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.
Following the first inter-Korean summit in ten years, the announcement that President Trump will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is a promising sign. Although Pyongyang is unlikely to change its strategic course, the summit provides an opportunity for the U.S. to pair its maximum pressure with diplomacy and coordinate with Asian powers.
Month saw extensive South Korean shuttle diplomacy to push forward inter-Korean dialogue, and ended with Chinese state media confirming that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un paid “unofficial visit” to Beijing 25-28 March, where he pledged commitment to denuclearising Korean peninsula and confirmed he would meet with South Korea and U.S. leaders in April and May. South Korea 5 March sent two envoys to Pyongyang with aim to discuss U.S.-North Korean talks “aimed at denuclearisation” and inter-Korean relations. Surprising many observers, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un opted to lead talks with five-person South Korean delegation, and, together with his wife Ri Sol-ju, hosted dinner that was later broadcast on state TV. South Korean side reported that Kim said Pyongyang was willing to denuclearise under certain circumstances and offered to meet U.S. President Trump; Kim also requested South Korea send delegation of musicians and athletes to Pyongyang 31 March-3 April; inter-Korean summit slated for 27 April. South Korean envoys visited Washington 8 March, where Trump agreed to meet Kim Jong-un “by May”; and Beijing and Tokyo 12-13 March, where they sought leaders’ support for negotiation process. Chinese data released late month showed drastic reduction in Chinese exports of petroleum products, coal and other materials since late 2017. Separately, Japan offered to cover expenses for denuclearisation verification measures if an agreement is reached. North Korean and Swedish foreign ministers met 16-18 March, reportedly discussed fate of three Americans currently detained in North Korea; South Korean media suggested sides agreed on their release, but U.S. denied. North Korean foreign ministry’s deputy director general for North American affairs subsequently flew to Helsinki to lead track 1.5 discussions with former diplomats and researchers from South Korea and U.S., joined by North Korean permanent representative to UN. China 30 March said it would soon end informal economic sanctions it has imposed on South Korea over its deployment of THAAD U.S. anti-missile system.
A nightmarish Korean peninsula war is closer than at any time in recent history. In the first of a two-part series, Crisis Group examines the interests and calculations of the states most affected or involved: North Korea, the U.S., South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.
Brinksmanship on the Korean peninsula threatens a potentially catastrophic military escalation. In this second report of a two-part series, Crisis Group lays out the steps to de-escalate the crisis and buy time for a more durable solution.
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.
China is the only state willing and able to immediately ease North Korea’s economic burden.
Regional players need to push for a concrete, achievable agenda, with realistic expectations [ahead of the U.S.-North Korea summit].
There is a risk that the U.S. and North Korea will come together with unrealistic expectations, expecting that all will be achieved in a one and done meeting.
North Korea is attempting to destabilise the [South Korea]-U.S. alliance, destabilise the international consensus on sanctions focused on the UN, and destabilise South Korean politics and society.
[North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's] goal is to do enough on the inter-Korean front to get the United States and North Korea to jaw-jaw. The real strategic games have only just begun.
[South Korea's] Moon administration is already treading a fine line between engagement and what a large and vocal segment of the population regards as appeasement.
After weeks in which other actors have taken notable steps towards defusing fears of war over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile program, a China-North Korea summit held 26-27 March in Beijing has reasserted China’s pivotal role in efforts to find a solution to the nuclear crisis.
The 2018 Winter Olympic Games, together with the 70th anniversary of both North and South Korea, represents an opportunity for diplomacy to help reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The opening of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games represents an opportunity for diplomacy to help reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The Trump administration should take advantage of the Games to promote a peaceful solution to the impasse with North Korea.
Originally published in Politico
Two Crisis Group reports detail how a nightmarish war on the Korean peninsula is closer than ever in recent history, and how the Winter Olympics and North Korea’s need to show economic progress in its 70th anniversary year offer opportunities for diplomacy and de-escalation.