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Sanctions Not War

Noted scholar discusses current situation between U.S. and North Korea

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Vigorous enforcement of economic sanctions against North Korea is the best approach for the United States and its allies to confront the growing threat posed by the Asian nation, said a noted scholar who visited campus last week.

“The situation today is quite grave. But I think through the enforcement of tough sanctions we can, at the very least, boost our leverage vis à vis North Korea,” said Professor Sung-Yoon Lee, the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor in Korean studies and assistant professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

A widely-consulted specialist on the Korean peninsula, Dr. Lee delivered his remarks in the Heritage Room of the Maxwell Library as part of the Minnock Institute for Global Engagement’s John Quincy Adams Foreign Affairs Distinguished Speaker series. 

His appearance came amid escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea over the latter’s recent flurry of nuclear tests.

Introduced by Dr. Wing-kai To, history professor and the institute’s academic director, Dr. Lee provided an overview of modern Korean history, including the division of the peninsula in 1945, the Korean War, and the subsequent evolution of South Korea into a prosperous democratic state and North Korea into an impoverished and repressive society. His talk was followed by a discussion led by Dr. Inkyoung Kim, a BSU assistant professor of political science.

Despite its profound problems, North Korea “has managed to grab all the attention of the world through its bizarre, cultish ways; outrageous threats; and also very clever diplomacy,” said Dr. Lee, arguing that the U.S. and its allies have long failed to recognize the menace posed by the nation.

“We should stop underestimating North Korea. They are not a child throwing a tantrum,” he said. “We cannot just contain a nuclear North Korea and move on.”

But he believes in light of the massive loss of life that could result from a war, toughened sanctions represent the best option going forward.

Despite the risks involved, Dr. Lee said he believes North Korea would ultimately make the “rational choice” to drop its nuclear program because “there is a ruthless rational element in their policy.” (Story and photos by John Laidler for University News & Media)

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