Katharine Moon Tapped by Brookings Institution to Lead Scholarship and Policy Advising on Korea

June 12, 2014
Kathy Moon at Brookings

On June 2, in a public event marking the establishment of the SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies at the Brookings Institution, the Center for East Asia Policy Studies (CEAP) hosted an address by Wellesley’s Edith Stix Wasserman Chair of Asian Studies and Political Science Professor Katharine H.S. Moon, who has been appointed senior fellow and first SK-Korea Foundation chair.

The chair, officially commencing on June 30, 2014, will be housed in the CEAP, part of the Foreign Policy program at Brookings, and is made possible by endowment gifts from SK and The Korea Foundation. The Korea International Trade Association and an anonymous donor are providing critical operating support.

The event was introduced and opened by Strobe Talbott, former U.S. deputy secretary of state and current president of Brookings. He noted that the nearly 98-year-old Institution was not just a Washington or national think tank, but a global think tank. Talbott thanked the sponsors and introduced the other speakers of opening remarks, including Richard Bush, director of CEAP, who formally introduced Moon; and he suggested the audience keep their phones on... and use the hashtag #kathymoon.

In his introduction Bush said, "Today represents a quantum leap in Brookings' capabilities concerning the Korean peninsula, one of the most interesting and most important parts of the world today. We could think of no better person than Kathy to hold this chair. Her expertise is deep, broad, and nuanced. Her reputation within both the scholarly community and the policy community is outstanding. She embodies the Brookings' core values of quality, independence, and impact."

Moon's talk on Democratizing and Globalizing U.S.-Korea Relations (available online as a PDF of prepared remarks and video of the talk) covers, with both personal and global observations, how the U.S.-ROK relationship has diversified over the past several decades, expanding from a focus on the defense of South Korea to encompass dynamic economic, political, and cultural ties. Domestic constituencies and interests in each country have also been transformed. Through processes of democratization and globalization in both societies, a broader range of individuals and interests now have more opportunities to shape the relationship.

Moon has taught at Wellesley since 1993, offering classes such as Gender in World Politics or State & Society in East Asia. Reflecting on her new role, she says, “This is a transitional time in my professional life, a rather big one.… Since the fall of 1994, when my tenure-track position in Political Science began, I was able to think long-term and lay down roots. Twenty years later, as I prepare to begin my new position as senior scholar and Korea studies chair at the Brookings Institution, I am aware how much I have grown through my teaching, scholarship, and service at Wellesley. Brookings is, in a sense, a new shoot that grows from the same set of academic roots I planted at Wellesley.”

Moon brings to Brookings both depth and breadth of research interests on the Koreas and East Asia, including democratization, nationalisms, identity politics, women's empowerment, regional migration, and human rights. She is the author of Protesting America: Democracy and the U.S.-Korea Alliance (University of California Press/GAIA, 2013) and Sex Among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S.-Korea Relations (Columbia University, 1997; Korean edition by Sam-in Publishing Co., 2002).

She also brings the inimitable Wellesley network. “My students at Wellesley have been invaluable gifts,” she muses. “And the extended relationships with former students—as alums—continue to enrich my life almost on a daily basis as I stay in close touch with them. Many of them are in Washington, D.C., and we have already been making plans for reunions—to have dinner, coffee, to celebrate the Wellesley connections away from campus. I feel as if the Wellesley part of my life will simply continue and grow another garden of fine minds and creative energy in D.C., together with my former students.”  

Moon has written extensively on the interplay between domestic politics in South Korea and the institutions of the U.S.-ROK alliance. Her work features rich historical analysis and policy suggestions for improving alliance institutions and procedures that better reflect changes in Korean society and that would advance the strategic goals of both countries. And, like all professors at Wellesley, she has been actively engaged in teaching undergraduates. That teaching ethos will not be lost.

Moon says, “I see my role at Brookings as that of a public professor and scholar. My intention is to serve as an educator of a larger public, especially on issues related to the Koreas and East Asia and U.S. foreign policy... scholarship and teaching on a larger scale with the hopes that understanding, making, and implementing policy will be more accurate and effective. My training in comparative politics, where one has to know a country and region in some depth and breadth, where cultures, both national and local, are important sources of knowledge, and my focus on gender and women's development and participation in politics as focal points of research and teaching will all be put to good use in D.C.”

At the start of her remarks on June 2, she pointed out she is "a long-term thinking kind of gal," acknowledging that "Washington thinks mostly short term." As Ted Piccone, Brookings’ acting vice president and director of Foreign Policy, said at the initial announcement of Moon’s appointment in late May, “She will add in-depth knowledge about Korean society and politics to our growing East Asia center and will bring important insights into the U.S.-Korea relationship that are sometimes lacking in policy discussions.”

Indeed, Moon's research and professional activities over the last 10 years have focused on making the academy and the world of policy engage each other in constructive ways. "There is a clear logic between what I have done at Wellesley and what I propose to do in the near future at Brookings," she says, adding, "I am grateful to Wellesley for the generous support of my research on issues related to the Koreas and to my colleague Bill Joseph, who encouraged me to apply for a fellowship that had been created and funded by the Luce Foundation, in conjunction with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the George Washington University back in the early 2000s. It was the first fellowship whose purpose was to encourage scholars to make their research relevant to policy and vice versa. " She served as a fellow in D.C. in 2002-03.

At the end of her remarks at the Brookings event, Moon thanked the sponsors and Brookings people who made her new position possible. She also thanked the former Wellesley students she caught sight of in the audience, saying, "Teaching at Wellesley has been and is a tremendous joy. And I'm happy to say many of [these former students] are in Washington and in the State Department, in Congress, and they will keep going on." She gave a heartfelt thank-you to her late father before closing.