The U.S. Special Envoy on North Korea Stephen Bosworth is surrounded by reporters after holding the first meeting with North Korean Vice Minister Kim Kyu Gwan in New York on July 28, 2011.
AP/Yomiuri Shimbun/Taro Konoshi
"Spotlight: Stephen Bosworth"
Author: James F. Smith, Former Communications Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Related: Stephen Bosworth, Former Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Ambassador Stephen Bosworth is a senior fellow at the Belfer Center. Prior to joining the Center in June 2013, he was dean of Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
As an American diplomat, Stephen Bosworth stared down dictators (Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines) and cajoled repressive regimes (North Korea). Then he had a second career as dean of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. But he wasn’t able to retreat to the quiet halls of academia. President Obama appointed him the U.S. special envoy on North Korea, a role he filled from 2009 to 2011 even while he was leading the Fletcher School.
After retiring from Fletcher in June after 12 years as dean, Bosworth still refused to rest on his considerable laurels. Instead, he joined the Belfer Center as a resident senior fellow. He has already set up the center’s new Korea Working Group, which is dissecting strategic issues in Northeast Asia and considering policy options for one of the world’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
Bosworth is the ideal person to zoom in on one of the gravest challenges in the Belfer Center’s core policy research fields of nuclear security and diplomacy: how to confront North Korea over its renegade nuclear weapons program. Bosworth has been a leading American government actor dealing with North Korea for nearly 20 years.
In 1995, Bosworth became director of a governmental organization set up to create non-nuclear energy alternatives for North Korea, which helped slow the regime’s nuclear ambitions. He then served as U.S. ambassador to South Korea from 1997 to 2001. Since then, North Korea has shrugged off world pressure and sanctions; the regime detonated its first nuclear test in 2006, and two more have followed. Negotiations have repeatedly broken down.
Bosworth is under no illusions about the North’s intransigence. He cites several “stupid” acts that undermined progress: the North fired missiles, shelled a South Korean island, and sank a South Korean patrol boat. Then it launched a satellite, widely regarded as a ballistic missile test, right after winning US concessions on the basis that it would not launch such a test.
Still, he argues, “it’s better to talk than not talk. The likelihood of them actually completing denuclearization absent changes in the current situation is remote. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to try, and urge them not to do it. But we ought to be realistic about it. That said, I still think it’s better to talk to them than not talk to them.”
“If you’re not talking, otherwise they are just running free, as the North Koreans are doing now. They are continuing their nuclear program, continuing their missile program. The only constraint that would be placed on them is if we are talking to them.”
Running Fletcher was a natural second act after a diplomatic career that included ambassadorships in Tunisia from 1979-81 and the Phillipines from 1984-87, where he famously persuaded Ferdinand Marcos to abandon the presidency and go into exile at the height of the People Power revolution. In 1987, Bosworth was awarded the Diplomat of the Year prize for that work.
During his tenure at the Fletcher School, Bosworth created three new degree programs, renovated the campus, and led a capital campaign that raised $100 million. When Bosworth announced that he would retire, Tufts President Anthony Monaco called Bosworth “a consummate institution builder, having overseen an extraordinary period of growth and vitality at the Fletcher School.”
Settling in Boston has allowed Bosworth and his wife, Christine, to indulge their cultural passions. They both recently joined the advisory board of the Museum of Fine Arts, and they are avid theater-goers, especially to Boston University’s Huntington Theater.
But the fall baseball season brought a personal challenge even for a diplomat as seasoned as Bosworth. He was born on a small farm in western Michigan and grew up an avid Detroit Tigers fan, but in Boston he became part of Red Sox Nation. Asked whether he rooted for the Tigers or the Sox during their showdown that ended in a Boston victory and a World Series trip, Bosworth said sagely, “Actually, my attitude was, I can’t lose.”
A Dartmouth graduate, Bosworth has taught courses at Columbia University and Hamilton College. He was Dartmouth’s chairman of the board from 1996-99. He is co-author of Chasing the Sun: Rethinking East Asia Policy. Bosworth wrote the book with his friend and fellow American diplomat, Morton Abramowitz. In a Boston Globe profile of Bosworth, Abramowitz cautioned others not to be fooled by his friend’s soft-spoken, understated style.
“He’s not afraid to speak out,” said Abramowitz. “The fact that he’s reserved does not mean that he’s shy or that he holds back. He’s judicious, but he says what’s necessary.”
In appointing Bosworth a senior fellow, Belfer Center Director Graham Allison said the Kennedy School was fortunate to be able to take advantage of the experience of “one of the most influential experts in the world on Korean policy.”
Bosworth is reveling in the array of seminars and events at the center and the Kennedy School, renewing relationships with longtime colleagues including Gary Samore and Nicholas Burns.
“It’s just a very congenial place for me to be,” Bosworth said. “As I tell my wife, every day is like a visit to the candy store.”
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.
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