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U.S. Strategy Towards North Korea: Rebuilding Dialogue and Engagement

A U.S. policy based on containment and isolation alone only concedes that North Korea will remain nuclear-armed and that its weapons programs will further develop. That, in turn, will undermine stability in East Asia, sow doubts in Tokyo and Seoul about relying too much on the United States for their security and jeopardize cooperation with China. A nuclear North will also undermine Wash­ington’s global disarmament and non-proliferation agenda, particularly when viewed in conjunction with the danger of a nuclear Iran. The threat may become even more direct to U.S. security if the North perfects a long-range missile delivery system or exports fissile material or nuclear technology.

An effective American strategy towards North Korea will require a combination of tough measures with serious dialogue and engagement. “U.S. Strategy Towards North Korea: Rebuilding Dialogue and Engagement,” a new report by Joel S. Wit, discusses current developments in North Korea and, in that context, lays out a realistic set of U.S. objectives and recommendations for dealing with Pyongyang through dialogue and engagement. While that plan focuses on the United States, it should be noted that consultation and cooperation with key allies as well as with China, Russia and the international community will be central to its implementation.

Joel S. Wit is a visiting scholar at the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University and an adjunct senior research fellow at the Weatherhead East Asia Institute at Columbia University. Wit is a former State Department official who worked on U.S. policy towards North Korea from 1993 to 2002, first as a senior advisor to Ambassador Robert L. Gallucci and then as the coordinator for the implementation of the 1994 U.S.-North Korea Agreed Framework. After leaving the State Department, he was as visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution from 2000 to 2002 and subsequently senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) until 2005. Wit is the co-author of Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis.

This report is a joint U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS and Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University publication. In writing this report, Joel Wit, the principal author, was assisted by a number of prominent experts who provided background papers for this study. These experts included: Bradley Babson, John Feffer, David Von Hippel, Peter Hayes, Karin Lee, Patrick Morgan, William Newcomb, Alan Romberg, Sharon Squassoni, Fred McGoldrick, Lee Sigal, and David Wright. Copies of their background papers can be accessed through the Nautilus Institute and the National Committee for North Korea.


Joel S. Wit, Senior Fellow


MIA from Columbia University in 1979; and a BA from Bucknell University in 1976.


Joel S. Wit is concurrently a Senior Fellow at US-Korea Institute at SAIS and a Senior Research Fellow at Columbia University Weatherhead Institute for East Asian Studies.

He has served as Senior Advisor to Ambassador Robert L. Galluci from 1993-1995, where he developed strategies to help resolve the crisis over North Korea’s weapons program, and as Coordinator for the US-North Korea’s weapons program and as Coordinator for the US-North Korea Agreed Framework from 1995-1999, where he was the official in charge of implementation. He was also a key participant in the establishment of the Korean Peninsular Energy Development Organization (KEDO).

Prior to his efforts on the Agreed Framework, Wit was assigned to the State Department’s Office of Strategic Nuclear Policy, where he was responsible for U.S. policy on a range of issues related to nuclear arms control and weapons proliferation. In that capacity from 1988 to 1992, Wit helped negotiate strategic arms control agreements with the former Soviet Union and participated in the Nunn-Lugar program to dismantle its nuclear weapons. He was also a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institute from 1999-2001.

Selected Publications:

Joel Wit published numerous articles on Northeast Asian security issues. He has also written numerous articles on North Korea and nonproliferation and is the coauthor of the book Going Critical: The First North Korean Nuclear Crisis (Brookings Institution Press, 2004).