Guest speakers discuss geopolitical challenges at symposium

Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Security Studies addresses Korean Peninsula

By Kierstyn Wiley
On April 30, 2019

Photo by Axel Marcenaro: William Newcomb, former member of United Nations Panel of Experts, takes the floor, discussing issues surrounding nuclear energy. Newcomb was joined by George Hutchinson, Greg Scarlitiou and Maerk Tokola

The Kay Bailey Hutchison Center for Security Studies hosted a symposium on April 17 to discuss geopolitical challenges on the Korean Peninsula. 
Special guest speakers included: 
- George Hutchinson, managing editor of the International Journal of Korean Studies.
- William Newcomb, former member of the United Nations Panel of Experts. 
- Greg Scarlitiou, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. 
- Mark Tokola, vice president of the Korea Economic Institute.


The four men discussed human rights, counter-proliferation and good governance regarding the Korean Peninsula.


One of the challenges the U.S. and other countries need to be aware of is  North Korea now has technology just as good as anywhere else. 
“You go around 1962 when North Korean scientists began their training in nuclear technology, and you have their perpetual asking for nuclear energy assistance from the Soviet Union,” Newcomb said. “Few years later, all the sudden there’s this very strange construction project in a remote part of North Korea.” 


Newcomb said pressure was put on the Soviets and, in turn, put pressure on the North Koreans. Then, the North Koreans were forced to join the International Atomic Energy Agency and agreed to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty. 


“Worrying about North Korea proliferation is not just some kind of theoretical exercise,” Newcomb said. “It is something that the international community confronts as a serious threat. North Korea constructed a graphite-moderated reactor, financed by Iran, when North Korea and Syria signed a scientific cooperation agreement, supposedly for civilian purposes.” 


As technology at the Korean Peninsula improves and North Korea gains experience with chemical weapons delivery during a war time, the U.S. and other countries are growing more concerned with North Korea’s proliferation.


“A year ago, Kim Jong Un announced North Korea no longer needed to test nuclear weapons because its nuclear program was complete,” Hutchinson said. “Since then, Kim has altered state level propaganda to change the focus from weapons to improving North Korea’s national economy.”


Hutchinson said Kim started with legitimacy on improving the economic conditions, but this was underscored when Kim tried to negotiate a sanctions relief in return for commitments to dismantle the nuclear complex.


“We also see a recent push by the North Korean propaganda machine to complain to the U.N. that sanctions are blocking North Korean efforts to improve the human rights issue,” Hutchinson said. “We also see North Korean propaganda doubling down to pressure South Korea to break with Washington, and the international community, and restart economic cooperation with the North.”


Hutchinson said Kim Jong Un has a controlled, top-down approach for improving the North Korean economy.


“It includes developing infrastructure, and other large-scale projects, funded in part by squeezing concessions from the United States and the international community,” he said. “His approach also includes working with South Korea on cross-border tourism, but the U.N. sanctions that were put in place are preventing Kim from doing this.”


The speakers said the U.S. should pay close attention to these acts from North Korea and be aware of potential situations in the future.


“I think it’s important because if we don’t know what’s going on, then how would we know if worst comes to worst?” Alivia Taylor, sophomore, said. “We need to keep doing research and keep up with the news. It’s good to not be oblivious with what other countries in the world are doing.”

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