Meet Philip Yun

Our new Executive Director Philip Yun has worked in government, business, policy and academia. He’s been on the board of Ploughshares for several years and is a well-known Asia expert. He lives in San Francisco’s Richmond District, not far from the Ploughshares office. To get to know him better, we asked Philip a few quick questions about himself, his career and what he's excited to do at Ploughshares Fund.

When and how did you first get involved in nuclear issues? 

I first became involved in nuclear issues when I was at the State Department in the 1990s. I was in the East Asia-Pacific Bureau when the first North Korean nuclear crisis happened in 1993-94, and because of my interest and expertise, I always kept tabs on what was going on, talking to people involved with the negotiations. In 1998, when the Four Party peace process was instituted, I was asked if I would be interested in taking part on behalf of the United States. As part of these talks, I became the lead U.S. delegate to a subcommittee tasked with examining suitable peace regime (the other parties were China, North Korea and South Korea). When William Perry was selected by President Clinton to be first U.S. Coordinator for North Korea Policy in 1998 and tasked with conducting a full review of U.S. policy toward North Korea, I was fortunate enough to be appointed to Dr. Perry’s review team. It was during the Four Party Peace Talks and the Perry Review that I became more deeply involved in nuclear nonproliferation issues and gained a greater understanding of the threats that existed in the world. 

When I left government in 2001, I continued to follow the issue. It was during this time in Palo Alto, California, that Lew Butler and Naila Bolus contacted me to introduce me to the Ploughshares Fund. The more I learned about the organization, the more interested I became. I immediately connected to Ploughshares' venture philanthropy approach -- it was unique in the nonprofit world at the time, but similar to the venture capital work of Silicon Valley firms, including the private equity firm where I was working. I happily became a member of the board and now am excited to take the role of Executive Director.

What’s one thing about you that might not be obvious?

For me, family is most important. I have two small kids who are four and seven. In addition to my work, they’re my passion. As most parents do, I worry about their future and the kind of world they’re going to inherit. That’s why I do the work I do, and why I’m going to Ploughshares.

The other thing that people might not know about me is that my father was born in what is now South Korea and my mother was born in what is now North Korea. So, in many ways, my professional work has been closely tied to my personal life and the things that matter most to me: family, public service and philanthropy. I have been very lucky.

As a North Korea expert, what do you think of the situation there now? What should we look for in the coming months in terms of progress? 

For the United States, North Korea is the land of no good options. It’s more a case of choosing the least bad of several unappealing options – and it’s getting worse. In short, we need to become more proactive towards North Korea and its on again/off-again belligerence, and we need to do so quickly. Part of the problem is that there is so much else going on in the world, and the North Korea issue isn’t getting as much high-level attention as it deserves. 

There is one shorter-term issue I am particularly worried about – the safety of the light-water reactor that is being built at Yongbyon in North Korea. If there are serious concerns about the construction and layout of the Fukushima plant and other plants in Japan and elsewhere, which were likely built at the time with what were considered state of the art technology and safety measures, we should have no illusions about what the construction of the nuclear facility in Yongbyon is going to be like. North Korea has constant shortages and uses substitute materials, and this is a problem. What makes matters worse is that the Yongbyon plant is very close to a river that floods regularly.

This is a moment of great opportunity for gains in nuclear policy. What are you most excited about working on in Washington right now?

I’m particularly excited about Ploughshares Fund's involvement and focus on the defense budget process. Reductions in the defense budget have already been mandated, with additional cuts possible. But no one knows exactly what those cuts will be. In terms of nuclear policy, this is a real opportunity. First and foremost, we have to ensure that national security interests are protected. There are no compromises that can be made on that. That being said, there should be a number of cuts to the nuclear arsenal and US nuclear weapons capacity that can be made. I am the convinced that there is a win-win here – we can enhance national security, save money and reduce nuclear weapons at the same time. 

You’ll be leading the San Francisco office. What do you think are the benefits of a bicoastal office? 

Washington is the policy center of the U.S. We have to be there, and we have a strong presence there with a high-profile president, Joe Cirincione. However, I know first-hand that Washington can be a world into itself. Because people are so busy trying to accomplish the things that they were sent to Washington for, it is easy to lose touch with the rest of the country. That’s one of the reasons that I moved to California after my time in DC – to get a sense of what people elsewhere are concerned about. And there's no more diverse place than California. 

Being in San Francisco helps Ploughshares Fund. We’re a player in the Beltway, but at the same time, we maintain our home base in San Francisco which gives us a more perspective on what’s going on in the world, which in turn allows us to be more effective. 

You’ve worked at the State Department with Former Secretary of Defense William Perry – one of the so-called Four Horsemen. Like Dr. Perry, Ploughshares Fund has been instrumental in creating a new bipartisan security consensus that engages people on both sides of the aisle to move policies forward. How will that be useful as we move forward?

Bill Perry is a mentor of mine. He has also been a role model for me -- in terms of recognizing the importance of public service as part of one's professional life and how one should conduct oneself in that endeavor. He is intellectually honest, thorough and willing to listen. He has reached across the aisle to Henry Kissinger, George Schultz and Sam Nunn to work on one of the most critical issues of the day – nuclear weapons and their threat. That’s an approach we need to embrace and pursue vigorously.

Because there is a consensus about many security issues, especially as we get beyond election politics into 2013, there’s a real opportunity for people, Democrats and Republicans alike, to work on areas where we agree. So if there’s deficit reduction, then there can be a discussion about where you can make cuts and enhance U.S. national security. I think Ploughshares Fund will be a key player in this discussion. 

Anything else? 

I’m really excited to be here at Ploughshares Fund. I’ve done a lot of different things in my career, but the common thread has been public service. Indeed I view non-profit work as just another form of public service. As a board member, I saw the tremendous job that Naila has done getting Ploughshares Fund to the next level and to make a difference. I am excited to have the chance to continue her work, and to do it in close partnership with President Joe Cirincione, who is an expert and leader in the nonproliferation field – the fact that I get to do all this from San Francisco makes it that much better.


Welcome Mr. Yun, While the reduction of nuclear weapons is a critical issue, I hope you will give deserved attention to the payoff solution proposed by Einstein - "we shall require a newer way of thinking if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels." Education is the key to a safe future. Given the near zero costs of providing curriculum through the internet to anyone, anytime, anywhere, this new technology needs careful attention. I invite you to go to the Educational Community, Inc. website at and sign in to receive 100 wisdom tips that offer the skills required to create a joyous fulfilled life and become a world peace teacher. The EC goal is to recruit one million peace leaders within a year who will popularize Einstein's solution to our seven million population. The content is guaranteed to be forever free! Good luck in your efforts to make the world a safer gentler place. Don Pet

Ploughshares has never been more critical to global survival than today...perhaps even more influential than it was during the Cold War. Wherever she is, I am sure that Sally is smiling at the news of Philip's appointment which will help the Ploughshares community continue to grow, and to overcome global nuclear threats, one by one, until they are all resolved. Thanks for stepping forward Philip, Peter Hayes.

You are joining a great team at Ploughshares. Glad to have you in this community.

Greetings, Mr. Yun, Congratulations on your new important role with Ploughshares. You are invited to come to the Red Victorian Peace Center at 1665 Haight Street on Tuesday evenings from 6-7:30 starting this week to partner and plan as we connect peace organizations in San Francisco to support our programs and plan for next summer. We're working with's initiative for the Summer of Peace, the Summer of Solutions, 2012. I look forward to meeting you, Laurie Marshall

Greetings, Mr. Yun, Congratulations on your new important role with Ploughshares. You are invited to come to the Red Victorian Peace Center at 1665 Haight Street on Tuesday evenings from 6-7:30 starting this week to partner and plan as we connect peace organizations in San Francisco to support our programs and plan for next summer. We're working with's initiative for the Summer of Peace, the Summer of Solutions, 2012. I look forward to meeting you, Laurie Marshall

Philip- You may find of interest an essay I wrote on thinking about new ways to deal with the challenge of nuclear weapons, as well as the challenges posed by many other advanced technologies with damaging potential that are proliferating (like biotech, nanotech, computer viruses, drones, and so on). The essay builds on Albert Einstein's observation that: "The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking...the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind. If only I had known, I should have become a watchmaker." Now that every digital watch (or certainly SmartPhone) has as much computing power as was needed to create the first atomic weapons, even being a watchmaker does not absolve one of difficult ethical choices. From the beginning of: <a href="">Recognizing irony is key to transcending militarism</a> Military robots like drones are ironic because they are created essentially to force humans to work like robots in an industrialized social order. Why not just create industrial robots to do the work instead? Nuclear weapons are ironic because they are about using space age systems to fight over oil and land. Why not just use advanced materials as found in nuclear missiles to make renewable energy sources (like windmills or solar panels) to replace oil, or why not use rocketry to move into space by building space habitats for more land? Biological weapons like genetically-engineered plagues are ironic because they are about using advanced life-altering biotechnology to fight over which old-fashioned humans get to occupy the planet. Why not just use advanced biotech to let people pick their skin color, or to create living arkologies and agricultural abundance for everyone everywhere? These militaristic socio-economic ironies would be hilarious if they were not so deadly serious. ... Likewise, even United States three-letter agencies like the NSA and the CIA, as well as their foreign counterparts, are becoming ironic institutions in many ways. Despite probably having more computing power per square foot than any other place in the world, they seem not to have thought much about the implications of all that computer power and organized information to transform the world into a place of abundance for all. Cheap computing makes possible just about cheap everything else, as does the ability to make better designs through shared computing. There is a fundamental mismatch between 21st century reality and 20th century security thinking. Those "security" agencies are using those tools of abundance, cooperation, and sharing mainly from a mindset of scarcity, competition, and secrecy. Given the power of 21st century technology as an amplifier (including as weapons of mass destruction), a scarcity-based approach to using such technology ultimately is just making us all insecure. Such powerful technologies of abundance, designed, organized, and used from a mindset of scarcity could well ironically doom us all whether through military robots, nukes, plagues, propaganda, or whatever else... Or alternatively, as Bucky Fuller and others have suggested, we could use such technologies to build a world that is abundant and secure for all. So, while in the past, we had "nothing to fear but fear itself", the thing to fear these days is ironcially ... irony. :-) === The end of that essay, as well as other things I have written, then explore how we as a global society might move toward a post-scarity paradigm of intrinsic security and mutual security and material abundance for all. As I pointed out to Freeman Dyson recently, and just sent a note to Frank von Hippel on this too, the problem is not the nuclear weapons, especially as the know how to build them will always be with us (like Freeman Dyson points out in "Weapons and Hope"). The issue is how we as a society look at them. If the sun went out, and the atmosphere froze, and all we had were stockpiles of billions of nuclear bombs, quite likely we collectively could use our imagination and figure out a way to make our civilization work powered by them (like blowing them up underground to produce geothermal power). We might even go to the stars on them, like with Project Orion. That thought experiment shows that the bombs themselves, though very dangeorous, are not as dangerous as the competitive and scarcity-based ideology and assumptions that surround them. Even if we get rid of all the bombs, then what about nanotech and biotech and self-replicating robots, any of which could also doom us? We need to move forward to a better paradigm. The same metal that can kill people as a sword can produce lifesustaining abundance for a community as a plough. I can hope Ploughshares will mediate on these ideas and think hard about new ways to move beyond the irony of using 20th century scarcity-based fears to govern how we use 21st century technologies of abundance.

Congratulations on your new and important work with Ploughshares.

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