Prof. Sung Yoon Lee in the Asia Wall Street Journal

One of the most consistently perceptive commentators on dealing with North Korea is Professor Sung-Yoon Lee, an adjunct assistant professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. By a very interesting coincidence, Stephen Bosworth, the next North Korea Special Envoy, is the Dean there. If Bosworth tolerates views this much at odds with his own, we can certainly hope he’s open-minded enough to take some good advice from Prof. Lee — if not initially, then after it occurs to him that the North Koreans are playing him. This one is a must-read, and it’s hard to single out one graf to quote, but the article is built around five basic points. Here is one that Bosworth should read, and re-read:

Third, in North Korea one finds the most extreme and pervasive manifestation of the cult of personality ever. Pyongyang’s mausoleum for the elder Kim reportedly cost $890 million to build, while hundreds of thousands died from starvation. The deification of the leadership is inseparably tied to the regime’s vigorous pursuit of nuclear status. Nuclear extortion accords the man whom his people call the “Great General” an aura of legitimacy and lends even fantastic slogans like “building a powerful and prosperous state” a semblance of credibility. Meaningful concessions will therefore not be forthcoming from this “omnipotent” leader of the world’s most militarized society unless he is forced to make them. [Prof. Sung-Yoon Lee, Asia Wall Street Journal]

I wonder how long it will take for Bosworth to figure this out. The North Koreans’ brazenness at playing the Bush Administration should be lesson enough, but at a minimum, the Obama Administration will feel obligated to give “diplomacy” another chance on its own watch. I suspect that after six months to a year of trying to squeeze something useful out of Agreed Framework 2.0, we’ll start to see rumors of an Agreed Framework 3.0, which is exactly what the North Koreans want. Implicit in the new deal-making will be that North Korea will keep the many concessions it won from the Clinton and Bush Administrations, and demand new concessions in exchange for the same things they’d promised Chris Hill and Robert Einhorn before.


  1. We can only hope that the Obama Administration will live up to its “change” mantra after giving the same old “diplomacy” a chance…again, thanks for the updates, Joshua – we rely on them more than ever, now at this critical time.