Korean Peninsula

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.

CrisisWatch Korean Peninsula

Deteriorated Situation

Inter-Korean tensions escalated after North Korea fired artillery near South Korean island and formally dropped goal of unification, signalling Pyongyang’s intention to stoke tensions on peninsula in 2024. 

North and South Korea exchanged fire at sea, raising risk of major crisis. North Korea starting 5 Jan fired more than 200 rounds of artillery shells into seas around South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. In response, South Korea same day launched more than 400 artillery shells into same waters, having ordered civilians to seek shelter on island. Incident follows collapse in Nov 2023 of agreement reached at Sept 2018 inter-Korean summit, which had prohibited artillery fire in area, and may indicate North Korea’s intention to drastically raise tensions by manufacturing conditions for deadly clash in West Sea – scene of past deadly maritime escalations. 

North Korean leader took aim at reunification. Leader Kim Jong Un 15 Jan announced that Supreme People’s Assembly “newly legalised the policy of [North Korea] toward the south on the basis of putting an end to the nearly 80 year-long history of inter-Korean relations and recognising the two states both existing on the Korean peninsula”; Kim also called for reinforcement of land border with south, dissolved institutions dealing with inter-Korean relations, and urged constitutional revision to eliminate references such as “northern half” of peninsula. Moves mark most assertive measures against South Korea in recent years, likely aimed at countering Seoul’s soft power, exerting pressure on U.S. and south in election year and diminishing public resistance to war; steps nonetheless are reversible and align with Kim’s framework for reunification through federation – one state under two systems.

Pyongyang conducted weapons testing. 14 Jan tested solid-fuel hypersonic missile with intermediate range and 19 Jan conducted test of nuclear-capable underwater attack drone. North Korea 24, 28 and 30 Jan test fired cruise missiles into waters off western coast. 

Russia and North Korea continued engagement. North Korean FM Choe Son Hui 16 Jan met Russian President Putin in Russian capital Moscow in bid to "strengthen strategic and tactical cooperation". UK 22 Jan presented fresh evidence to UN indicating transfer of North Korean weapons to Russia for Ukraine war.

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In The News

14 Sep 2023
We are in a situation where North Korea can rely on Russia and China more than has been the case in decades. BBC

Christopher Green

Senior Consultant, Korean Peninsula
13 Jan 2023
Politics is a full-contact sport in South Korea and there is no sign of any sort of balanced politics at the moment. DW

Christopher Green

Senior Consultant, Korean Peninsula

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Christopher Green

Senior Consultant, Korean Peninsula
Christopher Green

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