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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

Unchanged Situation

Seoul and Pyongyang conducted high-profile missile tests, overshadowing high-level meetings to reignite diplomatic track. In sign of rising inter-Korean arms race and end of quiet period since so-called “Winter Olympic truce” in 2018, North Korea and South Korea tested missiles. Pyongyang 11 and 12 Sept tested intermediate-range cruise missiles, and 15 Sept fired two railway-mobile ballistic missiles from South Pyongan province toward east coast in violation of UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting ballistic missile tests; North Korea 28 Sept fired missile from central north province of Jagang. South Korea 15 Sept tested submarine-launched ballistic missile, becoming first country without nuclear weapons to do so; South Korean President Moon Jae-in same day said missiles would prove “sufficient deterrence to respond to North Korea’s provocations at any time”; Kim Yo-jong, senior North Korean official and sister of leader Kim Jong-un, same day criticised Moon, warning “slander and detraction” could push bilateral relations “toward a complete destruction”. Tests also coincided with meeting between Chinese FM Wang Yi and South Korean FM Chung Eui-yong in South Korea’s capital Seoul, and came one day after meeting between nuclear envoys of U.S., South Korea and Japan in Japanese capital Tokyo to discuss bringing North Korea back to negotiating table; latter meeting urged North Korea to respond to offers of unconditional dialogue. During his UN General Assembly address, Moon Jae-in 21 Sept proposed formal end to 1950-1953 Korean War; North Korea Vice FM Ri Thae Song 24 Sept rejected proposal, saying nothing will change so long as “U.S. hostile policy is not shifted”. Shortly after missile test, North Korea’s UN Envoy Kim Song 28 Sept said govt would respond to offers of talks if U.S. revised “double standards” and hostile policy; Kim Jong-un 30 Sept announced he had requested communication lines with South Korea be restored to “promote peace”.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

20 Aug 2020
To say there is a partial transfer of power seems to be an exaggeration, given the system in North Korea. BloombergQuint

Duyeon Kim

Former Senior Adviser, North East Asia & Nuclear Policy
27 Jul 2020
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. Time

Duyeon Kim

Former Senior Adviser, North East Asia & Nuclear Policy
16 Apr 2020
The results of South Korea’s elections tell other world leaders that their response to COVID-19 could determine their own political futures. BBC

Duyeon Kim

Former Senior Adviser, North East Asia & Nuclear Policy
10 Apr 2020
Elections have never been postponed in Korean history, not even during the Korean War or the H1N1 outbreak. The Diplomat

Duyeon Kim

Former Senior Adviser, North East Asia & Nuclear Policy
23 Mar 2020
[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. Reuters

Duyeon Kim

Former Senior Adviser, North East Asia & Nuclear Policy
17 Feb 2020
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. Bloomberg

Duyeon Kim

Former Senior Adviser, North East Asia & Nuclear Policy

Latest Updates

Q&A / Asia

Counting Down to North Korea’s Year-end Deadline

North Korea is testing the United States, issuing threats and launching short-range missile tests while talks over its nuclear program have stalled. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Duyeon Kim explains what could be motivating Pyongyang’s escalation and what to expect in 2020. 

EU Watch List / Global

Watch List 2019 – First Update

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.

Q&A / United States

All Eyes on Tangible Results from U.S.-North Korea Summit

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.

Briefing / United States

Time for a Modest Deal: How to Get U.S.-North Korean Talks Moving Forward

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.

Commentary / Asia

Getting the U.S. in Step with the Koreas’ Diplomatic Dance

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.

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Our People

Christopher Green

Senior Consultant, Korean Peninsula
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