New Quincy Brief Maps Out Paths to Diplomacy on the Korean Peninsula


CONTACT: Jessica Rosenblum, [email protected], 202.800.4662

WASHINGTON, DC — Advancing peace and denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula will require the highest level of executive leadership from all involved countries to build support for a final agreement, a report released today by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft finds. 

The report, “Beyond Deterrence: A Peace Game Exercise for the Korean Peninsula,” draws on the results of a recent virtual role-playing peace game exercise hosted by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP); Quincy Institute (QI); and the Sejong Institute, the oldest non-partisan, independent think tank in South Korea. Report authors Jessica J. Lee of QI and Frank Aum of USIP were among the 20 participants in the October 2021 exercise. 

“Conventional approaches to the North Korea challenge, including analytical tools such as ‘war game’ simulations, have focused primarily on how to deter and contain the North Korean threat,” said Senior Research Fellow Jessica Lee. “Although these approaches have largely been successful in deterring aggression and preventing a war, they have also been inadequate in reducing tensions and building peace with North Korea.”

The virtual peace game exercise explored responses from teams representing the United States, South Korea, North Korea, and China to various scenarios that presented progressively greater confidence-building measures from all sides. While peace game exercises are not predictive of future behavior, they can provide critical insights for current and future policymakers on a diplomatic solution to the North Korea challenge, such as:

  • All parties should start with smaller, more reversible measures; mitigate the risk of failure; and highlight potential gains. The United States should consider confidence-building measures that jump-start negotiations but do not undermine its security interests. 
  • Washington should strengthen coordination with Seoul on North Korea policy and other key alliance matters to harmonize strategies. 
  • To achieve progress, all parties should separate issues pertaining to the Korean Peninsula from the U.S.-China contestations.

“A decade into his rule, it appears that Kim Jong Un is prioritizing military modernization above all else,” Lee told Responsible Statecraft. “It’s a very worrisome situation that requires creative and high-level diplomacy by all parties.”

“The intractability of the Korean Peninsula problem and the calcification of positions over the last seven decades means that only the highest level of executive leadership can compel an end to the impasse,” Lee and Aum write in the new brief. 

“To overcome diplomatic inertia and risk aversion in negotiations with North Korea, all parties should proceed in a step-by-step fashion, start with more reversible measures, mitigate the risk of failure, and highlight potential gains over potential losses,” the report concludes.