Executive Summary: The Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, in cooperation with the US Naval War College, sponsored an international political-military seminar game simulation on "Korean Reconciliation and Asian Security" on 27-30 April 1998 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The simulation brought together diplomats, military officers, academics, and regional experts representing Australia, China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, South Korea, United Kingdom, United States, European Union, ASEAN, the United Nations, and international financial institutions to explore the conditions and mechanisms with which a reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula could be achieved. North Korea was represented by American experts on the DPRK. This report summarizes the baseline scenario and offers insight on key issues as derived from the interaction of the actors during both informal and formal discussions. The game scenario was neither predictive of any expected future nor indicative of any specific policy position, but rather was designed solely to encourage discussion of the implications of one reasonably possible direction of Korean events.


I. Game Scenario

The year is 2001. Meetings between the DPRK and Republic of Korea have become routine, but largely unproductive. There has been tentative progress on cultural and economic exchange programs since 1999. Virtually no progress has been made on military issues, however, as the North has continued to insist that the withdrawal of US forces from the peninsula remains a precondition to a reduction in tension and confidence building.

Despite some efforts to change archaic agricultural practices, there has been insufficient structural reform or introduction of modern farming techniques to deal with the vagaries of the region’s weather. Without fundamental reform, crop failure in the DPRK has become predictable. Death on a massive scale seems imminent, especially in the countryside. There is growing "donor fatigue" in the international community as it becomes clear that there is no end in sight to North Korea’s cycle of food crises.

In South Korea, economic reforms have begun to turn around the ailing economy. However, the economy has not yet "grown out of" the record high unemployment due to business failures and labor reforms of 1998. With a still-recovering South Korean economy, slow movement on reform and an impending food problem in the DPRK, action on the part of the international community is required.

A Russian diplomatic initiative leads to a UN sponsored conference attended by both regional nations and primary donors (the players) to discuss two issues: the international response to the immediate food crisis and a long-term solution to the problem. The game’s two move structure is aligned with these issues.

II. Key Issues

The following observations on key issues were derived from the totality of game and post-game discussions, and are not tied to specific moves of the game.

National Strategies and Objectives

ASEAN: ASEAN’s goal was to bring an objective perspective to the Korean situation. It proposed a road map for moving toward reconciliation based on a series of confidence building measures (CBMs) to be implemented by the two Koreas.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: North Korea’s behavior was based on the primary objective of regime survival. While acknowledging the seriousness of its food crisis, it continued to believe the problem was sustainable. Effectively employing strategic ambiguity, the DPRK strove to obtain economic assistance without giving up its ability to control domestic stability.

European Union: Members of the European Union felt its primary concerns were to assure that a crisis on the Korean Peninsula did not "spill over" and deteriorate relations between world partners. EU members felt there was a very limited role for Europe in a military security scenario, and thus focused on humanitarian assistance issues and potential benefits derived from multilateral cooperation.

Japan: Given Japan’s lack of diplomatic ties with the DPRK, its limited consultative role in the Four Party talks and its absence in multilateral initiatives with respect to the North, such as the UNDP Tumen River Development Project, Japan felt its role in a peace process in the peninsula was limited. In an effort to establish a greater role for itself, Japan supported normalization of relations with the DPRK, which would allow Tokyo to provide economic and financial assistance to the North, with an ultimate goal of supporting stability on the peninsula.

People’s Republic of China: China’s national objectives were to achieve a peaceful and stable situation on the Korean Peninsula. Foreign presence was considered useful to the extent that it facilitated the beginning of inter-Korean talks. China worked quietly and often behind the scenes to encourage North Korea’s participation in multilateral as well as inter-Korean discussions.

Republic of Korea: South Korea’s national strategy was to emphasize the notion that comprehensive security must include political, economic, and cultural issues to be effective; the importance of maintaining a strong US-Korea alliance; and the importance of outside forces in facilitating inter-Korean dialogue. South Korea underscored throughout the simulation that ultimately, peace must be reached through direct interaction between the North and South. Unlike other countries, South Korea’s approach was not focused on reconciliation per se, but prevention of war or implosion.

Russia: Russia’s strategic objectives were shaped by a desire for a larger role in Northeast Asian affairs and by the need for a broader security posture in a post-Korean reconciliation in Asia. Russia also considered itself a more credible "honest broker" in the Korean situation than other countries with a direct interest in certain outcomes on the peninsula.

United States: The United States’ main strategic objectives were to bring the peace process forward and manage the humanitarian situation in North Korea. The US players conducted a "no daylight" policy with South Korea, consulting frequently to ensure that their positions are closely aligned. On a broader level, the United States kept in mind the larger need for a security structure in Northeast Asia which could endure beyond peace on the Korean Peninsula. In that respect, the United States strongly advocated the "two plus six" proposal, envisaging concentric circles of consultation beginning with the two Koreas, then including the United States and China, and finally bringing Russia and Japan into a larger dialogue.

Role of International Institutions

IMF/World Bank: International financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF assessed that despite food aid and other humanitarian support, deaths in the DPRK were approaching double digit shares of the pre-famine population. With international donor fatigue and no end in sight for North Korea to become self-sufficient, the international monetary community strongly advocated DPRK membership to these institutions as a strategy for opening up the country through structural reform and financial assistance.

The IMF suggested strongly that US economic sanctions against the DPRK might be counter-productive for two reasons: they inhibit agricultural technology transfer needed by the DPRK to improve its food situation and secondly, the sanctions provide DPRK leaders an easy external excuse for economic failure. This shifting of the blame for North Korea’s economic problems enables DPRK leaders to continue to believe, at some level, that their system would work without significant reform "if only" the United States would lift its sanctions.

United Nations: The United Nations was kept largely out of the simulation, reinforcing conventional wisdom regarding the utility of the United Nations in resolving the Korean situation.

International Aid

The international response to providing short term relief to North Korea was generous and surprisingly free of conditions. Delegates from the European Union, Russia, China, Japan, and ASEAN treated the food problem as a purely humanitarian concern. There was a clear effort on the part of the international community, especially the EU, to depoliticize aid. The United States and South Korean delegates offered food aid, but required that strict monitoring be enforced in the distribution process in order to appease domestic political groups in both countries.

The most important factor in South Korea’s decisionmaking process was the ability to assist—and verify the assistance to—the fringe populations living in rural areas or concentration camps that international monitors have not yet been able to access. Seoul felt that access to these fringe populations could not be achieved bilaterally, but possibly in a multilateral initiative.

South Korea took a ‘wait and see’ attitude on the food aid question, tabling its offer only after all members of the international community stated their proposals. The generous amount of donations—the international community provided over 100% of the food aid needed to meet North Korea’s short term needs—weakened South Korea’s position. With abundant levels of aid coming from around the world, South Korea had little political leverage to demand conditions on aid without appearing to be insensitive to the human plight of the North Koreans.

Confidence Building Measures

Confidence building measures (CBM) were recognized as a fundamental step toward reconciliation between the two Koreas. The conditions and mechanisms under which cultural, social, political, economic, and military CBMs would be implemented underwent great scrutiny. ASEAN and Australia offered a joint proposal for a "road map" of CBMs congruent with those measures outlined in the 1991 North-South Joint Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, and Cooperation and Exchange (also referred to as the 1991 Basic Agreement).

The key sticking point between the two Koreas was the specific set of CBMs to be implemented as a starting point: North Korea wanted movement on military CBMs first, namely the removal of all foreign troops in the peninsula, while South Korea desired initial implementation of social and political CBMs to foster a less hostile and more conciliatory atmosphere for progress toward military issues. As one player noted, "South Korea believes in crisis stability, while the North believes in perpetual peace and disarmament. There is a fundamental difference in the sequencing of demilitarization."

Game discussions focused on two pre-cursors to implementing CBMs and on the practical difficulties in developing those preconditions. First, based on CBM efforts in other international settings, greater transparency, particularly in military affairs, was seen as fundamental. However, there was consensus that North Korea, playing the weaker military hand and fearing the domestic consequences of greater openness, could not afford any meaningful degree of transparency.

Second, both Koreas needed greater confidence in their external situation in order to allow them to focus on intra-Korean CBMs. For South Korea this translated into a need for the full support of the United States. In game play, such support allowed the South Korean players, in their words, to be "more flexible." There were, however, numerous comments reflecting South Korean anxiety over the possibility of unilateral action by the United States. The DPRK was viewed as internationally isolated with its only benefactor, China, tiring of the continual effort of propping up a regime unwilling to make necessary economic reforms. In sum, the players concluded that without a major change in the mind-set by either Korea there was little possibility of success in implementing CBMs on the peninsula.

Multilateral Cooperation

There was diverse support for multilateral mechanisms which help shape an environment conducive for inter-Korean talks. Participants generally agreed that mechanisms such as the Four Party talks are useful to the extent that they provide an opportunity for the two Koreas to engage. Somewhat ironically, the international community’s overwhelming commitment of food aid with few conditions constrained South Korea’s leverage with the North.

Great Britain, in retrospect, felt greater consultation with South Korean colleagues may have resulted in a more useful exploitation of the food situation, such as a South Korean-led initiative backed by an international consortium of donors.

This report was authored by Jin Song, Research Fellow of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. For more information, please contact her at 808-971-8959

Polling Observations

After the game concluded, in an out-of-role context, the fifteen non-American participants were electronically polled on the following questions based on an anonymous voting system. While it is recognized that this represents a small sample and a different group of people would likely provide different responses, the polls provide a snapshot of regional and international perceptions.

A distant and neutral country or institution should be sought to mediate differences among the Republic of Korea and the DPRK.

Strongly agree 0%
Agree 27%
No opinion 13%
Disagree 33%
Strongly disagree 27%

When will North and South Korea reunify?

1998-2000 0%
2001-2005 20%
2006-2025 53%
After 2025 27%
Never 0%

Regarding Korea, what is your preferred solution?

Status quo 0%
Reconciliation 53%
Reunification 47%

Which country has the greatest influence over the DPRK?

South Korea 0%
United States 47%
China 47%
Japan 0%
Russia 7%

What is the best way to deal with North Korea?

Open bilateral forums 0%
Secret bilateral forums 40%
Open multilateral forums 40%
Secret multilateral forums 20%

US presence on the Korean Peninsula will be required after reconciliation.

Strongly agree 27%
Agree 47%
Unsure 7%
Disagree 0%
Strongly disagree 20%

Recent events in North and South Korea provide real opportunities for progress toward reconciliation.

Strongly agree 0%
Agree 47%
No opinion 20%
Disagree 33%
Strongly disagree 0%

A reconciled Korea is better for regional security than the status quo.

Strongly agree 60%
Agree 20%
No opinion 7%
Disagree 13%
Strongly disagree 0%

Substantial financial resources from the international community led by the IMF/World Bank would lead to a more flexible DPRK.

Strongly agree 13%
Agree 33%
No opinion 7%
Disagree 27%
Strongly disagree 20%

Evidence that the DPRK is weakening precipitously adds momentum towards reconciliation.

Strongly agree 0%
Agree 33%
No opinion 33%
Disagree 13%
Strongly disagree 20%

The issue of weapons of mass destruction is an important factor in the process of reconciliation.

Strongly agree 40%
Agree 33%
No opinion 27%
Disagree 0%
Strongly disagree 0%

The current DPRK regime is capable of economic reform.

Strongly agree 0%
Agree 20%
No opinion 7%
Disagree 40%
Strongly disagree 33%

Credible progress of KEDO is a necessary pre-condition for reconciliation.

Strongly agree 20%
Agree 60%
No opinion 0%
Disagree 20%
Strongly disagree 0%

If the US and South Korea begin modest unilateral demilitarization of the DMZ, the DPRK will reciprocate.

Strongly agree 20%
Agree 7%
No opinion 7%
Disagree 40%
Strongly disagree 27%

A reunified Korea is better for regional security than the status quo.

Strongly agree 20%
Agree 33%
No opinion 27%
Disagree 13%
Strongly disagree 7%


Vice Admiral (Ret) Jean Betermier
Personal Advisor to the Aerospatiale Chairman

Mr. Derek Boothby
British Royal Navy

Mr. Desmond Bowen
Harvard University

Mr. Lyall Breckon
Center for Naval Analyses

Dr. Kang Choi
Korea Institute for Defense Analyses

Dr. Derek da Cunha
Institute for Southeast Asian Studies

Dr. Donald Daniel
Center for Naval Warfare Studies

Dr. Lee Endress
Asia-Pacific Center

Dr. John Finney, Jr.
Political Advisor to the Chief of Naval Operations

Mr. Herman Finley, Jr.
Asia-Pacific Center

Dr. Dru Gladney
Asia-Pacific Center

Mr. David Haut
US Pacific Command

Mr. Bradd Hayes
Center for Naval Warfare Studies

Dr. Byung-Kook Kim
Yonsei University

Mr. Jimmie R. Lackey
Asia-Pacific Center

COL Paul Lambert
Asia-Pacific Center

Captain Bryan Lucas
Center for Naval Warfare Studies

CDR Wayne McAuliffe
Center for Naval Warfare Studies

Amb. Francis McNeil
Chief of Naval Operations

Dr. Chung-In Moon
Yonsei University

Mr. Tamotsu Nakano
Tottori Research Center

Dr. Stephen Noerper
Asia-Pacific Center

Dr. Marcus Noland
Institute for International Economics

Dr. Johannes Preisinger
Harvard University

Wing CDR David Sadler
Royal Australian Air Force

Dr. Dingli Shen
Fudan University

LTGEN Toshiyuki Shikata
Teikyo University

Ms. Jin Song
Asia-Pacific Center

Mr. H.C. Stackpole
Asia-Pacific Center

Captain Robert Speer
Asia-Pacific Center

Mr. Andres Vaart
Center for Naval Warfare Studies

Dr. James R. Van de Velde
Stanford University

COL Liping Xia
Shanghai Institute for International Studies

Dr. Alexei Zagorsky
Harvard University