Expert Resources on North Korea

North Korean Leader, Kim Jong Il, may be lining up a successor to his rule in a historic meeting of the Workers Party.  Ploughshares Fund supports many of the top experts who are closely following these events.  Below is a short list of the experts, their contact information, and a summary of the latest news.  

David Albright, President, Institute for Science and International Security

Paul Carroll, Program Director, Ploughshares Fund

Sig Hecker, Co-Director, Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University

Karin Lee, Executive Director, National Committee on North Korea

John Lewis, Professor, Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University

Susan Shirk, Director, Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California at San Diego. (Susan returned from a trip to North Korea last week.)

Leon Sigal, Director, 
Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project

Joel Wit, Visiting Scholar, US-Korea Institute at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies


Recent News:

Kim’s Son Is Elevated Ahead of N. Korea Meeting - Mark McDonald of The New York Times (9/27)

  • The youngest son of Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s reclusive leader, has been promoted to military general, that country’s official Korea Central News Agency reported early Tuesday, the clearest sign yet that he is in line to succeed his father as the country’s leader.
  • A brief dispatch by KCNA said the son, Kim Jong-un, and five others had been made generals in the Korea People’s Army. It was the first time that KCNA or any North Korean news outlet had mentioned the son by name.
  • The new generals’ roster also included Kim Kyong-hui, Mr. Kim’s sister. She is the wife of Jang Seong-taek, often regarded by outside analysts as the No. 2 man in the North and a potential caretaker for the young son, still in his late 20s, should Mr. Kim become suddenly incapacitated.
  • The news came hours after delegates to a rare gathering of the ruling Workers’ Party arrived in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, on Monday as the party began final preparations for a meeting that could provide further signals about Kim Jong-un’s debut.
  • Some analysts said they believed Kim Jong-un was almost certain to be named his father’s successor and perhaps given one of eight Politburo seats. Others were more cautious, suggesting his ascendancy could still be undone by political infighting.

Six Mysteries of North Korea's Succession Drama - Robert Carlin and Joel Wit in Foreign Policy (9/13)

  • What is distressing for both of us as former U.S. policymakers and long-time observers of North Korea is that recent public commentary on the party conference and other important events is mostly based on gossip, rumor, unconfirmed reports, or uninformed speculation...Six of the most egregious analytical missteps are as follows.
  • Today, there is not a shred of evidence to back up talk about a succession "struggle." All we know -- or think we might know -- is that there is a transition underway. We don't know for sure when it began... We do not even know how far along the process is, or what the next step might be...Does that mean the succession will move forward smoothly? Not necessarily.
  • A supporting narrative…is that North Korea is on the brink of collapse. In spite of all the breathless analysis, only one thing is clear: No one really knows.
  • Kim Jong Un: Unfit to Rule or Man of Mystery? What is really important is exactly what we cannot yet see -- the strength of his personality, his skill in manipulating people, his ability to use the levers of power, and his intellect.
  • If there is one lesson that the two of us have learned over the past 15 years in thinking about how to deal with Pyongyang, it has been the necessity of examining and reexamining accepted wisdom.

North Korean Leadership Changes Point to Shift in Nuclear Dealings - Chico Harlan of The Washington Post (9/23)

  • North Korea on Thursday revealed the promotion of three senior officials who have been involved previously with the United States in nuclear negotiations. The changes, coming days before North Korea begins its largest political convention in 30 years, led experts to suggest that the country's leaders are seeking to stabilize foreign relations and encourage diplomacy.
  • The latest reshuffle elevates diplomats who previously helped to engineer some of the short-lived bright spots in the denuclearization talks.
  • According to North Korea's state news agency, Kang Sok Ju has been named the new vice premier of the cabinet, overseeing foreign policy. Kang was involved in 1994 negotiations that led to the Agreed Framework…Kang's previous job, as first vice foreign minister, will be filled by Kim Kye Gwan, who led North Korea in six-party talks in 2005…The new vice foreign minister is Ri Yong Ho, Kim's deputy on the nuclear negotiating team…
  • Although the international community remains skeptical about North Korea's willingness to denuclearize, there has been momentum in recent weeks for another round of disarmament-for-aid discussions. Chinese officials have urged resumption of six-party talks.

North Korea Wants to Make a Deal – Jimmy Carter in The New York Times (9/26)

  • In July, North Korean officials invited me to come to Pyongyang to meet with Kim Jong-il…They wanted me to come in the hope that I might help resurrect the agreements on denuclearization and peace that were the last official acts of Kim Il-sung before his death in 1994.
  • I met with Kim Yong-nam, president of the presidium of the North’s Parliament, and Kim Kye-gwan, the vice foreign minister and chief negotiator for North Korea in the six-party nuclear talks. Both of them had participated in my previous negotiations with Kim Il-sung.
  • They expressed concern about several recent American actions, including unwarranted sanctions, ostentatious inclusion of North Korea among nations subject to nuclear attack and provocative military maneuvers with South Korea.
  • Still, they said, they were ready to demonstrate their desire for peace and denuclearization. They referred to the six-party talks as being “sentenced to death but not yet executed.” The following week I traveled to Beijing, where Chinese leaders informed me that Mr. Kim had delivered the same points to them while I was in Pyongyang.
  • A settlement on the Korean Peninsula is crucial to peace and stability in Asia, and it is long overdue. These positive messages from North Korea should be pursued aggressively and without delay, with each step in the process carefully and thoroughly confirmed.

Don’t Sink Diplomacy - Joel Wit in The New York Times (5/18)

  • In the aftermath of the Cheonan sinking, the United States and South Korea must recognize that a return to dialogue would serve our interests. It is the only realistic way to rein in North Korea’s objectionable activities.
  • In the 16 years I have worked with North Korea, I have made 18 trips there, and I remain convinced that sustained diplomatic engagement is the only way to encourage the North to moderate its threatening behavior. The alternative is far worse: an isolated North Korea that is heading down a path of defiance.
  • The Cheonan sinking provides an opportunity for the Obama administration to shift its approach to North Korea. Now, we should avoid steps that might lead to a major escalation of tensions.
  • Instead of demanding new preconditions for talks — an apology for the Cheonan, for example — we should mount a gradual pragmatic effort to engage in new discussions, not as a reward for bad behavior or to talk for the sake of talking, but to make us more secure.
  • While this process would not eliminate all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons right away, as trust is restored, the North may reach a point where it no longer sees them as vital to its national security. But our immediate focus should be on the journey toward denuclearization, not on the final destination.