Kim Jong-un

  • North Korea
    The Significance of the Putin-Kim Summit
    Russian President Vladimir Putin's 2024 visit to North Korea, his first since 2000, signifies the ongoing strengthening of bilateral ties. Whether this is a short-term expedience or the start of a true security alliance remains to be seen.
  • China
    The China-North Korea Relationship
    China is North Korea’s biggest trade partner and arguably has the most leverage over Kim Jong Un’s regime. Analysts say Beijing’s policies are focused on stability, though it signals ambivalence about its neighbor’s nuclear arms advances.
  • North Korea
    Why Is North Korea Turning More Aggressive?
    The country’s steady military and technological progress, coupled with its leader Kim Jong Un’s increased hostility toward foreign influences, raises concern about Pyongyang’s ambitions. Here’s a breakdown of recent trends.
  • North Korea
    Satellites, Summits, and Succession in North Korea
    In 2023, North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un marked three significant achievements: a successful satellite launch, strengthened ties with Russia, and the public emergence of his daughter as his likely successor.
  • South Korea
    Global Turmoil and Rising Tensions on the Korean Peninsula: The Need for a Vital U.S.-South Korea Alliance
    Escalating inter-Korean tensions might turn the Korean Peninsula into another international security flashpoint and a possible breaking point for global stability.
  • North Korea
    What Would a Second Trump Administration Mean for North Korea?
    If Donald Trump were to win the 2024 presidential election, he would face at least three new realities that would shape his policy toward the Korean Peninsula.
  • North Korea
    North Korea’s Foreign Policy: The Kim Jong-un Regime in a Hostile World
    In North Korea’s Foreign Policy: The Kim Jong-un Regime in a Hostile World, CFR’s Scott A. Snyder and University of British Columbia’s Kyung-Ae Park offer a robust examination of North Korean foreign policy under Kim Jong-un, including its domestic drivers, summitry diplomacy, and nuclear program.
  • North Korea
    North Korean Nuclear Negotiations
    Negotiations between the United States and North Korea have proceeded in fits and starts for decades. But they have failed to halt the advance of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
  • North Korea
    North Korea’s Foreign Policy
    A robust examination of North Korean foreign policy under Kim Jong-un, including its domestic drivers, summitry diplomacy, and nuclear program.
  • North Korea
    North Korea’s Military Capabilities
    North Korea has embarked on an accelerated buildup of nuclear weapons and the modernization of its already large conventional force.
  • North Korea
    North Korea’s Renewed Trajectory: Kim’s Priority Is Status As A Powerful Nuclear State
    The recent North Korean missile tests are primarily aimed at fulfilling Kim Jong-un's objectives of new military capabilities rather than reordering President Joe Biden’s list of international priorities. 
  • North Korea
    How Kim Jong-un Advanced North Korea’s Military in a Decade
    Kim Jong-un’s first ten years as North Korea’s leader were marked by economic failures, halting nuclear diplomacy, and a steady ramp-up of military power.
  • North Korea
    What Kind of North Korea Will Biden Face?
    North Korea will likely continue to develop its nuclear program, but Kim Jong-un could return to negotiations if the United States makes concessions.
  • North Korea
    Good Biden-Kim Relationship Necessary to Avoid a Nuclear Crisis
    The incoming Biden administration will face a nuclear catastrophe unless it can build good relations with North Korea. The U.S. President-Elect can begin by sending the right signals to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Because North Korea has nuclear weapons, the Biden administration cannot unilaterally impose terms on Pyongyang. Refusal to even talk with Pyongyang until it takes steps to denuclearize is a foolish and dangerous approach. Such an approach will likely inflame tensions and return Washington to a tense nuclear standoff with Pyongyang that poses a risk of miscalculation and accidental escalation into a nuclear war. Biden may be under pressure to be “tough” on North Korea to differentiate himself from Trump’s alleged cozy relationship with the North Korean dictator. However, a hostile stance toward Pyongyang will only make North Korea feel more insecure and drive Kim to pursue further nuclear development to ensure his regime’s survival.  Washington must recognize that Pyongyang has no incentive to denuclearize if the regime finds in nuclear weapons a guarantor of its survival and prestige. The only conceivable way that the regime might be persuaded to denuclearize is if denuclearization meets its needs for security and economic development. In return for denuclearization, Washington needs to offer Pyongyang a guarantee of regime survival, such as a formal peace treaty ending the Korean War, and an economic aid package. This offer should be extended in the context of an amicable personal relationship with Kim. Only when Kim feels safe enough, will he be open to the possibility of denuclearizing. Building and maintaining good relations with Pyongyang does not equate to coddling dictators. During the Cold War, the United States maintained official diplomatic relations and regular open channels of communication with the Soviet Union even though the USSR was a totalitarian state. This steady relationship helped prevent a nuclear catastrophe, including during the Cuban missile crisis. Washington did not maintain steady relations with Moscow because it approved of the Communist regime and its human rights abuses. Rather, the United States pursued a strategy of realist diplomacy with the understanding that relations with nuclear-armed totalitarian states must be cultivated and managed well in the interest of maintaining peace and preventing a nuclear catastrophe. A decision by Biden to build good relations with Pyongyang should not be viewed as approval of the regime’s totalitarian character and human rights abuses. As for approaches to negotiations on denuclearization, Washington must realize that North Korea may denuclearize only if enough confidence-building steps are taken to build mutual trust between the two sides. The United States should not impose top-down or sweeping terms at the outset of negotiations, such as requiring North Korea to declare a complete inventory of its nuclear weapons and spell out a comprehensive roadmap for full denuclearization. Pyongyang likely feels reluctant to show its hand before mutual trust has been established. It likely prefers a more flexible, ad hoc process, whereby the two sides engage in tit-for-tat reciprocal measures to build mutual confidence before any comprehensive roadmap is spelled out. To start the bilateral U.S.-North Korea relationship off on the right footing and build mutual trust, Biden should reach out to Kim now, even before he takes office, with the right conciliatory gestures. North Korea is reportedly experiencing serious economic hardship due to damage from flooding this year and self-isolation imposed to combat COVID-19, on top of the economic damage already inflicted by UN sanctions against the regime. Despite the fact that the regime has denied the existence of COVID inside the country and has refused to accept aid, as North Korea faces the threat of mass hunger and malnutrition, an offer of humanitarian relief from Biden might be appreciated. Provision of emergency food aid via third-parties such as the UN World Food Program might make North Korea more likely to accept humanitarian assistance. Biden should also work with his team to come up with and undertake other imaginative measures to break the ice and build trust. Finally, to build trust, Biden should offer to meet with Kim without any preconditions. The President-Elect should also offer to open high-level dialogue channels with Pyongyang, at which any and all issues can be discussed. Kim is apparently unhappy that his alleged good relationship with Trump has not led to success in negotiations with Washington or to significant economic gains for his regime. As a result, he may be questioning the utility of pursuing good relations with Biden and may even be under political pressure at home to be “tough” on Washington. However, Kim must realize that progress with Washington takes time and that if he rejects good relations and all negotiations with Washington, he may be giving up too soon. By rejecting Biden’s friendly gestures, Kim would only be giving in to the hardliners in Pyongyang and Washington, the same group who has contributed to the failure of negotiations under Trump. Moreover, Kim must recognize that a policy of confrontation vis-à-vis Washington will isolate his country even further and only make his regime’s current economic hardships worse. Kim has more to gain by being patient with Washington and seeking friendly relations with Biden than by giving up on Washington altogether and pursuing a policy of confrontation. During his presidency, Biden will be preoccupied with addressing domestic challenges, including the COVID pandemic, and will be taking a political risk by spending precious time and resources on developing good relations with Pyongyang. Therefore, instead of rejecting Biden’s gestures and staging military provocations, Kim should reward Biden’s risk-taking by accepting the President-Elect’s offers of summitry and high-level dialogue channels. He can begin by reciprocating Biden’s friendly signals, including during an expected New Year’s address. Ultimately, it is incumbent upon both Pyongyang and Washington to appreciate the importance of developing and maintaining good relations regardless of changes in the U.S. presidential administration. The stakes are high, given that the penalty for failure could be a nuclear crisis. Jongsoo Lee is Senior Managing Director at Brock Securities and Center Associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. He is also Adjunct Fellow at Pacific Forum (Hawaii) and Contributing Editor at The Diplomat. The opinions expressed in this essay are solely his own. He can be followed on Twitter at @jameslee004.
  • North Korea
    North Korea’s Power Structure
    In North Korea, all authority flows from Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. He has reinstated the party as the central hub to consolidate his power and bring elites to heel.