Korea and Canada: Stronger Together for the Peace and Stability of the Korean Peninsula


Image credit: Master-Corporal Matthieu Racette, Canadian Forces Combat Camera


by Sunghwah Ko
January 2024


This piece is part of series funded by the Korea Foundation. This project aims to highlight Korean security challenges in which Canada can be a valuable partner, and to showcase the work of the next generation of security scholars. To access the full series and listen to the podcast episodes, go to:

Table of Contents


The Korean Peninsula’s security environment is precarious. Tension is rising from North Korea’s provocations, while the administration of South Korean president Yoon Suk-yeol stands firm that the Republic of Korea will not appease the North. This tension risks escalating if it cannot be eased.

North Korea’s aggression and offensive capabilities are growing. Also, geopolitical circumstances are becoming more favourable for North Korea as it strengthens ties with China and Russia. With two strong backers, North Korea’s confidence and brazen provocations are on the rise.

South Korea is likewise strengthening its countermeasures by solidifying and mobilizing international support for greater deterrence to maintain peace and stability on the peninsula. Earlier in 2023, South Korea and the U.S. committed to strengthening their ties through the Global Comprehensive Strategic Alliance. Trilateral co-operation on security issues between South Korea, the U.S. and Japan is also underway. South Korea is calling on like-minded countries for security and solidarity. As part of this effort, South Korea and Canada celebrated the 60th anniversary of their diplomatic relations and released a joint statement themed “Stronger Together.”

Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy suggests there will be more opportunities for South Korea and Canada to co-operate on regional security issues. The strategy says: “Since the Korean War, when 516 Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice, Canada has never left the Korean Peninsula …” Canada has contributed to peace and stability on the peninsula since the war and can contribute even more. This paper explores the Korean Peninsula’s security situation and examines Canada’s role in fostering regional peace and stability.


North Korea: More Aggressive and With Stronger Partners

In 2012, North Korea declared itself a nuclear state and since then it has actively attempted to solidify its status. On the 75th anniversary of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party in 2020, North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un stated: “if … any forces infringe upon the security of our state and attempt to have recourse to military force against us, I will enlist all our most powerful offensive strength in advance to punish them.”1 Despite its real or hidden intentions, North Korea is clearly emphasizing the possibility of a pre-emptive nuclear strike and Kim’s statement has dramatic implications for peninsular security.

In September 2022, North Korea passed the Nuclear Forces Law, declaring that its status as a nuclear-armed state is irreversible and the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons is an option if any of five conditions are met.2 Two of those conditions lowered the nuclear threshold, as they specify nuclear weapons can be used regardless of whether the opponent’s attack is nuclear or non-nuclear, and whether North Korea considers an opponent’s attack to be imminent. Thus, the barriers to using nuclear weapons are considerably lower than a retaliatory second-strike threshold.3

Some say North Korea’s real intention is still deterrence rather than a pre-emptive strike; however, they agree that North Korea seeks “asymmetric escalation”4 along with “assured retaliation.”5 North Korea recently warned that the arrival of American nuclear submarines in South Korea meets its conditions for the use of nuclear weapons. These remarks, alluding to pre-emptive strikes, are worsening an already tense atmosphere. South Korea’s National Security Strategy (NSS) 2023 identifies the advancement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, missiles and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as a significant national threat.

An analysis of North Korea’s fissile material and capacity reveals it is likely to have 80-90 nuclear weapons by 2030.6 Kim’s message at the Sixth Plenary Session of the Eighth Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) was clear: North Korea will possess “overwhelming military power” with “massive” production of tactical nuclear weapons.7 In April 2023, Kim again mentioned that North Korea will speed up nuclear weapons development “in a more practical and offensive manner.”8

The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) collected data from the 37 North Korean missile launch tests that have occurred since Yoon took office in May 2023.9,10 According to Korean media, 74 ballistic missiles were fired during the first year of Yoon’s administration, which is more than during the last five years of former president Moon Jae-in’s administration.11 North Korea has released photos that show its capability of miniaturizing nuclear warheads and firing missiles into the sea near Japan. Its actions threaten not only South Korea, but the entire region.


North Korea’s Two Strong Strategic Partners

International trends and regional geopolitics make forecasting more complicated for the peninsula. The buzzword in the international arena is competition, rather than co-operation. China is at the forefront in this competition and Russia and North Korea are standing by as anti-Western strategic partners. North Korea particularly benefits from any confrontation due to its strengthened partnership with China and Russia. The recent summit between Kim and Russian president Vladimir Putin caught international attention as both sides’ military needs were front and centre. No effort was made to disguise the meeting’s military nature.

China’s and Russia’s reluctance to sanction North Korea creates favourable circumstances for North Korea’s continued nuclear development. When South Korea demanded that China take a more constructive role in containing North Korea at the 2022 ROK-China summit, China’s position was ambiguous and avoided any kind of firm commitment.12 Moreover, China and Russia have used their veto at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) against sanctioning North Korea. Initially in 2006, when North Korea held its first nuclear test, China and Russia agreed to impose sanctions; however, since then they have used their vetoes to block additional measures. More recently, the UNSC failed to take practical action on North Korea’s successful ICBM launch last July.13

The Yoon administration is trying to break the vicious cycle of provocation and nuclearization by pressuring North Korea until it comes to the table. If sanctions are not effective in applying pressure, there is little reason for North Korea to come and talk instead of playing brinkmanship. With Russia and China co-operating with North Korea, this mechanism has little chance of success.

North Korea’s nuclear development will continue to progress, thanks to co-operation from its neighbours. China’s and Russia’s silent (and sometimes obvious) support will only boost North Korea’s confidence. Moreover, a breach in containing North Korea will expand the front line against the U.S. and provide greater space for Chinese and Russian influence. Thus, the threat that hangs over the Korean Peninsula will extend to international territory 


South Korea’s Efforts to Beef Up Deterrence

North Korea’s commitment to nuclear arms limits any opportunity for denuclearizing the peninsula. To counter this nuclearization, South Korea has sought to broaden its conventional asymmetry. 

The current South Korean government’s stance toward North Korea can be represented as “peace by overwhelming power,” as Yoon said in his speech.14 North Korea was once “the main enemy” in Korea’s Defense White Paper; however, later it was described as a “challenge” or “threat.”15 Yoon’s administration has chosen to use the term “enemy,” which clearly demonstrates his views on North Korea. Previously, while he was still a candidate, Yoon called North Korea the “main enemy,” so “enemy” must be the revised official term.16

In contrast, the Yoon administration’s policy on North Korea is called the “Audacious Initiative,” which seems rather generous. The initiative is a comprehensive, step-by-step approach to North Korea’s denuclearization in exchange for massive economic assistance, development and investment. However, North Korea criticized the offer because its premise is denuclearization, which Kim finds unacceptable.

The Yoon administration remains unwilling to proffer economic relief as long as North Korea continues pursuing nuclear development.17 Yoon has made it clear that South Korea will not naively rely on North Korea’s goodwill but will bolster security and defence with more joint military exercises with the U.S.18 Yoon and the South Korean Ministry of Defense have warned that North Korea’s regime will end if its provocations escalate. Without trust-building measures and de-escalation of Kim’s rhetoric, the two Koreas are trapped in a game of chicken. Neither is yielding and both are demanding that their required conditions be met.


The ROK-U.S. Alliance’s Strong Deterrence

South Korea’s alliance with the U.S., an outcome of the Korean War, is still its strongest deterrence. From its inception and through the Cold War era, the alliance’s purpose has been to cope with threats from North Korea. 2023 marked the alliance’s 70th anniversary and it now faces a new Cold War.

The Yoon government quickly invested in its alliance with America. Ten days after Yoon’s inauguration, he and President Joe Biden agreed upon the framework of the Global Comprehensive Strategic Alliance. More recently, a joint statement by South Korea and the U.S. provided further details and emphasized co-operation in the Indo-Pacific region.

On April 26, 2023 South Korea and the U.S. signed the Washington Declaration, which states that “any nuclear attack by the DPRK against the ROK will be met with a swift, overwhelming, and decisive response” and “ … the ROK is backed by the full range of U.S. capabilities, including nuclear.”19 This was the first time the two leaders agreed on how extended deterrence would work20 and the U.S. reaffirmed its commitment in the strongest possible language.21

The first Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) meeting between South Korea and the U.S. was held in July, and participants will meet quarterly to create practical responses and plan extended deterrence against North Korea. At the following NCG meeting, the U.S. nuclear submarine, Kentucky, docked in Busan to display the alliance’s firm stance on extended deterrence. Whether the Kentucky actually carried nuclear weapons is unknown; however, this moment was a step away from the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.


Solidarity With Like-minded Countries

Yoon says it is time to show that international solidarity to resolve North Korea’s nuclear issue is stronger than the latter’s nuclear ambitions.22 Korea aims to deter North Korea by expanding its security capacity through international co-operation.

The first step was strengthening the ROK-U.S. alliance. With American help, South Korea is now making strides in repairing its relations with Japan. With the goal of deterring North Korea, the three countries participated in several summits, including the NATO summit in 2022, the East Asia summit and the G20 and G7 summits. In November 2022, Cambodia hosted the ROK-U.S.-Japan summit, which issued the Phnom Penh Statement on Trilateral Partnership for the Indo-Pacific. The pact reinforces the three countries’ co-operation on security to address deterrence against North Korea.23 This meeting was followed up in August 2023 by a trilateral summit at Camp David to inaugurate the partnership, which was then followed by a ministerial meeting in November 2023.

Korea is also actively mobilizing co-operation with other like-minded countries. Yoon has bound up North Korea with European concerns about Russia by stressing that the Korean Peninsula’s security is not a matter for East Asia only, but also poses a threat to the international order. After North Korea launched ICBMs recently, Yoon urged international solidarity at the NATO summit by citing North Korea’s nuclear program as a threat to Paris, Berlin and London.24


Canada’s Common Ground With South Korea

Canada protected the Korean Peninsula by deploying 26,000 Canadian soldiers as part of a UN force during the Korean War, and the Canadian government commemorates that era as an important historical period.25 Since then, the two countries have worked together with few genuine disputes or interruptions.

In 2022, Canada and Korea unveiled their respective Indo-Pacific strategies. Canada’s strategy identifies the Korean Peninsula as one of the core regions in the Indo-Pacific and seeks to enhance Canadian contributions to the area’s security and stability.

The Canadian government periodically deploys warships and aircraft through Operation NEON to surveil North Korean activities that evade the sanctions imposed on that country for developing nuclear weapons and test-launching missiles.26 Canada carries out these operations near the Chinese border, despite the risk of provoking disputes with China.27 One such clash occurred in 2019 when Chinese fighter jets buzzed a Canadian frigate which was sailing in the East China Sea as part of Operation NEON.28

Canada has committed to continuing its surveillance activities until 2026.29 Canada has also intensified its operations by co-operating with the U.S. and Japan in Keen Sword and KAEDEX.30 None of this is easy, thanks to China’s and Russia’s support for North Korea, but Canada’s efforts in monitoring the sanctions are one more step forward for international stability and a continuing display of solidarity.


Building Stronger Cybersecurity

Co-operation on cybersecurity is another opportunity for Canada and South Korea to strengthen their ties. Cyber-vulnerability is a borderless issue and developed countries with complex networks are easier targets. North Korea knows how a weak country can use cyberattacks to great effect to steal foreign funds and disrupt critical infrastructure.

Initially, North Korea aimed to use cyberattacks to steal data and information. However, with the imposition of heavier sanctions in 2016, North Korea sought to acquire foreign currency, which eventually was used to support its nuclear development.31 More recently, North Korea has been creative in cybercrime by setting up fake websites that mimic popular South Korean sites.32

North Korea has also included advanced cyber-warfare capability in its national strategy.33 Despite its poor communications infrastructure, North Korea has strengthened its cyber-capability.34 As cyber-warfare is a matter of both social and military security, the risk from the North’s advancing capabilities is a serious ongoing security concern for South Korea.

South Korea is combating North Korea’s cyber-crimes in several ways, including targeting North Korean hacking groups with unilateral sanctions.35 The Strategic Cyber Security Cooperation Framework was established with the U.S. to counter cyberthreats from North Korea.36 The Yoon administration has also pledged to establish a global cyber-defence training centre to co-operate with NATO, which will be another avenue for ROK-Canada relations.37

Canada itself is no longer safe from North Korea’s threats. North Korea was heavily involved in money-laundering crimes targeting Canadian universities in 2021,38 and the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security calls North Korea one of Canada’s greatest cyber-threats.39 Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy calls for more investment in cybersecurity, partly because of North Korea’s activities.40

Furthermore, the Korean National Police Agency and the RCMP signed a Memorandum of Agreement to strengthen co-operation on cybersecurity.41 The issue surfaced again in the Joint Statement signed during the ROK-Canada summit in 2023;42 however, the specifics remain to be worked out. Cybersecurity impacts industrial, maritime, space and other areas, so building a stronger defence is critical, especially in preventing currency from flowing into North Korea.


ROK-Canada: Together for Peace

The Korean Peninsula is one of the core areas in the Indo-Pacific region and its peace and stability have global repercussions. The arms race and security on the peninsula are a critical pillar in the broader competition between the U.S. and China. Since Yoon took office, North Korea has increased its missile testing. North Korea’s attempts to change the status quo in the peninsula pose the greatest challenge for South Korea and the entire region. South Korea is responding to these direct threats by bolstering alliances and partnerships.

Neither Canada nor Korea is a world-leading great power. However, each identifies and communicates its interests and together they seek practical solutions to the challenges with which they contend.

Operation NEON continues to apply pressure on North Korea in response to its nuclear development. Close co-operation between Korea and Canada on cybersecurity should ideally result in a better defence against North Korea’s cybercrimes and ultimately interrupt its illegal amassing of foreign currency.


End Notes

1 Kim Jong-un, “More than Missiles,” Speech, 38 North, October 13, 2020. Retrieved from

2 Al Jazeera, “North Korea Makes Nuclear Policy ‘Irreversible’ With New Law,” Al Jazeera, September 9, 2020. Retrieved from

3 Hwang, I. D., “Analysis on North Korea’s Nuclear Law: Focusing on Articles on the Purpose of Nuclear Strategy and Command Control,” (북한 핵무력정책법 분석: 핵전력 용도 및 지휘통제 조항을 중심으로). IFANSFOCUS, 2022(18), September 14, 2022: 1–6.

4 According to Vipin Narang’s theory, “asymmetric escalation” is when a country attempts to deter the expansion of conflict by showing its willingness to use nuclear weapons pre-emptively against an opponent whose conventional weapon power is superior; V. Narang, Nuclear Strategy in the Modern Era: Regional Powers and International Conflict, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014), 21–26.

5 Moon, C. I., “Coming to Terms With North Korea’s Nuclear Strength,” Asia-Pacific Leadership Networks, March 31, 2023. Retrieved from

6 H. M. Kristensen and M. Korda, “North Korean Nuclear Weapons,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 77(4), 2021: 222236. DOI: 10.1080/00963402.2021.1940803.

7 Seoul Finance Issue Team, “North Korea’s Kim Jong-un: ‘Massive Production of Strategic Nuclear Weapons and Exponential Expansion of Nuclear Warheads,’” ([전문] 北김정은 전술핵 다량 생산·핵탄두 기하급수적 확대”), Seoul Finance, January 1, 2023. Retrieved from

8 Choe, S. H., “North Korea Says It Tested a Nuclear-Capable Underwater Attack Drone,” New York Times, March 24, 2023. Retrieved from

9 CSIS Beyond Parallel, “Database: North Korean Provocations,” December 20, 2019. Retrieved from

10 Updated as of July 7, 2023. 

11 Kim, J. H., and Ahn, C. W., “The First Year of Yoon Administration, the Number of North Korea’s Missile Launches Exceeds 5 Years of Moon Administration,” ([단독] '尹정부 1년' 北이 쏜 탄도미사일, 文정부 5년 넘었다). Money Today, May 6, 2023. Retrieved from

12 Shin, J. H., “Yoon-Xi Summit Reveals Gap in Approach to North Korea,” Korea Herald, November 16, 2022. Retrieved from

13 Staff, “US Calls for UNSC Action Against N. Korean ICBM Test, but China, Russia Veto,” Korea Times, July 14, 2023. Retrieved from

14 Lee, H. A., “Yoon Vows to Build Strong Security Through ‘Peace By Overwhelming Power,’” Yonhap News Agency, May 2, 2023. Retrieved from

15 Staff, “Defense White Paper: 2 Koreas Become Official Enemies Once More,” Opinion, Korea Times, February 19, 2023. Retrieved from

16 G. Bernal, “Yoon to Take Hard Line Against ‘Main Enemy’ North Korea,” Nikkei Asia, March 14, 2022. Retrieved from

17 Seong, H. Y., “Was Yoon the Prosecutor General of ‘Anti-state Forces’?” Hankyoreh, July 9, 2023. Retrieved from

18 Kim, H. Y., “South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol Said, ‘Security Does Not Depend on North Korea’s Goodwill’ … Experts Say, ‘South and North Korea Rang Da River, Prolonged Situation,’” (윤석열 한국 대통령 “북한 선의에 안보 기대지 않아”...전문가들 “남북 ‘강대강’ 국면 장기화”), Voice of America, May 9, 2023. Retrieved from

19 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Washington Declaration,” Republic of Korea, April 27, 2023. Retrieved from

20 Office of National Security, “The Yoon Suk-yeol Administration’s National Security Strategy,” Republic of Korea, June 2023.

21 Park, H. J., “Officer of US Ministry of Defense Says ‘The Washington Declaration Expresses the Most Powerful Terms for Extended Deterrence,’” (미 국방 당국자 “워싱턴 선언, 가장 강력한 용어로 확장억제 공약 명시”), Voice of America, May 26, 2023. Retrieved from

22 Ibid.

23 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Trilateral Joint Statement,” Republic of Korea, November 14, 2022. Retrieved from

24 Kim, S., “Yoon Pitches Tighter Security Cooperation between AP4 and NATO,” Korea Joongang Daily, July 12, 2023. Retrieved from

25 Veterans Affairs Canada, “Korean War,” Government of Canada, July 13, 2022. Retrieved from

26 Department of National Defence (DND), “Operation NEON,” Government of Canada, September 13, 2023. Retrieved from

27 B. Lendon, “Canada Says Chinese Warplanes are Buzzing its North Korea Reconnaissance Flights,” CNN, June 6, 2022. Retrieved from

28 Matthew Fisher, “Close Encounters During Operation NEON,” Canadian Global Affairs Institute, June 25, 2019. Retrieved from

29 DND, Operation NEON.

30 Ibid., “HMCS Vancouver Begins Operation NEON Deployment,” September 20, 2022. Retrieved from

31 Lee, S. Y., “The Present and Issues of North Korea’s Cyber-attack,” (북한 사이버 공격의 현황과 쟁점), Issues and Perspectives of National Assembly Research Service, vol. 2034, December 28, 2022.

32 Yang, M. C., “Cautions Even on Phone Bills … North Korea’s Cyber Hacking Becoming Bold,” (전화요금 명세서도 조심!…대담해지는 북한 해킹), KBS News, June 29, 2023. Retrieved from

33 Hwang, J. H., “North Korea’s Cyber Security Strategy and the Korean Peninsula: The Expansion of Asymmetric and Non-traditional Conflict,” (북한의 사이버안보 전략과 한반도: 비대칭적, 비전통적 갈등의 확산), East and West Studies, 29(1), 2017: 139–159.

34 Cheon, S. R., “North Korea is a Threat Due to its Extensive Experience in Cyber Warfare,” (북한, 사이버전 실전경험 풍부해 위협적), Radio Free Asia, October 7, 2022. Retrieved from

35 Richard Kim, “What is the North Korean Hacker Organization ‘Kim Soo-ki’… What is the Effectiveness of South Korea’s Independent Sanctions?” (북한 해커조직 '김수키'가 뭐길래... 한국 독자제재 실효성은?), BBC News Korea, June 2, 2023. Retrieved from

36 Office of the President, “ROK-U.S. Leaders Adopt Strategic Cybersecurity Cooperation Document,” (한미 정상, 전략적 사이버안보 협력 문서 채택), Republic of Korea, April 27, 2023. Retrieved from

37 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “President Yoon Pledges to Share More Military Intel with NATO,” Ministry News, Republic of Korea, July 14, 2023. Retrieved from

38 J. Friesen and C. Freeze, “Canadian Linked to North Korea Was Part of MacEwan University Cyberheist,” Globe and Mail, March 20, 2021. Retrieved from

39 Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, “National Cyber Threat Assessment,” 2022. Retrieved from

40 Global Affairs Canada, “Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy,” Government of Canada, July 24, 2023. Retrieved from

41 Lee, J. Y., “Korean National Police Agency–Canadian Police, First MOU to Counter International Crimes,” (경찰청-캐나다 경찰청, 국제범죄 대응 첫 MOU), Newspim. March 30, 2023. Retrieved from

42 Office of the President, “Joint Statement between the Leaders of Korea and Canada Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations,” [출처] 대한민국 정책브리핑( ([전문] 대한민국-캐나다 수교 60주년 기념 정상 공동성명),Policy Briefing, Republic of Korea, May 18, 2023. Retrieved from


About the Author

Sunghwah Ko is a Ph.D. candidate at the Graduate School of International and Area Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Her research area is international politics, with a specific focus on the security dynamics of Northeast Asia. She earned her M.A. from the UN Peace University in Costa Rica, majoring in Sustainable Development and International Peace Studies. Currently, she serves as a researcher at the Institute for Global Strategy and Cooperation and as a lecturer at the Division of International Studies at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.


Canadian Global Affairs Institute

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