On Friday, April 23, General Colin L. Powell, founder and chair of the Colin Powell Center, convened a half-day conference on security and relations between North and South Korea. "Korean Reunification, Regional Peace and the 2010 Decade: The Limits and Prospects of Closer Engagement" took place in midtown Manhattan against the shadow of escalating tensions between North and South Korea. In the days leading up to the conference, a South Korean naval ship sailing near a disputed maritime border with North Korea sank; 104 sailors were on board that vessel. While initial South Korean remarks downplayed the possibility that the DPRK was involved in the incident, the sinking (coupled with a more than one-year-long North Korean boycott of international talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program) emphasized how timely the Powell Center discussion was to unfolding world events. The conference provided a forum through which key members of the South Korean and U.S. diplomatic corps could share ideas and analysis of the situation, and also provided a forum for civil society groups and researchers to present their views and research findings at a time when their perspective could influence policy. "We've always intended for our public events and conferences to bring together government officials, academics, and civil society groups to examine policy," noted Center Director Vince Boudreau. "We think this conference was distinctive both in its relationship to unfolding events and in its level of participation."
The conference featured a keynote speech by Ambassador Stephen W. Bosworth, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy, who recently conducted a review of North Korea policy for the Obama administration. It also included remarks by Ambassador Kim Kyungkeun, Consul General of the Republic of Korea in New York, and two panel discussions, the first on social conditions, and the second on policy options on the Korean Peninsula. General Powell also spoke, sharing his insights across several decades of diplomatic involvement in the region. General Powell began with the deep attachment he developed for the Korean people when he was a battalion commander stationed on the Peninsula and ended with reflections on the stark contrasts between a developed South Korea and a poor and repressed North Korea, and with how this contrast will likely play out in the politics of the region.
North Korea's economic and social deterioration over the past decades and the prospect for further decline framed discussions about humanitarian policy in the region. Setting the stage for the policy discussion, moderator Rajan Menon noted, "There is scarcely a part of our highly globalized world that would avoid the consequences of a conflagration in Northeast Asia. Additionally, there are four nuclear states in the region, which means that other players could be pulled into a confrontation [in] one of the most militarized parts of world. Per square kilometer, it is hard to find a place with more troops and armaments." Menon, an international security specialist, is the incoming Anne and Bernard M. Spitzer Chair in Political Science at City College.
Outlining Strategies for Greater Stability
Throughout the event, speakers and panelists keyed in on strategies to build security and stability on the Korean Peninsula. These measures included the creation of a permanent peace settlement between the two Koreas (something pending since the armistice ended intense Korean War fighting, and efforts to more intensively engage North Korea's neighbors. The need to reactivate the Six Party Talks, whose membership includes North and South Korea, Russia, Japan, China, and the U.S., drew particular attention. "As we look ahead today, we, of course, face a set of uncertainties in the short term as we await the results of the investigation of the sinking of the South Korean naval vessel," Ambassador Bosworth said. "But beyond that, I think that there is reason to believe that multilateral engagement remains the essential condition for making progress toward greater stability, denuclearization, peace, and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula." More