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.
North Korea’s belligerent behaviour is testing the patience of China, its principal backer, but a consequential Chinese policy change, which the U.S. and its allies hope for, is not likely soon.
Despite last week’s abrupt shuffle at the top of the military leadership, Kim Jŏng-ŭn appears to be firmly established as the new leader of North Korea, completing a faster and smoother power transition than many experts anticipated.
Although North Korea has offered unconditional dialogue since January, South Korea is maintaining a tough policy line towards the North as Seoul approaches a year of electoral campaign politics. The risk of conflict remains serious, particularly in the area near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the military demarcation in the Yellow Sea.
As the number of defectors from North Korea arriving in the South has surged in the past decade, reconfiguring integration programs for them has become crucial.
The sinking of a South Korean naval vessel and artillery attack against a South Korean island highlight that stability on the peninsula is threatened by more than the nuclear issue. A resumption of talks to address maritime delimitation and confidence-building measures – within the context of recalibrated deterrence – are needed to avoid further deterioration towards conflict.
Outwardly, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) appears stable. However, the country has been shaken by constricting international sanctions, extremely poor policy choices, and several internal challenges that have the potential to trigger instability.
Pyongyang’s latest round of provocations has prompted Beijing to reconsider its North Korea policy.
This background report examines what is known about the North Korean nuclear and missile programs in mid-2009.