Events on the Korean peninsula are among the most dramatic on the world stage. Amid cycles of rapprochement and disaffection between North and South, relations between Pyongyang and Washington careen back and forth from bellicosity to detente. At stake are not just North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs but also peace and security in North East Asia. China, the North’s most important ally, has cooperated in enforcing strict sanctions in an attempt to temper its partner’s bravado. But ultimately it prefers the status quo to the instability that would follow radical change. Crisis Group works to decrease the risk of war on the peninsula while advocating for creative solutions for all parties to implement as they pursue their long-term goals.
On 24 June, Pyongyang abruptly stopped threats it had been making at Seoul for weeks, although the underpinnings of inter-Korean friction remain. Peninsular tensions could stay on simmer or escalate depending on how the parties manage an uncertain time before the U.S. election.
Tensions continued amid Seoul’s reshuffle of security team, while North Korea cast doubt on potential third U.S.-DPRK summit. South Korean President Moon Jae-in 3 July reorganised his national security team, including appointing Suh Hoon as national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong as special advisor, former lawmaker Park Jie-won – imprisoned from 2006-2007 for secretly sending money to Pyongyang to hold inter-Korean summit in 2000 – as intelligence chief and nominating ruling Democratic Party lawmaker Lee In-Young as unification minister. U.S. President Donald Trump 7 July said he believes Pyongyang wants meeting between DPRK and U.S. and he would join if “helpful”; top official and sister of DPRK leader Kim Jong-un Kim Yo-jong 10 July released statement reiterating Pyongyang’s lack of interest in another Trump-Kim summit, saying preconditions for talks had changed from previous demands of sanctions relief and end to joint U.S.-South Korea military drills to expanded position that Washington must end all “hostilities”, including rhetoric and criticism; statement came days after U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper 7 July listed North Korea among “rogue states”. Former South Korean FM and UN Sec Gen Ban Ki-moon 8 July urged govt not to “beg” North Korea during speech to National Assembly, describing Moon administration’s policies toward North as “astounding and deplorable”. North Korean state media 11 July announced reinstatement of Kim Yo-jong to political bureau of central committee in Pyongyang; Kim Yo-jong was removed from position in 2019. South Korea’s military 30 July reported Pyongyang 6 July fired missile as part of naval exercises. Amid ongoing dispute between U.S. and South Korea over sharing cost of maintaining 28,500 U.S. troops on Korean peninsula, Wall Street Journal newspaper 17 July reported U.S. Defence Department had presented Trump administration with options to reduce number of troops, raising concerns in South Korea and Japan over potential impact on security. UK 6 July announced sanctions against two North Korean ministries for reportedly running prison camps. Analysts at Middlebury Institute of International Studies 8 July reported suspected undeclared nuclear facility in Wollo-ri village near Pyongyang.
The Kaesong Industrial Complex, closed since 2016, was the most successful joint economic venture undertaken by North and South Korea. Reopening the manufacturing zone, with improvements to efficiency and worker protections, could help broker wider cooperation and sustain peace talks on the peninsula.
Last June’s U.S.-North Korean summit cleared the atmosphere, but follow-up talks have accomplished little, meaning that dark clouds could easily gather again. To jump-start progress, negotiators should start small, moving incrementally toward realising the long-term goals of Washington, Pyongyang and Seoul.
The greatest risk to the 12 June summit between the U.S. and North Korea is mismatched expectations. To avoid a return to escalatory rhetoric, both parties should keep hopes modest and adopt an action-for-action approach as part of a four-step plan for denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.
A nightmarish Korean peninsula war is closer than at any time in recent history. In the first of a two-part series, Crisis Group examines the interests and calculations of the states most affected or involved: North Korea, the U.S., South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.
Brinksmanship on the Korean peninsula threatens a potentially catastrophic military escalation. In this second report of a two-part series, Crisis Group lays out the steps to de-escalate the crisis and buy time for a more durable solution.
Prospects are bleak that the Six-Party Talks can lead to a denuclearised Korean peninsula, notably since North Korea has made nuclear weapons an integral part of its identity. The international community must open new channels of communication and interaction, give greater roles to international organisations, the private sector and civil society.
If the defector is in fact the cause for the Kaesong lockdown, then North Korea doesn’t need to deny infections anymore and can blame its epidemic on defectors and imported cases from South Korea.
The results of South Korea’s elections tell other world leaders that their response to COVID-19 could determine their own political futures.
Elections have never been postponed in Korean history, not even during the Korean War or the H1N1 outbreak.
[Kim Jong Un]’s apparently trying to show his confidence and strength to his people[...] by pursuing its strategic objectives despite a national crisis over a virus they have no control over.
Every time things looks different in North Korea, they often can be the same. What Kim Jong Un is doing is drawing from the core policies, but putting his own stamp on them to build his own legacy.
[Ri Son Gwon's] appointment means Kim is putting in place the people he thinks will implement his marching orders.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The Watch List Updates include situations identified in the annual Watch List and/or a new focus of concern.
The North Korean and U.S. leaders enter their second summit under pressure to achieve concrete progress toward their respective goals, sanctions relief and denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. Crisis Group Senior Adviser Christopher Green suggests risk reduction measures each side can take.
A new round of inter-Korean diplomacy commenced 18 September as the North and South Korean leaders met for a three-day summit. Meanwhile, U.S.-North Korean relations are reverting to previous bad form. Washington should welcome Seoul’s help in restarting productive contacts with Pyongyang.
Last week the world watched the first-ever meeting between a North Korean leader and a U.S. president. Crisis Group offers a 360-degree view of how the summit played in the U.S., the Korean peninsula, China and Japan – and what it may mean going forward.