Air Force Veteran Uses His Expertise to Analyze North Korea’s Nuclear Program

Photo of George Hutchinson
George Hutchinson: ‘My research should be helpful for policymakers, strategists, and other practitioners since the issue of North Korean denuclearization is still on the table…’
















Originally published on January 26, 2021

In 2015, after serving in the Air Force for almost 26 years and doing energy R&D work for the Department of Defense, George Hutchinson began looking for opportunities in higher education—mainly he wanted to get a PhD.

He settled on George Mason University and is now a prospective candidate for a PhD in Public Policy at the Schar School of Policy and Government and a visiting scholar at Mason’s Korea Campus in Songdo, South Korea, where he supports the Center for Security Policy Studies Korea (CSPS-K). He is also a fellow at the Center for Security Policy Studies on the Arlington Campus, as well as the managing editor of the International Journal of Korean Studies.

Korea has long been a part of his military career, starting with his first assignment. Korean “culture, the people, the food,” he said, “left quite an impression on me.”

After returning to the United States from the year-long tour, he applied and was accepted to become a Korean linguist. This took him back to Korea for several assignments and provided him an opportunity to attend Yonsei University in Seoul for advanced language studies.

In 1993 Hutchinson was commissioned as a second lieutenant in logistics and was deployed to Misawa Airbase in northern Japan. From his station in Japan, Hutchinson was sent on multiple assignments throughout South Korea.

“My favorite assignment,” Hutchinson said, “was a short stint inside the DMZ in Panmunjom as the Joint Duty Officer for the United Nations Command, where on several occasions I had direct contact with the North Korean People’s Army.”

While he was working in R&D after his retirement, Hutchinson had the opportunity to join a small business called SecuriFense Inc., where he has helped the Air Force build a program for its bases in South Korea. He is still there today continuing to support the Air Force.

All these experiences have influenced his research interests, and he has written extensively about North Korea’s nuclear program for his dissertation.  

“My dissertation looks at factors that have shaped North Korea’s decisions to develop nuclear weapons and the strategies used to advance and maneuver its nuclear program through periods of negotiation with the U.S.,” he said. "My research should be helpful for policymakers, strategists, and other practitioners since the issue of North Korean denuclearization is still on the table and will likely be one of the Biden administration’s major foreign policy challenges.”

Indeed, Hutchinson’s work has already caught the eye of experts.

“Hutchinson's research could not be more timely or more policy-relevant,” said Michael Hunzeker, associate director of the CSPS at the Schar School. “North Korea's nuclear capabilities have only increased over the past four years. It is a pressing challenge that the United States—and the Biden administration—will have to navigate.”

Hunzeker continues: “The fact is that we do not yet know enough about the evolution of North Korean thinking and strategy with regards to its nuclear arsenal. Hutchinson's dissertation will shed light on this issue. By helping us understand how North Korea has thought about nuclear weapons in the past, his work will provide insight into how it is—and how it is not—likely to use them to get what it wants in the future.”

Hunzeker also said Hutchinson is uniquely equipped to address these questions, citing Hutchinson’s lengthy Air Force career and expertise. “We're exceptionally fortunate to have him in our PhD program, and I have no doubt that his work will soon be making a splash.”

“I realized I could pursue a defense-focused public policy PhD, while taking electives found in the IR, political science, and international security areas,” said Hutchinson of his decision to pursue a degree at the Schar School. “This, along with the small class sizes, top-notch faculty and access to numerous research centers like the CSPS made the Schar School very appealing.” 

Hutchinson will defend his dissertation proposal on January 28.

Schar School fact: In 2019, the Schar School provided $950,000 in funding to PhD students.