Schar School Research on International Security Finds an Audience in South Korea

Just days before President Trump met with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in early June, a delegation from the Schar School of Policy and Government arrived in South Korea for a week of presentations addressing a topic of great concern for the South Koreans: “Issues and Concerns in International Security.”

Led by Schar School Dean Mark J. Rozell, the delegation participated in forums in Seoul and Song-do and included faculty members Ellen Laipson, Sonia Ben Ougrham-Gormley, Michael Hunzeker, and Gregory Koblentz. The events were widely covered in South Korea media and the information imparted by the Schar School representatives was enthusiastically received.

The Schar School faculty members were likewise affected by what they encountered.

From left, Schar School's Koblentz, Rozell, Laipson, and Ougrham-Gormley at the National Assembly. Photo: Seong Jae Shin

“I came away with a more textured view of the mood in South Korea and how experts there calibrate the likely results of the flurry of diplomatic encounters in the region,” said Laipson upon her return to the U.S. Laipson is director of the Schar School’s Master’s in International Security Program and director of the Center for Security Policy Studies. “Its cosmopolitan citizens, deeply committed to democracy, are becoming a bit wary of the sudden enthusiasm of the Trump administration, as they try to calibrate the various security, political, and economic effects of this high-stakes, high-risk diplomacy.”

The itinerary for the delegation included visits to the National Assembly, the National Human Resources Development Institute, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, and the executive office of the Blue House, the official residence of the head of state. The program was organized by George Mason University’s Mason Korea Campus assistant professor of global studies Soyoung Keon.

Gormley, an associate professor in the Master’s in Biodefense and PhD in Biodefense programs, was making her first visit to South Korea. “Culturally it was amazing,” she said. “This is completely different culture, but you don’t feel lost. Everyone speaks English and are ready to help.”

The highlight of the visit for her was a trip to the Demilitarized Zone. “Although our visit was shorter than planned due to the preparations for the Trump-Un summit, I visited an area that is ‘mythical' in security studies,” she said.

The biggest surprise, she said, “was to observe how the country was preparing for the unification, even though there is no guarantee that it might ever happen.

“For example, a brand new train station and a train line were built to connect Seoul, the DMZ, and North Korea in the future. Right now, the line ends at the DMZ but there are plans to extend the line into North Korea-post reunification and later into Europe. In other words, South Koreans are not just hoping for reunification, they are preparing for it.”

Hunzeker, an assistant professor specializing in military innovation who presented some of his work on conventional deterrence, said it was his second time in the region—the first was to study nuclear proliferation in East Asia in 2007—“but so much has changed in 11 years it was like visiting for the first time,” he said.

“For me, the highlight was getting to spend some time with our Mason-Korea students,” he added. “They were really impressive: well-traveled, well-spoken, and professional. They didn't hesitate to ask tough questions or offer unique insights and perspective I hadn't before considered.”