North Korea: The Country Always in a State of War - History Key

North Korea: The Country Always in a State of War

The history of North Korea is full of ups and downs. This “monster” state was born as a replica of the former Soviet Union. Basically, North Korea has assumed to continue the ideology of communism, trying to take it now on a dangerous peak.

North Korea’s path was established following the conflict between communism and capitalism during the Cold War, which it remained with a history from which it was never capable to get out.

How did it begin?

At the end of World War II, Korea was released after decades of Japanese occupation and was determined to gain independence with the help from its allies: United States, China, United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.

The armed forces of the Soviet Union and the United States occupied the two extremities of the country. The Soviet Union occupied the north, while U.S. occupied the south. It seemed just a matter of time until the democratic elections.

North and South Korea
North and South Korea ©

But as time passed, post-war cooperation between the two world powers deteriorated, leading to the appearance of two completely different states: South Korea, supported by the Americans and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north, whose leader, Kim Il-Sung was “trained” by the Red Army.

You need Democracy

The radical political differences between the two new countries, made them look extremely different. That’s why, North Korea “gave birth to a monster”, according to John Everard, the former British Ambassador to North Korea. In other words, Everard believes that North Korea was created by the Red Army, without realizing what they were doing.

They transformed Kim Il-Sung into a leader, but when they realized that he didn’t instill enough public respect, the Soviets built around him the cult of personality. Therefore, the country ended up being led by a “supreme leader.”

Labour Party North Korea
Kim Il-sung (center) at the joint meeting of the New People’s Party and the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang, 1946 ©

In 1950, South Korea proclaimed its independence. This prompted the northern neighbors to invade South Korea. North Korea was backed up by China and the Soviet Union, which led ultimately to the Korean War for three years. As usual, the United States intervened, fearing that a possible communist takeover of Korea could have greater implications.

According to Robert Kelly, professor of political science at Pusan National University (South Korea), if the United States abandoned the struggle from Korea, Washington leaders would have feared a domino effect of communism in any other part of Asia. This was an aspect that they couldn’t risk.

U.S. Air Force attacking railroads south of Wonsan on the eastern coast of North Korea
U.S. Air Force attacking railroads south of Wonsan on the eastern coast of North Korea ©

After the struggles hit an impasse, U.S. President Harry Truman and later Dwight Eisenhower, used the nuclear threat in order to end the war. Truman didn’t want this conflict to expand and degenerate into another war. Therefore in 1953, a Korean Armistice was signed. This act was supposed to be a temporary measure that established a demilitarized area along the 38th parallel. However, there has never been a peace agreement and the tensions on both sides never ended.

In the immediate period, North Korea experienced a period of glory, supported by China and the Soviet Union. This didn’t discourage the South, and with its economic and industrial growth, cross-border tensions have escalated. For instance, South Korea became extremely rich in the 1970s, while North Korea has remained an example of Stalinist politics.

Kim Il-sung's poster
Kim Il-sung’s poster ©

The fall of the Soviet Union also meant the loss of Soviet aid to North Koreans, which caused a serious blow to the country. Moreover, after China recognized the state of South Korea in 1992, North Korea felt betrayed and more and more isolated.

The economy of North Korea was in a free fall immediately after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. The economy collapsed, the industry has stalled and the eastern exports have disappeared. Thus, North Korea’s agriculture collapsed and the country entered in 1990 in a huge famine crisis.

North Korean threats, a common thing

The nuclear program was probably launched in the 1960s, according to John Everard. Day by day it became more and more important for the country. Since the international leaders have turned against North Korea, its leaders saw on the nuclear program the guarantee of its existence as an independent state. “The great leader” Kim Il-Sung, followed by his son and now his nephew, “the supreme leader” Kim Jong-un, all played the same card: the nuclear negotiation.

Missiles are paraded across Kim Il Sung Square during a military parade on April 15, 2017, in Pyongyang, North Korea
Missiles are paraded across Kim Il Sung Square during a military parade on April 15, 2017, in Pyongyang, North Korea ©

The nuclear program of North Korea has also become a source of tension with the West. Thus, the North Korean relations with the U.S. and South Korea have often touched a soft point. In 1994, the U.S. was very close to start a war with North Korea, due to the violation of the international agreement of nuclear programs.

Since 2002, the tensions erupted again when North Korea expelled the international nuclear program inspectors.

The Korean War never ended in the eyes of Pyongyang. The North has remained in a form of stagnation since the 1950s, but now it has nuclear weapons, which means it can attract the attention of the whole world.

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