Peter Hayes Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Political Activism, NGOs and Globalization: Conversation with Peter Hayes, Executive Director, Nautilus Institute; April 18, 2003, by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

Page 3 of 5

Case Study: North Korea

In your work in the last decade at your institute, one of the sub-topics that you've worked on has been dealing with North Korea. So, just talking a little about North Korea and the projects you've been involved in will probably help us understand how you've implemented this -- on the one hand, the strategies for doing work in today's world, and on the other hand, the values that you've talked about. Establishing relations on a project level with North Korea must have been very difficult, given the climate in which you started. You probably started this when the Cold War was still on.

That's right, right.

So tell us a little about the energy project that you have there and how it's been a reflection of what we've just talked about.

The real genesis of this work was right here on campus. Two people played a very key role in it. One was John Holdren, the founder of the Energy and Resources Group, and the other was Franz Shurmann, a well-known sociologist and historian here. And I say that because, really, John was a mentor. At one point when I was studying here in that program, he sort of bopped me on the head and made me recognize as an activist-intellectual, if you like, that there is a point at which you have to make a political decision -- are you working at the margin on policy, or are you working in social movements to transform the context in which policy is made? Now, in the Internet world, you can do both simultaneously, but at that point, you sort of had to choose. Even today, you have to choose, somewhat. Are you working at the margin on policy or are you working to create, transform, the underlying conditions of what is possible?

The genesis of the work was originally in creating a social movement in the Pacific, called the Nuclear Freeze Independent Pacific Movement, for which we wrote a book called American Lake: Nuclear Peril in the Pacific. That was very much aimed at increasing, for example, the protests that would confront American and then-Soviet warships as they sailed in and out of the ports of the region. This led to the nuclear-free zone in New Zealand that led to the rupture of the Australian-New Zealand-U.S. alliance, for example. So it's very much a grassroots organizing strategy.

But we, as analysts, would often try to bring to the attention of these activists things that were unpleasant truths. For example, that if you're in favor of evicting the United States from the Philippines and Okinawa, then you better be working on Korea, because they are stepping-stones to a war in Korea. There's no way in hell you're going to get the United States out of those bases without also attending to Korea. And ditto for the Koreans, who are very introspective. You better pay attention to these folks who are working on the rear bases that are used for reinforcing contingency in the Korean construct if you want to be effective.

In that book, we discovered that the only place you could actually start a nuclear war in Asia-Pacific was Korea: that was the tripwire. That was kind of a throw-away few pages in a very long book about the whole region. From there, I then drilled in great depth, in my dissertation, into the issue of American nuclear weapons in South Korea -- history, force posture, doctrine (or what passed for doctrine), the North Korean story, etc. That got me deeply involved in South Korea at a time when social movements were rising in protest, and that, ultimately, overthrew the military dictatorship in South Korea. You remember the summer of '87, when Seoul was under a cloud of tear gas.

It was only after having built that reputation in South Korea (because that work was quite notorious at the time) that the North Koreans took any notice of our existence. I was invited to go there. I had, by that time, gone back to Australia and was working for the Australian government in the Commission for the Future, a long-term strategic think tank, and I'd get a telegram from Pyongyang each year saying, "Please come and talk to us about nuclear weapons." I was always interested, so I'd write back, and the first one would always be sent by mistake to Seoul by the post office. So it bounced back, and I would say, "No, no, Pyongyang, a different country," and they'd send it off. Then finally, in '91, I sent back this telegram, and within days I got a reply saying, "Come, and come now." So I went, because how many times do you get a chance to go to North Korea and talk about nuclear weapons?

That was when I was able to establish a personal relationship with some North Koreans who are very senior in the regime. That's very Korean; politics there is all about personal relationship. It's on that very slender thread that all our work in Korea, especially North Korea, has hung since then. [We] built a wind-power project in a North Korean village, a starving, famine-afflicted North Korean village. We're still in that village after six or seven years.

We run an information service that connects the policy-making community in Pyongyang -- well, China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia, the United States -- and then everywhere else on the planet that there are people working on that issue, we have them wired. We give them a daily report where we have feeds of the latest news from each country, and it goes out to everyone. So one can instantly see what's being said in the other political culture. We run deep research on the energy situation, nuclear security, and other aspects of security.

So, we've created a reference site. And now, we actually do scenarios of Korea. We did it last year, we'll do it again this year, where we explicitly look for the big surprises. Last year's scenario is interesting: in three out of the four scenarios we found that there would be a confrontation this year with the United States, and that's pretty much what happened. We felt quite prepared when things fell apart. We had already thought through, "What do we need to do now?"

Next page: U.S. Policy and North Korea

© Copyright 2003, Regents of the University of California