North Korea Diplomacy Handbook

In 2017, as the risk of conflict and even nuclear war with North Korea was growing, CNAS launched a multi-year project to advance non-military elements of statecraft with North Korea. Pyongyang had demonstrated its ability to deliver nuclear warheads across the Pacific Ocean, developed a nuclear stockpile and an array of solid-fuel missiles to be launched from mobile platforms, and appeared positioned to deploy a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile before the end of the decade.

A historic summit in June 2018 between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un then launched the United States into uncharted territory in its relations with North Korea. Consequently, a pragmatic approach to meaningful diplomatic engagement with North Korea became all the more urgent. It was evident then – and now – that a sustainable strategy would require not only deterring aggression and shoring up regional alliances, but also nudging China to apply greater pressure on Pyongyang.

In a series of five papers spanning nearly two years, CNAS has advanced a comprehensive “diplomacy handbook” to strengthen U.S. engagement with North Korea if Pyongyang achieves future milestones with respect to its nuclear arsenal and to mitigate risk in alternative scenarios. This handbook is intended to provide policymakers with creative and specific recommendations for tension reduction measures and to identify opportunities when North Korea and other regional actors are ready to take steps toward a more durable peace that ultimately promotes U.S. interests in the region.

This project was made possible by the generous funding of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Indo-Pacific Security

A Precarious Accord

In a June 2018 report, experts Patrick Cronin and Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein ask, “How should officials move forward to establish a durable peace on a nuclear-free peninsula...

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A Precarious Accord: Navigating the Post-Summit Landscape

Patrick Cronin and Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Patrick Cronin and Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein explain the importance of diplomacy in the maximum pressure and engagement strategy employed by the United States, South Korea, and others as the world prepared for the mid-2018 inter-Korean summits and the first-ever meeting between the president of the United States and the leader of North Korea. The authors caution that the time immediately following a summit can be more delicate than summit itself and recommend guideposts that would help transform diplomatic opportunities into reality.

Indo-Pacific Security

Negotiating With North Korea

In a February 2019 report about negotiations between the United States and North Korea, experts Patrick M. Cronin and Kristine Lee predict that “either sufficient progress is ...

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Negotiating with North Korea: How Will This End?

Patrick Cronin and Kristine Lee

Patrick Cronin and Kristine Lee focus on the two possible directions of negotiations with North Korea: progress and further rapprochement, or stagnation, frustration, and termination. The report emphasizes that short-term uncertainty should not preclude a long-term vision for what the United States wants on the Korean Peninsula. By examining each of the relevant actors’ desired “end states,” the authors are able to situate the United States’ aspirations within the complex geopolitical realities of the region and recommend policies that would bring greater clarity, realism, and creativity to the United States’ long game on the peninsula beyond the narrow issue of North Korea’s denuclearization.

Indo-Pacific Security

Negotiating Toward a Denuclearization-Peace Roadmap on the Korean Peninsula

In a June 2019 report, Duyeon Kim writes that “the road ahead remains as uncertain as ever” for negotiators from the United States and North Korea....

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Negotiating Toward a Denuclearization-Peace Roadmap on the Korean Peninsula

Duyeon Kim

Duyeon Kim advances pathways toward denuclearization and peace on the peninsula by offering a conceptual framework and principles for a political roadmap informed by a technical understanding of nuclear issues, to guide Washington as it navigates a range of options in negotiations until 2020. Recognizing that the problem with North Korea is more than just a nuclear one, the close linkage between denuclearization and peace on the peninsula necessitates concurrent negotiation models that address both challenges. The report offers several principles for the United States that would prevent Pyongyang from pocketing early gains without significant progress on denuclearization.

Indo-Pacific Security

Risk Realism

In a new report, Dr. Van Jackson argues that while pursuing North Korean denuclearization is ideal for U.S. national interests, it is no longer realistic for the near-term fut...

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Risk Realism: The Arms Control Endgame for North Korea Policy

Van Jackson

Van Jackson argues that although a non-nuclear North Korea is ideal for the national interest, it is no longer realistic for the near-term future, and continuing to pursue this objective is neither cost- nor risk-free. He asserts that policymakers can avoid the pitfalls of the past by attempting something more realistic than denuclearization—an arms control approach to North Korea. As long as the complete denuclearization of North Korea remains America’s professed goal, Kim Jong Un has every incentive to either avoid the negotiating process or favorably manipulate it at America’s expense. Therefore, Jackson contends that only by pursuing an arms control approach in lieu of denuclearization does the United States stand a realistic chance of moving closer to denuclearization.

Indo-Pacific Security

Crossed Wires

The United States’ current diplomacy with North Korea has enduring implications for its strategic competition with China....

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Crossed Wires: Recalibrating Engagement with North Korea for an Era of Competition with China

Kristine Lee, Daniel Kliman, and Joshua Fitt

Kristine Lee, Daniel Kliman, and Joshua Fitt argue that the United States should bring its engagement with North Korea into closer alignment with its efforts to deny China a geopolitical sphere of influence, a prerequisite for sustaining a free and open Indo-Pacific. Fundamentally, bringing these two policy efforts into closer alignment requires a renewal of the U.S. alliance system in Northeast Asia and a synchronization of the United States, Japan, and South Korea’s approaches to the dual challenges emerging from North Korea and China. The authors recommend policies that would harness engagement with Pyongyang to shore up Washington’s long-term position in Northeast Asia amid competition with Beijing and to ensure that negotiations with North Korea do not inadvertently advantage China.