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Of all the critical issues affecting regional stability in North East Asia, those surrounding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) are arguably the most severe and immediate, with implications not only for the Asian region but also for the wider global community.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Korea recommends a new model for addressing those challenges. It has four components.

First, any final resolution of the challenges related to the DPRK can only come through engagement by the international community with North Korea, and by North Korea with the international community, and that engagement must be holistic, sequential, sustained and consensual (HSSC). 

Second, there must be an attempt to develop an empirically rigorous and transparent epistemic community on North Korea. Third, the Forum is recommended to establish an ad hoc International Advisory Board on Economic Interaction with the DPRK. Fourth, the Forum is recommended to invite DPRK officials to Forum events.

The new model of HSSC seems especially pertinent now. The DPRK is engaging in a transition of power. Throughout 2012 many other concerned parties will face leadership transitions. The Council believes that HSSC can lay the groundwork for serious progress starting in 2013, after which most of the leadership line-up should remain in place for several years.

The North Korean Challenges

The Council believes that the challenges surrounding North Korea include:

  1. mutual misperception and misrepresentation between the DPRK and the international community, in particular the persistent image of the DPRK as a rogue state
  2.  deficiencies in the DPRK economy and suggestions it may be a failing state
  3.  existential and proliferation threats posed by a nuclear North Korea
  4.  conventional security threats on the Korean peninsula
  5.  human security risks to the citizens of the DPRK

The Old Model

The past model for addressing these problems, even for the DPRK, has been the traditional Cold War alliance framework centred on the United States and its principal military and political partners in Northeast Asia. Traditional diplomatic interactions between North Korea and the international community have been constrained and distorted by political rhetoric and a propaganda strategy of mutual demonization, often disregarding empirical reality. Relations have been hindered by the lack of diplomatic dialogue, limited direct and sustained contact between North Korea and other countries, media oversimplification, inconsistent US and Allied policies over time, and the existence of a divided epistemic community engaged in analysing the DPRK.

The North Korean economy suffers internally from institutional and structural limitations and ideological rigidity; externally the linkage to security issues has led to a direct and indirect international sanctions regime that creates an excessive economic dependence on China.

North Korea’s development of what it claims is a nuclear deterrent has been met by other states with fragmented policies based on punishment and reward that have been inconsistently applied and lacking a consensus on a future scenario for the DPRK. Tolerance of collapse scenarios and a lack of reliable confidence-building measures have led to an inertia-driven reliance on the Six-Party Talks.

The conventional force security structure on the Korean peninsula has been marked by reliance on traditional defensive/pre-emptive deterrence by large-scale forces. The promise of the 1992 Republic of Korea (ROK)-DPRK Basic Agreement to create a foundation for cooperation and dialogue has gone unfulfilled.

Human security issues in the DPRK have been hampered by the politicization of those issues, the acute failure of the DPRK agricultural sector, inconsistent provision of food aid, lack of consensus on the treatment of refugees, and excessive reliance on Non Government Organizations to address the issues.

The old model has not worked.

 The New Model

The call for a holistic approach means simply that all sides have to realize that there are core issues for every player. No side is going to get only what it wants without addressing what the other sides want and without understanding that all these interests and concerns are interrelated.

Sequential means that no side is going to get all of what it wants completely before the concerns of the other sides are met. There has to be a step-by-step process that leads to satisfaction for all parties.

Sustained means that all sides have to realize it is going to take a while and they are going to have to persevere and not break off whenever one party says, or, unfortunately, does, something the others don’t like. Likewise, all parties will need to exercise constraint in words and actions that may play well domestically but have a negative impact on engagement.

Finally, consensual recognizes that no side has the power to force its will, and a final and satisfactory conclusion, on the others. While the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula is acknowledged and confirmed (Complete, Verifiable, and Irreversible (nuclear) Disarmament (CVID)), there needs to be a flexible and innovative approach that requires multi-lateral cooperation. The exploration of confidence building measures (CBMs), such as used by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), in which the DPRK holds membership, might be a starting point.

The second element of the New Model is the creation of a reliable epistemic community on North Korea. Considering the magnitude of the issue, North Korea and its international neighbours don’t know much about each other – but we do have a full panoply of preconceptions and stereotypes constantly played back by both media and propaganda to the point that reality has been distorted out of all proportion. We are all, on all sides, like the poor souls in Plato’s Cave; we see the shadows and allow our imaginations to conjure up a distorted reality. The Council recommends that multiple channels of public and private sector direct and indirect communication among North Korea and the other players be established.

Thirdly, through establishment of an ad hoc International Advisory Board on Economic Interaction with the DPRK, external actors could re-deliberate the North Korean economic situation to refine understanding of the investment climate, encourage and assist in training programs, encourage transparent investment-related data exchanges, and assist developmental planning.

Finally, the Forum has it within its own power to open a door to greater economic understanding by inviting North Koreans to participate in Forum events and initiatives. These could include the Forums on East Asia, the New Champions meeting in China and, if those meetings go well, the Annual Meeting itself.


The Council has undertaken steps to bring its HSSC recommendation to the attention of opinion-makers and policy-makers and has worked with World Economic Forum staff on invitations for North Korean participation in Forum Meetings.

Council chairman Spencer Kim briefed our recommendations at the 2012 Annual Meeting; informally in numerous private conversations with attendees, and formally as one of the presenters at the final sessions of the Annual Meeting open to the media. He also wrote an op-ed piece published in The Korea Herald on 25 January 2012 that contained the Council’s recommendations, especially HSSC. Mr Kim used private channels to ensure that the editorial was brought to the attention of high-ranking government officials in the US, ROK and DPRK. The op-ed is at:

Council members Chung-in Moon and Spencer Kim helped to organize and find funds for an initial effort to build a more vigorous epistemic understanding of the challenges surrounding North Korea. They worked with Syracuse University (USA), the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (Germany), Hanshin University (South Korea), the National Association of Korean-Americans (USA), and the Pacific Century Institute (USA – founded by Spencer Kim) to put on the 2012 New York Conference on Peace and Cooperation in Northeast Asia.

Participants from eight countries, including a high-ranking delegation from the DPRK, met in New York City on 8-9 March for the first in a series of Track II conferences focused on issues relating to peace, cooperation, and security on the Korean Peninsula. The event consisted of informal, multilateral talks designed to provide participants with a safe environment for examining alternative visions of the future of the region. These meetings were held under the Chatham House Rule that protects the identity and affiliation of speakers, but it can be said that Spencer Kim chaired a dialogue session that included discussion of HSSC. Based on the amicable and candid interactions among participants, the organizers believe that the conference achieved its primary goal of building understanding, despite continuing political differences. (For more see the press release on the event at:

Chung in Moon reported on the substance of the event in the influential magazine Global Asia. The article is at:

Council member Ruediger Frank wrote two articles for the website 38 North, which is a closely watched site for analysis on the DPRK. His article on the leadership transition in North Korea, published 12 January, can be found at: His 9 April article on the future under Kim Jong Un can be found at:

Spencer Kim has coordinated with Forum leadership and staff, as well as the organizers of the specific Forum events, to issue invitations to North Korean participants. He has extended a formal invitation in writing through the DPRK Mission to the UN in New York as well as directly to the DPRK Foreign Ministry. Additionally, Mr Kim briefed the high-ranking DPRK delegation at the New York conference (above) on the invitation and the Council’s recommendations. The Council has also forwarded the invitation informally through long-established DPRK contacts of a Council member.


The views expressed by the individual authors in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the World Economic Forum or all Members of the Global Agenda Council on Korea. The World Economic Forum and/or Members of the Global Agenda Council on Korea undertake no obligation to publicly revise or update any statements contained herein, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, and they will in no circumstances be held liable for any loss or damage arising in connection with the use of the information in this publication.