Fletcher Features

Bluster, Propaganda or Genuine Threat of Aggression? Fletcher Experts Weigh in on the Latest Developments in the Korean Peninsula

What Would a Korean War Cost? Gauging the Economic Turmoil.


If a real shooting war came to the Koreas, the economic disruption would be global, though Asian nations likely would pay a higher price than the US. Some economists fear significant long-term changes to international trade.

Korea-based Samsung is one of the largest consumer electronics companies in the world. LG, another large Korean electronics firm, is an important manufacturer of appliances and electronics. And the Korean Steel Industry produces more than 4 percent of the world’s steel.

So what would happen if the heated rhetoric gets out of hand on the Korean Peninsula, leading to some form of actual conflict? …

… There could be lots of ripple effects around the globe as well. For example, the price of oil might plummet, since South Korea is a large importer from the Middle East.

“I can’t come up with a scenario that does not take the global energy markets and throw them into a tailspin,” says William Martel, associate professor of international security studies at the Fletcher School at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

Read the full report (Christian Science Monitor

The Iraq War's Lessons For North Korea

As North Korea seems to move closer to crisis by the day, the United States and its allies are struggling with how to avert a war. They also find themselves wondering what would happen if, despite their best intentions, they did decide to wage war.

There’s a good place to look for answers to that question: Iraq. In the 10 years since U.S. and international forces invaded Iraq, the nation has, by any standard, invested substantial “blood and treasure” in Iraq: hundreds of billions of dollars spent, tens of thousands of soldiers injured and maimed, and more than 4,000 Americans killed. The enormous casualties have provoked doubts and protests in democracies around the world, followed by a divisive public debate about whether the war was “worth it.”

So before we consider any further military action in North Korea, here are several lessons from the Iraq War to think about.

Read the full op-ed (WBUR)


Nuclear Villain North Korea as Comic Caricature


North Korea comes by its evil status honestly. People are starving, prisoners exiled to gulags, an unelected leader with very bad hair enjoys an extravagant lifestyle while threatening nuclear war against the United States and hanging out with Dennis Rodman.

And yet we can’t quite treat Kim Jong-un and his tiny country’s cries for attention with the seriousness they demand. …

… “There’s an element of the absurd when you’re talking about North Korea,” says Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at The Fletcher School in Tufts University.

Clownishness, in a way, may be a reassuring trait in an enemy, a response that diminishes the anxiety of those whom North Korea aims to intimidate. Compare this response to the high seriousness that continues to be generated by al-Qaeda, a much more shifty and unknowable opponent, whose armory doesn’t approach the weapons of mass destruction favoured in Pyongyang. …

… Khrushchev, points out Prof. Drezner, was not speaking literally. “He actually meant he would bury us through economic competition rather than by raining missiles down on us.” North Korea is less nuanced, and appears to lack this same gift for the lively metaphor.

“What Kim Jong-un reminds me of more,” says Prof. Drezner, “is one of the minor local characters of the Cold War like Fidel Castro, or one of the James Bond villains – as scary as he is for the Korean Peninsula, he’s not that scary for anyone else.”

Read the full report (The Globe and Mail

North Korea Ultimatum: Britain will not Leave After Being Given 5 days to Evacuate Embassy


NORTH Korea issued a stark warning to British and other foreign embassies today, urging them to withdraw staff because it could no longer ensure their safety.

As tensions continued to rise in the region, dictator Kim Jong-un warned he could not 'guarantee the safety of foreigners' and invited countries to submit plans to withdraw their nationals by April 10 . …

About two dozen countries, including Britain, have embassies in North Korea.

…The North's dramatic threats of nuclear war must not be underestimated, an expert in Korean studies has warned.

"We must assume the North Korean leadership is not crazy or suicidal in spite of bizarre things it says and does," Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor in Korean studies, has said, warning that the North's verbal attacks on South Korea and the US could be far more than just bluster and vituperation.

"Cruel, totalitarian and solipsistic the Kim dynasty surely is," he said.

Read the full report (Express

North Korea Puts Two Missiles Loaded on Launches on Its East Coast


WHITFIELD (voice-over): North Korea may already have two missiles loaded on launchers on its East Coast, and now it's warning all foreign diplomats it can't protect them if conflict erupts. We'll go to South Korea for reaction to the latest threats in a moment. …

… And we're also joined by Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor at Tufts University. Professor, good to see you as well. So Professor Lee, you first. You know, you wrote an opinion piece for CNN, saying North Korea is not suicidal. You say the goal is not to start a war. So what do you suppose their goal is?

SUNG-YOON LEE, THE FLETCHER SCHOOL, TUFTS UNIVERSITY: In every discussion of North Korea, you have to consider the basic internal dynamic in the Korean Peninsula. You have a two-state formulation, a fancy of way of saying two states, two Korean states that are vying for competing against each other for pan-Korean legitimacy.

North Korea faces an existential threat in the sheer existence of South Korea, a far more attractive, successful, freer, richer country to which a lot of your own people have already and want to continue to go over.

So North Korea basically gets by on blackmail, extortion and the sales of illicit activities. If North Korea were not able to retain that capability to be a political factor in international politics by causing problems for the world's greatest powers, why would they go on giving to North Korea?

And as a corollary, why would North Korea give that capability up, primarily achieved by the relentless pursuit of nuclear long-range missile capabilities?

Read the full transcript (CNN

Is North Korea's Threat More than Posturing This Time?


Historical forgetfulness is, perhaps, one of the unintended symptoms of the new media age. Although we can find out anything from history's timeline at the click of a button, the need to weigh and interpret constantly moving events on an hour-by-hour basis too often removes context from our understanding.

Small events become magnified, obscuring what actually drives them. North Korea's present bellicose behaviour under its new leader, Kim Jong-un, is a case in point. While only a fool would assert that a real war is an absolute impossibility, the record of the Pyongyang regime's behaviour under the three leaders from the same totalitarian dynasty – as well as South Korea and the west's responses to it – suggests that it is unlikely.

It is true that North Korea has attacked South Korea, most infamously under the guise of military manoeuvres in the assault that launched the Korean war. However, in the decades-long history of tension between the two countries, that has been the exception rather than the rule.

Among the most insightful and prescient chroniclers of what he called the "Pyongyang playbook" in an essay three years ago for Foreign Affairs has been Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor of Korean studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

A persistent misperception about North Korea, Lee argued then, "is that its provocative international behaviour is unpredictable". Instead, he insisted, Pyongyang's methods have been highly consistent since the early 1960s. "Its strategy has been to lash out at its enemies when it perceives them to be weak or distracted, up the ante in the face of international condemnation (while blaming external scapegoats) and then negotiate for concessions in return for an illusory promise of peace."

Read the full piece (Guardian

North Korea Pulls Out of Factories It Runs With South

North Korea said on Monday that it was withdrawing all its 53,000 workers from an industrial park jointly run with South Korea, casting doubt on the future of the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation.

The Kaesong industrial complex, in the North Korean border town of the same name, operated for eight years despite political and military tension, including the North Korean artillery attack on a South Korean island three years ago. North Korea’s decision to withdraw its workers, although it called the move temporary, presented the most serious challenge to its viability.…

… North Korea’s threat this month to close the complex was met with skepticism from some news media analysts who indicated that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, would not want to risk an important source of hard currency. North Korea was enraged, claiming on Monday that it “gets few economic benefits from the zone while the South side largely benefits from it.”

Mr. Kim “is not accountable to his people, and thereby can afford to raise tension almost indefinitely at a great cost to his own people,” said Lee Sung-yoon, a North Korea specialist at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Massachusetts, recalling that the government did not change its policy even after a famine killed an estimated 10 percent of its population in the mid-1990s.

Read the full report (The New York Times


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