Philip Yun Addresses Looming War with North Korea

There are only nine countries in the world with nuclear weapons but the one that poses the greatest threat is undoubtedly North Korea. It’s no secret that North Korea has a lot of missiles; missiles that are likely capable of hitting the United States. If North Korea continues production at the rate it’s going, it won’t be long before the country has over 100 nuclear bombs. So what can be done to stop them?

Philip Yun addressed these concerns on the evening of November 27 as part of the Center for Asian Business D.K. Kim Lecture Series in an intriguing presentation titled “Is War Looming on the Korean Peninsula?” He discussed growing fears about nuclear war with North Korea, what the real threat is and why the country is doing what it’s doing.

Mr. Yun is executive director and COO of Ploughshares Fund, a nonprofit focused on reducing and eliminating nuclear weapons. He was previously senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs under the Clinton Administration.

“I’m not concerned about a preemptive nuclear strike on the United States because North Korea has limited resources,” said Yun. “Their strategic end goal is regime survival.”

Yun outlined the top three objectives for North Korea:

  • Deterrence – protection from attack and intimidation
  • Preserve national myth – who they are, keep population loyal to regime
  • Economic growth – purpose to what they do

Nuclear weapons support all three of these goals.

“The notion of deterrence is alive and well on the North Korean peninsula,” said Yun. “They don’t have intent. The real threat is miscalculation.”

Yun discussed in detail five observations to keep in mind:

  1. No one really knows what’s going on inside the North Korean leadership circle (they are not irrational, we don’t know much about Kim Jong-un)
  2. North Korea wants/needs a high level of attention (North Korea will provoke if they’re not getting enough attention; there is limited bandwidth among senior U.S. officials)
  3. North Korea has a distinct advantage over other countries in negotiations
  4. The U.S. media consistently underestimates North Korea’s resolve (the media is often wrong and always seems to surprise us)
  5. As long as China has North Korea’s back, there is little the U.S. can do to apply pressure effectively (China cannot solve the crisis by itself)

China’s priority is preventing the collapse of North Korea and preserving the status quo. The main priority for the U.S. is preventing proliferation and North Korea from becoming a nuclear state.

So is war looming? It depends, says Yun, on whether we can get over our greatest challenge, which is knowing your adversary. The U.S. does not know North Korea. We need to stop viewing people and countries through our own biases.

Click here to access the full webcast of Yun’s presentation.