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 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.

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In The News

14 Sep 2023
We are in a situation where North Korea can rely on Russia and China more than has been the case in decades. BBC

Christopher Green

Senior Consultant, Korean Peninsula
13 Jan. 2023
Politics is a full-contact sport in South Korea and there is no sign of any sort of balanced politics at the moment. DW

Christopher Green

Senior Consultant, Korean Peninsula

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Christopher Green

Senior Consultant, Korean Peninsula
Christopher Green

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