Speaker series launched with focus on North Korea

Political Science Professor Joseph R. Clark. Photo by Taariq Adams

Political Science Professor Joseph R. Clark. Photo by Taariq Adams

By Taariq Adams
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

TOWSON, Md. – Political Science Professor Joseph R. Clark raised questions Tuesday about ways to end tensions with North Korea “without sacrificing too many lives.”

Clark, whose speech launched the Eric A. Belgrad Speaker Series at Towson University, comes as President Trump is in the midst of a 12-day Asia trip and in a tweet battle over North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Clark said the decision on how one addresses a problem depends on how one frames the question.

“The purpose of this evening is for me to give some opening remarks about how I think we ought to think about the situation in regard to North Korea,” he said, later explaining that this includes “the things we must consider as we make selections in terms of the instruments we use, the policies we engage in and even the outcomes we seek.”

About 60 people attended the lecture in a Liberal Arts Building classroom. The speaker series is named for the former chair of the Political Science Department, Eric A. Belgrad. A professor for 49 years, Belgrad led the department 20 years. He died in September 2015.

In his presentation, Clark provided a few political objectives as part of his perspective on the tension with North Korea, South Korea, and the regional players including China, Japan, and the U.S. He cited plausible objectives as: preventing the collapse of the North Korean nation-state, ensuring the survival of the North Korean nation-state, ensuring the survival of the Kim regime, and bringing about the reunification of the Korean peninsula under Pyongyang.

Belgrad Speaker Series lecture focuses on North Korea. Photo by Taariq Adams

Belgrad Speaker Series lecture focuses on North Korea. Photo by Taariq Adams

Clark’s question about ending tensions with North Korea came once the objectives were addressed. He asked “how can we end tensions with North Korea and ensure the survival of its nation-state without sacrificing too many lives?” He said two terms that are often confused are strategic and strategy.

Clark defined “strategic” as having a decisive effect on the political outcome. However, he said that “strategy” is the way and means one achieves a political outcome. In the lecture, a B-52 bomber was used an example. He said the bomber is big and impressive, but may not be strategic, and it is a tool, not a strategy.

As part of the discussion, Clark focused on why North Korea’s leader is developing nuclear weapons and pointing them at the U.S. He presented three plausible reasons: Un is defending his regime from internal political enemies, the leader has a strategy for reunifying North and South Korea by preventing U.S. invention, and/or the leader’s behavior is merely a matter of pride. He cited Thucydides, a 5th century Greek historian and general, who stated that three reasons for going to war are fear, honor, and interest.

He discussed two approaches to defining the question – outcome optimization and robust satisfaction. Outcome Optimization is using information to develop a strategy based on known conditions, he said. Robust satisfaction is considering the widest possible set of conditions to develop a strategy.

As an example of using the two approaches, Clark made comparisons between warplanes, tanks, artillery, and combat unit resupply. He said the U.S. and North Korean forces have a strategic advantage in each of these factors; therefore, an invasion by North Korea is not viable. The successful development of nuclear weapons by North Korea would change that conclusion, however, he noted.

“You can make a strategy without knowledge, but if you want to be successful you need to know a little bit about what’s going on and why things didn’t work out,” Clark said. “Good decision making always occurs under conditions of uncertainty and risk. The idea is the more you know the further you can reduce that uncertainty and risk.”

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