North Korea

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North Korea, formerly designated a state sponsor of terrorism by the United States, emerged as a nuclear-armed enigma under the dictatorship of Kim-Jong Il. RAND’s research on both deterrence and failed states includes expert analysis of the North Korean regime, opportunities for its modernization and democratization, and implications for post–Cold War geopolitics.

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un waves during a parade at Kim Il-Sung Square in Pyongyang, July 27, 2013, photo by Jason Lee/Reuters

    Commentary

    What to Look for in North Korea's Fifth Nuclear Test

    Sep 9, 2016

    North Korea's fifth and biggest nuclear test could have implications for U.S. policy toward the North, China's role in the region, and the stability of the Kim regime.

  • The Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket is pictured sitting on a launch pad at the West Sea Satellite Launch Site, during a guided media tour by North Korean authorities in Pyongyang, April 8, 2012, photo by Bobby Yip/Reuters

    Content

    A Nuclear North Korea

    Sep 15, 2016

    North Korea appears to be rapidly building a significant nuclear arsenal and the means to deliver those weapons. Current estimates suggest North Korean nuclear-tipped missiles could be operational between 2020 and 2025.

Explore North Korea

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervised a ballistic rocket launching drill of Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the KPA

    Commentary

    Murder, Missiles, and Messages from North Korea

    Pyongyang launched a ballistic missile on February 12 — one day before Kim Jong Nam, half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was murdered in Malaysia — and four more on March 6. What would lead North Korea to carry out these provocations?

    Mar 24, 2017

  • North Korean ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol speaks during a news conference regarding the apparent assassination of Kim Jong Nam at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, February 20, 2017

    Commentary

    Death by Nerve Gas: Two Arrests, Many Questions in Attack in Malaysia

    Details about the murder of Kim Jong-Un's half-brother are still being uncovered. If a firm connection to North Korea can be made, others in the region should react strongly. Otherwise, Kim may conclude that further provocations are worth it.

    Mar 7, 2017

  • Two U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 35th Fighter Squadron land in sync after a training sortie Feb. 13, 2014, at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea.

    Commentary

    A Political Earthquake in Seoul and Its Repercussions for U.S. Policy

    With new administrations in the U.S. and South Korea, it's time to find a middle ground and set up a new common policy toward North Korea. The pressures felt by both countries make the relationship all the more vital to the historical allies.

    Jan 25, 2017

  • Journal Article

    Non-State Actors in North Korean Airspace

    In previous decades, going back to the Korean War, the South Korean government used to send balloons carrying propaganda into North Korean territory.

    Jan 10, 2017

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives a New Year address in Pyongyang on January 1, 2017

    Commentary

    Trump Should Confront Kim Over ICBM Tests

    Whether successful or not, an ICBM test by North Korea would be very much against U.S. interests and President-elect Trump should act to counter it as early as possible. A turn to the basics of deterrence would be the path most likely to succeed.

    Jan 6, 2017

  • World map concept with puzzle pieces

    Essay

    Election 2016: The International Issues

    America's next president will face challenges that test the fundamentals of world order. RAND experts have outlined key decisions, the dangers involved, and the least-bad options that now often pass for good ones.

    Oct 7, 2016

  • The U.S. and Japanese flags blend together

    Commentary

    Don't Weaken the U.S.-Japan Alliance, Strengthen It

    As long as the United States and Japan stick together, they should have the strength to deter or, if necessary, defeat the threats they face. But if Washington abandons its alliance commitments, the risk of war will rise and America will be less safe.

    Aug 14, 2016

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presides over a rally and parade in Pyongyang's main ceremonial square, North Korea, May 10, 2016

    Commentary

    Behind North Korea's Bid for a 'Peace Treaty'

    By insisting on a peace treaty with America, North Korea is probably seeking war. Its leaders likely hope a treaty would lead to a withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea, setting the stage for an invasion by the North.

    May 18, 2016

  • Two THAAD interceptors and a Standard-Missile 3 Block IA missile being launched at a test site

    Commentary

    THAAD's Effect on South Korea's Neighbors

    It is hard to determine how China or Russia will respond to THAAD deployment in South Korea. THAAD deployment could change the dynamic and terms of the debate, leading to greater Chinese pressure on North Korea to curb its nuclear and missile threats.

    Apr 5, 2016

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un holds a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang

    Journal Article

    Deterrence and Stability for the Korean Peninsula

    Most trends on the Korean Peninsula favor South Korea, but North Korea's nuclear program is a great concern. Although unlikely, war is imaginable in the years ahead. The challenges for deterrence and strategic planning are greater than in the past.

    Mar 8, 2016

  • A North Korean long-range rocket is launched at the Sohae launch site in North Korea, February 7, 2016

    Commentary

    North Korea Rocket Launch: Why Did Kim Fire a Missile Now?

    Kim Jong-un is probably seeking clear successes before his important Seventh Party Congress in May, when he wants to appear to be the all-powerful leader of North Korea.

    Feb 8, 2016

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un addresses the fourth conference of artillery personnel of the KPA in Pyongyang, December 5, 2015

    Commentary

    Does North Korea Really Have an H-Bomb?

    Kim Jong Un has claimed that North Korea has an H-bomb. Whether this claim is accurate, or an exaggeration, remains to be seen. But it does highlight how the country's leadership culture requires Kim to periodically demonstrate his power.

    Dec 16, 2015

  • The Ohio-Class ballistic missile submarine USS Nevada returns to homeport at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor following a strategic deterrent patrol

    Commentary

    If We Keep Cutting Defense Spending, We Must Do Less

    The United States is underinvesting in defense and other instruments of national influence just when they are most needed. Improving defenses needn't require Cold War levels of expenditure but Americans should look realistically at the demands being placed on their forces and generate the revenues to meet those demands.

    Oct 19, 2015

  • News Release

    U.S. Needs to Either Boost Defense Funding or Limit Military Commitments

    If policymakers wish to maintain the United States' international commitments, then to bolster deterrence the U.S. should increase its ground forces in Europe, accelerate modernization — especially of air and naval forces — and invest more in training, maintenance, and advanced munitions.

    Oct 19, 2015

  • Two U.S. soldiers run communications equipment from a bunker in Wardak province, Afghanistan, January 9, 2011

    Research Brief

    Addressing the Imbalance Between Strategy and Resources in a Turbulent World

    Deterrence is infinitely preferable to war. But the United States now risks relying more on its reputation from past wars for deterrence than on actual military capabilities that can be brought to bear when and where needed.

    Oct 19, 2015

  • A U.S. soldier provides overwatch security atop a mountain at Paktika province, Afghanistan, May 25, 2011

    Report

    U.S. Needs to Either Boost Defense Funding or Limit Military Commitments

    Limitations on defense spending in the context of emerging threats are creating a U.S. “security deficit.” How might policymakers adjust to bring resources into better alignment with strategic demands?

    Oct 19, 2015

  • U.S. Army Rangers prepare for extraction during Task Force Training on Camp Roberts, California

    Commentary

    U.S. Needs Larger Army, Not a Smaller One

    To meet potential challenges in the Baltics and Korea while at the same time countering the existing terror threat posed by the Islamic State group and dealing with other problems that will doubtless emerge, the United States would need more troops, not less.

    Sep 9, 2015

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a meeting of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) Central Military Commission

    Commentary

    Why Kim Jong Un Fears South Korean Propaganda

    While the latest confrontation between North and South Korea appears to be ending peacefully, it provides insight into future North Korean provocations. Words as weapons can work when they are aimed at North Korea's internal politics and backed up by a strong South Korean response supported by the U.S.

    Aug 28, 2015

  • Senior couple on a park bench looking at a tablet

    Commentary

    Aging in Asia: Can the 'Tigers' Continue to Roar?

    Changing demographics will force Japan and the “Asian Tigers”—Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and Taiwan—to find ways to remain economically dynamic while increasingly looking after their elderly. How might public policy help accomplish this?

    Jun 16, 2015