For the first time since the Korean War, reduced tensions on the Korean Peninsula have presented a real opportunity to resolve North Korean issues by focusing on converging security concerns increasingly shared by the Republic of Korea (ROK), Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and the United States (US) about the rise of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). That new reality portends a security realignment far different from that of today and invites a game-changing reassessment of US security roles and responsibilities in the region.
The United States should seek to rebalance the changing power equation in Northeast Asia by:
1) Offering to empower both North and South Korea to counterbalance the rising PRC superpower and;
2) Serving as a multi-dimensional security guarantor for regional allies and partners, potentially including the DPRK.
Our conclusions rest on two assumptions. First, US leadership is crucial to counterbalancing the PRC’s growing power projection capabilities. Second, the US should not limit itself to a defensive posture along the “First Island Chain” but should seek to counter-balance growing PRC power from the Korean Peninsula. To achieve that objective, Washington should propose a new security and economic arrangement that empowers both North and South Korea to assist in balancing China. To prevent PRC hegemony over the Korean Peninsula, the US strategy must build a constructive relationship with the DPRK; similar to the one Washington has with the ROK. Normalized US-DPRK relations offer the best path for Washington to positively shape the future Northeast Asian security environment, and the only realistic way to convince Kim Jong Un to agree to denuclearize.
Shared long-term security threat:
The return of a hegemonic China has created the opportunity for Washington, Seoul, and Pyongyang to realign security interests to their mutual long-term benefit. Kim Jong Un, if he is to give up his nuclear weapons, must first be convinced that denuclearization will not equate to a loss of DPRK national security. North Korea’s tirades against the United States led many to conclude that Pyongyang intends to use its rudimentary nuclear weapons against US targets. However, the DPRK’s paramount motivation is its own security and survival. Deterring the United States is part of that effort, but it is even more logical to conclude that it fears growing leverage from a rising hegemonic China.