Confrontation Over Korea: Memorandum to US President Obama by Jonathan D. Pollack

[For the inauguration of US President Barack Obama’s second term of office, a number of Foreign Policy scholars at the Brookings Institution prepared a “Presidential Briefing Book” entitled “Big Bets & Black Swans”, published on 17 January 2013. The “big bets,” according to the introduction, are places where the Foreign Policy scholars believe the President should consider investing his power, time and prestige in major efforts that can have a transformational impact on America and the world, as well as on his legacy. The “black swans” are those low probability but high impact events that can trip the President up and divert him from his higher purposes; events so dramatically negative that he will need to take steps in advance to avoid them. Predictably, the black swans include the DPRK. In his Memorandum to the President, Jonathan Pollack posits an impending severe internal crisis in North Korea, which will engender a serious risk of an acute US-China confrontation or even a direct military conflict over Korea. Pollack is convinced that neither China nor the USA desire such a confrontation, and offers a four-part recommendation to begin a process of US-China understanding that would serve to avoid such a worst-case scenario. Jonathan D. Pollack is Acting Director of the John L. Thornton China Center, and Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, at Brookings. –CanKor]

Jonathan D. Pollack (video capture from World News Inc.)

Jonathan D. Pollack (video capture from World News Inc.)


To: President Obama

From: Jonathan Pollack

DATE: January 17, 2013

BLACK SWAN: Confrontation Over Korea

There is a serious risk of an acute U.S.-China confrontation or even a direct military conflict over Korea. Neither Washington nor Beijing seek this kind of conflict, but North Korea’s severe internal crisis has impelled the United States and China to prepare to intervene in the North, both to protect their respective vital interests and to forestall larger risks to the peace. Pyongyang has a long record of lashing out at neighboring states (especially our South Korean ally) to warn outside powers against any possible intervention in its internal affairs. But this threat now encompasses the potential use of nuclear weapons. Any possible nuclear use by North Korea, even if undertaken within its own borders, represents an acute danger to the region as a whole. If Washington and Beijing fail to coordinate and communicate, we could face the possibility of a U.S.-China confrontation almost unimaginable in its consequences. Read the rest of this entry »

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