| by Jason Warburg

North Korea coverage illustration

As international concern about North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs continued to mount this summer and fall, Middlebury Institute experts not only participated in, but actually helped to shape the conversation about the critical policy issues involved.

Jeffrey Lewis led the charge with prominent op-ed pieces in the New York Times and Washington Post. On August 3 the Times published his piece “Let’s Face It: North Korean Nuclear Weapons Can Hit the U.S.,” and he wrote in an August 24 piece for the Post that “for deterrence to fail, neither Trump nor Kim have to be insane or suicidal. They merely have to be the flawed human beings that we all are.” Lewis, who is director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Institute’s James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), was also quoted by CNN and others regarding military options against North Korea: “If you attack them after they have nuclear weapons, it’s not a preventive war. It’s just a plain old nuclear war.” Finally, in an October 3 column for Foreign Policy, Lewis examined the alarming possibility that fake news could trigger a nuclear war.

“The positions of the United States and North Korea are extremely far apart,” Senior Research Associate Melissa Hanham told the New York Times on October 2. “If it were easy,” she said of efforts at diplomacy, “we would have done it already.” In a September 18 comment that was widely quoted in coverage of possible attack plans, Hanham told the Huffington Post “I don’t know what plan would not put Seoul at risk.”

CNS Senior Research Associate Andrea Berger was frequently quoted on questions surrounding trade flows and the effectiveness of economic sanctions. A widely seen October 1 Washington Post story quoted Berger on the “legacy of dependency” created by North Korea’s history of selling weapons at a discount to international customers such as Egypt.

In addition to being quoted repeatedly in coverage, CNS Senior Research Associate Joshua Pollack penned two op-ed pieces on North Korea for the New York Daily News. “President Trump’s bombastic rhetoric will do nothing to de-nuclearize North Korea” ran on September 9 in response to Trump’s United Nations address, followed by a September 19 piece, “A brief history of the huge mess in North Korea.” Pollack was also quoted in a widely reprinted September 7 Associated Press story, supporting the conclusion that North Korea is telling the truth about its nuclear capabilities.  

Finally, an October 5 Wall Street Journal feature highlighted the ingenious methods used by the Institute’s team to track developments in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs using only public-source materials. Over the past several months, the team’s well-informed and often pointed observations have done more than illuminate these critical issues; they have advanced one of the most vital policy conversations of our times in important ways, pointing out fallacies and delivering timely, astute analysis backed by data and experience.