Forging Ahead: U.S.-Korean Peninsula Relations in the Next U.S. Administration

On November 10, 2016, NBR’s office in Washington, D.C., hosted a roundtable discussion on the future of U.S.-Korean Peninsula relations in the new U.S. administration. The event featured representatives from the United States and South Korea and was conducted under the Chatham House Rule. The discussion covered a range of topics including alliance management, prospects for Korean unification, human rights and security dimensions in North Korea, and the status of economic sanctions on the Kim Jong-un regime. The discussions included frank comments, presentations and dialogues including a range of views as the United States enters a new stage of diplomacy with the region.

Taking place just two days after the presidential election of Donald Trump, participants were able to offer early predictions on what the future administration’s policies toward the peninsula would look like. A “peace through strength” doctrine could allow Washington to play a stabilizing role in the region through bold actions and a greater emphasis on burden-sharing, despite the political challenges for both allies.


A discussion on Korean reunification followed, where participants proposed that long-term stability on the peninsula requires a unified Korea. Preparing contingency plans for the humanitarian crises that could arise following a potential collapse in the North would be critical to facilitate a successful transition. The interests and likely responses from the region’s stakeholders will be an important consideration in the calculation.

Next, participants discussed the increasing links between human rights in North Korea and international peace and security, pointing to the need for a comprehensive plan, which includes promotion of human rights on par with denuclearization issues as an integral part of U.S. policy toward the Korean Peninsula. In this integration, “ordinary” North Korean people will be a key stakeholder, whose perspectives should be taken into account in preparation for a future rights-abiding northern half of the Korean Peninsula.

In a discussion on sanctions placed on North Korea, participants highlighted that sanctions are one tool among the full array of diplomatic, economic, and military means to induce change in North Korea’s policy. Whether sanctions have had time to bear fruit is a critical question, given that more robust enforcement mechanisms for the economic restrictions have just come on line. Others noted that, given the succession of North Korean nuclear and missile tests, South Korea and the United States may not have the luxury of waiting for the latest rounds of sanctions to take effect without stronger cooperation from China.

Event Co-hosts

The event was co-hosted by NBR, the Korea Development Institute (KDI), and the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU).