Georgetown Law’s Center on National Security & Law Asia Address North Korea Nuclear Crisis

September 18, 2017

Georgetown Law Professors James Feinerman and David Koplow hosted the September 13 panel on North Korea with experts Jenny Town, Darryl G. Kimball and Jonathan Wolfsthal.

Just days after Georgetown Law’s Institute for International Economic Law examined international sanctions on countries including North Korea, the Center on National Security and the Law and Georgetown’s Law Asia continued the conversation at “North Korea Nuclear Crisis: Problems and Paths Forward” on September 13.

Professor David Koplow, co-director of the Center on National Security and the Law, moderated the event, which featured Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association; Jenny Town, assistant director of the U.S.-Korea Institute and Jonathan Wolfsthal, former senior director for Arms Control and Nonproliferation at the National Security Council. Professor James Feinerman, a faculty director of Georgetown’s Law Asia program, introduced the event.

With the explosion of a test missile on September 3 — a blast that reshaped a mountain, the Washington Post reported — how serious is the North Korea threat? While we’re not necessarily at the brink of war, the experts said, we are facing a situation that is not under control, and one that may get worse.

“We are learning less and less about North Korea,” Town said. “We’re taking less and less time to understand their motivations and their security perceptions, and because of this we are defaulting back to old ways of addressing the issue…falling back to sanctions, falling back on pressure, falling back on delegating the issue to other countries such as China, rather than dealing with it head on.”

Kimball said North Korea will probably reply to the U.N. sanctions with some action of their own, maybe another test. “They are not about to, out of the blue, launch a…warhead at Seattle,” he said. “They know that would be national suicide….but the stakes have gotten higher.”

Wolfsthal, who a year ago was monitoring events from the White House, said that reality is that North Korea wants nuclear weapons. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk to them…we have military-to-military and diplomatic dialogue with every other country on the planet that has nuclear weapons except North Korea.”

A Path Forward?

Koplow asked the panel, what pathways are available moving forward — negotiations, sanctions, deterrence, use of military force? Among other things, diplomacy is crucial, Kimball said.

“Even during the Cuban Missile Crisis, [President] Kennedy could pick up the hotline and talk to the Soviets,” he noted. “We don’t have that. We have Twitter. My God. So we have to, at the very least, engage in direct, unconditional discussions.”

Thomas Kellogg, the new executive director of Law Asia, highlighted the importance of public debate as the Trump administration grapples with an increasingly assertive North Korea. “All of us should be asking: what can the U.S. and its allies do to stop or at least slow down Pyongyang’s nuclear program,” Kellogg said. “Our role at Georgetown Law is to present these debates to both our students and the broader community in an in-depth and nuanced way. This panel did that, in spades.”

The event was co-hosted by three student groups: the National Security Law Society, the Asian and Pacific American Law Students Association, and the Korean American Law Students Association.