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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

Deteriorated Situation

North Korea increased tensions with another round of what Japan said appeared to be missile launches 28 Nov, and threatened further launches, while relations between U.S. and South Korea grew more strained over negotiations on cost-sharing for U.S. troop presence. North Korean missiles 28 Nov flew into sea between Korean peninsula and Japan; Pyongyang 30 Nov threatened ballistic missiles would fly over Japan “in the not distant future”. Earlier in month, Pyongyang 13 Nov warned U.S. would face “bigger threat and harsh suffering” if Kim Jong-un’s unilaterally-imposed end-2019 deadline is “ignored”, continuing pressure on U.S. to offer proposal on nuclear deal; Pyongyang demanding U.S. and South Korea halt joint military drills and lift sanctions. Washington and Seoul 17 Nov announced postponement of joint air drills as good-will gesture; Pyongyang dismissed it, said it was not interested in talks “that bring nothing to us” and would not “gift the U.S. president with something he can boast of”. North Korean state media 25 Nov reported Kim ordered artillery drills near disputed inter-Korean maritime border while inspecting military unit on islet off west coast, in first known trip to front-line military unit since entering nuclear diplomacy with U.S.; artillery firing aimed toward South Korea, which expressed regret saying drills violated 2018 inter-Korean military agreement. Third round of negotiations between U.S. and South Korea on how to divide cost for maintaining U.S. troops on Korean peninsula ended abruptly 20 Nov, amid renewed tensions after U.S. President Trump demanded Seoul pay 400% (about $5bn) more in 2020. South Korean newspaper 20 Nov reported U.S. considering withdrawing one brigade (3,000-4,000 troops) if sides unable to reach agreement by end of 2019; U.S. denied. Seoul 22 Nov postponed with conditions its controversial decision to terminate intelligence sharing agreement with Japan, which had omitted South Korea from its “white list” of trusted trading partners. South Korean and Chinese defence ministers 17 Nov agreed to establish more military hotlines, in apparent message and warning to Washington.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

14 Mar 2019
Any US government that is serious about making headway with NK in negotiations should be quietly funding info freedom activities as well. Twitter

Christopher Green

Former Senior Adviser, Korean Peninsula
28 Feb 2019
For the U.S., it would be politically unacceptable and a terrible idea to trade all economic sanctions for the dismantlement of Yongbyon, as Kim seems to have demanded. Reuters

Christopher Green

Former Senior Adviser, Korean Peninsula
28 Feb 2019
The @realDonaldTrump and @SecPompeo presser this afternoon was revealing, & seems to give contours of a path forward. For one thing, Trump emphasized productivity of discussion and positivity of tone on all sides. Doesn't mean it wasn't a setback, but talks will likely continue. Twitter

Christopher Green

Former Senior Adviser, Korean Peninsula
4 Jan 2019
A relatively modest trade would help kickstart a more meaningful diplomatic process [between the U.S. and North Korea]. A verified shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear facility wouldn’t end North Korea’s program but it could be significant. Washington Examiner

Stephen Pomper

Senior Director for Policy
23 Sep 2018
The [U.S.] president is prepared to bluster and threaten, but he also wants to achieve the deal of the century. With North Korea, it worked because he had a willing partner. The problem he’s going to face with Iran is that the leaders there believe a meeting would validate his strategy The New York Times

Robert Malley

President & CEO
26 Jul 2018
Broadly speaking, one side [the U.S.] wants denuclearization first, normalization of relations later, and the other [North Korea] wants normalization of relations first, then denuclearization later. Reuters

Christopher Green

Former Senior Adviser, Korean Peninsula

Latest Updates

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.

Also available in 简体中文
Commentary / Asia

After the Trump-Kim Summit: Now Comes the Hard Part

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.

Also available in 简体中文
Op-Ed / United States

Why Trump Should Take It Slow With Kim Jong Un

Any successful deal with North Korea will require an extraordinary amount of patience and attention to detail.

Originally published in Politico Magazine

Report / United States

Deep Freeze and Beyond: Making the Trump-Kim Summit a Success

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.

Also available in 한국어, 简体中文