Columbia International Affairs Online: Books

CIAO DATE: 05/2015

The North Korea Crisis and Regional Responses

Utpal Vyas, Ching-Chang Chen, Denny Roy

April 2015

East-West Center


Postwar East Asia has seen astonishing economic dynamism in Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan as well as a transformation of authoritarian regimes into vibrant democracies in South Korea and Taiwan. Neither of these trends has taken hold in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), which remains the worst kind of historical anachronism: a hereditary monarchy with the modern trappings of totalitarianism and a centrally mismanaged economy. Insecure both internally and externally, and ruthless in its pursuit of regime survival, the DPRK government has spawned two crises. The first is a domestic humanitarian disaster, caused by the government's massive failure to protect the human rights of its people. The second is a regional strategic crisis caused by North Korea's development of nuclear weapons along with the ballistic missiles that might deliver them.

Governments in the region recognize that the DPRK's prison labor camps are a moral outrage. They are also united in their opposition to North Korea's nuclear weapons program, although they perceive differing levels and types of threats from these weapons. There is a basis for coordinated action against a North Korean state that is extraordinarily weak in economic and diplomatic terms. Such action, however, has not succeeded in solving either the humanitarian or the nuclear weapons crisis. Nor is any breakthrough expected in the foreseeable future. The explanation is found in the differing agenda of the frontline states, which includes "resident" Asian power the United States. This book delineates the twin crises and analyzes the relevant interests and positions of other major states in the region, assembling a broad picture of the overall lack of policy convergence beyond agreement on a few general principles. This volume is unusual in its collection of a variety of national viewpoints on a single major international issue. It provides valuable insight into the ongoing problem of managing a recalcitrant North Korea within an otherwise modern and globalizing region.