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.
For the last 30 years, U.S.-North Korea engagement has been erratic. Despite moderate success during the 1990s, the inconsistent nature of official engagement with North Korea over the last two decades has hindered sustained progress in improving bilateral relations and the welfare of North Korean civil society. More recently, the compounding effects of diplomatic and economic isolation caused by the U.S.-led global pressure campaign, an escalating array of multilateral and unilateral sanctions, the COVID pandemic and North Korea’s self-imposed border shutdowns have exacerbated the environment for economic and business engagement. At the people-to-people level, the barriers to engagement have even begun eroding relationships and local know how for many U.S.-based organizations.
Like much of the rest of the world, North Korea is experiencing more frequent and more intense climate-related disasters. In the last few years, it has seen its longest drought and longest rain season in over a century. In 2021, the country’s reclusive dictator, Kim Jong Un, called for immediate steps to mitigate the dramatic impacts of climate change, which compound other challenges facing the country, like food insecurity. While North Korea is not exactly known for its efforts to cooperate with the international community, the severe threats posed by climate change could lead to broader engagement that serves Pyongyang’s interests, as well as the interests of the United States, South Korea and China, who all want peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Relations between Japan and South Korea have soured in recent years after unresolved disputes re-emerged from acrimonious eras in their shared history. But the current leaders of the two East Asian countries have shown a willingness to rebuild ties. And amid North Korea’s nuclear rhetoric and China’s expanded aims in the region, South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin’s recent trip to Japan serves as a welcomed first sign of a thaw in bilateral tensions. USIP’s Frank Aum looks at the state of South Korea-Japan relations, how they can be improved, and the geopolitical implications of continued tension amid the challenges posed by China and North Korea.