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.

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  • View of what appears to be a strategic cruise missile drill carried out by North Korea at an undisclosed location in North Korea, January 30, 2024, photo by KCNA via Reuters

    Commentary

    Dealing with North Korean Threats of War

    On January 10, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un abandoned decades of seeking peaceful Korean unification. He seems likely to escalate because of serious internal problems and because his Cold War approach of provocations has failed to achieve his external objectives. Has Kim really decided to go to war?

    Feb 12, 2024

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his daughter inspect an intercontinental ballistic missile in North Korea in this undated photo released on November 19, 2022 photo by KCNA via Reuters

    Commentary

    Responding to North Korean 2024 War Threats

    Unless Kim Jong-un concludes that South Korea and the United States are finally serious about reining in his provocations, threats, and nuclear weapon development, Kim might eventually establish a form of dominance on the Korean Peninsula or push the Korean Peninsula into a nuclear war that no one wants.

    Jan 18, 2024

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a policy speech at the second-day sitting of the 5th Session of the 14th Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released on September 30, 2021, photo by KCNA via Reuters

    Commentary

    The Politics of North Korea's ICBM Program

    It appears that Kim Jong-un is now practicing ICBM politics. Successful ICBM launches generate internal political support and remind South Korean citizens of reasons to question the reliability of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

    Jan 2, 2024

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-un looks on as a rocket carrying what North Korea claims is spy satellite Malligyong-1 is launched in a location given as North Gyeongsang Province, North Korea, November 21, 2023, photo by KCNA/Reuters

    Commentary

    North Korea's Satellite Launch: Part of a Bigger Problem for Kim Jong-un?

    On November 21, North Korea made its third attempt of 2023 to launch a reconnaissance satellite despite this launch violating multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and despite the urging of many other countries. It may well have been a desperate move by North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un.

    Dec 4, 2023

  • A simulated tactical nuclear attack drill at an undisclosed location in North Korea. Photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and obtained by Reuters on September 3, 2023, photo by KCNA/Reuters

    Commentary

    Deterrence of North Korean Limited Nuclear Attacks

    No single action is likely to deter North Korean nuclear weapon use. But a combination of efforts may convince Kim Jong-un that any use of nuclear weapons for coercion would be very dangerous to his future, and could be a powerful approach to deterring North Korea.

    Nov 27, 2023

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    'Israel's 9/11,' Promoting the 988 Hotline, the Future of Space: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on why the Oct. 7 attack wasn't Israel's 9/11, humanity's future approach to space, the pressing need to ensure more people know about the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, and more.

    Nov 17, 2023

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    Disinformation Amid the Israel-Hamas War, U.S. Gun Policy, Cannabis: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on how the information war may play out between Israel and Hamas, what the evidence says (and doesn't say) about U.S. gun policy, supply models for recreational cannabis, and more.

    Nov 3, 2023

  • The South Korean and American flags fly next to each other in Yongin, South Korea, August 23, 2016, photo by Staff Sgt. Ken Scar/U.S. Army

    Report

    South Korea Needs Greater Nuclear Assurance

    With growing nuclear threats from North Korea and China, there has been considerable interest in South Korea in developing its own nuclear weapons. But doing so could become a major disaster. The United States should bring greater strategic clarity to its nuclear umbrella commitment to South Korea.

    Oct 29, 2023

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held the Fifth Enlarged Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang, North Korea in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 11, 2022, photo by KCNA via Reuters

    Commentary

    What North Korea Is Learning from the Hamas-Israel War

    South Korea and the United States should rein in North Korean nuclear weapon production and prepare to respond to escalated North Korean coercion. While Kim Jong-un probably won't resort to a Hamas-style attack, he certainly shares Hamas' goal of cultivating U.S. reluctance to get involved militarily in the region.

    Oct 24, 2023

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    Israel-Hamas War, Overdose Deaths, Striking Health Care Workers: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on historical context for the Israel-Hamas war, the link between education and fatal overdoses, why U.S. health care workers are striking, and more.

    Oct 13, 2023

  • Kim Jong-un attends the ninth session of the 14th Supreme People's Assembly and calls for exponentially increasing the production of nuclear weapons at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 28, 2023, photo by KCNA/Pool/Latin America News Agency via Reuters Connect

    Commentary

    Nuclear Weapons in the North Korean World View

    As Kim Jong-un's actions become more threatening, the risks of a catastrophic accidental nuclear war become more likely. The United States needs to make North Korean denuclearization a long-term objective but focus in the immediate future on limiting the size and danger of the North Korean nuclear weapon force.

    Oct 11, 2023

  • The U.N. Security Council convenes an emergency meeting in New York on March 31, 2023, to discuss Russia's plan to deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, photo by Kyodo via Reuters

    Commentary

    How Much Is Enough for U.S. Nuclear Forces?

    Deterrence is difficult because it's about perceptions and resolve rather than just pure numbers. Potential adversaries need to perceive that the United States has enough nuclear weapons to deter them, and also that U.S. officials believe the United States has enough that Washington's resolve will not falter in the face of provocation or coercion.

    Sep 27, 2023

  • People walk in front of a monitor showing news of North Korea's fresh threat in Tokyo, Japan, August 10, 2017

    Commentary

    North Korea and China Aren't the Allies You Think They Are

    China and North Korea have a history of friction, despite being seen as allies. As Russia, China, and North Korea move toward a closer trilateral partnership, the United States and its allies need to recognize that there are seams in the relationships that can be used to undermine it.

    Sep 27, 2023

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    Escalation in Ukraine, a Trilateral Imperialist Threat, Disaster Recovery: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on the risk of escalation in Ukraine, the growing threat of a North-Korea-Russia-China partnership, the economics of disaster recovery, and more.

    Sep 22, 2023

  • U.S. President Joe Biden holds a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida (right) and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol (left) during the trilateral summit at Camp David near Thurmont, Maryland, August 18, 2023, photo by Jim Bourg/Reuters

    Commentary

    Separate U.S. Alliances in East Asia Are Obsolete

    Washington manages its alliances with Tokyo and Seoul separately. But growing South Korean and Japanese military capabilities make a conversation about more integration unavoidable.

    Sep 14, 2023

  • (l-r) South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, U.S. President Joe Biden, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida walk to a joint press conference after their summit talks at the U.S. presidential retreat at Camp David near Washington, D.C., August 18, 2023, photo by Kyodo via Reuters Connect

    Commentary

    A Trilateral Summit to Deal with Trilateral Threats

    The leaders of Japan, South Korea, and the United States held a trilateral summit in August, focused on countering military threats in East Asia. Not surprisingly, China and North Korea were upset by the summit, designed as it was to respond to their military build-ups.

    Aug 29, 2023

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    Violence in Sudan, Alcohol Use, North Korea: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on the violence in Sudan, preventing alcohol-related deaths, the North Korean nuclear threat, and more.

    Apr 28, 2023

  • A screen grab from an undated video shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspecting what are said to be nuclear warheads at an undisclosed location, photo by KRT via Reuters

    Commentary

    How Kim's Fears Shape North Korea's Nuclear Agenda

    North Korea has ramped up the frequency and intensity of its provocations, continuing its nuclear weapon–buildup while threatening attacks against South Korea and the United States. Why is Kim Jong-un making such excessive investments in North Korea's nuclear and weapons programs and showing off its capabilities?

    Apr 19, 2023

  • RAND Weekly Recap

    Blog

    20 Years After the Iraq War, China-Russia Ties, Correctional Education: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on reflecting on the Iraq War, the pandemic and prison education, North Korea’s latest threats, and more.

    Mar 24, 2023