“Anything you can do to reduce misperception and miscalculation helps prevent war,” says Jim Walsh, a professor of security studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., who visited North Korea in 2005 for a lengthy “private conversation.”
Such visits can deliver insight into the North’s motivations in the absence of a diplomatic dialogue, he says, while providing the North Koreans with a realistic if unofficial description of US positions.
Tensions have soared in the region since North Korea spurred an exchange of artillery with the South in late November by shelling an island along the two countries' disputed sea border. The incident was regarded as the worst in the region since the end of the Korean War.
Richardson’s office announced this week that he would leave Dec. 14 on a seven-day trip to North Korea, at the invitation of the North’s chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Gye Gwan. Richardson, who is no stranger to the North Koreans, said in a statement, “I am increasingly concerned with the recent actions by the North Koreans, which have raised tensions and are contributing to instability on the Korean Peninsula.”