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Korea's Energy Insecurities: Comparative and Regional Perspectives
Region: Asia
Published May 25, 2011
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For more than a half century, the specter of renewed conflict across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) has dominated thinking about Korea’s future. To be sure, the prevailing political-military situation at the DMZ is dangerous, periodic changes in diplomatic atmospherics notwithstanding. Close to two million men remain under arms on the Korean peninsula, more than the standing armies of either the United States or the former Soviet Union. A heavy share of those forces are still forward deployed within 50 miles of Seoul and its 12 million civilians, across a no-man’s-land never marked by a formal peace accord.

During the past 15 years, the North-South confrontation has been transformed into a more complex and multifaceted security challenge. In 1993 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) successfully launched No-dong mobile missiles into the East Sea (Sea of Japan). And in 1998 the DPRK launched a multistage Taepo- dong missile over Japan itself. Pyongyang also has extensive chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs, as is well known. When North Korea solves demanding technical problems impeding weaponization of its nuclear devices and weapons delivery, it will have the credible potential to seriously threaten both Japan and nations beyond.

Yet the political economy of the Korean peninsula, together with its long-standing military confrontations, is rapidly changing—the North Korean missile and nuclear crises notwithstanding. Economic growth and technological change are relentlessly shifting the locus of power on the peninsula south of the DMZ. Even amid dramatic, historic develop- ments in the North Korean nuclear crisis, it is important now to think

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