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 conducts a ground test of a high-thrust, solid-fuel engine at the Sohae Satellite Launch Station in Cholsan in North Pyongan Province, North Korea, December 15, 2922, photo by KCNA/Pool/Latin America News Agency via Reuters

    Commentary

    Standing Up to Kim Jong-un's Divide-and-Conquer Strategy

    Kim Jong-un is frightened by even the current modest flow of information into the North. He may be prepared to reduce his provocations if those threats lead to the further spread of outside information in the North. At the very least, the ROK and the United States could try such efforts.

    Jan 6, 2023

  • Kim Jong-un watches a military parade in Pyongyang to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean People's Revolutionary Army in this image released by KCNA on April 26, 2022, photo by EyePress via Reuters

    Report

    The Risks of North Korean Weapons of Mass Destruction

    In addition to its nuclear weapons, North Korea has amassed chemical, biological, and electromagnetic pulse weapons. It has also created an active cyber hacker force. What can the United States and South Korea do to deter and, if necessary, counter these threats?

    Aug 29, 2022

Explore North Korea

  • 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

  • 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

  • News Release

    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

  • 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

  • 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

  • Two Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors are launched during a successful intercept test in September 2013

    Q&A

    South Korea's Missile-Defense System Decision: Q&A with Bruce Bennett

    What might it mean if the U.S. deploys the terminal high-altitude air defense missile system known as THAAD in South Korea? Chinese pressure on South Korea to not allow THAAD deployment has become a major regional security issue.

    Apr 3, 2015

  • China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (L) with North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong (R) in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, August 10, 2014

    Commentary

    China's North Korean Challenge

    China's North Korea policy seems to suffer from inertia and fear of upsetting the fragile status quo. The enduring goal is to defend Beijing's vital interests by all necessary means. These include preventing domestic insecurity and maintaining a stable buffer state at the gateway to China's political and economic heartland.

    Apr 3, 2015

  • Binary code with 'password' in red

    Commentary

    Cyberattacks Are a Nuisance, Not Terrorism

    The United States needs to consider both the risk of further attacks like the Sony breach and also further ill-considered reactions that may arise if the problem of insecurity in cyberspace is shoved into the counterterrorism paradigm.

    Feb 9, 2015

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong-un claps during a photo session at a meeting of military and political cadres in this undated photo released by the KCNA, February 2, 2015

    Commentary

    North Korean Charm Offensive: Peace for Our Time?

    Is North Korea really sincere about wanting to negotiate improved relations with South Korea and the United States? Or is it seeking to undermine the strength and sovereignty of its neighbor, just as Germany did before World War II?

    Feb 3, 2015