Robert Carlin

Nonresident Fellow

38 North

Robert Carlin has been following North Korea since 1974 from both in and out of government. In those forty plus years, he has taken part in countless hours of negotiations and unofficial discussions with DPRK officials.

Since 2006, Carlin has been a Visiting Fellow at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). He served as a senior policy advisor at the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) from 2002-2006, leading delegations to the North for negotiations and observing developments in the country outside of Pyongyang. From 1988-2002, he was Chief of the Northeast Asia Division in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Concurrently he served as senior policy advisor to the U.S. Special Ambassador and participated in all aspects of talks with the North during those busy years. From 1971-1988, Carlin was at the CIA.

Carlin has made more than 30 trips to the DPRK. In 2010, along with Dr. Siegfried Hecker, he was on the American delegation taken to see the North’s uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon. His most recent visit to the North was in April 2017.

In 2013 Carlin updated and revised Don Oberdorfer’s classic history of the Korean Peninsula, “The Two Koreas.” He has a Master’s degree from Harvard in East Asian Studies and a BA in Political Science from Claremont Men’s College (now Claremont McKenna)

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Distant Thunder: The Crisis Coming in Korea

Originally published in

The More We Wait, The Worse It Will Get

With apologies to T.S. Eliot, August was the cruelest month. US-DPRK working-level talks did not begin, as most observers expected, after US-ROK joint military exercises ended on August 20. For a variety of reasons, the diplomatic window seems to be na…

North Korea: The Pot Still Boiling

The debate roiling the leadership in Pyongyang is in its fourth week and appears to have heated up. That the Chinese leader Xi Jinping should go to North Korea in the middle of this tense situation is extraordinary and suggests a level of concern that…

Mixed Signals on Engagement

Since mid-May, there have been signs of a high-level policy discussion in Pyongyang over how to proceed with diplomatic engagement with Washington. On one hand, there has been a positive shift in DPRK commentary on US-DPRK negotiations both from the No…

DPRK Firing Drill: Message to the Blue House

Pyongyang has reported that on May 4, Kim Jong Un observed an east coast firing drill of “large-caliber long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons.” That would seem to undercut considerable speculation in US and South Ko…

North Korea Underlines the Clock Is Ticking

Ignoring Bing Crosby’s advice to accentuate the positive, Pyongyang has latched onto what it portrayed as the negative in April 24 remarks by US Secretary of State Pompeo. In an April 30 statement released by KCNA, First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son…

Warning Signs from Pyongyang

Since the April 12 address to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) in which Kim Jong Un took a tougher line toward both Seoul and Washington for continuing military exercises, Pyongyang media have been notching up criticism of South Korea. Over the past…

Negotiating with North Korea

This is an article about the “p” word—process. In some circles, it considered best to speak the word with head tilted slightly back, indicating barely concealed contempt. That way, you can demonstrate that you don’t think the manner and means—i.e., the…

Stimson in the News
Joel Wit and 38 North Contributor Robert Carlin quoted in article about confusion over North Korea’s meaning of denuclearization

SEOUL — It is one of the central questions in the negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program: What does Kim Jong Un want in return for giving up his weapons? Specifically, the issue is what Kim means by his insistence on the “complete de…

Hints for 2019: Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s Address

In his January 1st New Year’s speech, Kim Jong Un was almost relentlessly positive in discussing DPRK-US relations, a topic that took up an unusually large portion of the entire address. Rather than reprise the complaints about the negotiations with th…

Stimson in the News
38 North Contributor, Robert Carlin, Quoted on Kim Jong-Un’s New Year’s Speech

Kim Jong Un Wants New Summit With Trump, But Also Issues A Veiled Warning In a New Year’s address on Tuesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he is eager to renew face-to-face negotiations with President Trump after a bilateral summit in June. But…

DPRK Repeats Stance on Denuclearization

Just a week after the last high-level commentary carried by KCNA, another one by the same author—Jong Hyon—appeared on December 20. This one has caused a considerable reaction in Western media, though it actually contains little that is new. The focus…

Pyongyang: Willing to Wait

After a lengthy, six-week silence, Pyongyang finally weighed in again with extended criticism of Washington’s stance regarding US-DPRK talks, using what appears to be an authoritative-level article, written under the name of Jong Hyon and carried by th…

Dogs Not Barking: Pyongyang’s Long Silence

Since the US elections on November 6, North Korean central media have been conspicuously silent on the state of US-DPRK negotiations. There are times when such silence from Pyongyang is golden, other times ominous, and occasionally merely confusing. Th…

Look Before You Tweet: The Perils of Rushing Analysis

When the North Korean news service KCNA reported early on the morning of November 16 that Kim Jong Un had visited the test ground of the Academy of Defense Science to supervise the test of a “newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon,” I had the plea…

Pyongyang Warns Again on “Byungjin” Revival

Apparently concerned that Washington is not taking its warnings seriously, Pyongyang has conveyed through an article in Choson Sinbo, the pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan, what it hopes will be read as a sober exegesis of its recent public crit…

DPRK Notches Up the Warnings

Carefully, on little cat feet, Pyongyang has sent a new warning about the mounting dangers of what it sees as Washington’s “all-take-but-no-give” approach in the aftermath of the US-DPRK Summit in Singapore. As a means of escalating the profile of its…

North Korea Carefully Revs Up Public Warnings to Washington

Pyongyang appears to have made a potentially far-reaching, and possibly internally contentious, decision to put the question of sanctions squarely on the table at exactly the point US-DPRK negotiations are rapidly losing momentum. At first glance, this…

More DPRK Signals on Denuclearization

In what appears to be an authoritative-level article in Rodong Sinmun on September 15, Pyongyang has strongly reasserted its commitment to a new relationship with the US and to the process of denuclearization.[1] Cast as criticism of “US…

Kim Jong Un’s New Formulation

On September 6, 2018, North Korean media reported what amounts to a new formulation on the nuclear issue from Kim Jong Un: “Noting that it is our fixed stand and his will to completely remove the danger of armed conflict and horror of war from the Kore…

Kim Jong Un’s Risky Gambit

Kim Jong Un is in the midst of a complex juggling act. He has to keep at least four crucial, long-term initiatives in the air, and he cannot afford to drop any of them. Roughly speaking, Kim’s concerns seem to be the following: Improving relations with…

Victory Over Whom?

Pyongyang media managed to mark the July 27 anniversary of the North’s “victory” in the Korean War without a single mention of whom the war was fought against or over whom victory was achieved. The norm over the years has been to tout July 27th as the…

What the North Koreans Really Said on July 7

The July 7 DPRK Foreign Ministry spokesman’s statement appears to be a warning message to the US, carefully tinged with a tone more in sorrow than in anger. Overall, the key formulations are carefully balanced (e.g., frequently noting the tas…

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