ND Expert: South Korea and U.S. need to keep their powder dry

by Shannon Chapla

David Cortright

“Restraint and patience are urgently needed” amid escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula, according to David Cortright, director of policy studies for the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

“The U.S. and South Korea need to keep their powder dry,” Cortright says. “So far the U.S. has responded that way, which is good and hopefully will help to prevent the incident from escalating out of control. The North is obviously going through a leadership crisis as Kim Jong-il grows older and less capable. His youngest son is being groomed for leadership, and perhaps there is a ritual of military toughness that is necessary to gain support within the communist military leadership system.”

On Monday, North Korea fired artillery into the waters off its west coast, one day after seizing a South Korean fishing boat and its crew. These incidents come days after South Korean naval exercises were conducted in disputed waters.

“U.S. and U.N. sanctions are becoming tougher, and apparently are having real impacts, which may be another reason for this kind of lashing out from the North,” Cortright says.

Cortright has long said that tough, targeted sanctions are needed but that they will be most effective if combined with inducements for cooperation.

“It is hard to negotiate with such a regime,” Cortright says, “especially when it is unstable and going through transition, but bargaining options need to be on the table as a means of allowing a graceful way for the North to step back from confrontation and nuclearization. Capturing the fishing boat may be an attempt by North Korea to open up dialogue without appearing to be weak.”

A graduate of Notre Dame, Army veteran and long-time scholar, teacher and advocate of nonviolence, Cortright is an expert on nuclear weapons policy, prevention of conflict through economic sanctions and counter-terrorism.

Cortright is the author or editor of 16 books, including most recently “Towards Nuclear Zero”, co-authored with Räimo Vayrynen, a volume that argues for diplomatic bargaining to resolve the nuclear standoff with North Korea. Other recent books include “Uniting Against Terror: Cooperative Nonmilitary Responses to the Global Military Threat” and “Peace: A History of Movements & Ideas.”

Cortright has advised various agencies of the United Nations, the Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, the International Peace Academy and the MacArthur Foundation. Along with his research collaborator and Kroc professor George A. Lopez, he has provided research and consulting services to the Foreign Ministry of Sweden, the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and the Foreign Ministry of Germany.

Media advisory: Cortright’s comments may be used in whole or in part. He is available for interviews and can be reached at 574-631-8536 or dcortrig@nd.edu