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 supervised a ballistic rocket launching drill of Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the KPA, photo by KCNA/via Reuters

    Commentary

    Murder, Missiles, and Messages from North Korea

    Mar 24, 2017

    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?

  • 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

  • News Release

    Unification Could Be Good for North Korea

    While Korean unification is a major issue in South Korea, North Korean propaganda suggests that an ROK-led unification would be a disaster for North Korean elites, using this fear to bind elites closer to the regime and make them more hostile and resistant to ideas of unification. Without changing those views of North Korean elites it is difficult to imagine how peaceful unification could be achieved.

    Apr 27, 2017

  • Hands with South Korean and North Korean flags clasp one another

    Report

    How to Prepare North Korean Elites for Unification

    North Korean propaganda suggests that unification led by the South would be a disaster for Northern elites. Unless the elites are convinced otherwise, peaceful unification may be impossible. What could South Korea do to help them feel better about, or at least less resistant to, unification?

    Apr 27, 2017

  • Estonian and U.S. soldiers conduct live-fire training during a combat exercise near Tapa, Estonia, April 6, 2017

    Commentary

    How Trump Can Deter Russia and All of America's Other Enemies

    There is no such thing as blanket deterrence. Rather, one must deter a specific adversary from taking a specific action. A holistic approach should include ramping up U.S. capabilities to anticipate emerging threats, including events that are unlikely to happen.

    Apr 26, 2017

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to people attending a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017.

    Commentary

    China's Role in Dissuading North Korea from a Chemical Weapons Attack

    North Korea's brash pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and disregard for chemical weapons norms are enormously troubling. China's engagement will be essential in convincing Kim Jong Un that the use of chemical weapons is a red line that cannot be crossed.

    Apr 24, 2017

  • Locals read promotional boards about planned economic zones along the China-North Korea border in Nanping, China, March 27, 2017

    Commentary

    Despite Promising Signs, China's North Korea Policy Unchanged

    Official statements and public discussions on China's willingness to punish or otherwise influence North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in a direction favorable to U.S. interests have been optimistic lately. But China's continued support of the North should temper expectations.

    Apr 24, 2017

  • Multimedia

    Media Conference Call on the North Korea Crisis

    RAND experts Bruce Bennett, Mike Mazarr, and Andrew Scobell host a conference call with news media discussing the latest developments between North Korea, the United States, and China. Senior Media Relations Officer Khorshied Samad moderates the call.

    Apr 20, 2017

  • U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping at the Mar-a-Lago estate after a bilateral meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, April 7, 2017

    Commentary

    Rocky Road Ahead Likely for U.S.-China Relations

    The first summit with President Trump and China's President Xi Jinping downplayed contentious issues like Taiwan and the South China Sea. But the differences run deep, and frustration is palpable on both sides. Moreover, the competition for international leadership continues.

    Apr 11, 2017

  • U.S. President Donald Trump holds a bilateral meeting with China's President Xi Jinping at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 7, 2017

    Commentary

    Five Dead-Ends — and One Risky Opportunity — When Trump and Xi Talk North Korea

    Among President Trump's options, proposing a deal that gives the North Korean elite an alternative to its murderous and unstable leader could be the safest and most realistic way to sheath North Korean nuclear weapons and safeguard the American people.

    Apr 10, 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

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un waves during a parade at Kim Il-Sung Square in Pyongyang, July 27, 2013

    Commentary

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

    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.

    Sep 9, 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