Published: Nov. 29, 2017

On Wednesday, November 8, the Center for Asian Studies hosted a discussion of the scientific and media perspectives on what we know about North Korea’s nuclear program and how it is portrayed and perceived around the world, and especially in the US. The panel was introduced by Tim Oakes, the Director of the Center for Asian Studies. The event began at 4pm, with a mixed audience of students, faculty and community members. The first presentation was by Jerry Peterson, who took the audience through North Korea’s acquisition and enrichment of nuclear materials, where they come from, and the evidence that NK has been prioritizing their nuclear program over developing infrastructure, especially an electrical grid across the country.

Following Professor Peterson’s presentation, Brian Toon brought the audience through an understanding of the scope and size of the nuclear bombs now in development in North Korea, as well as an analysis of the types of rockets/missiles in development and the likelihood of their successful use as well as the range of those weapons and the ambitions of the North Korean program to be able to reach Washington D.C. with an ICBM. He then discussed how nuclear clouds could spread and the potential catastrophic effects of a war on the Korean Peninsula, pointing out how devastating any counter-attack by the US would be to regional populations.

Third to present was Hun Shik Kim, who began by pointing out the types of world events that draw any attention or reporting by mainstream news outlets in the US. He indicated that very little beyond catastrophic loss of life, threats to the US, or the involvement of military deaths are reported in the US, and that gives most Americans a very myopic view of world events. Beyond that, he discussed how Kim Jong-un uses threats to garner attention and publicity, which creates a much greater impression in the minds of the average American than maybe this small country deserves. Professor Kim also says the North Korean regime is using the nuclear weapons gamble with the U.S. as a new form of international diplomacy. The rogue nation wants to preserve its security by acquiring a non-aggression peace assurance as well as lifting the economic sanctions by the U.S. government and the United Nations. Professor Kim expects that during the negotiation deal with the U.S., the North Korean regime will ultimately demand withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea. If President Donald Trump agrees to open a dialogue with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean nuclear weapons crisis will turn into a completely different game of international politics. By engaging Donald Trump in ways that illicit reactions out of proportion to the actual degree of importance on the world stage, Kim Jong-un creates a degree of perceived importance that he craves.

Discussion afterward focused on how and what we can actually know vs. what we believe about the situation. Overall, this was a timely and pertinent event in light of the present relationship between the US and North Korea.

Professor Peterson's slides can be found here.

Professor Toon's slides can be found here.

Professor Kim's slides can be found here