What is Kim Jong Un’s Grand Strategy? Opportunities and Constraints in North Korea Today

Colloquium | January 30 | 4-6 p.m. | Doe Library, Room 180

 Chung Min Lee, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

 Center for Korean Studies (CKS)

Summary --

Defying earlier expectations, North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un has consolidated power since his father’s death in December 2011. While it was under Kim Jong Il that North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, it was Kim Jong Un that accelerated Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program including the first hydrogen bomb test in 2017. Having achieved this goal, Kim now wants to transform North Korea economically. In the midst of impeachment hearings, U.S. President Donald Trump is most eager to cut a nuclear deal with Kim as a signature foreign policy achievement. If such a deal is signed, however, it will result in major reverberations.

Kim is more worldly and savvy compared to the Kim Dynasty’s previous Great Leaders but is also ruthless and boxed in by the very political system that created him. Indeed, the central dilemma facing Kim—the fact North Korean can really prosper if adopts groundbreaking economic reforms and political openness but that the very moment he does so, he endangers the survival of the Kim Dynasty, is going to worsen under his watch. He has undertaken bold diplomatic initiatives including summits with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. But in the end, the growing contradictions within the North Korean system and fueled by rampant corruption, weakening of social control, massive defense expenditures, and the new “jangmadang generation” will lead to changes he won’t be able to control. This is why he is at the top of his game, but also why he’s not.

Bio --

Chung Min LEE is a Senior Fellow, Asia Program, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. and Chairman of the International Advisory Council of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Prior to joining Carnegie in July 2018, he taught for twenty years at the Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS), Yonsei University in Seoul, Korea. During his career at Yonsei, Lee was Dean of the GSIS (2008-2012) and the Underwood International College (2010-2012). In the public arena, Lee served as the ROK’s Ambassador for National Security Affairs (2013-2016) and Ambassador for International Security Affairs (2010-2011). He has also advised the National Security Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of National Defense, and the Ministry of Unification. He received his MALD and his Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, in 1988 and his B.A. in political science from Yonsei University in 1982. He has written extensively on Asian security, strategic developments in Northeast Asia, and the political-military balance on the Korean Peninsula. His forthcolming book The Hermit King: The Dangerous Game of Kim Jong Un (St. Martin’s Press) will be published in November 2019 and he is the author of Fault Lines in a Rising Asia (Carnegie, 2016).

 CA, cks@berkeley.edu, 5106425674