On January 23rd, 2019, GWIKS invited Professor David Kang, director of the USC Korean Studies Institute and Maria Crutcher Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California, to lecture on “North Korea in 2019: More of the same, or a historic opportunity?”. Moderated by Professor Celeste Arrington, David Kang began by claiming that deterrence has been and still is a successful tactic for North Korea. North Korea and the U.S. had repeatedly threatened and provoked each other, and boasted its military capabilities. Professor Kang argued that the situations have changed and that there is a substantial opportunity for a game changer, despite the conventional American view on North Korea –skepticism.
Dr. Kang claimed that North Korea’s recent actions are not spontaneous responses to sanctions and Trump’s threats, but rather a long-term strategy that North Korea had put in place. He presented Kim Jong-un’s New Year speech from 2017 that announced Kim’s commitments to provide for his people and prepare for ICBM and nuclear weapon. During Kim’s New Year speech a year later in 2018, Kim proclaimed that North Korea has achieved its long desired goal of “perfecting the national nuclear forces” through 59 missile and nuclear tests conducted in 2017. Dr. Kang explained that North Korea had been evidently planning such tactic for years. Previously North Korea’s strategy was “stop us before we g,” but in 2017, North Korea have presented that it has the capacity and potential for nuclear warfare. Along with North Korea’s long-prepared entry to the Olympics, North Korea’s tactics had opened the door for negotiation.
Dr. Kang then proceeded to discuss South Korea’s strategy by presenting a Gallup poll. The poll revealed that the majority of South Koreans and the Americans desired to solve North Korean nuclear problems through means of diplomacy, rather than military confrontation. South Korean President, Moon Jae-in’s policy agrees well with the demand of the public, as he has a progressive left-wing political orientation. Progressive South Korean presidents have historically attempted to rebuild and normalize relations with North Korea and Moon eventually engaged in multiple Inter-Korean summits with Kim Jong-un. Dr. Kang explained that South Korean policies toward North Korea include fundamentally stabilizing the DMZ in order to end the aggression between the two Koreas.
Dr. Kang claimed that the possibility of North Korea denuclearizing before any negotiations is slim to none, despite the motives of the U.S. However, North Korea had made small-scale progresses over the past year, such as ceasing nuclear tests for fourteen months, dismantling nuclear test sites, releasing arrested American citizens, and stopping many Anti-American propaganda. Dr. Kang claimed that it is crucial for the U.S. to take action and make progress with North Korea instead of remaining highly skeptical. He concluded the lecture by arguing that North Korea is not a problem to be solved. It is crucial to view it as a real country without deeply held and contradicting stereotypes about North Korea: North Koreans are brainwashed and that North Koreans desperately desire freedom. Americans often overlook the fact that North Koreans are people with powerful nationalist ideology.