Tracking Conflict Worldwide

CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, an early warning tool designed to help prevent deadly violence. It keeps decision-makers up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises every month, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace. In addition, CrisisWatch monitors over 50 situations (“standby monitoring”) to offer timely information if developments indicate a drift toward violence or instability. Entries dating back to 2003 provide easily searchable conflict histories.



Korean Peninsula

U.S. and South Korean conducted military drills as North Korea resumed missile testing, while Russia vetoed renewal of UN panel tasked with monitoring sanctions compliance. 

Following seasonal alliance military drills, Pyongyang launched missiles. U.S. and South Korea 4-14 March held annual Spring exercises, which passed off without dramatic North Korean response; this may indicate some form of distress inside North Korea – with domestic media focused on agricultural challenges – but there is chance North Korea may respond more forcefully to drills in coming months. Following exercises, leader Kim Jong Un 18 March supervised live-fire drill of multiple rocket launchers and Pyongyang same day fired three short-range ballistic missiles into waters off peninsula’s east coast. State media 20 March reported successful test of solid-fuel engine for intermediate-range hypersonic missile.

Russia wielded veto to block renewed mandate for UN Panel of Experts. Vote on renewal of UN Panel of Experts on North Korea sanctions – tasked with monitoring compliance with sanctions – was delayed and thrown into doubt after Russia 12 March proposed changes, including sunset clause for sanctions and reducing reporting period from every six months to annual. U.S. and its allies remain steadfast in opposition to alterations to sanctions or reporting framework, arguing sustained pressure on North Korea is essential. Russia 28 March vetoed renewal, ensuring panel’s mandate will expire 30 April; U.S. accused Russia of silencing body because it began reporting on “Russia’s blatant violations of the UN Security Council resolutions”. In further sign of Russia’s lack of sanctions enforcement and compliance, Financial Times 26 March reported that Russia 7 March began “first documented direct seaborne deliveries” of oil to North Korea in contravention of 2017 UN sanctions, possibly in part payment for munitions deliveries. 

South Korea issued stern warning against Pyongyang’s provocations. Speaking at ninth West Sea Defence Day, which commemorates North Korean provocations in West Sea, South Korean President Yoon 22 March cautioned Pyongyang against reckless provocations and emphasised resolve of South Korea govt and military to push back against aggression; Yoon also pledged to further enhance trilateral security cooperation with U.S. and Japan.


Korean Peninsula

Ahead of U.S.-South Korea military drills in March, North Korea tested missiles and maritime tensions persisted with Seoul, while Moscow publicly flouted UN sanctions in sign of eroding enforcement and adherence. 

North Korea tested missiles in east amid maritime tensions in west. South Korea 14 Feb said North Korea had fired multiple cruise missiles in waters off its eastern port of Wonsan. North Korean state media next day confirmed leader Kim Jong Un supervised “evaluation test-fire of new-type surface-to-sea missile Padasuri-6”. After Kim in Jan announced north would no longer recognise de facto maritime boundary in West Sea known as Northern Limit Line, state media 15 Feb quoted Kim accusing Seoul of frequently violating north’s sovereignty by insisting on boundary, warning “if the enemy violates what we consider as our maritime border lines, we will take that as a violation of our sovereignty and an armed provocation”, vowing to “defend our maritime sovereignty by force of arms and actions”. 

U.S. and South Korea prepared for March’s military drills. North Korea is expected to respond to alliance military exercises – set to begin 4 March – but it is not clear whether Pyongyang is keen to be, by its standards, highly provocative at this moment, given that it is focused on relations with Russia. 

Russia gifted luxury car to Kim, violating UN sanctions. In sign of deepening ties between Russia and North Korea, President Putin 18 Feb gifted Kim luxury car – violating UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea. After South Korea and U.S. criticised move, Moscow retorted: “If Seoul has concerns about the ‘adherence to U.N. sanctions’ regarding North Korea, then it should address it directly at the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee, rather than rushing to the microphones”. Episode underscores lack of security council unity in enforcing and adhering to sanctions resolutions. Meanwhile, South Korea 26 Feb said Pyongyang had shipped 6,700 containers carrying millions of munitions to Russia since July. 

Seoul established formal relations with Cuba. In unanticipated step, South Korea and Cuba 15 Feb forged diplomatic ties, marking apparent setback for North Korea that has historically emphasised fraternal socialist connections with Caribbean island.


Korean Peninsula

Inter-Korean tensions escalated after North Korea fired artillery near South Korean island and formally dropped goal of unification, signalling Pyongyang’s intention to stoke tensions on peninsula in 2024. 

North and South Korea exchanged fire at sea, raising risk of major crisis. North Korea starting 5 Jan fired more than 200 rounds of artillery shells into seas around South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. In response, South Korea same day launched more than 400 artillery shells into same waters, having ordered civilians to seek shelter on island. Incident follows collapse in Nov 2023 of agreement reached at Sept 2018 inter-Korean summit, which had prohibited artillery fire in area, and may indicate North Korea’s intention to drastically raise tensions by manufacturing conditions for deadly clash in West Sea – scene of past deadly maritime escalations. 

North Korean leader took aim at reunification. Leader Kim Jong Un 15 Jan announced that Supreme People’s Assembly “newly legalised the policy of [North Korea] toward the south on the basis of putting an end to the nearly 80 year-long history of inter-Korean relations and recognising the two states both existing on the Korean peninsula”; Kim also called for reinforcement of land border with south, dissolved institutions dealing with inter-Korean relations, and urged constitutional revision to eliminate references such as “northern half” of peninsula. Moves mark most assertive measures against South Korea in recent years, likely aimed at countering Seoul’s soft power, exerting pressure on U.S. and south in election year and diminishing public resistance to war; steps nonetheless are reversible and align with Kim’s framework for reunification through federation – one state under two systems.

Pyongyang conducted weapons testing. 14 Jan tested solid-fuel hypersonic missile with intermediate range and 19 Jan conducted test of nuclear-capable underwater attack drone. North Korea 24, 28 and 30 Jan test fired cruise missiles into waters off western coast. 

Russia and North Korea continued engagement. North Korean FM Choe Son Hui 16 Jan met Russian President Putin in Russian capital Moscow in bid to "strengthen strategic and tactical cooperation". UK 22 Jan presented fresh evidence to UN indicating transfer of North Korean weapons to Russia for Ukraine war.


Korean Peninsula

North Korea conducted third test of solid-fuelled inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) and kicked off annual ruling party review, while U.S. and South Korea held nuclear consultations.

Pyongyang conducted operational exercise of solid-fuel ICBM. North Korea 18 Dec conducted its third test of solid-fuelled ICBM, marking its fifth ICBM test of 2023; new ICBM HS-18 forms third prong of North Korea’s current ICBM armoury. Latest test was described as “launching drill of an ICBM unit”, presumably intended to imply new ICBM is operational. State media described launch as being conducted with due regard for other states in region, as missile flew for more than 70 minutes on very lofted trajectory without crossing Japanese territory.

North Korea held annual ruling party performance review. Start of ruling Korean Workers’ Party’s annual review meeting was reported by state media on 27 Dec; forum, held in capital Pyongyang, serves as review of party performance during 2023, gauging implementation of goals set down in country’s five-year plan; leader Kim Jong Un called 2023 “year of great transformation” in fields ranging from military development to construction and warned “war can break out at any time” on peninsula. Results will give clearer indication of regime’s foreign policy priorities and stance for 2024.

U.S. submarine made port visit to South Korea after second nuclear talking shop. U.S. and South Korea 15 Dec held second Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) meeting in U.S. capital Washington; NCG, part of Washington Declaration agreed in April 2023, aims to give South Korea more voice in deciding alliance nuclear strategy and, accordingly, to reduce domestic pressure for Seoul to pursue an independent nuclear deterrent capability. Following meeting, U.S. nuclear-powered submarine USS Missouri 17 Dec made port visit to Busan in South Korea.

In another important development. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and U.S. late Nov both raised concerns that North Korea had begun to bring experimental light-water nuclear reactor – type of reactor that Pyongyang has no experience in operating – online at its Yongbyon nuclear research facility.


Korean Peninsula

North Korea successfully launched satellite and abrogated 2018 military agreement with South Korea, removing important safeguard against risk of cross-border clashes.

North Korea put satellite into orbit on third attempt of 2023. North Korea 21 Nov launched military reconnaissance satellite in country’s third launch attempt this year, following previous failures in May and Aug, and first since North Korean leader agreed with Russian President Putin in Sept to conduct unspecified collaboration in field of satellite launches; there is no evidence, however, that Russian help was determinative in launch. Pyongyang detonated first stage of rocket in mid-air to ensure it could not be retrieved from sea. If satellite will function as intended, it will provide north with upgraded surveillance of South Korean and U.S. militaries, although South Korea asserted scepticism of North’s technology.

Inter-Korean military deal collapsed, heightening conflict risks at border. In response to satellite launch, South Korea next day announced suspension of one-part of 2018 military agreement with Pyongyang – designed to ease bilateral tensions during period of diplomacy in 2018-19 – thus permitting Seoul to restore full aerial reconnaissance and surveillance along inter-Korean border. North Korea next day abrogated whole deal, accusing South of “frontal challenge to the spirit of the agreement”. Collapse of agreement heightens risk of accidental or deliberate cross-border clashes in coming months as North Korea is now likely to begin rebuilding border guard posts destroyed during 2018, bringing soldiers into closer contact; Pyongyang could redeploy soldiers to Kaesong Industrial Complex and tourism resort at Mount Kumgang, as well as step up drone activity near border and cross-border propaganda leafleting and loudspeaker broadcasts.

North Korea continued close engagement with Russia. North Korea’s minister of external economic relations Yun Jong Ho and Russia’s natural resources minister Alexander Kozlov 15 Nov met in North Korean capital Pyongyang to discuss implementation of agreements reached between leaders Kim Jong Un and Putin in Sept; Kozlov noted agreement on joint geological explorations in North Korea in search of gold, iron, and rare earth metal deposits, intention to increase Russia’s agricultural exports and bring bilateral trade back to pre-pandemic levels.


Korean Peninsula

U.S. accused North Korea of supplying munitions to Russia, raising concern over pair’s military cooperation, while U.S., South Korea and Japan held first ever trilateral aerial military drills.

U.S. unveiled evidence pointing to North Korean weapons supplies to Russia. After North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited Russia’s Far East in Sept to meet Russian President Putin, fuelling speculation that Pyongyang was planning to supply munitions to Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, U.S. intelligence 13 Oct revealed it had observed between 300 and 1,000 shipping containers travelling by boat from North Korean port Rajin to Russian military port Dunay before containers were transported to ammunition depot closer to Russia-Ukraine border. After visiting North Korea for talks with Kim Jong Un, Russian FM Sergei Lavrov 20 Oct denied U.S. allegations, saying he “does not comment on rumours”. North Korean ambassador to Russia next day criticised U.S. deliveries of ATACMS ground-to-ground missiles to Ukraine. Concerns mounted regarding how Russia may compensate Pyongyang, as Kim Jong Un is likely seeking modern fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missiles and assistance with satellite launch technologies banned under UN Security Council resolutions; military cooperation is likely to deepen Western antipathy toward dialogue and further sour relations on peninsula.

U.S., Japan and South Korea conducted military exercises. In their first ever trilateral aerial exercises, U.S., Japan and South Korea 22 Oct staged drill that involved U.S. strategic bombers and fighter aircraft from Japan and South Korea; exercises followed historic Aug summit between three allies where they agreed to deepen defence cooperation. U.S. and South Korea 25-27 Oct staged exercise to counter “Hamas-style” artillery attack on Seoul from North (see Israel-Palestine).

No diplomacy after release of U.S. private. After North Korea late Sept expelled U.S. military deserter Travis King, who returned to U.S. to face range of charges, U.S. State Dept 20 Oct said King’s release “will not lead” to any diplomatic engagement with North Korea.


Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited Russia in quest for closer military cooperation, while Pyongyang directed harsh rhetoric at U.S. and expelled detained U.S. soldier held since July.

Kim Jong Un’s trip to Russia signalled potential for deeper military cooperation. In first overseas trip since 2019, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – accompanied by coterie of military and diplomatic officials – 10 Sept crossed border into Russia’s Far East and 13 Sept met Russian President Putin; meeting came amid speculation over potential deal between pair on provision of North Korean munitions to Russia’s war in Ukraine, as Russia strongly implied it would assist North Korea with its faltering satellite launch program. Pyongyang tried and failed on two occasions this year to launch satellites and vowed third attempt in Oct, which may be timed to coincide with 10 Oct anniversary of founding of Korean Workers’ Party. South Korean President Yoon 21 Sept declared any deal in which Russia assists Pyongyang’s weapons development will be “direct provocation”. U.S., Japan and South Korea 22 Sept called any cooperation “serious concern”.

South Korea held military parade, Pyongyang slammed U.S. during UN address. After one of two regular large-scale U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises ended on 31 Aug, South Korea 26 Sept held major military parade on streets of Seoul for first time in decade. In address to UN General Assembly, North Korean ambassador Kim Song 26 Sept accused U.S. and allies of “reckless and continued hysteria of nuclear showdown” that made 2023 “extremely dangerous year” and accused U.S. of “a sinister intention to provoke a nuclear war.”

North Korea expelled Private Travis King. U.S. soldier who fled across border into North Korea during tour of Panmunjom in July was transferred to American custody in China on 27 Sept; U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan thanked Sweden – U.S. protecting power in North Korea – and China for their roles. According to North Korean state media, King confessed that “he harbored ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination within the U.S. army and was disillusioned about the unequal U.S. society”.


Korean Peninsula

North Korea’s second attempt at satellite launch failed as U.S. and South Korea began summer military drills, which raised tensions and could provoke further missile tests by Pyongyang.

North Korea attempted second satellite launch. After first try to launch military reconnaissance satellite into orbit failed on 31 May, North Korea 24 Aug made second attempt but rocket booster faced issues during third phase, according to state media, and disintegrated before falling into sea. U.S. and South Korea condemned launch as violating UN Security Council resolutions, as Pyongyang vowed to try again in Oct.

U.S. and South Korea began summer military exercises. U.S. and South Korea 21 Aug commenced annual summer drills called Ulchi Freedom Shield. Although arguably essential for military readiness, drills risk fuelling instability on peninsula and triggering North Korea response; South Korean National Intelligence Agency 17 Aug warned that Pyongyang had “provocations” in works to respond to combined drills, which may come in form of missile tests. North Korean military 18 Aug said it dispatched warplanes after U.S. reconnaissance aircraft previous day entered North Korea’s economic zone off eastern coast, denouncing “dangerous military provocation”. Leader Kim Jong-un 29 Aug warned of “danger of a nuclear war” in waters off peninsula. Pyongyang 30 Aug fired two short-range ballistic missiles as part of “tactical nuclear strike drill simulating scorched-earth strikes”.

With North Korea in mind, U.S., South Korea and Japan deepened ties. At historic Camp David summit, leaders of U.S., South Korea and Japan 18 Aug signalled enhanced trilateral relations and coordination against North Korea; three pledged to “share information, align our messaging and coordinate response actions” and embark on joint military exercises as well as “annual Trilateral Indo-Pacific Dialogue”; statement also reaffirmed “commitment to the complete denuclearisation of [North Korea]” and urged north to “abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs”.

Pyongyang began repatriating citizens. North Korea 22 Aug began repatriating its citizens from abroad more than three years after country closed its borders amid COVID-19 pandemic; China and Russia play host to significant cohorts of North Korean workers as well as hundreds of govt personnel.


Korean Peninsula

North Korea successfully tested solid-fuelled inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) for second time and threatened to down U.S. spy jets, while U.S. serviceman defected to north.

North Korea launched solid-fuelled ICBM. Pyongyang 12 July launched its three-stage solid-fuelled Hwasong-18 ICBM for second time after first launch in April; missile, which marked most lofted North Korean ICBM flight test to date and one with longest flight time at 74 minutes, fell into sea east of Japanese territory. Justifying launch, Pyongyang cited various frustrations related to U.S. and South Korea, including Washington Declaration announced in April, Nuclear Consultative Group and deployment of U.S. strategic assets to peninsula. North Korea 24 July fired two short-range ballistic missiles into waters off eastern coast.

North Korea threatened to down U.S. spy planes. Kim Jong-un’s sister Yo-jong in vitriolic statement 10 July warned that North Korea would shoot down U.S. reconnaissance aircraft that violate country’s claimed exclusive economic zone, following earlier statement published by defence ministry. Both statements accused U.S. of “crossing the Korean Maritime Military Demarcation Line”, referring to inter-Korean maritime border, “and invading [DPRK’s] economic zone from the sea”; Kim’s statement asserted U.S. had violated North’s Exclusive Economic Zone on 10 July, entering periphery of 200-nautical mile zone in far south east; U.S. denied allegations.

U.S. serviceman fled across border to North Korea. Private Second-Class Travis King, 23-year-old U.S. serviceman, 18 July fled across inter-Korean border during tour of Korean War truce village of Panmunjom, marking first defection to North Korea by member of U.S. military in decades. North Korea did not comment on case during July.

Chinese and Russian delegations visited North Korea. On anniversary of North’s “victory” in Korean War on 27 July, Russian delegation led by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chinese delegation led by Politburo member Li Hongzhong visited North Korea, marking first high-level visits to Pyongyang from any country since outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic; trips also signalled Beijing and Moscow’s implacable support for North Korea.


Korean Peninsula

After failed satellite launch, North Korea fired short-range missiles as U.S. and South Korea concluded major live-fire drills; Pyongyang commemorated Korean War’s start with anti-U.S. rally.

North Korea responded to U.S.-South Korea exercises with missile launches. U.S. and South Korea mid-June concluded fifth and final round of large-scale live-fire drills near border to mark 70th anniversary of alliance, which North Korea responded to 15 June with two short-range ballistic missiles that landed in waters inside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone; launches came just over two weeks after Pyongyang conducted failed satellite launch. In first visit of its kind in years, nuclear powered submarine USS Michigan 16 June arrived at South Korea’s south-eastern port of Busan. U.S. and South Korea late June held aerial drills involving bombers and fighter jets.

North Korea marked anniversary of Korean War’s outbreak. Some 120,000 people and ruling-party officials 25 June attended major rally at Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium to mark “day of struggle against U.S. imperialism”, otherwise known as anniversary of outbreak of Korean War. As is customary, smaller events were held countrywide. Maintaining 73-year-old illusion that North Korea did not start 1950-53 war, state media directed antipathy toward “U.S. imperialists’ war of aggression” and said country sought “strongest absolute weapon” in order to “punish the U.S. imperialists”.

Pyongyang returned hawkish figure to front-line politics. In signal that it intends to deepen its hard line toward South Korea, North Korea 19 June returned veteran conservative Kim Yong-chol to front-line politics at plenum of ruling Korean Workers’ Party, appointing him alternate member of Politburo and advisor to United Front Department (counterpart of South Korea’s Ministry of Unification); decision to restore infamous Kim, who is believed to have been behind attacks on South Korean targets in 2010 that arguably brought peninsula to brink of war, follows South Korea’s decision in May to appoint hardliner general to presidential committee charged with reforming military.

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