Around the Institute

Society of Fellows Participate in Discussion on North Korea

August 22, 2013  • Caroline Tory

Society of Fellows members in a discussion on North Korea (Photo Credit: Nora Feller)

Members of the Society of Fellows (SOF) — a community of engaged supporters of the Aspen Institute — have gathered on four different occasions this summer for symposia. These SOF-exclusive programs feature a blend of lecture and discussion, with expert moderators on topics ranging from music to domestic politics and geopolitical issues. A highlight of this summer’s roster was the August 5th to 8th symposium titled “The Korean Peninsula: Implications for US Foreign Policy” featuring Ambassador Joseph DeTrani – and Professor Alexandre Mansourov. The moderators brought a wealth of experience and first-hand knowledge to the table, both having spent significant time in North Korea. Ambassador DeTrani was the North Korean Mission Manager and Special Envoy for Six Party Talks and Professor Mansourov was a student at the Kim Il Sung National University in Pyongyang, DPRK. 

Moderators Alexandre Mansourov and Joseph DeTrani (Photo Credit: Nora Feller)

After a dynamic lecture on the history, geography and current politics in North Korea, the moderators set the stage for a role-playing exercise. The participants brainstormed several end goals of a hypothetical US foreign policy approach to North Korea and came up with strategies to attain these goals. Participants put themselves in the shoes of various players, acting as representatives from North Korea, the US, Japan, China, and other parties involved. The group asked questions such as: “What is in the US national interest?”; “How will the Koreans respond to a request for normalization?”; and “What kind of security assurances should the US offer?”

Alexandre Mansourov (Photo Credit: Nora Feller)

On the table for discussion were issues such as sanctions, denuclearization, international financial assistance, human rights and the rule of law. Throughout the sessions, DeTrani and Mansourov emphasized a key challenge: the opaqueness of the North Korean leadership. 

“We’re marching in a dark tunnel,” said DeTrani. “There’s the element that they may have something in their pocket that we’re not aware of.” 

On the third morning, the group heard from guest speaker Kurt Campbell, who recently served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.  Campbell is a member of the Aspen Strategy Group, which had its annual Aspen meeting next door to the symposium. 

Participants benefitted from the variety of expert opinions provided during the sessions. One attendee remarked: 

This was by far the best symposium I participated in since I joined the SOF 10 years ago. Both moderators were outstanding. Their views were divergent in many ways, Alexandre Mansourov having lived and studied both in the USSR and North Korea before immigrating to the US, offered what I would call a view from the Soviet perspective. Joseph DeTrani offered the more traditional view, but at no time were they confrontational. The added bonus of Asst. Secretary Kurt Campbell was a real treat. All three of them were very generous, and I might say, surprisingly open, with the information they provided.

By the end of the three days, participants had developed a draft hypothetical proposal for North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un on behalf of the United States.  They also had a clearer understanding of the frustration felt by US negotiators. DeTrani acknowledged the “North Korean fatigue” on the part of the United States, but ultimately encouraged persistence on these issues. “That’s why it is important that we are all here and having this discussion,” he said.

All symposia are exclusive to the Society of Fellows. If you are interested in joining, please contact Peter Waanders at 970-544-7912.