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

Russian President conducted first state visit to North Korea, signalling strengthened security partnership; in response, Seoul issued strong condemnations, including threats to arm Ukraine. 

Russia and North Korea entered new strategic partnership. Russian President Putin 18-19 June paid “friendly state visit” to Pyongyang for first time in 24 years; Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un 19 June signed new bilateral treaty to strengthen “defence capabilities” and promote science and technology cooperation; leaders signed mutual defence article binding both parties to “provide military and other assistance immediately using all available means” should either party be “attacked and finds itself in a state of war”, in accordance with Article 51 of UN Charter and consistent with both countries’ laws; observers raised alarm over possible violations of UN Security Council resolutions by expansion of alleged North Korean weapons transfers to bolster Russian war in Ukraine, and transfers of Russian military technologies to North Korea. 

Seoul responded to Russian-North Korea treaty with threats to arm Ukraine. South Korea 20 June condemned new Russian-North Korea treaty, insisting that it threatens their security and violates UN Security Council resolutions; Seoul warned that it would consider sending arms directly to Ukraine in contravention of its long-standing position of not supplying weapons to countries actively engaged in conflict. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol 24 June called for “robust security readiness” during meeting of senior secretaries. 

Tensions rose at border as sides used loudspeakers, balloons and other means to show protest. Seoul 9 June resumed broadcasting international news and K-pop via loudspeakers on inter-Korean border; move in retaliation to North Korea floating south 1,000 balloons filled with trash and manure in May. Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader 10 June warned loudspeakers could spark “very dangerous situation” and risked provoking “crisis of confrontation”. After South Korea detected two separate incursions of North Korean troops crossing Military Demarcation Line, a third saw 20-30 North Korean soldiers 18 June cross Military Demarcation Line, retreating after South Korean military fired warning shots; incidents mark pattern of behaviour that implies potential desire to slowly escalate.

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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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