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Last Updated: 10/26/10

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Asia Director: Selig S. Harrison

Asia Program Intern: Michelle Trone

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Asia Program Staff

Asia Director: Selig S. Harrison

Selig S. Harrison File PhotoSELIG S. HARRISON is director of the Asia Program at the Center for International Policy and a senior scholar of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He has specialized in South Asia and East Asia for fifty years as a journalist and scholar and is the author of five books on Asian affairs and U.S. relations with Asia, including Korean Endgame: A Strategy For Reunification and U.S. Disengagement, published by Princeton University Press in May 2002. He has visited North Korea eleven times, most recently in January 2009.

Harrison served as South Asia Correspondent of the Associated Press from 1951 to 1954, in New Delhi, returned as South Asia Bureau Chief of The Washington Post from 1962 to 1965, and served as Northeast Asia Bureau Chief of the Post, based in Tokyo, from 1968 to 1972. From 1974 to 1996, as a senior associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, he pursued investigative assignments every year in a variety of countries, especially those where he worked as a journalist, such as India, Pakistan, China, Japan, and the two Koreas.

His reputation for giving “early warning” of foreign policy crises was well established during his career as a foreign correspondent.  In his study of foreign reporting, Between Two Worlds, John Hohenberg, former secretary of the Pulitzer Prize Board, cited Harrison’s prediction of the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war eighteen months before it happened.  Hohenberg wrote: “What Harrison foresaw came to pass, and when it happened, American editors suddenly rose up in their wrath — as they always do at such times — and demanded, why weren’t we told about all of this?  They had been told at great length, but because too many editors were bored with places like India, they weren’t listening. Terming Harrison “one of the few correspondents in all of Asia who was able to maintain a balanced point of view,” Hohenberg called him a model of the “first-rate correspondent who knows the past of the area to which he is assigned, writes with clarity and meaning of the present and has an awareness of the future."

Selig S. Harrison giving a presentation at the U.S. Institute for Peace in May 2006More than a year before the Russians invaded Afghanistan, Harrison warned of this possibility in one of his frequent contributions to the influential journal Foreign Policy.  During the Afghan war, he was one of the earliest to foresee that the Soviet Union would withdraw its forces and became a leading advocate of a two-track policy designed to promote a withdrawal through a combination of military pressure and diplomatic incentives.  He was also one of the few who predicted that the Kabul Communist regime would not fall immediately after withdrawal.  Rep. Stephen Solarz, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, introducing him at a hearing on February 21, 1989, one year after withdrawal, observed that “with each passing day his reputation as a prophet is enhanced.  I am sure it wasn’t easy for Mr. Harrison, in the face of a phalanx of analysts, academicians, and others who were all saying the opposite, to maintain his position, but he had the intellectual fortitude and moral strength to stick by his guns, his analytical guns, and I think he deserves credit for that."

In the last week of May, 1972, Harrison, representing The Washington Post, and Harrison Salisbury of the New York Times became the first Americans to visit North Korea since the Korean War and to interview Kim Il Sung.  Following the second of his five visits to Pyongyang in 1987, Harrison presided over a 1989 Carnegie Endowment symposium that brought together North Korean spokesmen and American specialists and officials for the first time and has reported on this meeting in his Endowment study, Dialogue with North Korea.  In 1992, he led a Carnegie Endowment delegation to Pyongyang that learned for the first time that North Korea had reprocessed plutonium.

In June, 1994, on his fourth visit, he met the late Kim Il Sung for three hours and won agreement to the concept of a freeze and eventual dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear program in exchange for U.S. political and economic concessions (for an account of his discussions in Pyongyang leading to the freeze concept, see Don Oberdorfer, The Two Koreas, pages 321–22).  President Carter, meeting Kim Il Sung a week later, persuaded the North Korean leader to initiate the freeze immediately, opening the way for negotiations with the United States that resulted in the U.S.-North Korean nuclear agreement of October 21, 1994.

In 1994 and 1995 Harrison directed a Carnegie Endowment program on “Japan’s Role in International Security Affairs” centering on a series of U.S.-Japan dialogues on global and regional arms control and nonproliferation issues.

Harrison is frequently invited to testify as an expert witness before congressional committees and lectures at the National Defense University, the National War College and the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute.  At the same time, his outspoken, constructive criticisms of administration policies often appear on op-ed pages of The Washington Post, the New York Times, and International Herald Tribune.  He has appeared on “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer,” “Nightline,” and other TV programs as well as National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.”

Korean Endgame, by Selig S. Harrison, Princeton 2002Selig Harrison is the author of five books:

He is co-author with Diego Cordovez of Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal (Oxford, 1995) and edited India and the United States (Macmillan, 1960); and Superpower Rivalry in the Indian Ocean: Indian and American Perspectives (1989).  A former managing editor of The New Republic, he has served as senior fellow in charge of Asian studies at the Brookings Institution, senior fellow at the East-West Center and professorial lecturer in Asian studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.  He is currently adjunct professor of Asian studies at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University.


Asia Program Intern (Summer 2010): Michelle Trone

Michelle is a 2010 graduate from Emory University, where she earned a double major in Political Science and History. She spent a year studying at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the Department of Government. Michelle is very interested in human rights issues, and in South Asia in particular. She has worked as an intern at Human Rights First, for the ACLU, and for Senator Ben Cardin. She hopes to pursue graduate studies in International Relations, with a focus on human rights. Michelle loves to travel, and plans to spend next spring interning for a local human rights NGO in Rajastan, India.


For more information on internships at the Center, click here.

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