The great Asian paradox is that a region steadily becoming more economically integrated is filled with distrust, competing nationalisms, and territorial disputes in the security realm. This is epitomized by Northeast Asia and the North Pacific: the region features the world’s three largest economies; three of the largest militaries; three of the five declared nuclear weapons states, and one de facto nuclear state. It is the locus of the greatest near-term threat to regional stability and order—the North Korea nuclear problem—and it is also increasingly the nexus of the global economy. Each North Korean missile launch and nuclear test highlights the risks of a very dangerous nuclear flashpoint.

The North Korean nuclear problem is part of a larger Korea question, the last vestige of the Cold War. It holds the potential to reshape geopolitics in East Asia toward either a more cooperative future or a confrontational one. The risks of nuclear war and proliferation, chaos in North Korea, and how the eventual reunification of the Korean Peninsula occurs are likely to have a transformative impact on US-Chinese relations, US alliances with the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan, and the strategic equation in the region and beyond.

The stakes and potential outcomes of events on the Korean Peninsula are of a magnitude such that avoiding misperception, miscalculation, and actions based on misplaced assumptions is in the interest of not just all concerned parties, but the entire international community. In this issue brief, Robert Manning provides strategic recommendations for the region to reduce risks and lay a foundation for greater economic and political integration.