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.
North Korea’s sixth nuclear test heightens regional anxieties and is dangerous for populations living nearby. But in itself it does not fundamentally alter the situation nor should it raise the risk of military conflict. Instead, it should spur the U.S., South Korea and China to forge a stronger, more effective and more united diplomatic approach.
South Korea, U.S. and UN imposed fresh sanctions on North Korea following its 29 Nov intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test. South Korea 10 Dec introduced sanctions against twenty North Korean individuals and companies, largely symbolic due to absence since 2010 of trade relations with Pyongyang. UN Security Council 22 Dec passed resolution requiring countries to expel North Korean workers and restricting North Korea’s access to refined petroleum products, crude oil and industrial machinery. U.S. 26 Dec sanctioned two officials it said were “key leaders” of North Korea’s missile program. China and Russia denied reports they had been transferring oil at sea to North Korea in recent months in violation of sanctions. South Korea and U.S. 2-8 Dec held largest-ever version of their Vigilant Ace combined air force drill. Japan 8 Dec announced plans to buy air-to-surface cruise missiles capable of striking North Korea, and Japan’s cabinet 19 Dec approved plans to purchase two U.S.-built anti-missile systems. U.S. Sec Defense Jim Mattis 15 Dec said North Korea’s ICBMs do not yet pose “capable threat” to continental U.S.. During state visit to China by South Korean President Moon 13-16 Dec, China and South Korea agreed to establish hotline and issued four-point list of principles for dealing with North Korea crisis, emphasising unacceptability of war, commitment to denuclearisation of peninsula, peaceful resolution of North Korea issue, and improved inter-Korean relations; agreed to disagree about presence of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) U.S. missile defence system in South Korea. Chinese Premier Li said he anticipates “springtime” for bilateral ties with S Korea.
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.
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 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.
Beijing is probably worried that applying sanctions too strictly could destabilize North Korea and doesn't want to take that risk.
No American administration should formally accept a nuclear North Korea, but policy needs to change to reflect the reality on the ground.
[Having his advisers compete with each other suits the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un just fine]. It is hardwired into autocracy to have underlings in competition.
North Korea has always had an interest in developing sporting talent — that’s not new — but the focus on football seems to be new.
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
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.
Originally published in The Interpreter