Nuclear North Korea

A Debate on Engagement Strategies

Victor D. Cha and David C. Kang

Columbia University Press

Nuclear North Korea

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Pub Date: April 2005

ISBN: 9780231131292

280 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $32.00£27.00

Pub Date: October 2003

ISBN: 9780231131285

280 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $95.00£79.00

Pub Date: April 2005

ISBN: 9780231505338

280 Pages

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List Price: $31.99£27.00

Nuclear North Korea

A Debate on Engagement Strategies

Victor D. Cha and David C. Kang

Columbia University Press

The regime of Kim Jong-Il has been called "mad," "rogue," even, by the Wall Street Journal, the equivalent of an "unreformed serial killer." Yet, despite the avalanche of television and print coverage of the Pyongyang government's violation of nuclear nonproliferation agreements and existing scholarly literature on North Korean policy and security, this critical issue remains mired in political punditry and often misleading sound bites. Victor Cha and David Kang step back from the daily newspaper coverage and cable news commentary and offer a reasoned, rational, and logical debate on the nature of the North Korean regime.

Coming to the issues from different perspectives—Kang believes the threat posed by Pyongyang has been inflated and endorses a more open approach, while Cha is more skeptical and advocates harsher measures—the authors together have written an essential work of clear-eyed reflection and authoritative analysis. They refute a number of misconceptions and challenge much faulty thinking that surrounds the discussion of North Korea, particularly the idea that North Korea is an irrational nation. Cha and Kang contend that however provocative, even deplorable, the Pyongyang government's behavior may at times be, it is not incomprehensible or incoherent. Neither is it "suicidal," they argue, although crisis conditions could escalate to a degree that provokes the North Korean regime to "lash out" as the best and only policy, the unintended consequence of which are suicide and/or collapse. Further, the authors seek to fill the current scholarly and policy gap with a vision for a U.S.-South Korea alliance that is not simply premised on a North Korean threat, not simply derivative of Japan, and not eternally based on an older, "Korean War generation" of supporters.

This book uncovers the inherent logic of the politics of the Korean peninsula, presenting an indispensable context for a new policy of engagement. In an intelligent and trenchant debate, the authors look at the implications of a nuclear North Korea for East Asia and U.S. homeland security, rigorously assessing historical and current U.S. policy, and provide a workable framework for constructive policy that should be followed by the United States, Japan, and South Korea if engagement fails to stop North Korean nuclear proliferation.

This timely and important book is free of much of the hyperbole that has fettered a more concise course of action for dealing with North Korea. The book not only fills the current scholarly and policy gap with a clear-cut analysis of the policy challenges facing the United States and its allies, but also offers a thorough and provocative assessment for what policies to pursue.

Korea Times

[Nuclear North Korea] aims to shed fresh light on two of our biggest areas of ignorance: what motivates Pyongyang's extreme hostility to the outside world, and how best to part it from its claimed nuclear 'deterrent'... Msssrs Cha and Kang debate tough versus tender engagement in alternating chapters.


Nuclear North Korea provides a penetrating analysis of what is probably the world's most dangerous trouble spot.

Gordon G. Chang, Asian Review of Books

Victor Cha and David Kang have joined forces to bring us a remarkable and sound presentation of two different strategies on how to deal with a nuclear North Korea. One of the most valuable aspects of their book lies in its composition— a running dialogue and critique of each other's strategy, presented in alternating chapters and culminating in a combined effort in the last two chapters of the book. The refreshing and honest internal evaluation that accompanies solid academic writing makes this work stand out.

Charles L. Pritchard, Survival

While both authors believe that engagement represents the only rational policy for the United States, they arrive at this conclusion along very different paths. In individually authored alternating chapters Cha and Kang offer differing assessments of the threat posed by the DPRK and the extent to which Pyongyang can be induced to join respectable international society. In the process, they explicitly take issue with each other and engage in something of a public debate on the merits, requirements, and prospects of engagement.

Robert M. Hathaway, World Policy Journal

[T]his book is required reading for anyone who wants a deeper appreciation of what is surely one of the most pressing issues in the post-September 11 world.

Nicholas Khoo, International Affairs

It is a slow and thoughtful read, navigating past the existing U.S. policymaking, the current media hyperboles, and the politically motivated punditry.

Bill Drucker, Korean Quarterly

Nuclear North Korea, written in a smooth and lucid style, is the most thoughtful and analytical treatment of practical strategies for dealing with North Korea that exists in print.

Ashton Carter, Harvard University

This book is invaluable in thinking through the costs and benefits of engagement or containment. It is intelligent, well-researched, and presents both sides of the argument fairly. In other words, it is unusual in the world of policy.

Fareed Zakaria, Columnist, Newsweek

North Korea's nuclear capability may pose the greatest current danger for U.S. security policy. Yet almost none of the strategists addressing the problem are genuine experts on Korea, and while punditry on the issue abounds, hardly any scholars have applied rigorous academic analysis to the task of policy recommendations. This serious but clearheaded book does much to fill in both glaring gaps. Cha and Kang provide a model example of how to apply expertise to policy debate in a timely, readable, and thoughtful way.

Richard K. Betts, Director, Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University

Nuclear North Korea is a straightforward assessment, balanced and thorough, and filled with vital facts. This is an important addition to scholarship and to the policy making community. The authors, fully versed in both the literature and the culture of the topic, make a valuable contribution to understanding how we must deal with our longest running and now escalating nuclear nightmare problem.

Richard V. Allen, National Security Advisor to President Reagan and Senior Fellow, The Hoover Institution

Their book is important. Dealing with North Korea will be one of the central challenges for the U.S. in the coming years.

Nicholas Kristof, New York Review of Books

Victor D. Cha and David C. Kang take a step away from emotion-laden debates about North Korea to offer a cool-headed, reasoned, and rational debate on the nature of the North Korean threat and the best policies for dealing with it.

Journal of Asian Studies

Cha and Kang wrestle with that policy context in their crisp, smart book.

Michael O'Hanlon, Chronicle of Higher Education

This book is good and extraordinary. It is a delight to read.

Ruediger Frank, Pacific Affairs
Introduction: The Debate over North Korea
Victor Cha: Weak but Still Threatening
David Kang: Threatening, but Deterrence Works
Response: Why we must pursue "hawk engagement" (Cha)
Response: Why are we so afraid of engagement? (Kang)
Crisis Redux: The 2003 Nuclear Crisis
Beyond Hyperbole, Toward a Strategy
Web Features:

    Victor Cha at the Carnegie Council on China and North Korea. (June, 2009)

About the Author

Victor D. Cha is associate professor of government and D. S. Song–Korea Foundation Chair, Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. He is the author of Alignment Despite Antagonism: The United States-Korea-Japan Security Triangle, which won the 2000 Ohira Book Prize. David C. Kang is an associate professor in the department of government and an adjunct associate professor at the Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College. He is the author of Crony Capitalism: Corruption and Development in Korea and the Philippines.