Stephen Bosworth on North Korea; Talking is Good

January 7, 2014
By James F. Smith, Belfer Center communications director

As an American diplomat, Stephen Bosworth stared down dictators (Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines) and cajoled repressive regimes (North Korea). Then he had a second career as dean of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. But he wasn’t able to retreat to the quiet halls of academia. President Obama appointed him the U.S. special envoy on North Korea, a role he filled from 2009 to 2011, while leading the Fletcher School.
After retiring from Fletcher in June after 12 years as dean, Bosworth refused to rest on his considerable laurels. Instead, he joined the Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs as a resident senior fellow. He has already set up the center’s new Korea Working Group, which is dissecting strategic issues in Northeast Asia and considering policy options for one of the world’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
Bosworth is the ideal person to zoom in on one of the gravest challenges in the Belfer Center’s core policy research fields of nuclear security and diplomacy: how to confront North Korea over its renegade nuclear weapons program. Bosworth has been a leading American government actor dealing with North Korea for nearly 20 years.
In 1995, Bosworth became director of a governmental organization set up to create non-nuclear energy alternatives for North Korea, which helped slow the regime’s nuclear ambitions. He then served as U.S. ambassador to South Korea from 1997 to 2001. Since then, North Korea has shrugged off world pressure and sanctions; the regime detonated its first nuclear test in 2006, and two more have followed. Negotiations have repeatedly broken down.
Bosworth is under no illusions about the North’s intransigence. He cites several “stupid” acts that undermined progress: the North fired missiles, shelled a South Korean island, and sank a South Korean patrol boat. Then it launched a satellite, widely regarded as a ballistic missile test, right after winning U.S. concessions on the basis that it would not launch such a test.
Still, he argues, “it’s better to talk than not talk. The likelihood of them actually completing denuclearization absent changes in the current situation is remote. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to try, and urge them not to do it. But we ought to be realistic about it. That said, I still think it’s better to talk to them than not talk to them.”
“If you’re not talking, they are just running free, as the North Koreans are doing now," says Bosworth. "They are continuing their nuclear program, continuing their missile program. The only constraint that would be placed on them is if we are talking to them.”
In appointing Bosworth a senior fellow, Belfer Center Director Graham Allison said the Kennedy School was fortunate to be able to take advantage of the experience of “one of the most influential experts in the world on Korean policy.”
Bosworth is reveling in the array of seminars and events at the center and the Kennedy School, renewing relationships with longtime colleagues including Gary Samore and Nicholas Burns.
“It’s just a very congenial place for me to be,” Bosworth said. “As I tell my wife, every day is like a visit to the candy store.” read more

Stephen Bosworth, Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Stephen Bosworth, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs senior fellow

Photo Credit: AP/Yomiuru Shimbun/Taro Konishi

“If you’re not talking, they are just running free, as the North Koreans are doing now."


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