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 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. 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.
Learn more in USIP’s fact sheet on The Current Situation in North Korea.
The Biden administration faces a situation with North Korea similar to what President Obama faced in 2009, with U.S.-DPRK engagement on its last legs. Obama appeared interested in reviving the Six Party Talks, but slow outreach to North Korea allowed Pyongyang to seize the narrative by conducting a satellite launch in April and a nuclear test in May, which doomed engagement for an extended period. Biden will face a similar decision about how to engage North Korea, including whether to move forward with joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises in March, and whether to reaffirm the outcomes of the 2018 joint U.S.-DPRK Singapore Statement, which Pyongyang has yet to renounce but is on life support.
A significant impediment for the United States is that it continues to narrowly limit its policy options while North Korean capabilities expand unabated. Washington’s window of discourse on North Korea policy largely consists of: Pressure the Kim regime through sanctions; don’t legitimize or reward it until preconditions are met; and don’t make any concessions until the North takes significant denuclearization measures first. To achieve any sustained results, these policy boundaries must be substantially widened to include more realistic and practical measures. We, along with our colleagues at USIP, explored many of these issues in a recent report, “A Peace Regime for the Korean Peninsula.”
More than one in five North Koreans have cell phones, and increasingly rely on them to conduct financial transactions. Many of these transactions involve trading cell phone airtime, or “phone money,” for goods and services, and even for offering bribes. This report examines the potential for airtime trading to evolve into a formal mobile money system, which could enhance market activity and stability while providing opportunities for the country to engage with the international community.