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The Kim Question

Inside our Fall 2017 issue: Cover Package, Features, In Focus and Book Reviews

  • Letter from the Editors

    The situation the world now faces with North Korea has been long in coming. Its latest nuclear and missile tests, and the war of words between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, have seemingly brought the world to its most dangerous point yet in the standoff with North Korea. Or maybe not. 


    In the early 1990s, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions threatened to erupt in crisis. Atomic inspectors were closing in, leading Kim Il Sung in 1993 to threaten withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Eventually, he negotiated with the US and the result was the Geneva Agreed Framework in 1994, months after Kim Jong Il came to power. It was meant to halt Pyongyang’s path to nuclear weapons, and for the most part it worked. Until it didn’t. Accused by the US of cheating on the deal, North Korea formally withdrew from the NPT in 2003. 


    From there, the Six-Party Talks sought once again a negotiated end, while back-to-back liberal South Korean governments sought engagement through the Sunshine Policy. Nevertheless, in 2006, Pyongyang tested its first nuclear device and in 2009 pulled out of the Six-Party Talks, angered by criticism of a failed satellite launch.


    Since 2011, Kim Jong Un has accelerated North Korea along a collision path with the US and its allies: four of its six nuclear tests have been under his watch, the latest and largest on Sept. 3. Its ballistic-missile program has also made unexpected progress, with its ICBMs now perhaps just a year from being able to reach the US mainland. Just as alarming, US politicians are now talking of military options and the public discussing war scenarios. Meanwhile, many in Asia, including South Koreans, do not seem to fully grasp the gravity of the situation today. 


    For our cover package, we assembled some of the world’s foremost experts to analyze where things stand and how to find a path forward. With guest editor Peter Hayes, director of the Nautilus Institute and an editorial board member of Global Asia, we look at Pyongyang’s actual nuclear and missile capabilities and how they advanced so rapidly; whether it’s time to recognize North Korea as a nuclear power and learn to live with it; Kim Jong Un’s personal and psychological history; the risks posed by US President Trump’s transactional approach; the spectrum of potential solutions — including negotiation, sanctions and even military options; the illusion of North Korea as a monolithic state; the logic of re-stationing US tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea; and the possibility or desirability of regime change. 


    In our Features pages, we look at what’s really behind China’s concerns at the rollout in South Korea of a US missile-defense system; why China’s first overseas military base, in Djibouti, is causing upset in New Delhi and elsewhere; the meaning of Taiwan and India’s courtship; what is at stake in the leadership stakes at China’s upcoming 19th Party Congress; and why Northeast Asia needs a new security mechanism — one with teeth.


    Our In Focus section is devoted to Myanmar, where we lay out how civil-military relations reveal the move toward democracy as largely a disappointing illusion, for now; and how Aung San Suu Kyi could have done much more than she has. We also look at how the miserable plight of the Rohingya might be addressed under the right circumstances, although that isn’t likely. 


    And, as always, we feature reviews of some of the most engaging recent books on Asia.


    Sincerely yours,


    Chung-in Moon



    David Plott

    Managing Editor

    See What’s in Our Latest Issue

Our online home for expert analysis and commentary on current affairs in Asia.

  • Rupakjyoti Borah

    The Malabar Naval Exercises: India, Japan and the US Test the Waters

    20 Sep 2017 - The Malabar 2017 naval exercises were held in the Bay of Bengal during July 10-17 with participation from the Indian, US and Japanese navies to “increase interoperability amongst the three navies as well as to develop common understanding and procedures for maritime security operations.”1 Although the Malabar started out as bilateral exercises between India and the US back in 19… Read full post

  • John Nilsson-Wright

    The trouble with Trump's North Korea policy

    06 Sep 2017 - Amid the growing anxiety generated by North Korea’s recent missile tests and its dramatic sixth nuclear test, the Trump administration is grappling with the challenge of finding a proportionate response. Somehow, it needs to simultaneously punish the North for its continuing provocations, slow down and ultimately reverse Kim Jong-un’s WMD modernization program, and ensure that t… Read full post

  • Robert E. McCoy

    Why Reopening Kaesong Would Be Counterproductive

    25 Aug 2017 - Much has been made of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s desire to reopen the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), the special industrial zone set up in 2002 in North Korea where South Korean businesses could operate using workers from the North. As most readers will recall, Moon’s predecessor shut down the KIC in February 2016 in response to an earlier North Korean nuclear test … Read full post

  • John Nilsson-Wright

    Japan’s response to North Korea

    22 Aug 2017 - Kim Jong-un’s unbridled military aspirations, and Pyongyang’s desires to become a recognized nuclear power, risk provoking a spiraling arms race in Northeast Asia. Together, they represent potentially the biggest strategic and diplomatic challenge to the new and largely untested Trump administration, forcing US policy makers to reassess—albeit with mixed results—how they handle … Read full post

  • Rajaram Panda

    The Challenge of Stopping North Korea’s Saber-Rattling

    13 Jul 2017 - In the latest escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and the extended neighborhood of Northeast Asia, North Korea fired another ballistic missile on July 4 that landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Sea of Japan. This was the fifth such missile fired by North Korea that landed in Japan’s EEZ, the last one being on May 29. Each time North Korea launches a … Read full post


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