Frank Aum is the senior expert on Northeast Asia at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He oversees the Institute’s work on Northeast Asia and focuses on ways to strengthen diplomacy to reduce tensions and enhance peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. From 2010 to 2017, he worked at the Department of Defense, including as special counsel to the Army General Counsel, special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, and senior advisor on North Korea in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. During this time, he advised four secretaries of defense on issues related to Northeast Asia and the Korean Peninsula. Aum also served as head of delegation for working level negotiations with the Republic of Korea on U.S.-ROK Alliance matters, and received the Secretary of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service.

Aum previously worked as a corporate attorney, and also has extensive experience in the public and non-profit sectors. He completed a Fulbright Scholarship in Jeju Island, South Korea and worked as a speechwriter in the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In addition, he worked to strengthen the Koreatown community in Los Angeles at the city’s Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and the Korean American Coalition (KAC).

Aum received his bachelor's from Dartmouth College, his master's from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and his Juris Doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.

Publications By Frank

Making Sense of North Korea’s Missile Test

Making Sense of North Korea’s Missile Test

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

By: Frank Aum

North Korea announced on September 13 that it had tested long-range cruise missiles over the weekend. It described the missiles as a “strategic weapon of great significance.” The test caused alarm in North Korea’s neighbors — South Korea and Japan, both U.S. allies — as the revelation now puts both countries within striking distance. But despite the test, a spokesperson for the Biden administration said the United States remains prepared to engage with North Korea. USIP’s Frank Aum discusses the significance of the tests, the arms race on the Korean Peninsula, and what signals North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be sending to the United States with this latest test. 

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

The Case for Maximizing Engagement with North Korea

The Case for Maximizing Engagement with North Korea

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

By: Frank Aum; Daniel Jasper

As the Biden administration’s North Korea policy review nears completion, there is growing worry that it could dig in its heels on previous U.S. efforts to change North Korea’s behavior through isolation and pressure. Early signals indicate the Biden team is prioritizing pressure among many options. Several experts, however, believe this approach will continue to fail because it incorrectly assumes North Korea will yield to coercive tactics and that China will cooperate in this effort.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue; Conflict Analysis & Prevention

Austin, Blinken Affirm U.S. Commitment to Asian Allies

Austin, Blinken Affirm U.S. Commitment to Asian Allies

Thursday, March 18, 2021

By: Patricia M. Kim; Frank Aum; Vikram J. Singh; Brian Harding

U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are in Asia this week for their first official foreign trip. They held meetings in Japan and South Korea. Blinken returned to the United States via Alaska where he and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan meet with their Chinese counterparts today, while Austin is in India. On March 12, President Joe Biden and the leaders of Australia, India and Japan participated in a virtual summit of the “Quad,” a strategic dialogue between the four countries aimed at ensuring an open, free and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Global Policy; Conflict Analysis & Prevention

North Korea Poses Old Challenges to New U.S. Administration

North Korea Poses Old Challenges to New U.S. Administration

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

By: Ambassador Joseph Yun; Frank Aum

Just a week before President Biden was inaugurated, North Korea provided a reminder that it would continue to pose challenges to Washington—but left the door open for renewed engagement. During Pyongyang’s eighth Party Congress, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was surprisingly candid about his country’s economic struggles. He also followed a familiar refrain, emphasizing the importance of strengthening North Korea’s military capabilities and calling Washington enemy number one. The Biden administration will come into office facing the same situation with North Korea that has bedeviled Washington for decades.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea: What’s Ahead for the Biden Administration?

Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea: What’s Ahead for the Biden Administration?

Monday, December 21, 2020

By: Frank Aum; Ambassador Joseph Yun

The Biden administration faces a situation with North Korea similar to what President Obama faced in 2009, with U.S.-DPRK engagement on its last legs. Obama appeared interested in reviving the Six Party Talks, but slow outreach to North Korea allowed Pyongyang to seize the narrative by conducting a satellite launch in April and a nuclear test in May, which doomed engagement for an extended period. Biden will face a similar decision about how to engage North Korea, including whether to move forward with joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises in March, and whether to reaffirm the outcomes of the 2018 joint U.S.-DPRK Singapore Statement, which Pyongyang has yet to renounce but is on life support.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

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