North Korea

Korean Peninsula, Asia/Pacific

The advancement of the North Korean nuclear weapons program has created significant global controversy. Due to this, the United Nations imposed sanctions against North Korea because of its refusal to cease its nuclear evolution.

In recent years, North Korea’s relationships with South Korea, Japan and the United States have become increasingly strained. The demise of North Korea’s relationship with South Korea occurred in response to the THAAD Defense System that South Korea announced. North Korea’s relationship with Japan has also become tense due to Japan’s disapproval of its nuclear program. In 2017, North Korea launched its second ballistic missile over Japan which caused further tensions to the relationship.

Since 2018, the United States and North Korea have worked to repair their damaged relationship. Former President Donald Trump made efforts to explore this relationship, which has often led to further aggression as North Korea consistently refused to obey Trump’s orders. In fact, satellite images suggest that North Korea has expanded its long-range missile base and has maintained its goal of mass-producing nuclear warheads for its developing arsenal.

Internally, Human Rights Watch has referred to North Koreans as “some of the world’s most brutalized people” because of the heavy political and economic restrictions placed upon its citizens.

United States President Joe Biden’s first trip to Japan and South Korea has seen an increase in North Korean ballistic missile tests as well as the threat of their seventh nuclear test. President Biden has so far taken a different approach to his predecessor, stating that he would not meet with Kim Jong-un unless he was “sincere” and “serious”.

I think the issue of North Korea is one where the international community as a whole has to work to resolve the crisis.

Helen Clark, Former Head of UNDP and Prime Minister of New Zealand

Key Facts

Last known nuclear test:




Ongoing since


Total population of North Korea: 25.78 million

Soldiers: One million, plus five million reserves and 200,000 special force troops.

Current nuclear capability: Believed to be able to miniaturize nuclear warheads to fit on ICBM missiles

Intercontinental ballistic missile range: Claim the ability to hit anywhere in the USA. This was shown by the demonstrations of Hwasong-12, Hwasong-14 and Hwasong-15.

Thermonuclear Weapons: September 2017: the largest nuclear test took place at the Punggye-ri test site.  The explosive power,  ranged from 100-370 kilotons. Making the test 6 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (1945).  This is the most potent form of nuclear blast where an atomic detonation is boosted by a secondary fusion process creating a far bigger explosion.

Chemical Weapons: In 2012, the South Korean government assessed that North Korea could have  2,500-5,000 tons of chemical weapons, making it the largest stockpiles worldwide

The Key Actors

Timeline of Events

End of WWII, Korean territory taken from Japan by Allied forces

The Korean Workers’ Party, which represented North Korea’s Communist population inaugurated.

Free elections held in the US-occupied south of Korea results in the creation of the Republic of Korea; North Korea becomes the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea founded by Kim Il-Sung

South Korea announces independence which triggered North Korean invasion and the Korean War. South Korea receives support from China and the Soviet Union to invade North Korea; with the aim of gaining control of the peninsula.

Armistice is signed which ends the Korean War, however Korea remains significantly divided.

Rapid industrial growth takes place within Korea.

North Korea ratifies the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is a multilateral treaty that bans the signatory from producing nuclear weapons. This treaty also promotes peace and cooperation surrounding nuclear energy-security.

North and South Korea become members of the United Nations.

The North and South Korean Governments agree to ending tests, manufacturing, storing, deploying or using nuclear weaponry.

This also banned nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment services. The treaty clearly stated nuclear energy can only be utilised for peaceful means.

North Korea Threatens to withdraw from the ‘Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty’ (NPT). However, North Korea suspends its withdrawal after meetings with American diplomats in New York.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) demands that Pyongyang agrees to comply with IAEA precautions, including reviews at seven different nuclear sites by inspectors.  

President Jimmy Carter becomes the first former U.S. president to visit North Korea, where he meets with Kim Il-sung, the country’s founder. Carter’s trip paves the way for a bilateral deal between the United States and North Korea.

Kim Jong-Il takes power after the death of his father, Kim Il-Sung.

The first inspections of the nuclear test sites take place in March.

The U.S. and North Korea sign the Agreed Framework that commits North Korea to freezing its illegal plutonium weapons program and stopping the construction on nuclear reactors in Geneva. In exchange, the U.S. agrees to provide sanctions relief, aid, oil, and two light-water reactors for civilian use. Earlier that year U.S. intelligence calculated that North Korea had built approximately one or two nuclear weapons.

The United States proclaims it will remove approximately one hundred nuclear weapons from South Korea. This was part of the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. This agreement between President Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was labeled the START treaty and restricted the deployment of offensive nuclear weapons overseas.

North Korean General Jo Myong-rok meets with U.S. President Clinton in Washington. Following this, the U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright travels to North Korea to deliberate the country’s ballistic missile program and missile technology exports. This led to talks in November, but Clinton’s rule ended without further nuclear or missile deals taking place.

President Bush takes pursues a harder line toward Pyongyang, depicting North Korea, along with Iraq and Iran, as part of an “axis of evil” and imposing new sanctions.

Bush states in a memorandum that the U.S. will not confirm North Korea’s compliance with the 1994 Agreed Framework. This was because of a rocket test and the exporting of missile-related products to Iran.

North Korea withdraws from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty

North Korea announces that they have attained nuclear weapons.

North Korea conducts an underground nuclear test.

North Korea pledges to stopping operations at its Yongbyon nuclear facilities in exchange for fifty thousand tons of oil. The agreement was created as part of an action plan which was agreed to by the Six Party members in the September 2005 declaration.

South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak takes office and introduces hard-line strategy of relations with North Korea over the issue of nuclear demilitarization

Pyongyang announces its fifteen nuclear sites to Beijing, the chair of the Six Party Talks, affirming that it had thirty kilograms of plutonium and used two kilograms in its 2006 nuclear test. Due to this, Bush withdraws some of its trade restrictions with North Korea, announces plans to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and renounces some sanctions.

In October, the U.S. State Department announces a preliminary arrangement with North Korea on verifications. However, by December, discussions break down because of differences of opinions for verification measures.

President Barack Obama becomes President and is prepared to revive the Six Party Talks, but North Korea launches a rocket. It also ejects international monitors from its nuclear facilities in April and the following month tests a second nuclear device, which carries a yield of two to eight kilotons. In December, the U.S. hold their first bilateral consultation with North Korean representatives.

North Korea ends peace agreements with South Korea

North Korea deploys additional ballistic missiles

Pyongyang reveals its new centrifuge for uranium enrichment, which was built in secret and its light-water reactor under construction. This showed that North Korea was still committed to advancing its weapons program.

North Korea attacks Yeonpyeong Island, killing 4 South Koreans and injuring an additional 19

Kim Jong-Un takes power following his father’s state funeral

Following a meeting between the U.S. and North Korea in Beijing, North Korea commits to suspend its uranium enrichment actions in Yongbyon, invite IAEA monitors, and carry out a moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear testing. In exchange for its cooperation, the U.S. agreed to provide tons of food aid. However, the deal falls apart because North Korea launched a rocket and displayed intercontinental ballistic missiles during a military parade.

South Korea asks the United States Pentagon for information concerning the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in the interests of defense against North Korean nuclear missiles

President Donald J. Trump is inaugurated in January 2017 and shifts course in U.S. policy toward North Korea.

THAAD system fully operational in South Korea

In September, Pyongyang conducts its sixth nuclear test, which it claims is a hydrogen bomb. This created international panic and Trump redesignates North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism in November.

North Korean foreign minister accuses the United States of declaring war against North Korea (false), and claims it has the right to shoot down United States bombers

North Korea accuses the United States of threatening them with “nuclear aircraft carriers and strategic bombers”

Donald Trump announces the “largest ever” sanctions package against North Korea. The latter nevertheless says that it is willing to start direct talks with America.

A meeting takes place between a high-ranking South Korean delegation and Kim Jong-un during a historic visit by the South Koreans to Pyongyang

North Korea, it is announced, is willing to discuss denuclearization if it can begin direct talks with the U.S. Kim Jong-un is also said to be scheduled to meet his South Korean counterpart in April, in the first summit of its kind in more than a decade

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un makes an unannounced visit to Beijing, China, in what is his first foreign visit since taking power in 2011.

Kim Jong-un makes a historic visit to South Korea, where he meets
South Korean President Moon Jae-in for talks at the border crossing between both countries. During that meeting they agree to end hostile actions and work towards reducing nuclear arms on the peninsula.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in says that North Korea’s nuclear test site, Punggye-ri will be closed. Foreign experts from South Korea and the US will be invited to watch the closure.

South Korea starts taking down the loudspeakers along its border with North Korea. The speakers had for years been used to blast propaganda across their mutual border.

North Korea blows up one of its nuclear facilities in a show of good faith ahead of the summit with the President of the United States.

Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump meet in Singapore in a historic moment, as it is the first time a North Korean leader has met the U.S. President. An agreement was signed to encourage positive relations between the U.S. and North Korea, stating North Korea’s desire for peace on the Korean peninsula and their commitment to steps toward denuclearization. 

North Korea reportedly returns the remains of 200 missing U.S. soldiers from the Korean War.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Kim Yong Chol in Pyongyang to address progress since the June 12th summit. While Pompeo believed the talks went well, the North Korean Foreign Ministry characterized them as “unilateral and robber like”

A secret North Korean uranium enrichment site, named Kangston by US intelligence is discovered

North and South Korea open their first joint liaison office in Kaesong

Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in meet in Pyongyang for their third summit

During the summit the two leaders announce the Pyongyang Joint Declaration, agreeing to expand the cessation of military hostilities

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang to confirm the dismantling of nuclear test sites and discuss plans for a second summit between US President Trump and Kim Jong Un

North Korean Foreign Minister, Ri Yong Ho, travels to China for a three day visit to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss countries’ relations, and to reportedly consider a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jon Un and Chinese President Xi Xinping.

Kim Jong Un travels to Beijing for 4th summit with Xi Xinping, where both heads of states discussed the denuclearization process, with Xi accepting an invitation to visit North Korea “at a convenient time”.

Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin meet in Vladivostok, Russia, forging an agreement of closer diplomatic and political ties.

  • North Korea test fires 2 short-range ballistic missiles; and the US announces the seizing of North Korean vessel (Wise Honest vessel), for sanctions evasion.

US President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the DMZ, becoming the first sitting US head of state to set foot in North Korea – both leaders asserting working level talks will restart within the next several weeks.

Ri Son Gwon, a retired Army Colonel, named North Korea’s new foreign minister.

North Korea chooses to postpone dialogue with the US until after the US November 2020 elections.

Denuclearization is not current viable option; it can be considered only when “there are major changes on the other (US) side”.

The Chinese envoy in Seoul has raised concerned about the escalating tensions between North Korea and its neighbours. This comes as denuclearisation talks remain stalled and with North Korea undertaking
several missile tests this year. The envoy states that the situation needs to be peacefully resolved.

The United States has said that it would like the United Nations Security Council to vote this month on further sanctions on North Korea. This comes after North Korea has conducted several missile tests, raising concerns about an escalation in tensions in the region. 

North Korea’s office and factory workers have been mobilised to work on farms in an attempt to prevent food shortages caused by drought. The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un has called for these measures to improve a worsening food security situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, typhoons and an ongoing drought. North Korea has a history of food insecurity and this presents a worrying situation for innocent
civilians at the mercy of the regime.

North Korea as fired a ballistic missile towards to sea according to South Korean and Japanese sources. This is the 14th missile test the regime has conducted this year and comes days before the South’s new President, Yoon Suk-yeol, is sworn in on 10 May.

North Korea has accused the new President of South Korea, Yoon Suk-yeon of being “pro-United States” and “confrontational”. The new President is a conservative and was publicly promised to take a
harder stance on North Korea once taking office.

President Joe Biden has stated that he will discuss North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs with the leaders of South Korea and Japan during an upcoming trip to the region. This comes after the number of North Korea’s missile tests continues to rise, raising tensions in the region.

The United States has claimed that North Korea is preparing for a nuclear test at its Punggyeri test site this month. This comes after the hermit kingdom has recently increased its missile tests, including the first
launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017. North Korea has not tested a nuclear bomb since 2017.

North Korea has fired a ballistic missile from a submarine off its east coast. This represents an escalation immediately before the inauguration of the new President of South Korea and weeks before President Joe Biden’s visit to the region.

South Korea’s new President, Yoon Suk-yeon, has stated that he is prepared to offer an “audacious” economic plan for North Korea if it is committed to denuclearisation. The statement was part of his
inauguration speech and represents the first attempts at diplomacy by the new regime.

North Korea has reported its first coronavirus outbreak, calling it the “gravest national emergency” while ordering a nation-wide lockdown. Prior to today North Korea has not publicly acknowledged a single
case of the virus after it sealed its borders in 2020.

North Korea has fired three ballistic missiles towards the sea off its east coast. This is the latest missile test conducted by North Korea and comes before President Joe Biden visits South Korea over the coming weeks.

South Korea has stated that it plans to provide COVID-19 vaccines to North Korea after the country confirmed its first outbreak. While this is yet to be confirmed by the North, it offers a significant lifeline for a country lacking in medical supplies.

North Korea has reported its first death from coronavirus after the outbreak continues to spread throughout the country. This comes after state media previously described the outbreak as “explosive”,
raising concerns about how serious the situation is in the poverty-stricken country.

North Korea has said that 42 people have now died of coronavirus as the country faces its fourth day of a nation-wide lockdown. The admission from the usually secretive nation reveals how dire the situation is, with
the country lacking medical supplies, testing capability and vaccines.

North Korea has mobilised its military to distribute medicines and have also deployed more than ten thousand healthcare workers to conduct test and trace operations. This is in response to a worsening
coronavirus outbreak that has already cost the lives of tens of North Koreans.

North Korea has scaling up its production of drugs and medical supplies in response to the worsening COVID outbreak in the country. A nation-wide lockdown has also been implemented to tackle the outbreak.

The White House has advised that it is bracing for the North Koreans to conduct a nuclear test while President Joe Biden visits South Korea and Japan. The US National Security Advisor claimed that a nuclear
test is a realistic possibility

North Korea has claimed that it is achieving “good results” in the fight against a major COVID outbreak, the first in the country since the beginning of the pandemic. While these reports are difficult to verify
there is concern outside of the country that is lacks the medical supplies necessary to contain such an outbreak.

North Korea has reportedly seen more than 200,000 people with ‘fever’ symptoms for a fifth consecutive day as it continues to fight a worsening COVID outbreak. While it is difficult to confirm it appears that
these symptoms relate to COVID infections and points to a rapidly deteriorating situation.

The United States and South Korea have agreed to maintain pressure on North Korea to deter the country from aggression. This comes as North Korean missile tests have ramped up over the coming months.
The South Korean President has said that he is open to talks with the North Koreans.

South Korea has claimed that the North Koreans have fired three ballistic missiles off its east coast, including one intercontinental ballistic missile. This comes a day after US President Joe Biden ended his first trip to

North Korea has claimed that no new deaths have been reported for a second consecutive day. While these reports are difficult to verify, if accurate, it points to the outbreak stabilising.

South Korean authorities claim that North Korea has conducted experiments with a detonation device in preparation for a nuclear test. This raises concerns about whether the North Koreans will conduct its
seventh nuclear test over the coming days.

Officials from the United States, Japan and South Korea will meet on June 3 to discuss North Korea. This comes as North Korea reportedly plans to conduct its seventh nuclear test.

The United States has imposed sanctions on North Korea to target its weapons of mass destruction. This is in response to a rumoured impending nuclear test and a number of ballistic missile tests conducted by the North Koreans.

North Korea has lifted is nation-wide lockdown with authorities claiming that the outbreak is under control. This comes after weeks of a dire outbreak in a country that is short on medical supplies and vaccines.

The United States will push for United Nations sanctions against North Korea if it conducts its seventh nuclear test. This comes as Russia and China oppose any sanctions on the hermit kingdom and vetoed the
most recent push for sanctions.

The US Special Envoy for North Korea has expressed concerns for its increase in missile launches during a meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Seoul. The ongoing coronavirus outbreak was also discussed as North Korea continues to grapple with the outbreak.

North Korea has reported approximately 73,000 additional COVID cases in what is its first outbreak since the pandemic began in 2020. With information difficult to obtain from within the country, it is unclear whether this represents a further spike in cases.

North Korea has fired eight ballistic missiles a day after South Korea and the United States finished their military drills. In response to the launch, Japan’s Self Defence Force issued a statement that Japan and the United States had conducted a joint military exercise.

South Korea and the US have fired eight missiles into the sea in response to the increase in North Korea’s most recent missile launch. South Korean authorities stated that this was an intended show of force to display South Korea’s “capability and willingness” to carry out strikes.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has made a statement saying that North Korea’s missile launches and nuclear program have reached a point where they are not a threat to regional and global peace. The statement came a day after North Korea launched what is believed to be its largest ever ballistic missile

The United States Envoy to North Korea has warned that North Korea could conduct its seventh nuclear test at “any time”. The envoy also claimed that North Korea has shown no interest in returning to negotiations over its nuclear program.

China has vetoed a United States-led bid to impose harsher sanctions on North Korea in response to its increase in ballistic missile tests. The Chinese Envoy to the United Nations, Zhang Jun stated that China does not want to see North Korea test another nuclear weapon and the veto was designed to deescalate tensions.

The leader of North Korea, Kim Jing-un has promoted his key nuclear negotiator to the role of Foreign Minister as he promised to fight threats to his nation’s sovereignty. The appointment comes as the United States warned this month that North Korea is preparing to conduct a seventh nuclear test, and says it will again push for United Nations sanctions if that happens.

South Korean Defence Minister, Lee Jong-sup has made a statement outlining plans for the country’s defence capabilities to be increased in response to missile tests made by North Korea. In the same statement, Mr Lee said that the situation on the Korean Peninsula posed a threat to both regional and global security.

South Korea claims that North Korean forces fired multiple artillery shots towards its territory. While further details were not provided, it represents yet another escalation in tensions on the peninsula.

A report released by anti-nuclear advocates states that North Korea may have spent as much as $642 million on its nuclear program last year. This is despite the country being impoverished and recently affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

North Korea is reportedly expanding a second tunnel at its nuclear test site in preparation for a possible nuclear test. The work is being completed at the Punggye-ri nuclear test facility.

South Korea’s President, Yoon Suk-yeol has used a statement to ask the United Nations Security Council to respond in a coordinated manner to North Korea’s provocations. This comes as North Korea has increased its testing of ballistic missiles over the past months.

North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un has attended the second day of a major party meeting concerning military and defence policy. While the meeting reportedly did not discuss the states nuclear program, there are fears that North Korea will imminently conduct its first nuclear test in years.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has ordered the strengthening of the country’s defence capabilities at a key meeting to discuss military and defence policy. This raises concerns that this includes the additional of nuclear weapons.

North Korea has condemned ‘aggressive moves’ by the United States and South Korea, vowing to ‘take revenge’ as it marked the 72nd anniversary of the start of the Korean War. This comes as the US and South Korea warn that North Korea is about to conduct
a nuclear test.

North Korean media has claimed that joint military drills conducted by the United States, South Korea and Japan have a “sinister aim” of creating an “Asian version of NATO”. This comes as tensions rise in the region after several ballistic missile tests by the North

North Korea has publicly denounced the United States, South Korea and Japan for announcing their boost trilateral military cooperation and will consider boosting its own military capability. North Korea has long cited what it claims is hostility from the US and its allies in the region as justification for its missile and nuclear tests.

South Korean President, Yoon Suk-yeol, has publicly ordered the military to “promptly and sternly’ retaliate in the case of any North Korean provocation. This comes as North Korea is reportedly planning its first nuclear test in five years and as tensions rise in the region.

The United States has deployed sophisticated F-35 stealth fighter jets to South Korea as part of a 10-day joint exercise. The South Korean Defence Ministry have stated that this is aimed at enhancing the “interoperability” of its air forces and deterring North Korea.

South Korea has claimed that North Korea has conducted artillery firing drills. It is claimed that this occurred off North Korea’s west coast. This comes days after the United States deployed new fighter jets to South Korea for a joint training.

North Korea has claimed that it is on the path to “finally defuse” its coronavirus outbreak. It claims that 99.98$ of its 4.77 million “fever” patients have fully recovered. This comes as neighbouring countries currently face a resurgence in coronavirus cases.

South Korea has warned that North Korea will likely suffer stronger sanctions, including cyber sanctions, if it conducts its first nuclear test in five years. This comes as South Korea warns that North Korea is planning to conduct a nuclear test in the coming weeks.

North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un has said that the country is ready to mobilise its nuclear weapons in order to counter any aggression from the United States and South Korea. This claim came as Kim made a speech at an event to mark the 69th anniversary of the 27 July Korean War armistice.

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