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.
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.
Uncertainty over denuclearisation talks continued following abrupt end of late Feb U.S.-North Korea summit in Hanoi, also setting back inter-Korean ties. Observers blamed unrealistic expectations on both sides, while North Korean Vice FM Choe Son-hui 15 March told press conference in Pyongyang that U.S. President Trump had been prepared to consider sanctions relief with provisions to reapply them if Pyongyang violated commitments, but Sec State Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton blocked move; also said Pyongyang may rethink ban on nuclear and missile tests absent concessions from Washington. U.S. General Abrams told House Armed Services Committee that observed North Korean activities were “inconsistent with denuclearisation”. Following fraught discussions, South Korea and U.S. 8 March signed new one-year Special Measures Agreement, under which South Korea is to raise its annual cost-sharing contribution for U.S. Forces Korea to nearly $920mn, up from approximately $800 million during previous agreement; U.S. used opportunity to publicly reaffirm strength of alliance. Inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong thrown into turmoil as North Korean staff 22 March informed South Korea of intent to withdraw from operations, allegedly under direction of Kim Jong-un, leading to concerns of abandonment of key aspect of broader inter-Korean talks; however half of North Korean staff came to work 25 March, reportedly after Trump attempted to reverse sanctions on two Chinese entities accused of doing business with DPRK. Pyongyang 31 March said that 22 Feb break-in at its embassy in Spain was a “terrorist attack” and called for investigation, intimating the possibility of state-level involvement.
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.
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.
Any US government that is serious about making headway with NK in negotiations should be quietly funding info freedom activities as well.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Any successful deal with North Korea will require an extraordinary amount of patience and attention to detail.
Originally published in Politico Magazine
Facing uncertain times in U.S. policy and a pivot to diplomacy from North Korea, leaders of China, Japan and South Korea met in Tokyo on 9 May to downplay historical grievances and show their support for denuclearisation, trade and better relations. But underlying disputes could still resurface.
Symbolism and substance combined to make the 27 April meeting between the North and South Korean presidents a momentous occasion. Much needs to be done to overcome scepticism from past failures, but the concrete timeline the two countries laid out in the Panmunjom Declaration could lead to transformative steps.