History of North Korea

The history of North Korea began at the end of World War II in 1945. The surrender of Japan led to the division of Korea at the 38th parallel, with the Soviet Union occupying the north, and the United States occupying the south. The Soviet Union and the United States failed to agree on a way to unify the country, and in 1948 they established two separate governments – the Soviet-aligned Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the Western-aligned Republic of Korea – each claiming to be the legitimate government of all of Korea.

In 1950 the Korean War broke out. After much destruction, the war ended with a stalemate. The division at the 38th parallel was replaced by the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Tension between the two sides continued. Out of the rubble North Korea built an industrialized command economy.

Kim Il-sung led North Korea until his death in 1994. He developed a pervasive personality cult and steered the country on an independent course in accordance with the principle of Juche (self-reliance). However, with natural disasters and the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in 1991, North Korea went into a severe economic crisis. Kim Il-sung's son, Kim Jong-il, succeeded him, and was in turn succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-un. Amid international alarm, North Korea developed nuclear missiles. In 2018, Kim Jong-un made a sudden peace overture towards South Korea and the United States.

Before the division

From 1910 to the end of World War II in 1945, Korea was under Japanese rule. Most Koreans were peasants engaged in subsistence farming.[1] In the 1930s, Japan developed mines, hydro-electric dams, steel mills, and manufacturing plants in northern Korea and neighboring Manchuria.[2] The Korean industrial working class expanded rapidly, and many Koreans went to work in Manchuria.[3] As a result, 65% of Korea's heavy industry was located in the north, but, due to the rugged terrain, only 37% of its agriculture.[4]

A Korean guerrilla movement emerged in the mountainous interior and in Manchuria, harassing the Japanese imperial authorities. One of the most prominent guerrilla leaders was the Communist Kim Il-sung.[5]

Northern Korea had little exposure to modern, Western ideas.[6] One partial exception was the penetration of religion. Since the arrival of missionaries in the late nineteenth century, the northwest of Korea, and Pyongyang in particular, had been a stronghold of Christianity.[7] As a result, Pyongyang was called the "Jerusalem of the East".[8]

Division of Korea

Welcome Celebration for Red Army in Pyongyang2
Welcome celebration for the Red Army in Pyongyang on 14 October 1945

At the Tehran Conference in November 1943 and the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the Soviet Union promised to join its allies in the Pacific War within three months of victory in Europe. On August 8, 1945, after three months to the day, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan.[9] Soviet troops advanced rapidly, and the US government became anxious that they would occupy the whole of Korea. On August 10, the US government decided to propose the 38th parallel as the dividing line between a Soviet occupation zone in the north and a US occupation zone in the south. The parallel was chosen as it would place the capital Seoul under American control.[10] To the surprise of the Americans, the Soviet Union immediately accepted the division. The agreement was incorporated into General Order No. 1 (approved on 17 August 1945) for the surrender of Japan.[11] The division placed sixteen million Koreans in the American zone and nine million in the Soviet zone.[12]

Soviet forces began amphibious landings in Korea by August 14 and rapidly took over the northeast, and on August 16 they landed at Wonsan.[13] On August 24, the Red Army reached Pyongyang.[11] US forces did not arrive in the south until September 8.[12]

During August, People's Committees sprang up across Korea, affiliated with the Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence, which in September founded the People's Republic of Korea. When Soviet troops entered Pyongyang, they found a local People's Committee established there, led by veteran Christian nationalist Cho Man-sik.[14] Unlike their American counterparts, the Soviet authorities recognized and worked with the People's Committees.[15][16] By some accounts, Cho Man-sik was the Soviet government's first choice to lead North Korea.[17][18]

On September 19, Kim Il-sung and 66 other Korean Red Army officers arrived in Wonsan. They had fought the Japanese in Manchuria in the 1930s but had lived in the USSR and trained in the Red Army since 1941.[19] On October 14, Soviet authorities introduced Kim to the North Korean public as a guerrilla hero.[19]

In December 1945, at the Moscow Conference, the Soviet Union agreed to a US proposal for a trusteeship over Korea for up to five years in the lead-up to independence. Most Koreans demanded independence immediately, but Kim and the other Communists supported the trusteeship under pressure from the Soviet government. Cho Man-sik opposed the proposal at a public meeting on January 4, 1946, and disappeared into house arrest.[20][21] On February 8, 1946, the People's Committees were reorganized as Interim People's Committees dominated by Communists.[22] The new regime instituted popular policies of land redistribution, industry nationalization, labor law reform, and equality for women.[23]

Meanwhile, existing Communist groups were reconstituted as a party under Kim Il-sung's leadership. On December 18, 1945, local Communist Party committees were combined into the North Korean Communist Party.[19] In August 1946, this party merged with the New People's Party to form the Workers' Party of North Korea. In December, a popular front led by the Workers' Party dominated elections in the North.[22] In 1949, the Workers' Party of North Korea merged with its southern counterpart to become the Workers' Party of Korea with Kim as party chairman.[24]

Kim established the Korean People's Army (KPA) aligned with the Communists, formed from a cadre of guerrillas and former soldiers who had gained combat experience in battles against the Japanese and later Nationalist Chinese troops. From their ranks, using Soviet advisers and equipment, Kim constructed a large army skilled in infiltration tactics and guerrilla warfare. Before the outbreak of the Korean War, Joseph Stalin equipped the KPA with modern medium tanks, trucks, artillery, and small arms. Kim also formed an air force, equipped at first with ex-Soviet propeller-driven fighter and attack aircraft. Later, North Korean pilot candidates were sent to the Soviet Union and China to train in MiG-15 jet aircraft at secret bases.[25]

In 1946, a sweeping series of laws transformed North Korea on Stalinist lines. The "land to the tiller" reform redistributed the bulk of agricultural land to the poor and landless peasant population, effectively breaking the power of the landed class.[26] This was followed by a "Labor Law", a "Sexual Equality Law", and a "Nationalisation of Industry, Transport, Communications and Banks Law".[27]

1948 김일성과 김구
Kim Il-sung with Kim Koo in 1948

As negotiations with the Soviet Union on the future of Korea failed to make progress, the US took the issue to the United Nations in September 1947. In response, the UN established the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea to hold elections in Korea. The Soviet Union opposed this move. In the absence of Soviet cooperation, it was decided to hold UN-supervised elections in the south only.[28] In April 1948, a conference of organizations from the North and the South met in Pyongyang, but the conference produced no results. The southern politicians Kim Koo and Kim Kyu-sik attended the conference and boycotted the elections in the South.[29] Both men were posthumously awarded the National Reunification Prize by North Korea.[30] The elections were held in South Korea on May 10, 1948. On August 15, the Republic of Korea formally came into existence.[31] A parallel process occurred in North Korea. A new Supreme People's Assembly was elected in August 1948, and on September 3 a new constitution was promulgated. The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) was proclaimed on September 9, with Kim as Premier.[32] On December 12, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly accepted the report of UNTCOK and declared the Republic of Korea to be the "only lawful government in Korea".[31]

By 1949, North Korea was a full-fledged Communist state. All parties and mass organizations joined the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland, ostensibly a popular front but in reality dominated by the Communists. The government moved rapidly to establish a political system that was partly styled on the Soviet system, with political power monopolised by the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK).

The Korean War (1950-1953)

Korean War bombing Wonsan
US planes bombing Wonsan, North Korea, 1951
Victory Day Rehearsal, Pyongyang, 2012
2012 rehearsal in Pyongyang for Victory Day, marking the end of the war

The consolidation of Syngman Rhee's government in the South with American military support and the suppression of the October 1948 insurrection ended North Korean hopes that a revolution in the South could reunify Korea, and from early 1949 Kim Il-sung sought Soviet and Chinese support for a military campaign to reunify the country by force. The withdrawal of most U.S. forces from South Korea in June 1949 left the southern government defended only by a weak and inexperienced South Korean army. The southern régime also had to deal with a citizenry of uncertain loyalty. The North Korean army, by contrast, had benefited from the Soviet Union's WWII-era equipment, and had a core of hardened veterans who had fought either as anti-Japanese guerrillas or alongside the Chinese Communists.[33] In 1949 and 1950 Kim traveled to Moscow with the South Korean Communist leader Pak Hon-yong to raise support for a war of reunification.[34]

Initially Joseph Stalin rejected Kim Il-sung's requests for permission to invade the South, but in late 1949 the Communist victory in China and the development of Soviet nuclear weapons made him re-consider Kim's proposal. In January 1950, after China's Mao Zedong indicated that the People's Republic of China would send troops and other support to Kim, Stalin approved an invasion.[35] The Soviets provided limited support in the form of advisers who helped the North Koreans as they planned the operation, and Soviet military instructors to train some of the Korean units. However, from the very beginning Stalin made it clear that the Soviet Union would avoid a direct confrontation with the U.S. over Korea and would not commit ground forces even in case of major military crisis.[36] The stage was set for a civil war between the two rival régimes on the Korean peninsula.

For over a year before the outbreak of war, the two sides had engaged in a series of bloody clashes along the 38th parallel, especially in the Ongjin area on the west coast.[37] On June 25, 1950, claiming to be responding to a South Korean assault on Ongjin, the Northern forces launched an amphibious offensive all along the parallel.[38] Due to a combination of surprise and military superiority, the Northern forces quickly captured the capital Seoul, forcing Syngman Rhee and his government to flee. By mid-July North Korean troops had overwhelmed the South Korean and allied American units and forced them back to a defensive line in south-east South Korea known as the Pusan Perimeter. During its brief occupation of southern Korea, the DPRK regime initiated radical social change, which included the nationalisation of industry, land reform, and the restoration of the People's Committees.[39] According to the captured US General William F. Dean, "the civilian attitude seemed to vary between enthusiasm and passive acceptance".[40][41]

The United Nations condemned North Korea's actions and approved an American-led intervention force to defend South Korea. In September, UN forces landed at Inchon and retook Seoul. Under the leadership of US General Douglas Macarthur, UN forces pushed north, reaching the Chinese border. According to Bruce Cumings, the North Korean forces were not routed, but managed a strategic retreat into the mountainous interior and into neighboring Manchuria.[42] Kim Il-sung's government re-established itself in a stronghold in Chagang Province.[43] In late November, Chinese forces entered the war and pushed the UN forces back, retaking Pyongyang in December 1950 and Seoul in January 1951. According to American historian Bruce Cumings, the Korean People's Army played an equal part in this counterattack.[44] UN forces managed to retake Seoul for South Korea. The war essentially became a bloody stalemate for the next two years. American bombing included the use of napalm against populated areas and the destruction of dams and dykes, which caused devastating floods.[45][46] China and North Korea also alleged the US was deploying biological weapons.[47] As a result of the bombing, almost every substantial building and much of the infrastructure in North Korea was destroyed.[48][49] The North Koreans responded by building homes, schools, hospitals, and factories underground.[50] Economic output in 1953 had fallen by 75-90% compared with 1949.[27]

While the bombing continued, armistice negotiations, which had commenced in July 1951, wore on. North Korea's lead negotiator was General Nam Il. The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed on July 27, 1953. A ceasefire followed, but there was no peace treaty, and hostilities continued at a lower intensity.[51]

Postwar developments

Internal politics

Kim began gradually consolidating his power. Up to this time, North Korean politics were represented by four factions: the Yan'an faction, made up of returnees from China; the "Soviet Koreans" who were ethnic Koreans from the USSR; native Korean communists led by Pak Hon-yong; and Kim's Kapsan group who had fought guerrilla actions against Japan in the 1930s.[52][53]

When the Workers' Party Central Committee plenum opened on 30 August 1953, Choe Chang-ik made a speech attacking Kim for concentrating the power of the party and the state in his own hands as well as criticising the party line on industrialisation which ignored widespread starvation among the North Korean people. However, Kim neutralised the attack on him by promising to moderate the regime, promises which were never kept. The majority in the Central Committee voted to support Kim and also voted in favor of expelling Choe and Pak Hon-yong from the Central Committee. Eleven of Kim's opponents were convicted in a show trial. It is believed that all were executed. A major purge of the KWP followed, with members originating from South Korea being expelled.[54]

Pak Hon-yong, party vice chairman and Foreign Minister of the DPRK, was blamed for the failure of the southern population to support North Korea during the war, was dismissed from his positions in 1953, and was executed after a show trial in 1955.[55][56]

The Party Congress in 1956 indicated the transformation that the party had undergone. Most members of other factions had lost their positions of influence. More than half the delegates had joined after 1950, most were under 40 years old, and most had limited formal education.[52]

In February 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev made a sweeping denunciation of Stalin, which sent shock waves throughout the Communist world. Encouraged by this, members of the party leadership in North Korea began to criticize Kim's dictatorial leadership, personality cult, and Stalinist economic policies. They were defeated by Kim at the August Plenum of the party.[57][58] By 1960, 70 per cent of the members of the 1956 Central Committee were no longer in politics.[59]

Kim Il-sung had initially been criticized by the Soviets during a previous 1955 visit to Moscow for practicing Stalinism and a cult of personality, which was already growing enormous. The Korean ambassador to the USSR, Li Sangjo, a member of the Yan'an faction, reported that it had become a criminal offense to so much as write on Kim's picture in a newspaper and that he had been elevated to the status of Marx, Lenin, Mao, and Stalin in the communist pantheon. He also charged Kim with rewriting history to appear as if his guerrilla faction had single-handedly liberated Korea from the Japanese, completely ignoring the assistance of the Chinese People's Volunteers. In addition, Li stated that in the process of agricultural collectivization, grain was being forcibly confiscated from the peasants, leading to "at least 300 suicides" and that Kim made nearly all major policy decisions and appointments himself. Li reported that over 30,000 people were in prison for completely unjust and arbitrary reasons as trivial as not printing Kim Il-sung's portrait on sufficient quality paper or using newspapers with his picture to wrap parcels. Grain confiscation and tax collection were also conducted forcibly with violence, beatings, and imprisonment.[60]

In late 1968, known military opponents of North Korea's Juche (or self-reliance) ideology such as Kim Chang-bong (minister of National Security), Huh Bong-hak (chief of the Division for Southern Intelligence) and Lee Young-ho (commander in chief of the DPRK Navy) were purged as anti-party/counter-revolutionary elements, despite their credentials as anti-Japanese guerrilla fighters in the past.[54]

Kim's personality cult was modeled on Stalinism and his regime originally acknowledged Stalin as the supreme leader. After Stalin's death in 1953, however, Kim was described as the "Great Leader" or "Suryong". As his personality cult grew, the doctrine of Juche began to displace Marxism–Leninism. At the same time the cult extended beyond Kim himself to include his family in a revolutionary blood line.[61] In 1972, to celebrate Kim Il-sung's birthday, the Mansu Hill Grand Monument was unveiled, including a 22-meter bronze statue of him.[62]

International relations

Zhou Enlai and Kim Il Sung in Beijing
Kim Il-sung and Zhou Enlai tour Beijing in 1958.

Like Mao in China, Kim Il-sung refused to accept Nikita Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin and continued to model his regime on Stalinist norms.[63][64] At the same time, he increasingly stressed Korean independence, as embodied in the concept of Juche.[65] Kim told Alexei Kosygin in 1965 that he was not anyone's puppet and "We...implement the purest Marxism and condemn as false both the Chinese admixtures and the errors of the CPSU".[66]

Relations with China had worsened during the war. Mao Zedong criticized Kim for having started the whole "idiotic war" and for being an incompetent military commander who should have been removed from power. PLA commander Peng Dehuai was equally contemptuous of Kim's skills at waging war.[67]

By some analysis, Kim Il-sung remained in power partially because the Soviets turned their attention to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 that fall.[68] The Soviets and Chinese were unable to stop the inevitable purge of Kim's domestic opponents or his move towards a one-man Stalinist autocracy and relations with both countries deteriorated in the former's case because of the elimination of the pro-Soviet Koreans and the latter because of the regime's refusal to acknowledge Chinese assistance in either liberation from the Japanese or the war in 1950-53.[69]

USS Pueblo, Pyongyang, 2012
The captured USS Pueblo being visited by tourists in Pyongyang

Tensions between North and South escalated in the late 1960s with a series of low-level armed clashes known as the Korean DMZ Conflict. In 1966, Kim declared "liberation of the south" to be a "national duty".[70] In 1968, North Korean commandos launched the Blue House Raid, an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the South Korean President Park Chung-hee. Shortly after, the US spy ship Pueblo was captured by the North Korean navy.[71] The crew were held captive throughout the year despite American protests that the vessel was in international waters, and they were finally released in December after a formal US apology was issued.[72] In April 1969 a North Korean fighter jet shot down an EC-121 aircraft, killing all 31 crewmen on board. The Nixon administration found itself unable to react at all, since the US was heavily committed in the Vietnam War and had no troops to spare if the situation in Korea escalated. However, the Pueblo capture and EC-121 shootdown did not find approval in Moscow, as the Soviet Union did not want a second major war to erupt in Asia. China's response to the USS Pueblo crisis is less clear.[73]

After Khrushchev was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev as Soviet Leader in 1964, and with the incentive of Soviet aid, North Korea strengthened its ties with the USSR. Kim condemned China's Cultural Revolution as "unbelievable idiocy". In turn, China's Red Guards labelled him a "fat revisionist".[74][75][76]

In 1972, the first formal summit meeting between Pyongyang and Seoul was held, but the cautious talks did not lead to a lasting change in the relationship.[77]

With the fall of South Vietnam to the North Vietnamese on April 30, 1975, Kim Il-sung felt that the US had shown its weakness and that reunification of Korea under his regime was possible. Kim visited Beijing in May 1975[78][79][80] in the hope of gaining political and military support for this plan to invade South Korea again, but Mao Zedong refused.[81] Despite public proclamations of support, Mao privately told Kim that China would be unable to assist North Korea because of the lingering after-effects of the Cultural Revolution throughout China, and because Mao had recently decided to restore diplomatic relations with the US.[82]

Meanwhile, North Korea emphasized its independent orientation by joining the Non-Aligned Movement in 1975.[83] It promoted Juche as a model for developing countries to follow.[84] It developed strong ties with the regimes of Bokassa in the Central African Republic, Macias Nguema in Equatorial Guinea, Idi Amin in Uganda, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Gaddafi in Libya, and Ceausescu in Romania.[27]

Economic development

North Korean village in Yalu River delta
North Korean village in the Yalu River delta

Reconstruction of the country after the war proceeded with extensive Chinese and Soviet assistance.[85][86] Koreans with experience in Japanese industries also played a significant part.[87] Land was collectivized between 1953 and 1958. Resistance appears to have been minimal as landlords had been eliminated by the earlier reforms or during the war.[88]

Although developmental debates took place within the Workers' Party of Korea in the 1950s, North Korea, like all the postwar communist states, undertook massive state investment in heavy industry, state infrastructure and military strength, neglecting the production of consumer goods.[69]

The first Three Year Plan (1954–1956) introduced the concept of Juche or self-reliance.[89] The first Five Year Plan (1957-1961) consolidated the collectivization of agriculture and initiated mass mobilizations campaigns: the Chollima Movement, the Chongsan-ni system in agriculture and the Taean Work System in industry.[89][90] The Chollima Movement was influenced by China's Great Leap Forward, but did not have its disastrous results.[89] Industry was fully nationalized by 1959.[91] Taxation on agricultural income was abolished in 1966.[88]

North Korea was placed on a semi-war footing, with equal emphasis being given to the civilian and military economies. This was expressed in the 1962 Party Plenum by the slogan, "Arms in one hand and a hammer and sickle in the other!"[92] At a special party conference in 1966, members of the leadership who opposed the military build-up were removed.[93]

On the ruins left by the war, North Korea had built an industrialized command economy. Che Guevara, then a Cuban government minister, visited North Korea in 1960, and proclaimed it a model for Cuba to follow. In 1965, the British economist Joan Robinson described North Korea's economic development as a "miracle".[94][95] As late as the 1970s, its GDP per capita was estimated to be equivalent to South Korea's.[96][97][98][99] By 1968, all homes had electricity, though the supply was unreliable.[100] By 1972, all children from age 5 to 16 were enrolled in school, and over 200 universities and specialized colleges had been established.[101][102] By the early 1980s, 60–70% of the population was urbanized.[103]

Climax and crisis

Pjongjang Zentrum
Pyongyang in 1989
Juche Tower

In the 1970s, expansion of North Korea's economy, with the accompanying rise in living standards, came to an end.[104] Compounding this was a decision to borrow foreign capital and invest heavily in military industries. North Korea's desire to lessen its dependence on aid from China and the Soviet Union prompted the expansion of its military power, which had begun in the second half of the 1960s. The government believed such expenditures could be covered by foreign borrowing and increased sales of its mineral wealth in the international market. North Korea invested heavily in its mining industries and purchased a large quantity of mineral extraction infrastructure from abroad. It also purchased entire petrochemical, textile, concrete, steel, pulp and paper manufacturing plants from the developed capitalist world.[81] This included a Japanese-Danish venture that provided North Korea with the largest cement factory in the world.[105] However, following the world 1973 oil crisis, international prices for many of North Korea's native minerals fell, leaving the country with large debts and an inability to pay them off and still provide a high level of social welfare to its people. North Korea began to default in 1974 and halted almost all repayments in 1985. As a result, it was unable to pay for foreign technology.[106]

Worsening this already poor situation, the centrally planned economy, which emphasized heavy industry, had reached the limits of its productive potential in North Korea. Juche's repeated demands that North Koreans learn to build and innovate domestically had run its course as had the ability of North Koreans to keep technological pace with other industrialized nations. By the mid to late-1970s some parts of the capitalist world, including South Korea, were creating new industries based around computers, electronics, and other advanced technology in contrast to North Korea's Stalinist economy of mining and steel production.[107] Migration to urban areas stalled.[108]

Despite the emerging economic problems, the regime invested heavily in prestigious projects, such as the Juche Tower, the Nampo Dam, and the Ryugyong Hotel. In 1989, as a response to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, it held the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students in Pyongyang.[109][110] In fact, the grandiosity associated with the regime and its personality cult, as expressed in monuments, museums, and events, has been identified as a factor in the economic decline.[111]

In 1984, Kim visited Moscow during a grand tour of the USSR where he met Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko. Kim also made public visits to East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. Soviet involvement in the North Korean economy increased, until 1988 when bilateral trade peaked at US$2.8 billion.[112] In 1986, Kim met the incoming Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow and received a pledge of support.[113]

However, Gorbachev's reforms and diplomatic initiatives, the Chinese economic reforms starting in 1979, and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc from 1989 to 1991 increased North Korea's isolation.[114] The leadership in Pyongyang responded by proclaiming that the collapse of the Eastern Bloc communist governments demonstrated the correctness of the policy of Juche.[115]

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 deprived North Korea of its main source of economic aid, leaving China as the isolated regime's only major ally. Without Soviet aid, North Korea's economy went into a free-fall. By this time in the early 1990s, Kim Jong-il was already conducting most of the day-to-day activities of running of the state. Meanwhile, international tensions were rising over North Korea's quest for nuclear weapons. Former US president Jimmy Carter made a visit to Pyongyang in June 1994 in which he met with Kim, and returned proclaiming that he had resolved the crisis.[116]

Succession by Kim Jong-il

Demilitarized Zone of Korea 05
Portraits of Kim Il-sung and his son and successor Kim Jong-il
Computer lab, Pyongyang, 2012
A computer lab classroom in the Grand People's Study House, Pyongyang, 2012

Kim Il-sung died from a sudden heart attack on July 8, 1994, three weeks after the Carter visit. His son, Kim Jong-il, who had already assumed key positions in the government, succeeded as General Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party. At that time, North Korea had no secretary-general in the party nor a president. What minimal legal procedure had been established was summarily ignored. Although a new constitution appeared to end the wartime political system, it did not completely terminate the transitional military rule. Rather it legitimized and institutionalized military rule by making the National Defense Commission (NDC) the most important state organization and its chairman the highest authority. After three years of consolidating his power, Kim Jong-il became Chairman of the NDC on October 8, 1997, a position described by the NDC as the nation's "highest administrative authority", and thus North Korea's de facto head of state. His succession had been foreshadowed in 1980, when he was introduced to the public at the Sixth Party Congress.[117] In 1982, Kim Jong-il had established himself as a leading theoretician with the publication of On the Juche Idea.[118] In 1984, he had been officially confirmed as his father's successor.[119]

Although the succession of Kim Jong-il coincided with much societal upheaval, and the succession is conventionally seen as a turning point of North Korean history, the change in leadership hardly had direct consequences. The politics in the last years of Kim Il-sung closely resemble those of the beginning of the Kim Jong-il era.[120] The economy was in steep decline. In 1990-1995, foreign trade was cut in half, with the loss of subsidized Soviet oil being particularly keenly felt. The crisis came to a head in 1995 with widespread flooding that destroyed crops and infrastructure, leading to a famine that lasted until 1998.[121] At the same time, there appeared to be little significant internal opposition to the regime. Indeed, a great many of the North Koreans fleeing to China because of famine still showed significant support for the government as well as pride in their homeland. Many of these people reportedly returned to North Korea after earning sufficient money.[122]

In 1998, the government announced a new policy called "Songun", or "Military First". Some analysts suggested that this meant the Korean People's Army was now more powerful than the Workers' Party.[123]

President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea actively attempted to reduce tensions between the two Koreas under the Sunshine Policy. After the election of George W. Bush as the President of the United States in 2000, North Korea faced renewed pressure over its nuclear program.

On October 9, 2006, North Korea announced that it had successfully detonated a nuclear bomb underground. An official at South Korea's seismic monitoring center confirmed that a magnitude-3.6 tremor felt at the time was not a natural occurrence.[124]

Additionally, North Korea was running a missile development program. In 1998, North Korea tested a Taepodong-1 Space Launch Vehicle, which successfully launched but failed to reach orbit. On July 5, 2006, it tested a Taepodong-2 ICBM that reportedly could reach the west coast of the U.S. in the 2-stage version, or the entire U.S. with a third stage. However, the missile failed shortly after launch.[125]

On February 13, 2007, North Korea signed into an agreement with South Korea, the United States, Russia, China, and Japan, which stipulated North Korea would shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor in exchange for economic and energy assistance.[126] However, in 2009 the North continued its nuclear test program.[127]

In 2010, the sinking of a South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, allegedly by a North Korean torpedo, and North Korea's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island escalated tensions between North and South.[128][129]

Tension and détente

2018 inter-Korean summit square
Kim and Moon meet at the DMZ in 2018

Kim Jong-il died on December 17, 2011[130] and was quickly succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-un. In late 2013, Kim Jong Un's uncle Jang Song-thaek was arrested and executed after a trial. According to the South Korean spy agency, Kim may have purged some 300 people after taking power.[131] In 2014, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry accused the government of crimes against humanity.[132]

In 2015, North Korea adopted Pyongyang Standard Time (UTC+08.30), reversing the change to Japan Standard Time (UTC+9.00) which had been imposed by the Japanese Empire when it annexed Korea. As a result, North Korea was in a different time zone than South Korea.[133] In 2016, 7th Congress of the Workers' Party of Korea was held in Pyongyang, the first party congress since 1980.[134]

In 2017, North Korea tested the Hwasong-15, an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking anywhere in the United States of America.[135] Estimates of North Korea's nuclear arsenal at that time ranged between 15 and 60 bombs, probably including hydrogen bombs.[136]

In February 2018, North Korea sent an unprecedented high-level delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, headed by Kim Yo-jong, sister of Kim Jong-un, and President Kim Yong-nam, which passed on an invitation to South Korean President Moon to visit the North.[137] In April the two Korean leaders met at the Joint Security Area where they announced their governments would work towards a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and formalize peace between the two states.[138] North Korea announced it would change its time zone to realign with the South.[139]

On June 12, Kim met American President Donald Trump at a summit in Singapore and signed a declaration, affirming the same commitment.[140] Trump announced that he would halt military exercises with South Korea and foreshadowed withdrawing American troops entirely.[141] In September, South Korean President Moon visited Pyongyang for a summit with Kim.[142]

See also


  1. ^ Cumings, Bruce (2005). Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 182. ISBN 978-0-393-32702-1.
  2. ^ Cumings, Bruce (2005). Korea's Place in the Sun: A Modern History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 174–175, 407. ISBN 978-0-393-32702-1.
  3. ^ Robinson, Michael E (2007). Korea's Twentieth-Century Odyssey. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 84–86. ISBN 978-0-8248-3174-5.
  4. ^ Lone, Stewart; McCormack, Gavan (1993). Korea since 1850. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire. pp. 184–185.
  5. ^ Robinson, Michael E (2007). Korea's Twentieth-Century Odyssey. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 85–87, 155. ISBN 978-0-8248-3174-5.
  6. ^ Lone, Stewart; McCormack, Gavan (1993). Korea since 1850. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire. p. 175.
  7. ^ Robinson, Michael E (2007). Korea's Twentieth-Century Odyssey. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-8248-3174-5.
  8. ^ Lankov, Andrei (16 March 2005). "North Korea's missionary position". Asia Times Online.
  9. ^ Walker, J Samuel (1997). Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs Against Japan. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. p. 82. ISBN 978-0-8078-2361-3.
  10. ^ Seth, Michael J. (2010-10-16). A History of Korea: From Antiquity to the Present. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (published 2010). p. 306. ISBN 9780742567177.
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Further reading

  • Buzo, Adrian (2017). Politics and Leadership in North Korea: The Guerilla Dynasty (2nd ed.). Oxon: Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-1-138-18737-5.
  • Choe Su-nam; Pak Kum-il (2018). DPRK: Seven Decades of Creation and Changes (PDF). Pyongyang: Foreign Languages Publishing House. ISBN 978-9946-0-1675-7.
  • Cumings, Bruce, et al.. Inventing the Axis of Evil. The New Press. 2004. ISBN 1-56584-904-3
  • French, Paul (2007). North Korea: The Paranoid Peninsula: A Modern History (2nd ed.). London: Zed Books. ISBN 978-1-84277-905-7.
  • Lankov, Andrei (2002). From Stalin to Kim Il Song: The Formation of North Korea, 1945-1960. Hurst & Company. ISBN 978-1-85065-563-3.
  • — (2007). Crisis in North Korea: The Failure of De-Stalinization, 1956. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3207-0.
  • — (2013). The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-996429-1.
  • O'Hanlon, Michael; Mochizuki, Mike. Crisis on the Korean Peninsula. McGraw-Hill. 2003. ISBN 0-07-143155-1
  • Seth, Michael J. (2018). North Korea: A History. London: Palgrave. ISBN 978-1-352-00218-8.

External links

1954 Geneva Conference

The Geneva Conference was a conference among several nations that took place in Geneva, Switzerland from April 26 – July 20, 1954. It was intended to settle outstanding issues resulting from the Korean War and the First Indochina War. The part of the conference on the Korean question ended without adopting any declarations or proposals, so is generally considered less relevant. The Geneva Accords that dealt with the dismantling of French Indochina proved to have long-lasting repercussions, however. The crumbling of the French Empire in Southeast Asia would create the eventual states of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), the State of Vietnam (the future Republic of Vietnam / South Vietnam), the Kingdom of Cambodia, and the Kingdom of Laos.

Diplomats from South Korea, North Korea, the People's Republic of China (PRC), the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and the United States of America (US) dealt with the Korean side of the Conference. For the Indochina side, the Accords were between France, the Viet Minh, the USSR, the PRC, the US, the United Kingdom, and the future states being made from French Indochina. The agreement temporarily separated Vietnam into two zones, a northern zone to be governed by the Viet Minh rebels, and a southern zone to be governed by the State of Vietnam, then headed by former emperor Bảo Đại. A Conference Final Declaration, issued by the British chairman of the conference, provided that a general election be held by July 1956 to create a unified Vietnamese state. Despite helping create the agreements, they were not directly signed onto nor accepted by delegates of both the State of Vietnam and the United States. In addition, three separate ceasefire accords, covering Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, were signed at the conference.

Agriculture in North Korea

Farming in North Korea is concentrated in the flatlands of the four west coast provinces, where a longer growing season, level land, adequate rainfall, and good irrigated soil permit the most intensive cultivation of crops. A narrow strip of similarly fertile land runs through the eastern seaboard Hamgyŏng provinces and Kangwŏn Province.The interior provinces of Chagang and Ryanggang are too mountainous, cold, and dry to allow much farming. The mountains contain the bulk of North Korea's forest reserves while the foothills within and between the major agricultural regions provide lands for livestock grazing and fruit tree cultivation.Major crops include rice and potatoes. 23.4% of North Korea's labor force worked in agriculture in 2012.

Chollima Movement

The Chollima Movement (Hangul: 천리마운동) was a state-sponsored Stakhanovite movement in North Korea intended to promote rapid economic development. Launched in 1956 or 1958, the movement emphasized "ideological incentives to work harder" and the personal guidance of Kim Il-sung rather than rational modes of economic management.

Dai Hong Dan incident

The Dai Hong Dan incident took place on 29 October 2007, when North Korean cargo vessel MV Dai Hong Dan was attacked and temporarily seized by Somali pirates off Somalia. The following day, the crew of the vessel overpowered the pirates with the support of a US naval vessel.

Division of Korea

The Division of Korea began at the end of World War II in 1945. With the defeat of Japan, the Soviet Union occupied the north of Korea, and the United States occupied the south, with the boundary between their zones being the 38th parallel.

With the onset of the Cold War, negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union failed to lead to an independent and unified Korean state. In 1948, UN-supervised elections were held in the US-occupied south only. Syngman Rhee won the election while Kim Il-sung was appointed as the leader of North Korea. This led to the establishment of the Republic of Korea in South Korea, which was promptly followed by the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in North Korea. The United States supported the South, the Soviet Union supported the North, and each government claimed sovereignty over the whole Korean peninsula.

In 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea in attempt to unify the peninsula under its communist rule. The subsequent Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953, ended with a stalemate and has left the two Koreas separated by the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) up to the present day. Diplomatic initiatives have so far failed to end the division.

General Order No. 1

General Order No. 1 for the surrender of Japan, was prepared by the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff and approved by President Harry Truman on August 17, 1945.

It was issued by General Douglas MacArthur to the representative of the Empire of Japan following the surrender of Japan, and then issued by Japanese Imperial General Headquarters to the forces of the Empire of Japan on 2 September 1945. It instructed Japanese forces to surrender to designated Allied commanders, reveal all current military deployments, preserve military equipment for later disarmament. It also specified the occupation of Japan and Japanese-controlled areas by forces of the Allied Powers.

It also had the effect of leading to the eventual division of Korea at the 38th Parallel in that Japanese forces to the north of this parallel were ordered to surrender to the Commander in Chief of Soviet Forces in the Far East, and those to the south were directed to surrender to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Army Forces in the Pacific, in accordance with Section 1, paragraphs (b) and (e), respectively.

Grand People's Study House

The Grand People's Study House is the central library located in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. The building is situated on Kim Il-sung Square by the banks of the Taedong River.

Korean axe murder incident

The Korean axe murder incident (Korean: 판문점 도끼살인사건; Hanja: 板門店도끼殺人事件,도끼蠻行事件; literally, Panmunjom axe murder incident) was the killing of two United States Army officers, CPT Arthur Bonifas and 1LT Mark Barrett, by North Korean soldiers on August 18, 1976, in the Joint Security Area (JSA) located in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The U.S. Army officers had been part of a work party cutting down a poplar tree in the JSA.

Three days later, American and South Korean forces launched Operation Paul Bunyan, an operation that cut down the tree with a show of force to intimidate North Korea into backing down, which it did. North Korea then accepted responsibility for the earlier killings.

The incident is also known alternatively as the hatchet incident, the poplar tree incident, and the tree trimming incident.

One of the South Korean soldiers who participated in Operation Paul Bunyan, Moon Jae-in, was elected President of South Korea in 2017.

Korean conflict

The Korean conflict is an ongoing conflict based on the division of Korea between North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) and South Korea (Republic of Korea), both of which claim to be the sole legitimate government and state of all of Korea. During the Cold War, North Korea was backed by the Soviet Union, China, and its communist allies, while South Korea was backed by the United States and its Western allies. The division of Korea by external powers occurred at the end of World War II, starting in 1945, and tensions erupted into the Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953. When the war ended, both countries were devastated, with utter destruction of much of the countries, but the division remained. North and South Korea continued a military standoff, with periodic clashes. The conflict survived the collapse of the Eastern Bloc of 1989 to 1991 and continues to this day.

The U.S. maintains a military presence in the South to assist South Korea in accordance with the ROK–US Mutual Defense Treaty. In 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton described the division of Korea as the "Cold War's last divide". In 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush described North Korea as a member of an "axis of evil". Facing increasing isolation, North Korea developed missile and nuclear capabilities.

Following heightened tension throughout 2017, 2018 saw North and South Korea, and the United States, holding a series of summits which promised peace and nuclear disarmament. This led to the Panmunjom Declaration on 27 April 2018, when the two governments agreed to work together to end the conflict.

List of border incidents involving North and South Korea

The following is a list of border incidents involving North and South Korea since the Korean Armistice Agreement of July 27, 1953, ended large scale military action of the Korean War. Most of these incidents took place near either the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) or the Northern Limit Line (NLL). This list includes engagements on land, air, and sea, but does not include alleged incursions and terrorist incidents that occurred away from the border. A total of 3,693 armed North Korean agents have infiltrated into South Korea between 1954 and 1992, with 20% of these occurring between 1967 and 1968.Many of the incidents occurring at sea are due to border disputes. In 1977 North Korea claimed an Exclusive Economic Zone over a large area south of the disputed western maritime border, the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea. This is a prime fishing area, particularly for crabs, and clashes commonly occur, which have been dubbed the "Crab Wars". As of January 2011, North Korea had violated the armistice 221 times, including 26 military attacks.There were also incursions into North Korea. In 1976, in now-declassified meeting minutes, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense William Clements told Henry Kissinger that there had been 200 raids or incursions into North Korea from the south, though not by the U.S. military. Details of only a few of these incursions have become public, including raids by South Korean forces in 1967 that had sabotaged about 50 North Korean facilities.

List of years in North Korea

This is a list of years in North Korea.

North Korean famine

The North Korean famine (Korean: 조선기근), which together with the accompanying general economic crisis are known as the Arduous March or The March of Suffering (고난의 행군) in North Korea, occurred in North Korea from 1994 to 1998.The famine stemmed from a variety of factors. Economic mismanagement and the loss of Soviet support caused food production and imports to decline rapidly. A series of floods and droughts exacerbated the crisis. The North Korean government and its centrally planned system proved too inflexible to effectively curtail the disaster. Estimates of the death toll vary widely. Out of a total population of approximately 22 million, somewhere between 240,000 and 3,500,000 North Koreans died from starvation or hunger-related illnesses, with the deaths peaking in 1997. A 2011 U.S. Census Bureau report estimated the number of excess deaths from 1993 to 2000 to be between 500,000 and 600,000.

North Korea–United States relations

North Korea–United States relations refers to international relations between North Korea and the United States. The political and diplomatic relations between North Korea and the United States have been historically hostile, developing primarily during the Korean War. In recent years relations have been largely defined by North Korea's nuclear program – six tests of nuclear weapons, its development of long-range missiles capable of striking targets thousands of miles away, and its ongoing threats to strike the United States and South Korea with nuclear weapons and conventional forces. During his presidency, George W. Bush referred to North Korea as part of "the Axis of Evil" because of the threat of its nuclear capabilities.Recently, North Korea and the United States of America have started some formal diplomacy after the first Trump-Kim Summit in 2018. Sweden acts as the protecting power of United States interests in North Korea for consular matters. Since the Korean War, the United States has maintained a strong military presence in South Korea. However, the United States has considered, de jure, South Korea as the sole legitimate representative of all of Korea.

Support among the American public for US forces to defend South Korea has increased steadily. While it was at a mere 26% in 1990, it has now nearly tripled to 62%. A majority of the American public also have a positive view of Moon Jae-in, the South Korean President as of 2017.In 2015, according to Gallup's annual World Affairs survey, only 9% of Americans have a favorable view of North Korea, while 87% of Americans have a negative view. According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, only 4% of Americans view North Korea's influence positively with 90% expressing a negative view, one of the most negative perceptions of North Korea in the world.

2017 marked a significant rise of tensions and amplified rhetoric from both sides as Donald Trump took the presidency, after it appeared that North Korea's nuclear weapons program was developing at a faster rate than previously thought. The increasing rhetoric (as well as Trump's more aggressive approach to handling North Korea), missile testing and increasing military presence on the Korean Peninsula sparked speculation of a nuclear conflict.

Despite fears of a massive conflict, a détente began to develop when on March 8, 2018, the White House confirmed that Trump would accept a meeting invitation from Kim Jong-un. At the time, they were supposed to meet in May. On May 15, 2018, North Korea cut off talks with South Korea and threatened to cancel the planned U.S.-North Korea summit, citing military exercises between the United States and South Korea. This cancellation was quickly reversed when Trump received an uncharacteristically friendly reply from Kim. On June 12, 2018, Trump and Kim met at the summit in Singapore, in the first summit meeting between the leaders of the two countries. Over the course of the summit, the two leaders engaged in several discussions and signed a joint statement calling for security, stability, and lasting peace. On February 22, 2019 an armed commando assaulted the North Korean embassy in Madrid, Spain; two of the members were later identified as CIA operatives. A second summit between Trump and Kim occurred on February 27 and 28, 2019 in Vietnam regarding North Korea's nuclear program, but ended abruptly without an agreement.

Outline of North Korea

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to North Korea:

North Korea – sovereign country located on the northern half of the Korean Peninsula in East Asia. To the south, separated by the Korean Demilitarized Zone, lies South Korea, with which it formed one nation until division following World War II. At its northern Amnok River border are China and, separated by the Tumen River in the extreme north-east, Russia. The capital of North Korea is the city of Pyongyang.

North Korea is widely considered to be a Stalinist dictatorship. The country's government styles itself as following the Juche ideology of self-reliance, developed by Kim Il-sung, the country's former leader. The current leader is Kim Jong-un, the late president Kim Il-sung's grandson and son of recently deceased leader Kim Jong-il . Relations are strongest with other officially socialist states: Vietnam, Laos, and China, as well as with Russia, Cambodia, and Myanmar. Following a major famine in the early 1990s, due partly to the collapse of the Soviet Union (previously a major economic partner), leader Kim Jong-il instigated the "Military-First" policy in 1995, increasing economic concentration and support for the military.

North Korea's culture is officially promoted and heavily controlled by the government. The Arirang Festivals or "Mass Games" are government-organized events glorifying the regime, involving over 100,000 performers.

Postage stamps and postal history of North Korea

Postage stamps are issued by the Korea Stamp Corporation. North Korea issues copious amounts of stamps. Since the 1970s, the country has outproduced South Korea in terms of issuance. The stamps tend to portray patriotic and nationalist themes and are used as a form of propaganda, but some of them have little connection with the country.Stamps are issued by the Korea Stamp Corporation. The country has been a member of the Fédération Internationale de Philatélie since 15 June 1965. There is a museum, the Korean Stamp Museum, dedicated to philately in the country.

Rangoon bombing

The Rangoon bombing of 9 October 1983, was an assassination attempt against Chun Doo-hwan, the fifth president of South Korea, in Rangoon, Burma (present-day Yangon, Myanmar). The attempt was orchestrated by North Korea. Although Chun survived, 21 people died in the attack and 46 were injured. Two of the three suspected bombers were captured, one of whom confessed to being a North Korean military officer.

Soviet Civil Administration

The Soviet Civil Administration (SCA) functioned as the occupying government of northern Korea from October 3, 1945 until the founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 1948 although it governed concurrently after the setup of the Provisional People's Committee for North Korea in 1946. It was the administrative structure that the Soviet Union used to govern what would become North Korea following the division of Korea. Terentii Shtykov was the main proponent of setting up a centralized structure to coordinate Korean People's Committees. The setup was officially recommended by General Ivan Chistyakov and headed by General Andrei Romanenko in 1945 and General Nikolai Lebedev in 1946.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 702

United Nations Security Council resolution 702, adopted without a vote on 8 August 1991, after examining separately the applications of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) for membership in the United Nations, the Council recommended to the General Assembly that North Korea and South Korea be admitted.

On 17 September 1991, the General Assembly admitted both countries under Resolution 46/1.

Yan'an faction

The Yan'an faction (Hangul: 연안파; Hanja: 延安派; RR: yeonanpa) were a group of pro-China communists in the North Korean government after the division of Korea following World War II.

The group were involved in a power struggle with pro-Soviet factions but Kim Il Sung was eventually able to defeat both factions and dominate the North Korean government which allowed him to push for unification during the Korean War. "Yeonan" is the Korean reading of Yan'an, a town in China that formed the base of the Communist Party of China during the Chinese Civil War.

Led first by Mu Chong and then by Kim Tu-bong and Choe Chang-ik, the Korean exiles had lived in China's Shaanxi province and joined the Communist Party of China whose regional headquarters were at Yan'an.

They had formed their own party, in exile, the North-Chinese League for the Independence of Korea. In the autumn of 1945 the Russians allowed some 4,000 Koreans who had joined the Chinese communist movement to fight with the PLA to return to North Korea, though they disarmed them. They then formed the New People's Party which merged with the Communist Party in 1946 to form the Workers Party of North Korea. Many members of the Yan'an faction had fought in the Chinese Eighth Route Army and New Fourth Army and thus had close relations with Mao Zedong.

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