Tag Archive | "President Obama"

U.S.-Korea Relations: The Obama Years

By Troy Stangarone

Summing up a presidential legacy is a complex endeavor. There are countless details that are either unknown or just too difficult to fit into the flow of a single piece. There are choice that in the immediate term may seem wise, but in the hindsight of years less so. While mistakes today may come to be viewed as prudent years on. This is even more the case when it deals with only a single aspect of one part of the presidency, the relationship between the United States and the Republic of Korea. A relationship that while vibrant and strong, is also inevitably tied to both countries’ relationship with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

For the last eight years, we’ve seen a relationship that has grown beyond the Cold War confines of the threat from North Korea and that has begun to evolve into more of a partnership that works together both in the region and on the global stage. This shift was possible in large thanks to the relationship that the Obama administration inherited and the partners they had to work with in South Korea under the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations.

When President George W. Bush handed U.S.-Korea relations over to President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009, he handed over an alliance that was in good shape. While the relationship between the United States and South Korea had been rocky at times during the early years of the Bush administration, even during those difficult times progress was made on the alliance. As a result President Obama inherited an alliance that was already growing and changing as Bush administration left a legacy of a completed but unratified free trade agreement with South Korea (KORUS FTA), and agreements to move U.S. Forces Korea from Seoul to Camp Humphreys near Pyongtaek and to transfer wartime control of South Korean forces back to the South Korean government.

Over the last eight years, the Obama administration has built on the foundations of the alliance it inherited. While the alliance remains rooted in the United States’ commitment to defend South Korea against North Korean aggression, the Obama administration has worked with South Korea to move the alliance beyond deterring North Korea. Perhaps most critically in this was the administration’s support for Lee Myung-bak administration’s efforts to see South Korea contribute more to the global community. As part of these efforts, the Obama administration supported Seoul’s efforts to host the G-20 leaders summit in 2010 and asked South Korea to host the second Nuclear Security Summit as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to enhance global nuclear security.

Beyond summits, the Obama administration has sought to increase cooperation with South Korea in a wide range of areas that are now referred to as the New Frontier issues and include areas such as cyber security, climate change and global health. As an example, in the area of global heath South Korea worked with the United States and other nations to deal with the Ebola outbreak in Africa in 2014.

In the economic relationship, the Obama administration engaged South Korea in additional negotiations to address concerns related to trade in autos with the KORUS FTA. After reaching an agreement, the KORUS FTA went into effect on  March 15, 2012. The administration also negotiated a new 123 agreement to continue civilian nuclear cooperation between the United States and South Korea.

At the core of the alliance, defense cooperation, the administration has proceeded and largely concluded the efforts begun by the Bush administration to move U.S. troops from Seoul to Camp Humphreys. It also updated the decision to transfer wartime operational control to South Korea by moving the agreement from a deadline based transition to a conditions based agreement that would implement the transition only once South Korea has developed the intelligence and command infrastructure necessary to undertake operational control of forces.

If the relationship with South Korea has been a boon for Obama, than it is the relationship with North Korea where the long eye of history may have more to say in the years to come. While he inherited a North Korea that had already tested a nuclear weapon, North Korea has gone on to conduct four additional nuclear tests during his time in office and he will pass along to the Trump administration a much more dangerous North Korea than he inherited.  Many have criticized the Obama Administration’s “strategic patience” approach, but alternatives are limited if the goal is a denuclearized North Korea within a short time span.  There may have been other tools that the Obama Administration used over the past eight years that are not in the public domain to prod change in North Korea that only time and change in North Korea may tell.

Much as in the case of South Korea, leadership has likely played a role in the deteriorating situation with North Korea. If President Obama was fortunate to have willing partners in South Korea, the death of Kim Jong-il left a much more aggressive Kim Jong-un in charge of North Korea. While Kim Jong-il famously slapped away Obama’s inaugural offer of talks, it is unclear if diplomacy could have played much of a role in convincing Kim Jong-il or Kim Jong-un to roll back North Korea’s nuclear program.

Shortly after Kim Jong-un came to power, the Obama administration negotiated a moratorium on missile launches that North Korea would soon violate and despite efforts by the Park Geun-hye administration in South Korea to build relations with North Korea Kim Jong-un instead chose to greet her administration with confrontation through an ICBM test, a nuclear test, and the withdrawal of North Korean workers from the joint North-South industrial complex in Kaesong. It is perhaps telling that a U.S. administration that, despite domestic opposition, negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran and reopened relations with Myanmar and Cuba found North Korea an unwilling partner for improving relations.

With the path to negotiations closed the administration instead pursued a course of increasing pressure on North Korea. It’s perhaps most significant achievement on this end was the development of increased cooperation with China on sanctions in the United Nations. While the robust sanctions negotiated after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test in January of 2016 were found to have been flawed, those sanctions were revised after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test to close loopholes and being to bring real pressure on North Korea.

In addition to international sanctions, the administration took advantage of new sanctions authorities granted to it by Congress, though perhaps reluctantly and not to the degree critics of the administration might have hoped. Perhaps most significantly on this front, the administration has sanctioned both Kim Jong-un and his sister personally for their roles in human rights violations in North Korea.

Perhaps the last legacy item for the Obama administration in regards to North Korea has been its efforts to increase the deterrent capabilities of the alliance. It reached an agreement with South Korea to expand the range of South Korean missiles to allow Seoul to be able to target any area of North Korea and to help facilitate its “kill chain” concept of being out to take out North Korean nuclear facilities prior to an imminent attack. On the more controversial side, it also worked with Japan to develop new defense guidelines that would allow Japan to play a more active role if the U.S. were to come under attack and which would also aid in a contingency on the Korean peninsula and for the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system to protect parts of South Korea against North Korean missile attacks.

For President Obama it will be a strong legacy he leaves with South Korea, a nation that he visited more often than all but France, the UK, Germany, and Mexico and developed close personal relationships. It is North Korea where time may judge him more harshly, or depending on the actions taken by Kim Jong-un and the Trump administration come to view him as prudent. By his own standards, President Obama has done well.  He once described his foreign policy philosophy as looking for singles and doubles, and “don’t do stupid s@#%.” By that standard, President Obama has managed U.S.-Korea relations well. He’s made progress on a range of issues and avoided serious mistakes, and despite challenges presented by North Korea, he stands to hand the alliance over to his successor, Donald Trump, much as President George W. Bush did to him, in good shape.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from The White House’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Five Questions About A Donald Trump-Kim Jong-un Conversation

By Troy Stangarone

In recent interview with the Reuters, Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump indicated a willingness to speak with Kim Jong-un. While many of stories on Trump’s comments suggested that he would be willing to meet with North Korea’s leader, in his brief comments to Reuters on the matter he actually said “I would speak to him. I would have no problem speaking to him.” What this actually means is unclear, though the suggestion is not out of the mainstream of U.S. precedent in dealing with adversaries. However, Trump’s comments do raise a series of questions in regards to the conditions under which he would be willing to speak with Kim Jong-un.

In principal, there is nothing wrong with speaking with Kim Jong-un. Resolving the standoff over the nuclear issue will require reaching an agreement that Kim Jong-un can sign off on and at some point that may require direct communication. During the Cold War, summit meetings between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev played a key role in reducing tensions and achieving arms reductions between the two super powers. All of this took place after President Reagan had referred to the Soviet Union as the Evil Empire.

More recently, President Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign included North Korea among a group of countries whose leaders he would be willing to meet with unconditionally. While he has not meet with Kim Jong-il or Kim Jong-un, he wrote to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2009 indicating a willingness to improve relations and in 2014 in regards to cooperation in fighting ISIS and to nudge the Ayatollah to conclude a deal on Iran’s nuclear program. In early 2015, Ayatollah Khamenei responded to President Obama’s correspondence. After announcing that the U.S. would restore relations with Cuba, President Obama became the first U.S. president to meet with the leader of Cuba in 50 years at the Summit of the Americas. In both of these circumstances, the context mattered, as it would with any outreach by a potential Trump administration.

However, that lack of detail from the interview does raise five questions about how Trump, if elected president, would reach out to Kim Jong-un?

How would Trump try to speak with Kim Jong-un?

While there have been some suggestions of a meeting, Trump’s remarks leave open a wide range of possibilities beyond an in person meeting. This could be as simple as a letter addressed to Kim Jong-un. In addition to President Obama’s letters to Ayatollah Khamenei, both he and President Bill Clinton wrote letters to Kim Jong-il.

While a letter to the leader of North Korea, would clearly be within U.S. precedent, it seem like something Trump would be unlikely to do. However, Trump’s comments could merely be indicating that he is willing to engage in a dialogue with him. This could be as traditional as having his administration open new talks with North Korea or arranging a phone call with Kim Jong-un.

When would Trump speak to Kim Jong-un?

The timing of any discussion with Kim Jong-un would also be significant. Would Trump seek to speak with Kim Jong-un early on to try and jumpstart negotiations or towards the end of any discussions on North Korea’s nuclear program to try and seal a final deal? Any conversation early in the process would run the risk of being pocketed by the Kim regime and utilized as a propaganda coup.

Would Trump consult with other leaders in the region?

This would be a key question for U.S. regional diplomacy. Park Geun-hye has refrained from holding a summit meeting with Kim Jong-un, and Xi Jinping has refrained from meeting with him as well despite China being North Korea’s closest ally. Would Trump consult with Seoul, Tokyo, and Beijing before undertaking any initiative to reach out to Kim Jong-un? Without sufficient consolation and buy-in from key stakeholders in the region, a move to reach out personally to Kim Jong-un could weaken efforts to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table over its nuclear program.

If Trump did meet Kim Jong-un, where would a meeting take place?

If Trump were to decide to meet Kim Jong-un in person, where would a summit take place? Would he be willing to travel to Pyongyang or would he look for a neutral location such as Switzerland where Kim Jong-un studied?

President Obama’s first meeting with Raul Castro was at an international gathering, the Summit of the Americas. To lessen the international significance of a meeting, would Trump favor meeting Kim Jong-un at an international gathering where the meeting would be simply one among many? Kim Jong-un was invited by both Russia and China to their recent celebrations commemorating the end of the Second World War, but ultimately declined to attend. However, as Kim Jong-un has yet to travel anywhere internationally, it raises the question of how feasible a meeting at an international gathering or a neutral location might be.

Any summit in Pyongyang would be highly problematic as North Korea would likely seek to utilize it for its own domestic purposes and run the risk of the meeting being sold, at least in North Korea, as the U.S. president coming to North Korea to accept the wisdom of Kim Jong-un’s position. Though, any summit meeting, in the absence of a nuclear deal, runs the risk of being utilized for domestic political purposes by North Korea.

What would be the content of any discussion?

If a conversation were to take place, the focus and extent of the discussion would be a key part of the process. While Trump gained notoriety for his book The Art of the Deal, the question would remain how involved Trump should be involved in detailed discussions as opposed to a more broader conversation with Kim Jong-un on the need for both sides have their negotiators work towards finding a deal. While there may be a temptation for Trump to become more deeply involved in talks with North Korea, it is difficult for any U.S. president to be well versed in all of the minutia that a negotiation on a topic as complex as North Korea’s nuclear program entails.

In any negotiation, a meeting or conversation with a U.S. president can serve as an important tool of diplomacy. However, it is also one that must be utilized effectively. Given the potential pitfalls of a dialogue with Kim Jung-un, a prospective Trump administration would first need to determine how and when to best utilize any meeting or discussion between Trump and Kim Jong-un while also balancing that discussion with the needs and concerns of U.S. allies and partners in the region.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from Gage Skidmore’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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U.S. Presidential Candidates Comments on the Korean Peninsula

This year will see the election of a new U.S. president. As the primary season for both political parties begins to heat up with the Iowa Caucuses approaching, KEI has gathered comments by contenders for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations on North and South Korea.

Republican Candidates

Jeb Bush

  • February 18, 2015 – “America again needs to lead and we can’t do it alone we need to strengthen NATO. Our relationship with Asian and Pacific allies like Japan and Korea and Australia as well as the Asian countries…”Bush
  • January 6, 2016 – If they (North Korea) have long-range missile capability to deliver, that is a direct threat to the U.S. and there is nothing more to say about it. However we need to make sure it’s been confirmed.
  • January 6, 2016 – “It’s an example of a withdrawn America in the world. We need to be serious if we’re going to deal with these challenges.” Further, said Bush, the United States needs to “challenge China to deal with its client state,” and re-impose sanctions “across the board if it’s been confirmed they are violating sanctions and testing a hydrogen bomb.” He said that “…this is a huge danger. If they have the long range missile capability to deliver that weapon,that is a direct threat to the United States.”
  • January 6, 2016 – North Korean nuke test   shows danger of continuing feckless Obama/Clinton foreign policy.
  • January 21, 2016 – “You want to keep the peace, you need to rebuild the military,” Bush said during his speech, insisting that occupational forces worldwide is not war-mongering, but rather lifts countries with U.S forces in them up. Bush used the example of South Korea, saying that in 1950, it was the poorest country on the planet. Today, it is a first-world country with the highest literacy rate on the globe, he said.
  • January 23, 2016 – Jeb Bush pointed to reports last week of an alleged hydrogen bomb test in North Korea. Bush said he would keep all options open for dealing with North Korea, but stopped short of calling for a pre-emptive strike against it. However, he said he would consider reinstating sanctions on North Korea that were lifted under his brother’s presidency. “With North Korea, we should make sure they understand this rogue status that they seek won’t yield a good result. It will be an ugly result for the regime,” he said. “If people believe we’re serious about engagement, and they know we’ll use that kind of force, it will deter the kind of aggression that requires it.”

Ben Carson

  • CarsonDecember 30, 2014 -. “It was extremely encouraging to see the United States and Sony eventually stand up to the cyberbullying of the North Koreans by allowing the movie ‘The Interview’ to be released in theaters around the country despite threats of retaliation.”
  • August 23rd, 2015 – “I think it highlights the necessity of us taking a very strong stance for our allies.  South Korea is our ally.  There should be no doubt about that in anybody’s mind, including North Korea, that we will stand with our allies, no matter what is going on.”
  • December 15, 2015 – “Well, I definitely believe that he is unstable, and I do, in fact, believe that China has a lot more influence with him than we do. But we also recognize that North Korea is in severe financial straits, and they have decided to use their resources to build their military, rather than to feed their people and to take care of the various humanitarian responsibilities that they have.”
  • January 6, 2016 – “In order to keep [Jong-Un] under control I think we need to work with China.”

Chris Christie

  • ChristieJanuary 6, 2016 – “Three out of the four nuclear detonations that the North Koreans have done have happened under Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s watch. They have just not acted strongly at all around the world. This is just another example — piled on top of Iran, on top of Syria, on top of Crimea and Ukraine. This is what weak American leadership gets you.”
  • January 6, 2016 – “The fact is that we’ve allowed North Korea, while the President’s been playing footsie with the Iranians, we’ve allowed the North Koreans to get further and further down the nuclear road.”
  • January 14, 2016 – The first thing is we have to strengthen our alliances around the world. And the best way to do that is to start talking to our allies again and having them be able to count on our word.

Ted Cruz

  • CruzJanuary 6, 2016 -“When we look at North Korea, it’s like looking at a crystal ball. This is where Iran ends up, if we continue on this same misguided path. It’s worth remembering, we’re here because of the Clinton Administration. The Clinton administration led the world in relaxing sanctions against North Korea. They used the billions of dollars that flowed into North Korea to develop nuclear weapons. Now we’re facing a megalomaniac who may potentially have a hydrogen bomb.”
  • January 6, 2016 – “North Korea has a nuclear weapon because of the Clintons,” Cruz said in Rock Rapids, Michigan. “The Clinton Obama Clinton foreign policy…consistently makes the same mistakes over and over again.”
  • January 6, 2016 – We ought to be working with regional allies. We ought to be working with Japan, with South Korea, we ought to be working with Taiwan, and we ought to be working with China to continue to isolate North Korea, to continue to cut off North Korea. To continue to raise the cost of their belligerence… the most important tool I believe now is getting China to cut off their client state.

Carly Fiorina

  • FiorinaJanuary 6, 2016-“Of course North Korea would conduct a nuclear test after watching Iran willfully violate an agreement they just made without consequence of any kind from this administration. North Korea is yet another Hillary Clinton foreign policy failure. America cannot lead from behind.”
  • December 15, 2015 – “Well, first, Kim Jong-Un is a dangerous leader, without a doubt. And both Republican and Democrat administrations have been completely ineffective in dealing with him. So we must continue to isolate him. We will need China as part of that strategy…We cannot let them control the disputed islands, and we must work with the Australians, the South Koreans, the Japanese and the Filipinos to contain China. And then we must ask for their support and their help with North Korea. Because believe it or not, China is as concerned about Kim Jong-Un as we are.”

Jim Gilmore

  • GilmoreJanuary 12, 2016 – “North Korea’s claimed detonation of a hydrogen bomb dramatically underlines how dangerous our world has become and demonstrates how badly our nation needs strong, steady presidential leadership.” “What we have is a very dangerous provocation by North Korea that increases the threat to South Korea, Japan, America and the rest of the world,” Gilmore said.  “This North Korean escalation at a time when instability and terrorism are increasing in many places in the world shows very clearly the importance of electing a new President of the United States who will provide the responsible leadership necessary to keep Americans safe.”
  • January 12, 2016 – “This isn’t something that can lightly be explained away or ignored as the Obama Administration tends to do and it isn’t something that calls for the trademark shoot-from-the-hip bluster of some of the candidates for president,” Gilmore said.  “What we need in this country is rock solid, forceful leadership that can guide our nation to a safe prosperous future.”

John Kasich

  • KasichJanuary 6, 2016 – “Here’s the situation, this problem has been brewing for multiple presidencies, and we have been kicking the can down the road,” Kasich said. Kasich is advocating for more collaboration with China to halt North Korea’s nuclear efforts, but admitted there’s no easy answer on North Korea. “Anybody that says they have a great answer on North Korea, I’m all ears,” he told reporters. “I mean, just bellicose language is not going to get it done.” Kasich noted that while China isn’t always a reliable ally, they can’t be an enemy when it comes to stopping North Korea. He said the Chinese have some of the “greatest leverage over this crazy guy in North Korea,” referring to the nation’s leader, Kim Jong Un. He’s also calling for stronger ballistic missile defense programs in Asia. Beyond North Korea enhancing its own nuclear capabilities, Kasich said it’s worrisome to think of nuclear materials falling into the hands of non-state actors, such as the Islamic State.
  • January 7, 2016 – “If they’re on the sea, we’ve got to stop the ships.” “Oh yeah, well, they’re supposed to have been doing this. I don’t know how robust it is. You stop them, right on the sea,” Kasich answered. “If we suspect they are flying things out, then we’re going to have to intercept aircraft. We just don’t have any choice on this. The easiest way to deal with this is on the sea. The easiest way to intercept is on the sea. And we were supposed to be doing it.”
  • December 9, 2015 – To deal with the ever present conventional and nuclear threats posed by North Korea, I would work with the Republic of Korea, Japan and our other regional allies to revitalize joint allied counter-proliferation activities and to build ballistic missile defenses.

Rand Paul

  • PaulOctober 15, 2013 – “North Korea sits atop a stockpile of weapons in close proximity to tens of thousands of US troops. If Pyongyang ever used these weapons against our troops, they would see a massive response from the US. The American people would be united, and Congress would declare war in a heartbeat. For anyone to think otherwise — be they a hawkish American pundit or a North Korean despot — is crazy.”
  • January 6, 2016 – “What I’m saying is there are no easy solutions. What I’m pointing out is that it is so important that we understand what went wrong with the negotiations and maybe there was too much leeway in the negotiations,” Paul said on CNN. “Some of the same people who negotiated the North Korea agreement are the same people who have recently negotiated the Iran agreement and this is one reason I objected to the Iran agreement because I don’t want to get to a situation where we are with North Korea where your options are somewhat limited.”

Marco Rubio

  • RubioApril 2, 2013 – “We must remember that our concerns with North Korea extend well beyond the country’s nuclear program…The real solution to this challenge will come only once all concerned parties realize that this odious regime is the problem and join the United States in pressuring China to change its policy of supporting Pyongyang…I also call on the Obama administration to relist North Korea as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.”
  • December 21, 2014 – Look, the North Koreans, it’s not even a government. It’s a criminal syndicate that controls territory and need to be treated as such. Now, unfortunately, they possess nuclear weapons and are led by an irrational leader. North Korea is going to be a growing problem for the foreseeable future. You have a person running that country that is mentally unstable, but also someone that is fully capable of overestimating his own strength and ends up miscalculating and creating a real catastrophe, not just vis-a-vis South Korea, but also Japan and the United States. This is a very serious threat. It’s not just a cyber-threat. I think North Korea has the potential to become a source of huge instability.
  • September 16, 2015 – “There is a lunatic in North Korea with dozens of nuclear weapons and long-range rocket that can already hit the very place in which we stand tonight. The Chinese are rapidly expanding their military. They hack into our computers. They’re building artificial islands in the South China Sea, the most important shipping lane in the world.”
  • September 16, 2015 – If I’m honored with the opportunity to be president, I hope that our Air Force One will fly, first and foremost, to our allies; in Israel, in South Korea, and Japan. They know we stand with them. That America can be counted on.”
  • October 15, 2015 – “As we work to deter North Korea’s threat, I also applaud President Park’s vision for the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula under democratic rule. We should work closely with South Korea to realize this noble objective,” Rubio said in a statement marking Park’s visit to Washington. “A reunified, democratic Korea would provide all Koreans with the peace, prosperity, and freedom they seek,” the Florida senator said.
  • January 6, 2016 – “I have been warning throughout this campaign that North Korea is run by a lunatic who has been expanding his nuclear arsenal while President Obama has stood idly by,” Rubio said. “Our enemies around the world are taking advantage of Obama’s weakness. We need new leadership that will stand up to people like Kim Jong Un and ensure our country has the capabilities necessary to keep America safe.”

Santorum

Rick Santorum

  • October 25, 2011 – “And now they (North Korea) are in the process of developing nuclear weapons and it appears obvious to me that the administration is doing little to none…”

Donald Trump

  • July 23, 2015 – “How long will we go on defending South Korea from North Korea without payment?…“When will they start to pay us?”
  • August 23, 2015 – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is either “mad” or a “genius” on a US radio show. Mr. Trump was speaking about the US Government’s commitment to aid South Korea if the neighboring Korean countries enter another full-blown war as talks continue. “You know it’s heating up again,” Mr Trump told presenter Mick Murphy. “So, we send our ships. I think South Korea’s great. I think it’s wonderful. I just order 4,000 television sets for a job that I’m doing, right? And guess what? Between Samsung, and LG, and Sharp, they all come from South Korea.” The presidential candidate questioned why America is not receiving compeTrumpnsation for protecting South Korea from attack. “They’re making a fortune. So, we send our troops, we’re getting ready to go in there and defend them. And we get nothing! It’s like crazy. We get nothing. Why are we getting nothing? Why aren’t they helping us, okay? We help them,” he said.
  • September 16, 2015 – “And nobody ever mentions North Korea where you have this maniac sitting there and he actually has nuclear weapons and somebody better start thinking about North Korea and perhaps a couple of other places. But certainly North Korea. And Ted and I have spoken. We’ve — a lot of us have spoken. We’re talking about Iran. They are bad actors, bad things are going to happen. But in the meantime, you have somebody right now in North Korea who has got nuclear weapons and who is saying almost every other week, I’m ready to use them. And we don’t even mention it.”
  • October 10, 2015 – The price Seoul pays for the upkeep of American troops is “peanuts” compared with what the US spends, US Republican candidate Donald Trump was quoted by South Korean media as saying. He made the comments during his campaign speech in New Hampshire on Monday. “It’s peanuts compared to what it’s costing. It’s peanuts,” Trump said.
  • November 10, 2015 – We worry about Iranian nukes but why not North Korean nukes? It’s not only Russia [that we’re having trouble with]. We have problems with North Korea where they actually have nuclear weapons. You know, nobody talks about it, we talk about Iran, and that’s one of the worst deals ever made. One of the worst contracts ever signed, ever, in anything, and it’s a disgrace. But, we have somebody over there, a madman, who already has nuclear weapons we don’t talk about that.
  • January 6, 2016 –“China has total control, believe me, they say they don’t, they have total control over North Korea, and China should solve that problem, and if they don’t solve the problem, we should make trade very difficult with China. Because we are, believe it, we are holding China up. They’re taking so much money. They’re training our country, and they’re toying with us with North Korea. So, North Korea is totally under the control, without China, they wouldn’t eat.”
  • January 6, 2016 – “I’d get South Korea — that’s making a fortune, they’re our trading partner, if you want to use the word ‘partner,’ “We get almost nothing for what we do. We defend the world. We defend so many countries. We get nothing. They get everything. We get nothing. South Korea’s going to have to start ponying up, OK? And we’ll do it in a very nice manner. They’ll like us even more than they like us now.”
  • January 6, 2016 – “It’s something I’ve been talking about for a long time. You have this madman over there who probably would use it,” Trump said during an interview on “Fox & Friends.” “And nobody talks to him, other than of course Dennis Rodman,” he said. “That’s about it.”
  • January 10, 2016 – “I mean, you’ve got this mad man (Kim Jong-un) playing around with the nukes and it has got to end. He’s certainly — he could be a total nut job, frankly.”
  • January 10, 2016 – ‘If you look at North Korea, this guy, I mean, he’s like a maniac, OK? You’ve got to give him credit. How many young guys – he was like 25 or 26 when his father died – take over these tough generals. How does he do that?’

Democratic Candidates

Hillary Clinton

Clinton

  • January 6, 2016 – “I strongly condemn North Korea’s apparent nuclear test. If verified, this is a provocative and dangerous act, and North Korea must have no doubt that we will take whatever steps are necessary to defend ourselves and our treaty allies, South Korea and Japan. Threats like this are yet another reminder of what’s at stake in this election. We cannot afford reckless, imprudent publicity stunts that risk war. We need a Commander-in-Chief with the experience and judgement to deal with a dangerous North Korea on Day One”
  • January 6, 2016 – If verified, this is a provocative and dangerous act, and North Korea must have no doubt that we will take whatever steps are necessary to defend ourselves and our treaty allies, South Korea and Japan,” Clinton said. “North Korea’s goal is to blackmail the world into easing the pressure on its rogue regime.”

Bernie SandersSanders

  • October 12, 2011 – “Workers in North Korea are the most brutalized in the world, have virtually no democratic rights, and are at the mercy of the most vicious dictator in the world.”
  • January 6, 2016 –“We’ll have to lean on China,” Sanders said of the U.S. strategy on Good Morning America. “China is North Korea’s closest ally. They’ll have to push North Korea to start adhering to international agreements. … When you have a hydrogen bomb, if that’s true, you are a threat to China, as well.”

Martin O’MalleyOmalley

  • April 20, 2015 – “I’m not opposed to free trade if it’s fair trade. But I am opposed to bad trade deals. I have supported some trade deals in the past myself. I’ve supported the Korean trade deal. And that one had protections for workers, protections for wages, protections for the environment and it was entered into with the people of South Korea who are our friends and are very much a stable democracy in this world that understands a stronger middle class is a universal cause.”

Quotes collected with the help of Thomas Lee, Intern, Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the candidates’ alone.

Main photo from Nicolas Karim’s photostream & all candidate photos from Gage Skidmore’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons

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The Korean and American Presidents Should Discuss Work-Family Balance Issues

By Dr. Seung-kyung Kim

On October 16, President Park Geun-hye and President Barack Obama will be meeting for the fourth time since they became presidents of their respective countries.  As always, the security issues involving North Korea will be the top item on their agenda.  However, the two countries also have a broad range of mutual interests in such topics as economy, environment, energy, space, health, trade, and cybersecurity.  To this list, I would like to suggest an issue that has been central to both presidents’ interests and commitments throughout their presidencies: the importance of middle class families and the work-family balance that is at the core of sustaining middle class lives in both countries.  Earlier this year in state of the nation addresses, both presidents stressed the importance of enhancing the lives of middle class families and their centrality to revitalizing their national economies.  The work-family balance is no longer a matter of individual life, but a national (even global) issue that governments and policymakers should pick up and do something about.

 The old idea that middle class families consist of a breadwinning father and a homemaking mother has become obsolete in both countries.  In Korea 44% of married couples are now dual earner families (Korea National Statistics Office), while for the United States the figure is 48% (Bureau of Labor Statistics).  The lives of middle class families are thus becoming more challenging because both men and women need to balance family and work responsibilities, and the issue of work-family balance is an important one for both presidents in their goals to improve the well-being of the middle class.

Women are, of course, at the heart of the work-life dilemma because they are placed in much more vulnerable positions than men, both in the workplace and at home.  Not only does the wage gap prevent women from earning the same incomes as men, but women are also more likely to leave the work force in order to assume the responsibilities of child rearing.  Women achieve higher education in both countries at a rate comparable to or higher than men: in Korea, 49.4% of recipients of bachelor’s degrees are women (Korea Education Development Institute) while in the United States, 52.4% of recipients of bachelor’s degrees are women (National Center for Education Statistics).

Both countries have problems with unequal access to the job market.  In the United States, women’s labor force participation is below that of men at all ages except the teenage years (US Bureau of Labor Statistics).  In Korea, women start out with high rates of labor force participation, but, after age thirty, women are significantly less likely to be in the workforce.  The gap between women and men’s labor force participation is highest for people in their thirties, when about 90% of men are in the work force, but less than 60% of women are (Korea National Statistics Office).  This drop can be attributed to the fact that women of this age have child rearing responsibilities that their male counterparts do not.  Even after the end of the peak phase of childrearing, women in Korea do not return to the labor force in numbers comparable to those of men.  The fact that so many women remain outside the labor force is both a loss of productivity to society, and a loss of opportunity to the women.

Governments can assist families trying to achieve work-family balance by instituting policies that help women participate more fully in the labor force.  Among these policies are insuring paid maternity leave, providing quality childcare, and easing barriers to reentry into the labor force.  Both countries need to work on implementing these policies, and both presidents have made efforts to address them.

In terms of women in the workplace, Korea and the United States have significantly different deficiencies.  The United States is the only high-income country in the world that does not require employers to provide paid maternity leave for employees.  The high cost of childcare is another problem in the U.S. as President Obama noted in a recent speech, “… in most states, parents spend more on day care for their children than they would for a year of college” (University of Kansas, January 22, 2015).  South Korea, on the other hand, suffers from the largest wage gap between men and women in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with women only earning 65% of what men earn.  The low wages paid to women depresses their rate of labor force participation and women who have left the work force find it difficult to resume their careers.  Only 20% of re-employed women are hired for full-time regular positions while more than 60% are hired back as part-timers or contract workers (Korean Women’s Development Institute).

Both presidents recognize the importance of increasing the participation of women in the labor force to their national economies and have presented strategies to achieve this.  President Park has asserted “More participation of women in the economy is a core engine for the nation’s growth” (Wall Street Journal June 17, 2013).  Her government has worked to increase the number of child care facilities and improved their quality.  She also has advocated that employers should create female-friendly work environments and adopt more flexible hours to help working mothers.  Her Minister of Gender Equality and Family, Kim Hee-jung, said “We need for  [companies] to realize that keeping women in the workplace is investing in our future” (Reuters January 27, 2015).  President Obama has identified “high quality, affordable child care” as “a national economic priority” and said he would like to make quality child care accessible to 100 million more children and provide an annual tax cut for their families of up to $3,000 per child. “It is time we stop treating child care as a side issue or a women’s issue,” he said. “This is a family issue” (University of Kansas, January 22, 2015).

Given both presidents’ interest and commitment to work-family balance, I can envision them putting their heads together and discussing these issues. They will find that they have yet another topic in common to discuss and share ideas about.

Dr. Seung-kyung Kim is a Professor, Chair of the Department of Women’s Studies and Director of the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from  Marcelo Druck’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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10 Issues to Watch For on The Korean Peninsula in 2015

By Mark Tokola, Troy Stangarone, and Nicholas Hamisevicz

Last year saw a series of significant events on the Korean peninsula. On the economic front, South Korea concluded free trade agreements with Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Vietnam, and reached substantial conclusion on a deal with its largest trading partner, China. While inter-Korean relations avoided the pitfalls of 2013 when the Kaesong Industrial Complex was closed for nearly half a year, the hope that a surprise visit by senior North Korean officials to the Incheon Games would lead to deeper dialogue with North Korea has yet to be fulfilled. With more work to be done on the trade front and in inter-Korean relations, here are 10 economic and foreign policy issues to follow in the year ahead:

Dealing with North Korea in 2015

It has been said that the more things change, the more they stay the same and 2014 was a year where relations with North Korea often seemed like change but more of the same. From the family reunions to the visit to the Incheon games by senior North Korean officials, opportunities to build on the relationship soon fell back to familiar patterns. Will 2015 will be another year such year for the U.S.-ROK alliance and its relations with North Korea?

While North and South Korea are trying to find ways to have inter-Korean meetings, the two sides are having trouble agreeing to terms for the meetings. Once more military exercises start up, it will be even more difficult for inter-Korean relations to progress.

At the same time, reports suggest North Korea continues to improve its missile and nuclear weapons capabilities. Last year the United States indicated it would like to deploy THAAD, Terminal High Altitude Defense, systems on the Korean Peninsula to help protect U.S. troops and South Korea from missile attacks by North Korea. This prompted debates in South Korea about if the deployment of U.S. missile defenses would make South Korea safer, more vulnerable to attack, or draw it into bilateral tensions between the United States and China, as well as Russia to a lesser extent. South Koreans also discussed whether their country should build their own missile defense system. A slight compromise would be to have the systems on U.S. bases in South Korea. Whatever the determination is for the U.S.-Korea alliance, North Korea will likely continue to improve its missile and nuclear weapon technology and therefore keeping the issue of missile defense at the forefront in 2015.

Key Summits in 2015

This year will also bring a series of potentially critical summits between the leaders of Asia. Possibly the most intriguing is the potential for Kim Jong-un to make his first overseas visit as the leader of North Korea. Russia invited Kim Jong-un to attend a ceremony in Moscow on May 9th celebrating the end of World War II. Reports suggest Kim Jong-un has likely accepted the invitation. At the same time, Russia has indicated that it has extended an invited Park Geun-hye and Xi Jinping as well, raising the question of whether either would choose to meet with Kim Jong-un bilaterally.

What are the prospects for a Park Geun-hye – Kim Jong-un summit in 2015? The Russia visit would be the best opportunity, but that might be politically difficult for Park despite more than 80 percent of Koreans indicating in a recent Asan Institute survey that an inter-Korean summit is necessary.

In May, Japan’s Prime Minister Abe Shinzo will likely visit the United States. If he visits, the U.S. is likely to quietly encourage Abe to make a positive statement on the anniversary of World War II that would help bring countries closer together rather than remain distant because of historical issues. Korea will be watching this visit closely for comparison with Park Geun-hye’s visit in 2013 and interpreting the level of support the U.S. gives to Japan.

Another summit to look for is a trilateral summit between Korea, China, and Japan. At the end of 2014, Park Geun-hye suggested the resumption of trilateral summits. This would be a welcome move, especially because both Xi and Park seem uncomfortable with a bilateral meeting with Abe. If this occurs before Abe’s statement on World War II, the hope would be the two sides actually try to talk about areas of cooperation moving forward, especially a China-Korea-Japan FTA. However, a discussion that only focused on the historical challenges in the region could encourage Abe to make a statement more to his personal belief rather than for the betterment of Japan both domestically and in foreign relations.

It will also be interesting to see if India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi makes it back to Northeast Asia in 2015. His positive relationship with Abe is well known. Park Geun-hye has only met Modi on the sidelines of an East Asia Summit meeting in November, where she invited him to South Korea. South Korea and India have been doing a better job of having high level meetings between officials, and a summit meeting between the two leaders would demonstrate a commitment to that effort and to improving relations.

Korea-Russian Relations

Russia may find tactical advantages in its recent diplomatic outreach to North Korea.  Russian spokesmen have confirmed that an invitation has been issued to Kim Jong-un to visit Moscow on May 9 to attend the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.  Russian gestures towards North Korea demonstrate to foreign countries and to the Russian public that Russia is not without friends, despite its increasing isolation.  The outreach may also be intended to signal to U.S. and to the EU that their economic sanctions against Russia carry global costs.  Russia can hope for an economic lifeline from China in terms of energy contracts, and can offer North Korea a lifeline of its own to counterbalance the diplomatic and economic pressure the DPRK is experiencing from the West.

However, Russia’s long-term strategic interest is better served by a cooperative relationship with South Korea rather than the DPRK.  Russia’s trade with South Korea is vastly more important to the Russian economy than are its ties to North Korea.  Furthermore, as China has experienced, being associated with the DPRK’s eccentric, brutal and uncooperative regime bears an ongoing reputational cost in world opinion.  For its part, the ROK would like to ensure that Russia does not serve as an impediment to its project to peacefully unify the Korean peninsula.  Behind the headlines of Kim Jong-un’s possible visit to Moscow, look for increasing, practical cooperation between Russia and the ROK in 2015.

Relations Between Korea and Japan

This year marks the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Japan. Combined with 2015 being the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, there is anticipation and hope that these two occasions can be an impetuses for better relations in Asia, especially between Korea and Japan. The biggest hope is for a bilateral summit meeting between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. With Prime Minister Abe promising a statement on the anniversary of the end of World War II, it wouldn’t be surprising if President Park waited until after the assessment of that statement to consider meeting with Abe. There is a sense from some on both sides that each country is willing to wait for a new counterpart. However, with the LDP’s victory in the elections in December, it is almost certain that these will be the two leaders for the next three years.

Just before Christmas, the U.S. brokered a deal for a trilateral intelligence sharing arrangement with its two allies in Northeast Asia. From the U.S. perspective, the hope was this trilateral agreement would both satisfy some of the current security needs not being met because of a lack of a GSOMNIA agreement between Korea and Japan as well as being an catalyst for Korea and Japan officially signing and completing a bilateral GSOMNIA between themselves.

Constructing Legacies

In his State of the Union address, President Obama acknowledged he had only a short time left as president. These are important times for any U.S. president as they try to shore up a legacy and accomplish goals they have set for themselves and for the country. Often, these years are marked by efforts in foreign policy. In Asia, U.S. presidents in their last years in office have attempted to reach out and engage North Korea. There is some speculation that this could happen again with the Obama administration; however, recent events make that seem unlikely. Moreover, at a time in his presidency where there could be a possible outreach, North Korea once again has undertaken actions that have antagonized the United States, forced the Obama administration to respond in a tough manner, and reduced the likelihood of the Obama administration having the willingness and political capital to engage North Korea in a positive way. North Korea greeted both President Obama’s election and reelection with missile and nuclear tests, and now they began his last two years in office with the cyber attacks on Sony Pictures. While there could be some engagement, the U.S.-North Korea relationship is more likely to remain antagonistic, especially in 2015.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye will also be thinking about her legacy as she enters the third year of her constitutionally mandated one term, five year presidency. The third year is typically when South Korean presidents try to make their legacy moves as they still have time to implement their plans and the next election cycle has not yet begun. This is especially the case for Park Geun-hye. The year has started off with the focus on inter-Korean relations with the hope that something can come of the annual New Year’s statements that offer openings for dialogue between the two Koreas, but the two sides currently appear unable to find common ground. In addition to North Korea, many will be looking to see if Park Geun-hye can make the moves and reforms necessary in the domestic economy to increase growth.

Two Major Moves on Trade

At the APEC summit in Beijing last year, China and South Korea announced the substantial conclusion of the Korea-China FTA. With expectations that the final details on the agreement will be concluded early this year, the implementation of the Korea-China FTA will place South Korea in the unique position of having FTAs with the United States, the European Union, and China – the world’s three largest economic actors.

In addition to South Korea’s FTAs with the United States, the EU, and China, we should expect to see movement on South Korea’s efforts to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. South Korea announced its interest in joining the agreement being negotiated among Pacific Rim nations in late 2012, but with the increasing prospect of President Obama receiving the Trade Promotion Authority that he needs to conclude the agreement South Korea will likely push to join the talks prior to their conclusion later this year.

A New Nuclear Energy Cooperation Agreement

The U.S.-South Korea 123 Agreement of 1974, or nuclear cooperation agreement, was extended for two years in 2013. The agreement was set to expire in March of 2014 and governs civilian nuclear cooperation between the United States and South Korea. With the agreement set to expire in 2016, the two sides will be looking to conclude a new agreement in 2015.

The major issue in the talks centers around South Korea’s desire to enrich uranium at the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle and to reprocess spent nuclear fuel on the back end. For reasons of non-proliferation, the United States has opposed enrichment and reprocessing provisions in new 123 agreements. With the deadline to extend the current agreement approaching, the two sides will be searching for a way to address the United States’ non-proliferation concerns while also meeting South Korea’s nuclear power ambitions. Some potential outcomes include another short-term extension, long-term agreements that either include or do not include enrichment and reprocessing rights, or an agreement tied to a joint pyroprocessing study to develop a more proliferation resistant reprocessing technology.

The Diversification of South Korea’s Energy Suppliers

While South Korea has trace amounts of fossil fuels, it is dependent on imports of fuel from unstable regions to drive its economy. As of 2012, petroleum and other liquid fuels accounted for 41 percent of South Korea’s primary energy consumption, while natural gas accounted for another 17 percent. More than 85 percent of its petroleum imports came from inside the Strait of Hormuz and more than 50 percent of its liquefied natural gas (LNG) comes from the Middle East as well.

That should begin to change in 2015. In 2014, South Korea put in place incentives for refiners to import oil from regions other than the Middle East to diversify the sources of Korea’s petroleum imports, while the United States issued a notification that exports of condensates, a form of ultra-light crude oil, would be allowed.  The combination of these two changes, along with South Korea’s ability to import LNG from the United States under the KORUS FTA, should help South Korea begin a process of diversifying the sources of its energy imports in 2015.

Samsung’s Future and Its Frenemy Relationship with Apple

After a year in which Samsung lost its smartphone lead in key markets such as China and India, and faced a renewed challenge from Apple which introduced widescreen models to compete with the larger Samsung models, especially the Samsung Galaxy Notes, 2015 will be an important year for the South Korean conglomerate. At the same time, American business news followers likely will be confused by alternating headlines which one week will describe ongoing legal battles between Apple and Samsung regarding intellectual property rights, and which the next week will talk about business cooperation between the two companies, such as Apple’s reported use of Samsung processors in its next generation of iPhones.  So, are the two companies rivals or business partners?

As Samsung seeks to turn around declining smartphone sales that saw its corporate profits drop for the first time since 2011 and navigate a leadership transition to Lee Jae Yong, they will likely be both. We saw a similar situation in the past, in which two other companies came to dominate a market, while appearing to be simultaneously competing and cooperating.  Boeing and Airbus have filed countless trade actions against one another, arguing unfair competitive practices.  Boeing generally focuses on what it considers Airbus’ non-commercial financing arrangements with European governments; while Airbus charges that Boeing has been given an unfair advantage through U.S. government military contracting.

In reality, the relationship between extremely large companies such as Apple and Samsung, and Boeing and Airbus, is complex.  They will fundamentally seek to “out compete” each other while at the same time cooperating when it is in their interest to do so to maintain their market position.  We should expect more of this in 2015.

Feeling the Effects of Social Change in Korea

As South Korea’s population ages, increases in wealth, and becomes more socially tolerant and diverse, the effects of those changes will have noticeable effects, even during the short term of the year 2015.  The increasing percentage of the population born in the two decades following the end of the Korean War (the Korean “baby boom”) will put increasing pressure on the ROK’s health care and pension systems.  It may also lead to a reexamination of Korea’s history during the 1960’s and 70’s.  The demographic shift could even create a market for nostalgia-themed popular entertainment and culture as a counterpoint to K-pop.

The increase in wealth is likely to lead to an increased focus on quality of life, particularly among recent college graduates.  Safety and health issues, including Korea’s high suicide rate, are likely to become bigger political topics.  The trend, discernable among all of the world’s advanced economies, towards an increasing acceptance of diversity, and growing concern for the well-being of minorities, immigrant populations, and refugees, will fuel debate in South Korea about the speed of change, and will put further distance between South Korea and North Korea.  As the 2017 national elections begin to appear on the horizon, 2015 will see political debate regarding whether the right can regain broad, popular support, whether the left can unify around a common platform and leadership, and whether a third political force will emerge.  Social change will create the shifting ground upon which all of these debates will take place in 2015.

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute, Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade, and Nicholas Hamisevicz is the Director of Research and Academic Affairs. The views expressed here are the authors’ alone.

 

Image created by Sang Kim of the Korea Economic Institute of America.

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Six Implications from the Mid-Term Elections for U.S Policy Towards East Asia

By Troy Stangarone

The 2014 mid-term elections will likely mark an important turning point in U.S. foreign policy and the Obama Administration. While presidential elections can bring in entirely new administrations, mid-term elections, especially those in the second administration of a presidency, can also serve as decisive moment. As administrations look to cement their legacy and power begins to wane as lame duck status sets in, administrations have often looked to foreign policy where they are less encumbered by Congress and have more freedom of action to build a legacy.

With Republicans winning a majority in the Senate for the first time in eight years, President Obama will face a Republican Congress for his final two years in office. The shift in power raises six issues for foreign policy in general and East Asia more specifically for the last two years of the Obama Administration.

Is Obama Already a Lame Duck?

Generally presidents look to foreign policy for achievements in their final two years in office and we should expect President Obama to do so as well. With a series of international issues to address such as a resurgent Russia and the crisis in the Ukraine, dealing with the Islamic State and the Assad regime in Syria, the nuclear negotiations with Iran, and North Korea, as well as economic issues such as trade policy, there should be a host of issues for the Congress to work on with the President.

Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman successfully worked across the aisle to advance important foreign policy objectives after mid-term losses with Reagan pushing arms control deals with the Soviet Union through Congress and Truman working with Republicans to lay the foundations of U.S. foreign policy after World War II with the passage the Marshall Plan and aid for Turkey and Greece.

However, as President Obama prepares to head off a series of summit meetings in Asia, the circumstances facing President Obama may be different than those Truman and Reagan faced. In exit polling from the elections, six out of ten voters said that they had negative feelings about the administration and for every two who voted to support it three voted to express opposition. This reservoir of concerns about the Administration’s policies could spill over into foreign leader’s perceptions of the Administration, as there are already suggestions may be the case in Europe and China. The international climate is different as well. China is seen by many as a rising power and the United States as one that is waning.  If President Obama is seen by foreign leaders as someone who is losing influence in the United States, coupled with concerns about the United States’ influence to play a role abroad, they pay less heed to him, making it difficult for President Obama to have similar foreign policy successes in his last two years in office.

The President’s upcoming trips to the annual APEC summit in Beijing, the East Asia Summit in Myanmar, and the G-20 summit in Australia may give us some initial insight into how President Obama’s new status is perceived abroad.

Governing the Senate Might Not Be So Easy

In initial comments after their victory Republicans touched on many of the right notes by expressing a desire to move past the “gridlock and dysfunction” of recent years and to be seen as a party that can govern, while the President identified trade, tax reform, and infrastructure spending as areas where he is willing to compromise with Republicans.

If Senator McConnell and Speaker John Boehner are able to work with Obama on an agenda that ends the gridlock, it could help to enhance the President’s position abroad by countering the narrative that his lame duck period has set in. With eyes soon set to turn to the 2016 elections, there is also an incentive for Republicans to demonstrate that they can do more than oppose Obama to enhance their chances of retaining the Senate and creating a favorable political environment for the Republican presidential nominee. However, governing the Senate might not be easy.

While Senator McConnell will likely have a 53 or 54 seat majority in the Senate, passing most legislation requires 60 votes to end debate. This means that Republicans will have to convince Democrats to cross the aisle to work with them to pass legislation. While some moderate Democrats such as Senator Joe Manchin could be expected to work with Republicans, the traditional pool of Senators expected to face tough elections in the next cycle may not be very promising for Republicans.  With 26 Republicans, as opposed to just 10 Democrats, up for reelection in 2016, there is a strong incentive for Democrats to block legislation not to their liking in an effort to win back the Senate in the next cycle. While retirements and other factors could change this, perhaps only two or three of the 10 Democrats up in 2016 will face tough reelection battles. In contrast, six Republican Senators are from states that President Obama won twice. In fact, two GOP Senators up for reelection in 2016 represent states that have consistently voted for the Democratic presidential nominee since 2000. Additionally, if Republicans are unable to develop a working agenda with President Obama and he moves into a lame duck period, Democrats will increasingly become less beholden to the White House and more focused on their own interests and the next election.

Beyond the challenges Senator McConnell may face from Democrats, he will have to deal with obstacles in his own party. Senator Ted Cruz can be expected to continue to push maximalist positions which would make compromise with Democrats more difficult and potentially divide more moderate and conservative members of the party. There will also be the desire of potential presidential candidate such as Senator Cruz, Senator Marco Rubio, and Senator Rand Paul to make their mark.

Republicans Might Be More Helpful on Trade, But It’s Still a Difficult Road Getting There

The prevailing logic is that Republicans are more supportive of free trade than Democrats, so a Republican Senate means that the President is more likely to receive the new grant of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) that is needed to push key trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) across the finish line. However, the likely path for TPP, let alone the conclusion of TPP and TTIP is likely to be more complex.

Given time constraints for the rest of the year, the current draft TPA legislation seems unlikely to pass in the lame duck session. If it does not, there are a series of factors that could impact the timing and passage of TPA. First, the current draft of the legislation was negotiated by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman David Camp, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch. Two of the three will be gone in the next Congress. Chairman Camp is set to retire and be replaced by either Representatives Paul Ryan or Kevin Brady. Senator Baucus is now Ambassador to China, having been succeeded by Senator Ron Wyden as Chairman earlier this year. Much as Senator Wyden has sought changes in the current draft, either Congressmen Ryan or Brady could seek modifications as well, if only to address concerns within their own caucus as many of the new members are expected to be more conservative than the ones they are replacing. Regardless, both Representatives Ryan and Brady co-signed a letter to USTR urging passage of TPA before the conclusion of the TPP talks, even if it is an agreement in principle.

Another factor could be immigration policy. Republicans will be watching the President to see if he follows through on promises to issue an executive order on immigration. Given the mistrust of President Obama that already exists among Republicans, especially in the House, any executive order could undermine support for granting President Obama TPA.

There is also the question of whether Republicans are willing to grant President Obama a trade victory. If he were to conclude the TPP and TTIP, those would be victories for the President, and significant ones at that. If the new Congress does not start off on good terms with the President, there could be increasing reluctance to grant him significant victories if other Republican priorities are not being addressed.

Given the potential political need to possibly update the draft TPA legislation, TPA may not pass Congress until the middle of 2015. If that is the case, the conclusion and passage of TPP and TTIP will move increasingly close to the beginning of the 2016 presidential cycle, potentially pushing their passage to the next administration.

More Defense Funding, for the Pivot to Europe?

One of the Obama Administration’s signature policies has been the pivot, or rebalance, to Asia. However, while initially well received by Democrats and Republicans alike for its increasing emphasis on Asia, the policy has come under criticism for being too heavy on defense. There are also concerns that the cuts from sequestration have gone beyond what is needed to adequately fund the pivot.  At the same time, the key economic component of the pivot, the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, has moved more slowly than hoped, undermining the larger drive for increased economic engagement with the region.

There have also been concerns about the U.S. commitment to the pivot in Asia, where China seems to be the only country that believes it is taking place. With the U.S. being drawn back into the Middle East to deal with the troubles in Iraq and Syria and the deterioration of relations with Russia, questions have been raised regarding whether the U.S. has the resources to become more deeply involved in Asia.

With Republicans now in full control of Congress, efforts could be made to finally address the cuts to defense under sequestration, but some of those increases could go towards strengthening the U.S. commitment to Europe because of Russia’s increasingly aggressive approach with its annexation of Crimea and the increasing frequency of military flights into and around European airspace. While increased defense spending should lead to additional resources for the Asia-Pacific region, the push for the U.S. to deploy more resources to Europe and Middle East will likely continue to raise concerns about the U.S. commitment to Asia.

Strategic Patience May Be Increasingly Challenged

President Obama came to office with a willingness to abandon adversarial relations with states such as North Korea if they would unclench their fists. Early in his term, North Korea rejected efforts at dialogue, though the Administration later tried to engage in dialogue with the Kim Jong-un regime when he came to power. However, despite this willingness to reach out to states such as North Korea, the Administration’s policy towards North Korea has largely consisted of what is often referred to as strategic patience.

Strategic patience is premised on the idea that the cycle of provocations followed by negotiations and rewards for North Korea to not engage in bad behavior needed to be broken.
Additionally, the United States could afford to wait out North Korea while its actions isolated it from its neighbors. However, as North Korea advanced its nuclear program through continued nuclear and missile tests, the policy has come under increasing scrutiny.

Without a Democratic majority in the Senate to defer to the administration’s policy preferences, North Korea policy could increasingly come under greater pressure from Congress. A Republican Senate is more likely to bring up legislation such as the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2014, which passed the House earlier this year. Should North Korea engage in further missile or nuclear tests, Republicans would likely place increasing pressure on the Administration to move away from strategic patience towards a stronger sanctions regime.

If the Nuclear Talks with Iran Fail, There Might Not Be Enough Political Capitol to Negotiate With North Korea

While the Six Party Talks have not met to discuss North Korea’s nuclear issue since the Bush Administration was still in office, the Obama Administration has pursued a diplomatic path to try and rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Those talks are not directly related to the North Korean nuclear issue, but they could have an impact on the ability of the administration to pursue talks on North Korea’s nuclear program.

If the talks, which are in the final months of an initial negotiation period, are successful they could serve as a demonstration to North Korea of the advantages if it engages in meaningful denuclearization talks with the United States and its partners in the Six Party Talks. However, should the talks with Iran fail or if Congress rejects any agreement reached in the talks, it is unlikely that that the Administration would have the political capital needed to try and advance talks with North Korea. Republicans are skeptical of the talks with Iran, and remain so in regards to North Korea. If the Obama Administration is unable to successfully conclude a deal with Iran, it is unlikely that the United States will be able to engage in meaningful denuclearization talks with North Korea prior to the next administration taking office in 2017.

Concluding Thoughts

As a result of the mid-term elections, the next two years should be a period of both opportunities and challenges for the Administration and Republicans in Congress that will help to lay the groundwork for the foreign policy debate for the next presidential election.  However, for policy towards East Asia there should still be a degree of continuity as, while Republicans and Democrats may have differing perspectives on some issues, they are largely on the same page when it comes to matters relating to East Asia.

Troy Stangarone is the Senior Director for Congressional Affairs and Trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the authors alone.

Photo from The White House’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

 

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Rodman Doesn’t Understand the Big Picture with North Korea, and He May Have Hurt It

By Nicholas Hamisevicz

Last week former NBA player Dennis Rodman, along with three members of the Harlem Globetrotters and Vice Media, traveled to North Korea to play and promote basketball as well as hang out with the new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. On Sunday, Dennis Rodman talked about his trip with George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” Rodman’s answers in his interview with George Stephanopoulos illustrates that he doesn’t understand the larger picture of U.S.-North Korea relations, and he doesn’t care. His visit and his conveying of messages from Kim Jong Un to President Obama didn’t help the larger picture for U.S. relations with North Korea. Kim Jong Un’s responses to U.S. offers of engagement with missile and nuclear tests effect the relationship more that his love of basketball.

The big news from the interview is that Kim Jong Un supposedly told Dennis Rodman that he would like President Obama to call him. With the U.S.-North Korea relationship in a poor state right now, some in the media and policy world will see this as an opportunity for the U.S. to respond to North Korea. However, this statement from Kim Jong Un via Dennis Rodman could put pressure on the U.S. to do something. There will be a sentiment that North Korea is reaching out to the United States. Yet the main thrust behind the offer is power and politics. North Korean leadership understands that the U.S. and its allies are currently trying to put pressure on the international community to do more against North Korea in response to its nuclear test. The North Korean leadership also understands there are prominent Chinese commentaries questioning China’s relationship with North Korea. By requesting President Obama call him, Kim Jong Un and his leadership team are trying to force the focus on the United States to respond to their overture rather than North Korea stopping its missile and nuclear programs.

In the interview, Dennis Rodman tried to excuse his behavior and that of his “friend” Kim Jong Un by saying everything is about politics. But President Obama knows the real effect of politics with North Korea. He used his political capital, which is part of his power, to try to engage North Korea. Throughout his campaign for president and then after taking office in 2009, President Obama and his team made it clear they would be willing to reach out to problematic leaders of the world if they would unclench their fist. North Korea took its fist and slammed it down on the button to launch a missile four months into President Obama’s presidency and followed it up with a nuclear test.

Risking political capital in an election year, the Obama administration signed a bilateral agreement with North Korea on February 29, 2012 in which the U.S. offered food aid in exchange for a moratorium on missile and nuclear tests. Kim Jong Un couldn’t even wait two weeks before announcing a missile test disguised as a satellite launch, and launched it on April 12. Despite breaking the deal, President Obama again said the U.S. would give North Korea an “extended hand.” This came just after he was elected for a second term when he traveled to Burma and while North Korea appeared to be gearing up for another missile launch. Kim Jong Un responded to President Obama’s offer of an extended hand with that rocket test that put a satellite into orbit in December 2012.

Once more, President Obama signaled the possibility for better relations when he stated in his second inaugural address that “engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”   Kim Jong Un couldn’t even wait a month before having North Korea test a nuclear device. The Obama administration has used some of its political capital to engage North Korea, and North Korea slapped them away. Now, Kim Jong Un wants a phone call.

When asked what he learned about Kim Jong Un, Dennis Rodman said his “friend” loves power and control. As much as Rodman thinks it is a nice gesture, Kim Jong Un hosting him and the Globetrotters and then asking President Obama for a phone call is mainly about power and control, not about actual engagement. The main example was highlighted last month with Eric Schmidt’s visit to North Korea, one month after North Korea tested a rocket. The visit was portrayed to the international community as North Korea trying to open up to the outside world, but internally, the North Korean media barely mentioned the visit. Perhaps they even subtlety bashed Eric Schmidt and Bill Richardson. The propaganda machine would be in full force if the leader of the free world called Kim Jong Un. Kim Jong Un and the North Korean leadership are using Rodman’s visit and the offer of a phone call to shift the blame to the United States and go unpunished for its own actions of testing a nuclear device.

Dennis Rodman tried to describe his visit as historic. However, his engagement with Kim Jong Un was only small part of a larger and complex relationship between the U.S. and North Korea. George Stephanopoulos was correct in telling Rodman that basketball is just “one tiny bit of common ground.” Small efforts like tourism can in the long run possibly lead to bigger things. Basketball may be a great bridge for connections. Koryo Tours has already led basketball and other sports groups to North Korea, and others will likely try to do so after this visit as well. One possibility would be to have the whole Harlem Globetrotters team go over. However, one basketball game that ended in a tie is not going to immediately open things up. The trip was a small gesture. A phone call from President Obama to a country that threatens U.S. allies and interests in Asia and is getting closer to directly threatening the United States with its most recent rocket and nuclear tests would be a very large step that should not be undertaken. The Obama administration rightly said that North Korea knows how to contact them.

The trip with Dennis Rodman to North Korea was described by Vice co-founder Shane Smith as a “crazy story,” but it should not dramatically affect the overall political relationship between the two sides because Kim Jong Un is are using the trip and the phone call for power and control. The North Korean leadership has to expect potential sanctions and hardening of diplomatic positions after its nuclear test. The visit and phone call request is an attempt to shift the pressure to the United States, hoping that heightened tensions will increase the public pressure on President Obama to respond to its attempted charm offensive. As much as he loves basketball, President Obama should know that lasting engagement is tougher than talking hoops over the phone with Kim Jong Un. President Obama and the United States have offered North Korea real opportunities for engagement, but Kim Jong Un has rejected them.

Nicholas Hamisevicz is the Director of Research and Academic Affairs for the Korea Economic Institute. The views represented here are his own.

Photo from Storm Crypt’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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North Korea: State of the Union Benchwarmer

By Linda Butcher

Known as the “Political Super Bowl,” the 2013 State of the Union Address by President Barack Obama did not disappoint. In the hours leading up to it, people guessed what would be discussed, which SOTU game they would partake in and who would be seated in FLOTUS’s box.

But, in just less than 23 hours before the big show, the world had its own version of the Superdome blackout. North Korea had conducted its third nuclear test.

Was this a surprise to POTUS? According to sources, North Korea warned the U.S. and South Korea of its intention to conduct a third nuclear test. Even more so, the White House made the statement that “this wasn’t a surprise” and that POTUS would already be addressing nonproliferation in his speech. But the damage was already done and critics began questioning just how effective President Obama has been in his nuclear nonproliferation goals.

Many speculated that his speech would change to address this issue, but fortunately for Cody Keenan, the SOTU version of Joe Flacco, it barely made a difference. Instead, POTUS generalized and stated:

America will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the world’s most dangerous weapons. The regime in North Korea must know that they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting their international obligations.  Provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further, as we stand by our allies, strengthen our own missile defense, and lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats.

This obviously is not the Down the Field March that many North Korea watchers were hoping for, but rather the safe play that you make when you are already 10 points ahead with 15 seconds left on the clock.

Linda Kim is the Director of Programs for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are her own.

Photo from jilig’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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U.S.-Korea Relations after Obama’s Reelection

By Chad O’Carroll

When South Korea picks either a progressive or conservative leader next month, we will know the full extent of the impact of President Obama’s re-election on the next four years on the Korean peninsula. Whether Obama and the next leader of South Korea will be able to sustain the current momentum of the U.S. – Korea alliance remains an unanswered question. But while there is much to suggest that Obama is in an advantageous starting position to work on U.S.-Korea ties, there are nevertheless several areas of real concern as we move forward post the December election.

Having strengthened the U.S – Korea alliance and forged a close friendship over the past four years with President Lee Myung Bak, Obama has proven he has the ability to work well with even those at the opposite end of the South Korean political spectrum. Having signed off on the KORUS FTA and cooperated closely on major global issues, whoever takes power in South Korea this December will inherent an excellent relationship from Lee Myung-bak. However, as Ambassador Thomas Hubbard recently pointed out, political transitions can be difficult periods when it comes to U.S. – Korea relations.

If Park wins the election, her administration will inherit five years of tacit experience in working with the current White House, a great starting point to be sure. And while a progressive administration will be starting afresh with Obama, compared to a Romney victory they can at least benefit from an external working understanding of how the relationship has worked so far. However, there is always the risk that things could deteriorate from the status quo, especially when considering how important personal friendship has been to contributing to the success of U.S.-Korea relations of late.

What does an alliance look like when personal friendship is lacking? The case of Benjamin Netanyahu’s relations with Obama is a case in point, showing how tensions can emerge among allies when the personal relationships of the two leaders don’t chime. For Israel – U.S. relations, over the past four years seemingly impassable policy chasms have been accentuated by leaks, distrust and seemingly artificially created protocol issues. As a result, Obama is often obliged to reach out to the Israeli public in order to remind them that the U.S. is still committed to Israel’s security. While this is a strong example, it underscores the importance of mutual respect between leaders. Naturally, both Washington and Seoul will be eager to avoid a repeat of the acrimonious relations that Bush had with the late progressive president Roh.

Another trouble spot for U.S. – Korea relations circles around North Korea policy. With Obama likely feeling burnt by his last attempt to engage Pyongyang in the “Leap Day Agreement”, it is unclear how supportive the U.S. will be of the next South Korean administration’s North Korea policy. After all, all three Korean candidates are campaigning for increased inter-Korean engagement, with even the conservatives calling for comparatively radical initiatives such as the opening of liaison offices in Pyongyang. Here the problem comes down to how denuclearization is prioritized by South Korea when it comes to engagement. That’s because Obama may have a hard time reducing focus on the denuclearization of North Korea if he is to continue emphasizing his wider global non-proliferation strategy. As such, there is a risk that an incoming South Korean administration may wish to sequence this goal in a way that proves incompatible with Obama’s own policy positions.

An additional hurdle that could set back U.S. – Korea relations relates to Seoul’s domestic nuclear power infrastructure. The current U.S.-ROK nuclear energy agreement is due to expire in March 2014 and South Korea is now increasingly eager to make use of the spent fuel from its nuclear reactors. Having outlined a goal of processing the spent fuel through a capability known as pyroprocessing, South Korea hopes to potentially recycle fuel by using the transuranic elements in fast reactors. As the world’s sixth biggest exporter of nuclear power plants, South Korea has an understandable desire to close the nuclear fuel cycle – doing so will put it in an even better position to offer full range of nuclear services worldwide and attract additional contracts. However, if the ROK were to be allowed to develop a reprocessing facility there would be consequences for global non-proliferation regime and implications for the dismantling of the DPRK nuclear program. As such, it is a delicate issue that will require thoughtful diplomacy to resolve.

Although there are challenges ahead, it is important to remember that Obama is extremely popular in South Korea. Data in a recent opinion poll released by the German Marshall Fund shows that compared to ten years ago, public support for the U.S.-Korea alliance has doubled under Obama’s stewardship. As such, there will be a strong onus on the incoming president of South Korea to maintain the close and friendly ties that have characterized the past five years between Lee Myung-bak and Obama. Correspondingly, among the risks outlined there should still be cause for optimism.

Chad O’Carroll is the Director of Communications for the Korea Economic Institute. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from art_es_anna’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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U.S.-Korea Relations: Let’s Maintain the High Standard

By Thomas C. Hubbard

Nearly five years ago, when Lee Myung-bak had just been elected President of Korea, I participated in a study group sponsored by Stanford University and The Korea Society aimed at drawing up a blueprint for a “New Beginning” in U.S.-Korea relations. The goal was to help the new administrations coming into power in both countries restore a sense of well-being to an alliance that was perceived to be adrift after five years of sometimes contentious stewardship by the conservative administration of George W. Bush in Washington and progressive administration of Roh Moo-hyun in Korea.  At the time we didn’t know who would be the next President of the United States, but we worried that public attitudes toward the alliance were at a low point in both countries and knew that our new leaders needed to rebuild a sense of common purpose if we were to deal with pressing issues such as North Korea and the modernization of our military ties and achieve ratification of the Free Trade Agreement negotiated by the Roh and Bush Administrations.  Presidents Lee and Obama more than fulfilled our hopes and expectations. Despite coming from different ends of the political spectrum, they projected a positive tone for the relationship from the outset.

As a result of their leadership, we all agree that the alliance is stronger today than ever before. President Obama and other U.S. leaders consistently refer to Korea as one of our most important allies and we often talk about a new strategic partnership. President Lee has likewise worked hard to develop his relationship with President Obama despite taking some hits at home over such issues as beef imports. Although some oppositionists still complain about the FTA, U.S.-Korea relations are not a significant issue in the Korean election campaign.  One might argue that the North Koreans helped bring us together through outrageous acts such as nuclear tests and unprecedented attacks on South Korean ships and naval vessels. Indeed the convergence of our views on North Korea, the best I’ve seen in two decades of dealing with this problem, is central to the health of our relationship, but there are a number of other factors bringing us closer together. At a time when many Americans are concerned about China and frustrated with Japan’s leadership vacuum, Washington’s relationship with Seoul has been valued as a welcome source of strength and stability. Americans admire Korea’s economic and democratic success and its willingness to take a leadership role in the world. Among other things, we are gratified to see the Korean President chair the G-20 and Nuclear Security Summit and, most recently, volunteer to host the global Green Climate Fund in a new state-of-the art city.

As Koreans and Americans vote this year, the challenge before us is not how to achieve a “new beginning” but, rather, how to maintain the high standard set by Presidents Obama and Lee for smooth and productive ties. This is no easy task.  Transitions are often a difficult period in U.S.-Korea relations, and this transition could be doubly so if we wind up with new administrations in both countries at the same time.  Many of us remember with some pain the difficult early meetings between Kim Young-sam and Bill Clinton, Kim Dae-jung and George W. Bush, and Roh Moo-hyun and George W. Bush.  Miscommunications at the Summit level can be overcome, but only with time and hard work. So my first bit of advice to the incoming administrations is to prepare well for the first Summit. It can be a mistake to rush the process.

My second bit of advice to both sides is to try to avoid posing litmus tests to each other in the early days of new administrations.  President Clinton wanted Kim Young-sam to support his “comprehensive” approach to North Korean denuclearization before the Korean President was prepared to accept the political consequences of a U.S. lead in dealing with North Korea. The reverse occurred when President Kim Dae-jung, who insisted on meeting with President Bush within weeks of his inauguration, was deeply embarrassed when the U.S. President was not yet prepared to endorse his Sunshine policy. It took years to get over this miscommunication and return to a common track on North Korea.  Judging from their campaign statements, all of the Korean Presidential candidates appear to be looking for new beginnings with North Korea, in hopes of overcoming the confrontational atmosphere that has prevailed under the Lee Myung-bak Administration. That is probably a laudable aspiration, one that should be supported by the United States if denuclearization remains a central objective.  However, our leaders may need to allow each other a little slack in the post election period.  Experience suggests that we will consult very closely if we are to stay on the same song sheet during political transitions.

Finally, the FTA, signed under Bush and Roh and ratified under Lee and Obama, is a wonderful legacy of two administrations in both countries. It represents a powerful new element in our strategic relationship, but it is also a trade agreement that must be made to work to our mutual economic benefit. That means that American businesses must take advantage of the opportunity to expand exports of goods and services to Korea.  It also means that both sides must fulfill the letter and spirit of the agreement. We must trust that the backsliding we have begun to see in some areas will be only a passing figment of the Korean election campaign.

It is clear that our two countries need each other in today’s complex world, and I have every hope that the upcoming elections will produce leaders who, like Lee Myung-bak and Barack Obama, respect each and understand the importance of the relationship.

Thomas C. Hubbard is Senior Director for Asia at McLarty Associates and Chairman of The Korea Society. He served as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea from 2001 to 2004. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from Korea.net’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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About The Peninsula

The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.