|Participants of the Incheon Security Conference hold a discussion in Songdo, Incheon, Monday. Korea Times photo by Lee Hyo-jin|
Leading scholars gather at inaugural Incheon Security Conference
By Lee Hyo-jin
INCHEON ― Chances for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to return to dialogue with the United States have become even lower now that he has gained new leverage through his recent summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Victor Cha, a U.S. analyst at Asian Affairs.
"Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse with North Korea, Putin and Kim joined an alliance. It's not new in the sense that there has always been cooperation, but there are few things that are new," said Cha, a professor at Georgetown University and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington D.C.-based think tank.
"Kim now has leverage. Historically, North Korea has always been a supplicant, seeking patronage aid from the Soviet Union or Russia. But now they are going to provide arms and munitions."
His remarks were made during the inaugural Incheon Security Conference held in Songdo, Incheon. The event gathered scholars from Korea and abroad for discussions on pending global issues including the war in Ukraine, U.S.-China relations and the South Korea-U.S. alliance amid North Korea's nuclear threats.
Cha went on to say that the Kim-Putin summit has also reduced Kim's need to talk to the U.S.
He explained that part of the reason for the North Korea-Russia summit was the "spectacular failure" of the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi in 2019, which was an embarrassment for the North Korean leader.
"The only way he can save his face was to do something big like the summit with Putin, with the nation coming out of the (COVID-19) lockdown," he said.
The recent burgeoning military cooperation between North Korea and Russia could involve Moscow's support for Pyongyang's spy satellites, nuclear-powered submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles, Cha said, stressing that coordinated policies among like-minded countries will become more crucial to address these issues.
Terence Roehrig, a professor of national security affairs at U.S. Naval War College, said although the immediate priority in containing North Korea's nuclear threats is the extended deterrence offered by the U.S., in the long term, there should be discussions about ways to reduce the tensions level on the Korean Peninsula.
With the specter of a new Cold War looming in the East Asian region ― with South Korea and the United States on one side and North Korea, China and Russia on the other ― experts stressed the importance for South Korea to build stronger alliances with like-minded countries to maintain peace in the region.
"We have not reached the stage of a cold war between the U.S. and its partners on the one hand and China on the other hand, but we are getting into a situation in which relations are certainly colder between the two sides," said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a professor of international relations at King's College London.
He viewed that the prolonged war in Ukraine has spurred stronger partnerships between South Korea and European nations particularly in the realms of defense and cyber security.
"We are like-minded partners. We have no ideological differences with Korea in terms of issues like democracies, the rule of law and human rights. And these issues really matter for Europe when we see an authoritarian regime like Russia invading Ukraine," Pacheco Pardo said.
Regarding the Ukraine war, Patrick Cronin, the Asia-Pacific security chair at the Hudson Institute, said, "When autocrats invade their neighbors because they feel entitled and since they can do so, global orders are threatened."
He added that the U.S. and South Korea have an obligation to deter further escalation and to prevent the invasion from succeeding.
|Participants of the Incheon Security Conference engage in a discussion session at the Incheon Security Conference under the theme of "The Ukraine war and U.S.-China relations" at Oakwood Premier hotel in Songdo, Incheon, Monday. Yonhap|
Monday's conference was hosted by Incheon Metropolitan City and funded by the Graduate School of Political Studies at Kyonggi University and the Korean Institute for Presidential Studies.
The event was attended by guests including Incheon Mayor Yoo Jeong-bok, former U.N. Security-General Ban Ki-moon. Former U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen gave a congratulatory speech, and former U.S. President George W. Bush delivered a congratulatory message in a pre-recorded video.
Following this year's conference, the Incheon Security Conference will become an annual event, according to event organizers, with a goal to gradually widen the spectrum of guests and its audience.