On Tuesday, September 21, The Institute of World Politics hosted a webinar entitled “The Security Situation on the Korean Peninsula,” led by Col. David S. Maxwell of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). The lecture was sponsored by the Asia Initiative Lecture Series at IWP. Col. Maxwell’s presentation focused on the Kim regime’s goal of survival, the value of a strong U.S.-ROK alliance, and the “Big Five,” or the five major concerns surrounding the security situation on the Korean Peninsula.
About the Speaker
Col. David S. Maxwell is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy. He is a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Army, retiring as a Special Forces Colonel with his final assignment teaching national security at the National War College. He served over 20 years in Asia, primarily in Korea, Japan, and the Philippines. Colonel Maxwell served on the ROK/U.S. Combined Forces Command staff and the Special Operations Command Korea. He is the co-author of the first CONPLAN 5029, the plan for North Korean Instability and Regime Collapse. He commanded the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines and was the G3 at the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. Following retirement, he served as the Associate Director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. He is on the Board of Directors of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, the International Council of Korean Studies, the Council on Korean-U.S. Security Studies, the Special Operations Research Association, the OSS Society, and the Small Wars Journal. He earned a B.A. in political science from Miami University, an M.A. in Military Arts and Science from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and from the School of Advanced Military Studies, and an M.S. in National Security Studies from the National War College.
The North Korean Strategy
Col. Maxwell began his lecture by discussing the current strategy of the Kim family regime. He denounced the prominence of the phrase “Kim knows…” in discussions about North Korea. He stressed that it is impossible to know what information is made available to Kim Jong-un. Col. Maxwell continued by stressing the Kim family’s concern for their survival, which is the primary motivation behind their actions. As part of this goal, he elaborated that the Kim family seeks to create a rift between the Republic of Korea and the U.S., subvert the political processes in South Korea, and establish North Korea as a nuclear state as a means of deterrence.
The Big Five
Col. Maxwell then examined the “Big Five,” which refers to war, regime collapse, human rights, asymmetric threats, and unification. These are the major concerns of policymakers when discussing the Korean Peninsula.
The first is the resumption of hostilities and war, which he deems the worst-case scenario. The best method to prevent active hostilities is a strong, combined force of ROK and U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula.
The second is regime collapse. Col. Maxwell stressed that a peaceful regime collapse in North Korea is unlikely, and there should be a concern about an “explosion” effect, where instability in North Korea spills over into the region.
The third is human rights. The ultimate focus of U.S. policy towards North Korea should be with concern to human rights. In this regard, continued U.S. pressure is vital to challenging the Kim regime and its narrative.
The fourth is asymmetric threats, and these include: North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities, their proliferation of arms and training to U.S. enemies, and their cyber proficiency.
The final of the “Big Five” is unification, which Col. Maxwell describes as the most desirable outcome.
Progress Towards a Peace Treaty
Col. Maxwell concluded his presentation by discussing what would constitute a proper peace agreement. He advised against providing concessions to North Korea without specific, verifiable steps towards denuclearization. In addition, Col. Maxwell supported the continuation of sanctions on North Korea to push Kim Jong-un toward a peaceful negotiation and denuclearization. He further clarified the U.S. role as a supporter and facilitator of peace, but not an individual party to the negotiations. Col. Maxwell emphasized that peace negotiations on the Korean Peninsula would have a better chance of success with a dialogue between the North and South. He expressed his hope for a future United Republic of Korea.