Analysis & Opinions - Harvard Crimson

Ban Ki-moon Discusses North Korean Denuclearization and American Leadership

| Oct. 22, 2018

Written by: Jenna X. Bao and Connor J. Wagaman

Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former top U.S. diplomat Susan A. Thornton discussed America’s role in the political future of the Korean peninsula before a packed audience at an Institute of Politics event Monday.

The event — entitled “Negotiating for Peace and Security on the Korean Peninsula” — was moderated by Harvard Kennedy School Professor R. Nicholas Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO.

Over the course of the 75-minute talk, Ban and Thornton converged on two cohesive themes: the importance of denuclearizing North Korea and the responsibility of the United States as a global leader.

Ban, who was previously a career South Korean diplomat, remarked on the significance of American efforts to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula — and the need to make the most of such an opportunity.

“It is very important that the U.S. takes a strong, principled position in dealing with one of the most serious global issues which we have not been able to handle and resolve,” Ban said. “I do hope the second summit [between the U.S. and North Korea], whenever it takes place, will draw out a concrete result based on a timeline [and] a way forward that is very clear.”

Ban also emphasized the need to collaborate with other global players in response to North Korea’s nuclear activities.

“There should be a closer, tighter coordination with allies, including South Korea [and] Japan. How to manage U.S.-China relationships will be crucially important, not just for U.S. trade and policies, but in resolving global issues, particularly North Korean denuclearization,” Ban said. “If North Korea sees any gaps, they will certainly try to divide the two sides and other partners.”

Thornton, a former assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, highlighted the necessity of prioritizing North Korean denuclearization in negotiations over human rights and cybersecurity concerns. Thornton said she believes the U.S. must first achieve a breakthrough on denuclearization before agreement on other issues becomes possible.

“I think we have to convince the North Koreans that if they deliver complete and full dismantlement and denuclearization, that we will indeed deliver on a different kind of relationship with North Korea,” Thornton said.

Despite the U.S.’ willingness to approach North Korea from multiple fronts, both speakers agreed that some strategies remained off the table.

“We never did consider sending Dennis Rodman in,” Thornton said, eliciting chuckles from the audience.

The speakers also remarked on other facets of the Trump administration’s foreign policy. Ban, in particular, chided the White House for withdrawing from the U.S.’ international commitments, including the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and UN agencies.

“This has given, practically speaking, [the] wrong message,” Ban said.

Thornton agreed that the U.S. has an obligation to act as a global leader.

“We have a comparative advantage in global leadership,” Thornton said. “If the current administration is leaving the field to other players, we will end up much worse off for it in the future.”

Some students in attendance connected topics discussed in the forum to issues in their own lives.

“Being Korean, I should know about Korean issues. All my family is back home,” Sandra Moon ’22 said. “It’s not just about college and studying, but beyond graduation, all of these current events are very important.”

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:Ban Ki-moon Discusses North Korean Denuclearization and American Leadership.” Harvard Crimson, October 22, 2018.


Nicholas Burns