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Two minutes to midnight: Dal experts consider North Korea

- November 30, 2017

North Korea Victory Day (Stefan Krasowski photo, used under Creative Commons license)
North Korea Victory Day (Stefan Krasowski photo, used under Creative Commons license)

Peace, order and good government — Commonwealth values most Canadians share. But for some regions of the world these principles are far from a priority.

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has three main values: self-reliance, military first and leader is number one,” explained professor Duncan MacIntosh, chair of Dal’s Department of Philosophy, during a panel discussion on campus last Thursday night (November 23).

Dr. MacIntosh was joined by several fellow Dal experts for a conversation about one of the biggest questions in global politics today: can the nuclear crisis in North Korea be defused?

Other panelists included Frank Harvey, dean of the Faculty Arts and Social Sciences; Brian Bow, director of the Centre for the Study of Security and Development; and Robert Huish and Theresa Ulicki, both associate professors in IDS. (Read speaker bios.)

Hosted by the Department of International Development Studies (IDS), with support from Global Affairs Canada and the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation, the discussion spanned everything from nuclear strategy and sanctions to human rights and poverty. More than 70 people were in attendance.  

Strategies and tactics


Both Dr. Bow and Dr. Harvey spoke about the current strategies the world is using to mitigate a potential nuclear crisis, with the former focusing on the evolution of strategy in the United States and the latter on ballistic missile defence.

“In the past, our focus has been on inducement,” said Dr. Bow. “We have said if the regime ends their nuclear weapons program there will be benefits, if not, consequences. But this strategy is missing three key elements: incentives, a face-saving alternative and credible threats.”

Dr. Harvey agreed, echoing that the strategy of deterrence by punishment is declining in effectiveness.

Another key difficulty in addressing the North Korean nuclear situation, explained Dr. Huish, is that prevention strategies such as sanctions require certain underlying conditions in order to be effective.   

“Sanctions only work if the target wants to be a part of the global community. Right now, that isn’t the case,” he explained. “The sanctions we have in place just aren’t working."

Broadening the discussion


Dr. Ulicki spoke about on human security and human rights, noting that famine, pandemics, poverty and human trafficking are all important aspects of the discussions around North Korea.

“Human security involves more than just a discussion on nuclear weapons and war. Often discussions are state focused, but there are other elements of security: community, market, even the household,” she explained.

She also touched upon how gender impacts life in North Korea, citing high levels of gender-based violence combined with poor living conditions and lack of food to explain the higher rate of women than men who choose to escape the country.

“Much of the time they [women] go to China through arranged marriages where they have no protection from the Chinese government,” she said. “The risk is huge, but often it is a choice between life and death.”

The event also featured a preview screening of Under the Sun, a documentary film that sheds light of some of these issues through the eyes of one family in the country’s capital city of Pyongyang.  A full screening of the film will be presented at Dalhousie in January.


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