The recent exchange of aggressive rhetoric between North Korea and the U.S. over Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions and missile program has been one of the most vitriolic to date, posing a serious threat to security in the region and beyond. North Korea continues to violate UN resolutions as it accelerates its nuclear program and carries out ballistic missile tests at a quickened pace. Beijing, its most important ally and trading partner, is frustrated by its neighbour’s policy but prefers continuity of the status quo to the instability that would follow radical change. Crisis Group works to decrease the risk of nuclear and conventional war on the peninsula while directing our regional and global advocacy at identifying opportunities for cooperation between stakeholders on all sides.
North Korea’s sixth nuclear test heightens regional anxieties and is dangerous for populations living nearby. But in itself it does not fundamentally alter the situation nor should it raise the risk of military conflict. Instead, it should spur the U.S., South Korea and China to forge a stronger, more effective and more united diplomatic approach.
North Korea refrained from conducting missile or nuclear test of any kind during month; some observers speculated that Pyongyang sought to avoid antagonising Beijing during 19th Communist Party of China National Congress 18-24 Oct; or drive wedge between U.S., Seoul and Beijing ahead of visit by President Trump to South Korea and China in early Nov. After visiting North Korea early month, Russian MP Anton Morozov said country preparing to test long-range missile capable of reach U.S. west coast. U.S. flew two B-1B bombers over Korean peninsula 11 Oct in night time exercise joined by Japanese and South Korean fighter jets. U.S. intelligence chief Mike Pompeo 20 Oct said Pyongyang could be just months away from being capable of hitting U.S. with nuclear weapons. North Korean foreign ministry’s director general of North America Affairs, Choi Sun-hee, appeared at Moscow Nonproliferation Conference 19-21 Oct: laying out North Korea’s demands, said country would not return to Six-Party Talks and sought talks only with U.S., “the country that is trying to pressure and to bring about the collapse of North Korea”. Also said “nuclear armament is critical” in facing “U.S. policy of hostility”. Meeting with his South Korean counterpart during regional tour 28 Oct, U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said threat of North Korean nuclear attack “is accelerating”; also said U.S. goal “is not war” but denuclarisation of peninsula and added that defending Seoul against artillery barrage from DPRK “infeasible”. U.S. 26 Oct imposed sanctions on seven North Koreans and three entities due to human rights abuses. In Pyongyang, leader Kim Jong-un promoted his sister Kim Yo-jong to politburo, country’s highest decision-making body.
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.
In the shadow of growing North Korean threats, South Korea needs to reform its intelligence apparatus to restore public confidence while enhancing the country’s intelligence capacity.
North Korea’s belligerent behaviour is testing the patience of China, its principal backer, but a consequential Chinese policy change, which the U.S. and its allies hope for, is not likely soon.
Despite last week’s abrupt shuffle at the top of the military leadership, Kim Jŏng-ŭn appears to be firmly established as the new leader of North Korea, completing a faster and smoother power transition than many experts anticipated.
Although North Korea has offered unconditional dialogue since January, South Korea is maintaining a tough policy line towards the North as Seoul approaches a year of electoral campaign politics. The risk of conflict remains serious, particularly in the area near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the military demarcation in the Yellow Sea.
As the number of defectors from North Korea arriving in the South has surged in the past decade, reconfiguring integration programs for them has become crucial.
North Korea has always had an interest in developing sporting talent — that’s not new — but the focus on football seems to be new.
An important question is not how the [pro-North Korean] leaflets develop in themselves, but how the themes are reflected in television and print media that ordinary North Korean people can see.
China is implementing the sanctions [on North Korea] with unprecedented rigor and determination. But does that mean everything is being followed through completely? Not necessarily.
China views its agreement with the new [UN] sanctions [against North Korea] as a favour to the U.S. and will now expect something in return.
To the degree that North Korea knows that the international community is going to punish it for conducting its sixth nuclear test there is no incentive not to do something else provocative on Sept. 9.
[South Korean President Moon Jae-in's] strategy [of seeking dialogue to deal with North Korea] cannot possibly survive these kind of circumstances at this time, so he beefs up the military side of things.
During a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on 19 September 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump warned that if North Korea threatened the United States or its allies, he would “totally destroy” the nation. As tensions continue to rise between Washington and Pyongyang, is Beijing growing more or less likely to intervene in a conflict between the United States and North Korea? Senior Adviser for North East Asia Michael Kovrig shares his view with ChinaFile.
Originally published in ChinaFile
North Korea’s launch of a missile over Japan was irresponsible – yet it was more of a carefully calculated risk than a reckless gamble. Pyongyang’s goal is not a shooting war but to build up military and nuclear capabilities that serve strategic aims of survival and force protection.
Originally published in The Interpreter