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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

North Korea continued weapons testing as Seoul fired submarine-launched missiles, while incoming South Korean president planned early engagement with U.S. Following launch of intercontinental ballistic missile in March, U.S. 1 April sanctioned five entities it accused of providing support to North Korea’s weapons programs. North Korean state media 17 April reported leader Kim Jong Un observed test launch of new tactical guided weapon. South Korea week of 18 April tested two submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) off east coast of Korean Peninsula, in first such test since Sept 2021. Tests coincided with U.S. envoy to North Korea Sung Kim’s 18 April visit to South Korea’s capital Seoul, where he affirmed U.S. and South Korea would maintain “strongest possible joint deterrent” over Pyongyang’s “escalatory actions”. U.S. and South Korea same day commenced joint military exercises. North Korea 15 April marked “Day of the Sun” birth anniversary of national founder Kim Il Sung, without major military parade. Modest celebrations in Pyongyang were held in contrast to evidence of satellite images and diplomatic reports of preparations for parade, which went ahead 25 April in celebration of 90th anniversary of army foundation; no major new equipment was shown. President-elect Yoon Suk-Yeol’s advisers 4 April commenced visit to U.S. to prepare ground for early summit with U.S. President Biden. Outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un 20-21 April exchanged letters in likely final communication before Moon leaves office in May; Moon’s letter called on Kim to pursue peaceful inter-Korean relations under Yoon’s incoming conservative administration; Yoon transition team next day asserted “peace and prosperity” could only come from denuclearisation. South Korean Defence Minister Suh Wook 1 April said South Korean military had “ability to accurately and quickly hit any target in North Korea”; Kim Yo Jong, sister of Kim Jong Un, 3 April condemned remarks as worsening “inter-Korean relations and military tension”, and 5 April said North Korea opposes war but would use nuclear weapons if attacked, sentiment Kim Jong Un reiterated at parade 25 April.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

13 May 2022
The [North Korean] missile tests are meant to signal business as usual, and to ensure that others keep North Korea at arm’s length while it copes with a crisis. Financial Times

Christopher Green

Senior Consultant, Korean Peninsula
22 Apr 2022
North Korea is attempting to pit South Korean advocates of engagement and advocates of containment against each other. Financial Times

Christopher Green

Senior Consultant, Korean Peninsula
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

Latest Updates

Commentary / Asia

Korean Tensions: An Unexpected Pause in an Uncertain Time

On 24 June, Pyongyang abruptly stopped threats it had been making at Seoul for weeks, although the underpinnings of inter-Korean friction remain. Peninsular tensions could stay on simmer or escalate depending on how the parties manage an uncertain time before the U.S. election.

Event Recording / Asia

Chief Negotiators' Advice: Next Steps on North Korea (Online Event, 15th June 2020)

Two years have passed since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's historic Singapore summit. But nuclear diplomacy remains stuck and the 2018 June Singapore Joint Statement has not been implemented. The coronavirus pandemic and U.S. presidential elections in November might convince both capitals to kick the can down the road until next year, at the earliest. But Pyongyang's nuclear weapons capability continues to advance without restrictions.

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. 

Report / Asia

The Case for Kaesong: Fostering Korean Peace through Economic Ties

The Kaesong Industrial Complex, closed since 2016, was the most successful joint economic venture undertaken by North and South Korea. Reopening the manufacturing zone, with improvements to efficiency and worker protections, could help broker wider cooperation and sustain peace talks on the peninsula.

Commentary / Asia

North Korea: Getting Back to the Table

A failed summit in Hanoi between the U.S. and North Korea has resulted in a diplomatic stalemate. In this excerpt from the first update of our Watch List 2019 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to utilise its neutral position to re-energise the ailing peace process and adopt measures to ease the plight of North Koreans.

Our People

Christopher Green

Senior Consultant, Korean Peninsula
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