For decades, North Korea’s provocative behavior and pursuit of nuclear weapons have threatened peace and stability in Northeast Asia. Various strategies to address the problem—including diplomatic, financial, and security incentives and disincentives—have delayed, but not ended, North Korea’s nuclear program. In the face of international condemnation, North Korea’s insistence on keeping its nuclear weapons has led to a diplomatic stalemate and the need for creative solutions to prevent a crisis.

Since assuming control in 2012, Kim Jong Un has accelerated the development of a nuclear deterrent capability, conducting more nuclear and ballistic missile tests than his grandfather and father combined. In 2017, tensions escalated to the highest level in years when North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test in September and a new, successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in November, which can reach all of the continental United States. 

In 2018, various factors helped reduce the potential for conflict and create an opening for diplomacy. South Korea hosted the Winter Olympics in 2018 and President Moon Jae-in invited North Korean participation, leading to senior-level talks and three inter-Korean summits. Kim, claiming North Korea’s nuclear force development was complete , announced a strategic shift toward economic development and began a charm offensive with the international community. In addition, President Trump made the unconventional decisions to suspend major joint U.S.- South Korea military exercises and  meet directly with Chairman Kim in Singapore—marking the first- ever meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader.

At the historic Singapore Summit in June 2018, the United States and North Korea committed to establish “new U.S.-DPRK relations” and “join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” North Korea also committed to work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Since then, however, the two countries have been mired in a diplomatic stalemate, disagreeing about what each side should concede . The large gap in the two positions was reflected at the second summit in Hanoi in February 2019, where no negotiated agreement was signed.

USIP’s current work on North Korea

For decades, the U.S. Institute of Peace has supported efforts to strengthen peace and stability and prevent crisis on the Korean Peninsula. USIP collaborates with U.S. and regional experts, government officials, and diplomats to lead dialogues and conduct research exploring strategies for enhancing diplomacy, avoiding conflict, and managing crises related to North Korea.

Facilitating High-Level Dialogues

In the absence of formal ties between Washington and Pyongyang, the Institute regularly engages governmental officials and nongovernmental experts from South Korea, Japan, China, and other relevant countries to strengthen security in Northeast Asia and reduce the risk of violent conflict on the Korean Peninsula.  These recurring, private dialogues create opportunities to share insights and policy ideas that might not emerge through official diplomatic channels. 

Convening Experts

USIP partners with think tanks and other organizations to engage experts on strategies and concrete actions to enhance the use of diplomacy in resolving the North Korea issue.  In 2018, USIP convened a senior study group that examined China’s role in North Korean peace and denuclearization negotiations. The Institute also collaborates with government, non-government, and other likeminded experts to  improve flows of information to, from, and within North Korea.

Promoting Independent Research and Analysis

USIP supports research and analysis that sheds new light on regional strategies toward North Korea and explores creative approaches to enhancing cooperation to strengthen mutual security.  In 2017, the Institute published reports examining China's changing strategy toward North Korea and highlighting the need to launch a trilateral U.S.-China-South Korea dialogue to help manage the North Korea crisis.

Educating Policymakers, Academics, and the Public

 USIP convenes public and private panels and roundtable discussions that inform U.S. policymakers and the public about the viability of different diplomatic strategies for dealing with North Korea. USIP also hosts university students and military scholars to engage in comprehensive discussions about the political, economic, military, and social situation in North Korea.

Related Publications

The North Korea Show: More Than a Photo Op

The North Korea Show: More Than a Photo Op

Monday, July 1, 2019

By: Frank Aum; Ambassador Joseph Yun

News coverage of President Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has focused significantly on the optics of their televised encounter at the demarcation line separating North and South Korea. But according to two senior U.S. experts—Ambassador Joseph Yun, the former U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, and Frank Aum, who served as advisor for North Korea to four U.S. defense secretaries—the announced plan for a resumption of working-level talks is potentially significant.

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Frank Aum on North Korea Nuclear Negotiations

Frank Aum on North Korea Nuclear Negotiations

Thursday, June 20, 2019

By: Frank Aum

A year after the first summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un, “both sides are very much committed to diplomacy and trying to reach an agreement,” says Frank Aum. Despite the stalled talks, Aum says that Chinese President Xi’s visit to North Korea will likely encourage Kim to continue along the path of diplomacy.

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

The Need for a New U.S. Information Strategy for North Korea

The Need for a New U.S. Information Strategy for North Korea

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

By: Nat Kretchun

Through the successive regimes of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un, North Korea has maintained near-total control over the information that reaches its citizens. Now, as more and more North Koreans use networked devices such as smartphones, the regime is employing modern forms of censorship and surveillance to control information and curtail freedom of expression. This report argues that the United States and its allies need a new information strategy to end the social isolation of the North Korean people and improve their long-term welfare.

Global Policy

China’s Role in North Korea Nuclear and Peace Negotiations

China’s Role in North Korea Nuclear and Peace Negotiations

Monday, May 6, 2019

By: USIP China-North Korea Senior Study Group

This is the second in the Senior Study Group (SSG) series of USIP reports examining China’s influence on conflicts around the world. A group of fifteen experts met from September to December 2018 to assess China’s interests and influence in bringing about a durable settlement of the North Korean nuclear crisis. This report provides recommendations for the United States to assume a more effective role in shaping the future of North Korea in light of China’s role and interests. Unless otherwise sourced, all observations and conclusions are those of SSG members.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

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