Between Sanctions and Diplomacy: North Korea's Balancing Act

30 Apr, 2018    ·   5461

Shivani Singh analyses the factors that contributed to North Korea and the US agreeing to a historic bilateral summit outside of the six-party talks framework

Shivani Singh
Shivani Singh
Researcher, Nuclear Security Programme (NSP)

The possibility of bilateral negotiations between North Korea and the US is a sign of relief after months of prevailing tensions in the Korean Peninsula. Following a long trajectory of strained relations between North Korea and the West, North Korea has finally agreed to direct bilateral talks with the US. The reason for this is simple. There has been a change of tactics by Kim Jong-un towards a more diplomatic and cooperative approach with China, the US and South Korea. Additionally, deployment of hard diplomacy by the international community through the imposition of sanctions on North Korea finally seems to be paying off. This article argues that a combination of both these factors is what led to a thaw in the escalating conflict and is a development to be cautiously optimistic about.

Tactical Changes
Sticks in the form of international economic and diplomatic sanctions on North Korea have been in place for some time. North Korea has traditionally ignored international condemnation of its regime by taking a more aggressive stance and conducting more nuclear weapon and missile tests. However, it recently adopted a different tactic by deploying soft diplomacy measures, which included sending a North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics to Pyeongchang, South Korea. Crucially, North Korea displayed its willingness to cooperate with South Korea by allowing the games to be concluded without tensions.

This diplomatic positioning by North Korea along with soft symbols of unity like North and South Korean athletes marching under the Korean Unification Flag and re-opening communication channels definitely contributed to pacifying bilateral relations. A South Korean delegation's visit to North Korea to discuss peace prospects followed.

Efficacy of Sanctions
China - North Korea