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Korea Economic Institute of America Presents:

The South Korean Nuclear Armament Debate

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Event Date

March 15th 9:00am - 2:00pm ET

Event Location

KEI Conference Facility & Online


Kathleen Stephens

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Panel I: Historical Background

Richard Lawless

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Clint Work

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Andy Hong

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Taehwa Hong

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S. Paul Choi

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Panel II: Domestic Discourse

Jeongmin Kim

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Karl Friedhoff

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Jennifer Ahn

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Erik Mobrand

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Bo Ram Kwon

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Lunch Keynote Address

Siegfried Hecker

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Panel III: International Implications

Mark Fitzpatrick 

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Heather Williams

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Terrence Matsuo

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Caroline Milne

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Yun Sun

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Event Video
Key Points

South Korea’s nuclear armament debate received renewed attention in 2023. But, this issue is one that has animated Korean politics, both domestic and international, for the past five decades. To explore this multifaceted issue, KEI brought together 13 young, up-and-coming experts to cover the South Korean nuclear weapons debate from 12 angles—the historical background, the domestic discourse, and the international implications. On Wednesday, March 15, KEI will host a conference featuring our various contributors’ work at our Washington, D.C. office and launch a compilation of all the pieces in a single, special KEI publication.

In-person seating is limited, please RSVP to reserve your seat.
This hybrid event will also be live-streamed via YouTube

You can read the full report here.

Event Description

09:00 AM – 09:15 AM – Introduction
Ambassador (ret.) Kathleen Stephens, President, KEI

09:15 AM – 10:30 AM – Panel I: Historical Background

  • Moderator: Richard Lawless, Founder and Principal, NMV International, LLC; former U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs; and author of Hunting Nukes: A Fifty-Year Pursuit of Atomic Bomb Builders and Mischief Makers
  • Paper Topics:
    • History’s Long Shadow: The Contradictions in the U.S. Commitment to Korea (Clint Work, KEI)
    • South Korea’s Drive Toward Deterrent Capabilities (Andy Hong, KEI)
    • Comparing the 1970s and 2020s Debates over South Korea’s Potential Nuclear Armament (Taehwa Hong,  University of Cambridge)
    • US-ROK Alliance Consultative Mechanisms: Strengthening Deterrence, Providing Reassurance, and Enduring Challenge (S. Paul Choi, StratWays Group)

10:35 AM – 11:50 AM – Panel II: Domestic Discourse

  • Moderator: Jeongmin Kim, Lead Correspondent at NK News and Editorial Director at KOREA PRO, based in Seoul, South Korea.
  • Paper Topics:
    • Longitudinal Attitudes in South Korea on Nuclear Proliferation (Karl Friedhoff, Chicago Council on Global Affairs)
    • Beyond U.S. Credibility Concerns: Factors Driving the Nuclear Weapons Debate in South Korea (Jennifer Ahn, Council on Foreign Relations )
    • A Nuke for a Nuke? Public Debate and Political Party Views on Nuclear Acquisition in South Korea (Erik Mobrand, RAND Corporation)
    • Detente or Degradation: Would ROK nuclear weapons hinder or facilitate inter-Korean relations? (Bo Ram Kwon, Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA)

11:50 AM – 12:40 PM – Lunch and Keynote Address

Dr. Siegfried Hecker, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (virtual)

Lunch will be provided to those attending in person.

12:45 PM – 02:00 PM – Panel III: International Implications

  • Moderator: Mark Fitzpatrick, Associate Fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and Member of the Board of Directors at the Korea Economic Institute of America; during 26-year career in U.S. State Department, served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Non-Proliferation (acting) and, earlier in his career, as North Korea desk officer.
  • Paper Topics:
    • Global Reverberations of a Nuclear South Korea (Heather Williams, CSIS)
    • Alternative Futures: ROK Nuclear Weapons and the US-ROK Alliance (Caroline Milne, Institute for Defense Analyse)
    • Japanese Protestation and Pragmatism Towards a Nuclear South Korea (Terrence Matsuo, KEI)
    • [Working Title] The View from Beijing: Chinese Perspectives on South Korean Nuclear Weapons (Yun Sun, Stimson Center)