CISSM Research Associate Naoko Aoki wins prize for dissertation on North Korea

June 04, 2018

As President Trump prepares for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un, many experts warn that it is pointless to negotiate with North Korea about its nuclear program. The United States tried twice before; each time, they claim, North Korea pocketed concessions, then cheated on its obligations.  

Was North Korea solely to blame for the failure of the 1994 Agreed Framework and the Six Party Process pursued by the George W. Bush administration? In her recently defended dissertation, CISSM research associate Naoko Aoki concludes that the United States did not always follow through on its commitments because of domestic political constraints. That has two important policy implications. First, no one really knows whether North Korea would have honored its obligations if the United States had done likewise. Second, if Trump successfully brokers a deal, part of the challenge will be to sustain the political attention needed to ensure full compliance on both sides.

Aoki’s work received the 2018 Yamamoto-Scheffelin Endowment Prize for Dissertation Research. When announcing the award, CISSM Director Nancy Gallagher said it “made an important contribution to scholarly understanding of the effects of domestic political dynamics on the implementation of cooperative agreements.” Senior Fellow I.M. “Mac” Destler praised Aoki’s findings, too: “Considering the present trajectory of U.S. policy in North Korea, the work is particularly timely.” 

Aoki sought to explain why the United States did not always fulfill its commitments by analyzing subcases during implementation of the Agreed Framework and the Six Party process when North Korea was in full compliance as well as ones when it was not. She used historical documents; speeches, memoirs, and interviews with key players; and insights gained while covering the Six Party talks as a Beijing correspondent for Kyodo News, a leading Japanese news agency, from 2004 through 2009. She found that U.S. domestic politics interfered with smooth implication in multiple ways that could not be explained solely as a reaction to North Korean malfeasance.  (View the full dissertation, “The Domestic Politics of Implementation” A Case Study of U.S. Denuclearization Agreements with North Korea.”

The Yamamoto-Scheffelin Endowment for Dissertation Research was founded by former School of Public Policy doctoral student and current CISSM Research Scholar Marianna Yamamoto and her husband Cliff Yamamoto in honor of their parents. Past winners of the endowment’s dissertation prize include Nancy Hayden, and current CISSM Research Scholars Jaganath Sankaran, Charles Harry, and Ebrahim Mohseni.

Aoki is currently also an adjunct Fellow at the Pacific Forum, and will be a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the RAND Corp for the 2018-2019 term.