013, (Available at:

[14] Jane Perlez, “Chinese Annoyance With North Korea Bubbles to the Surface,” The New York Times, December 20, 2014, (Available at:

[15] Portions of this section are based on an earlier paper by the author, “Facing the Facts: Towards a New U.S. North Korea Policy,” Brookings CNAPS Paper, October 2013, (Available at: http/