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. Trump has made efforts to explore this relationship, which has often led to further aggression as North Korea has 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.

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: 25.4 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”.

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