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Korean Peninsula

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.

CrisisWatch Korean Peninsula

Improved Situation

Resolution Opportunity

North and South Korea conducted multiple rounds of peace talks and agreed to conduct several joint activities in coming months, promoting route to de-escalation of tensions and reduced risk of conflict amid opportunity presented by North’s participation in Feb Winter Olympics; however observers cite likely purpose of Pyongyang’s outreach to drive wedge into international consensus, ROK-U.S. alliance and South Korean domestic politics, and risk of resumed escalation following Olympics. In annual televised New Year’s address 1 Jan, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un issued offer of immediate and unconditional talks with South Korea. South Korea responded with suggestion of 9 Jan meeting on its side of Military Demarcation Line, at which sides agreed North Korea would participate in Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South in Feb; also reopened cross-border military-to-military communications line to facilitate logistical discussions. Further talks 15 Jan resulted in agreement that North Korean cultural sector delegation would make two-day inspection trip to South, which took place 21-22 Jan. At 17 Jan talks, Pyongyang and Seoul agreed to march under one flag at Winter Olympics opening ceremony 9 Feb and compete together in several sports. South Korea and U.S. 4 Jan agreed to postpone joint military exercises until after Winter Olympics and Paralympics, which run until 18 March, though U.S. officials responded to inter-Korean talks with mixed messages: U.S. Ambassador to UN Nikki Haley 3 Jan dismissed prospects of dialogue, saying U.S. does not take talks “seriously” unless they make moves toward “ban” on North Korean nuclear weapons; National Security Advisor McMaster warned 5 Jan that purpose of Kim Jong-un’s outreach was to “drive a wedge” between Seoul and Washington, a widely shared view. In his 29 Jan State of the Union address, President Trump said “past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation” and that he would not repeat “mistakes of past administrations”. U.S. 24 Jan announced further sanctions on several entities, people and ships it said helped Pyongyang’s weapons program.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

11 Feb 2018
[North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's] goal is to do enough on the inter-Korean front to get the United States and North Korea to jaw-jaw. The real strategic games have only just begun. Bloomberg

Christopher Green

Senior Advisor, Korean Peninsula
8 Feb 2018
[South Korea's] Moon administration is already treading a fine line between engagement and what a large and vocal segment of the population regards as appeasement. Reuters

Christopher Green

Senior Advisor, Korean Peninsula
7 Feb 2018
Seeing [Kim Jong-un's sister] at Pyongyang station waving everyone off was a reminder that she’s in the propaganda business. The Washington Post

Christopher Green

Senior Advisor, Korean Peninsula
23 Jan 2018
A deal whereby Pyongyang freezes its most sensitive tests and Washington freezes some military exercises could help de-escalate the crisis and buy time for diplomacy. South China Morning Post

Michael Kovrig

Senior Adviser, North East Asia
9 Jan 2018
If [North Korea] wants to drive a wedge into the alliance between the U.S. and South Korea, [sending its athletes to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics] could just be their opening gambit. The Washington Post

Christopher Green

Senior Advisor, Korean Peninsula
29 Dec 2017
[The United Nations Security Council's resolution 2397 on North Korea] was not a game-changer. [It] does not do much more than build on previous resolutions, all with one eye on the future. The Diplomat

Christopher Green

Senior Advisor, Korean Peninsula

Latest Updates

Video / Asia

Extending the Korean Winter Olympics Detente

The 2018 Winter Olympic Games, together with the 70th anniversary of both North and South Korea, represents an opportunity for diplomacy to help reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Op-Ed / Asia

An Olympic Truce Could Help Solve the Korea Crisis

The Trump administration should take advantage of the Games to promote a peaceful solution to the impasse with North Korea.

Originally published in Politico

Media Release / Asia

The Korean Peninsula Crisis: Beyond Fire and Fury

Two Crisis Group reports detail how a nightmarish war on the Korean peninsula is closer than ever in recent history, and how the Winter Olympics and North Korea’s need to show economic progress in its 70th anniversary year offer opportunities for diplomacy and de-escalation. 

Op-Ed / Asia

What Will China Do if the U.S. Attacks North Korea?

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

Commentary / Asia

The Strategic Thinking behind North Korea’s Missile Gambit

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.

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Christopher Green

Senior Advisor, Korean Peninsula