Despite reporting no cases of the COVID-19 virus, North Korea remains especially vulnerable to the pandemic due to its poor health infrastructure and proximity to virus hotspots. An outbreak of COVID-19 in North Korea could have crippling political and socioeconomic consequences for the country, including reduced access to food and greater internal instability. Though the U.N. Sanctions Committee has provided some exemptions to help North Korea deal with the coronavirus, humanitarian workers are still limited by travel and financial barriers as they try to obtain medical equipment and other aid. Meanwhile, Pyongyang’s lack of transparency compounds the difficulty of obtaining accurate information.

Continue the conversation on Twitter with #NorthKoreaCOVID.


Stalled denuclearization talks have hindered hopes of U.S. engagement with North Korea on the pandemic. But a COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea could have long-term implications for U.S. national security interests, including the U.S.-South Korea alliance and peace on the Korean Peninsula.

On April 14, USIP hosted an online discussion with experts on the latest information regarding the COVID-19 situation in North Korea, the impact of COVID-19 on North Korea’s isolation vis-à-vis the international sanctions regime, the potential for instability in North Korean society, and the potential for sanctions relief to aid coronavirus response efforts.

Speakers

Jessica Lee
Senior Research Fellow, East Asia Program, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Keith Luse
Executive Director, National Committee on North Korea

David Maxwell
Senior Fellow, The Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Dr. Kee Park
Lecturer on Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Director of the North Korea program, Korean American Medical Association

Scott Snyder
Senior Fellow for Korea Studies and Director of the Program on U.S.-Korea Policy, Council on Foreign Relations

Frank Aum, moderator
Senior Expert, North Korea, United States Institute of Peace

Related Publications

Removing Sanctions on North Korea: Challenges and Potential Pathways

Removing Sanctions on North Korea: Challenges and Potential Pathways

Friday, December 10, 2021

By: Troy Stangarone

Sanctions have been a key part of US and international policy toward North Korea since the Korean War. In more recent decades, sanctions have been used to deter North Korea from pursuing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles programs. This report describes the impact sanctions have had on North Korea and examines the question of whether a different approach—one focused on sanctions relief and removal—might better facilitate long-term peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Type: Special Report

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

Is an End-of-War Declaration for the Korean Peninsula a Risk Worth Taking?

Is an End-of-War Declaration for the Korean Peninsula a Risk Worth Taking?

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

By: Frank Aum

As efforts to resume nuclear negotiations with Pyongyang go nowhere, the concept of an end-of-war declaration for the Korean Peninsula has become a polarizing topic in both Washington and Seoul. USIP’s Frank Aum explains how it could serve Washington and Seoul’s interests, how such a declaration could advance the peace process between North and South Korea, what risks it could pose and how the U.S. Congress could play a role in shaping such a declaration.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Making Sense of North Korea’s Missile Test

Making Sense of North Korea’s Missile Test

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

By: Frank Aum

North Korea announced on September 13 that it had tested long-range cruise missiles over the weekend. It described the missiles as a “strategic weapon of great significance.” The test caused alarm in North Korea’s neighbors — South Korea and Japan, both U.S. allies — as the revelation now puts both countries within striking distance. But despite the test, a spokesperson for the Biden administration said the United States remains prepared to engage with North Korea. USIP’s Frank Aum discusses the significance of the tests, the arms race on the Korean Peninsula, and what signals North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be sending to the United States with this latest test. 

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & PreventionMediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

The Case for Maximizing Engagement with North Korea

The Case for Maximizing Engagement with North Korea

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

By: Frank Aum;  Daniel Jasper

As the Biden administration’s North Korea policy review nears completion, there is growing worry that it could dig in its heels on previous U.S. efforts to change North Korea’s behavior through isolation and pressure. Early signals indicate the Biden team is prioritizing pressure among many options. Several experts, however, believe this approach will continue to fail because it incorrectly assumes North Korea will yield to coercive tactics and that China will cooperate in this effort.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & DialogueConflict Analysis & Prevention

View All Publications