The first Korea - West Coast Strategic Forum held in Seoul on December 11-12, 2006, convened policymakers, scholars and regional experts to discuss the North Korean nuclear issue, the state of the U.S.-ROK alliance, and notions of a formalized mechanism for security cooperation in Northeast Asia. Participants engaged in lively and frank exchanges on these issues. Gi-Wook Shin, Daniel C. Sneider, Siegfried S. Hecker, and Kristin C. Burke represented the Freeman Spogli Institute.
Participants were concerned that North Korea's drive toward nuclear weapons has exposed disparate interests among the five parties committed to arresting this ambition, including differences in threat perception between the United States and South Korea. But they also believed that multilateral dialogue still offers the best possibility for resolving the DPRK nuclear issue through peaceful means. Participants argued that in the wake of the nuclear test, pressure and use of force should be discounted as viable options and "rollback" through negotiations should be pursued. Such an approach necessitates clearer articulation of North Korea's options, a new consensus on mutual priorities, hard work on sequencing, and a more developed vision for alternative policies should diplomacy fail.
The U.S.-ROK alliance has entered a new era characterized by new American security imperatives, such as nonproliferation and counterterrorism, as well as a new Korean policy of engagement toward the DPRK. These factors, coupled with domestic political challenges and an evolving regional security environment, call for serious, strategic discussions on the state of the alliance. Though the U.S. and the ROK have exhibited diverging threat perceptions of North Korea the - core of the strategic rationale for the alliance - the instructive precedent set by NATO demonstrates that alliances can survive redefinition of the primary security threat, though not the absence of a common threat.
Participants discussed the prospects for greater regional cooperation in Northeast Asia, including the possibility of converting the six-party talks into a new institutional mechanism for multilateral security cooperation. However, there are serious obstacles to deeper integration in the region, not least unresolved historical issues that still elicit passionate responses. But if understandings on these issues can be reached, a regional security organization could address critical traditional and non-traditional security issues and mitigate uncertainty about China's rise.
The full text of the report can be found at The First Korea-West Coast Strategic Forum.