US – North Korea Relations

In the modern day, one of the greatest international threats that citizens of the United States face originates in the east Asian country of North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Under an administration led by Kim Jong-un, North Korea has become globally recognized for its persistent testing of nuclear capabilities as well as developing long-range armaments that threaten the safety of the United States population.

While relations between the two nations have not always been so strenuous or hostile, the United States and North Korea have failed to find much common ground since the country first received any diplomatic recognition after its inception in 1948. Kim Il-sung, the founding leader at the time, had a strongly negative opinion toward United States policy, viewing the country as spiritual successors to Japan for capitalist policies and other policies viewed as imperialist in nature. This opinion predates the separation of Korea along the 38th parallel and the formation of the Democratic People’s Republic in its entirety.

Initial relations between the two countries date back to the mid-19th century, when Korea  (as a unified nation) denied all trade with the United States after the General Sherman incident of 1866. A United States gunship had illicitly crossed Korea’s sovereign borders, provoking Korea to destroy the ship. Since that point, relations had been tenuous at best. While trade relations were reestablished in 1882, it was a short-lived relationship as the United States looked on while Korea was annexed as part of Japanese territory in 1905 after the Russo-Japanese War, despite Korea imploring the United States to act on their behalf.

Since this point in history, Korea’s (and particularly North Korea’s) opinion of the United States has been consistently unfavorable, many times even hostile. They directly opposed United States forces during an effort to invade South Korea (the Korean War), a technically unresolved conflict that led to the formation of the Korean Demilitarized Zone maintained along the 38th parallel and perspectives that still consider North and South Korea to be at war to this very day due the absence of any peace treaty despite the ratification of the Korean Armistice Agreement.

After the conclusion of the Korean War, the United States and North Korea have engaged in little in the way of major hostilities. While incidents have occurred sporadically through the decades to pass since, no official military conflict has been conducted between the two forces. However, the United States have intervened in North Korea on several occasions, primarily regarding the manufacturing of nuclear armaments as well as imprisoning American citizens.

During the Clinton administration, North Korea was suspected of violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by manufacturing atomic bombs with processed plutonium. Then-President Clinton is quoted as saying that he would’ve risked war to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear arms. In 2009, North Korea had imprisoned two known American journalists and sentenced them to hard labor. Only after a diplomatic mission by former President Clinton were the two journalists pardoned and repatriated back to the United States.

This brief reconciliation was interrupted by an alleged attack on a South Korean ship (the Cheonan) by a North Korean torpedo, straining relations between the North and the South as the United States were provoked into participating in joint military exercises.

Since these incidents among others as well as the death of Kim Jong-il and the installation of Kim Jong-un as ruler, North Korea has openly demonstrated progress of a ballistic missile program that has currently shown evidence of reaching the west coast of the United States mainland and farther inland. They have also resumed conducting tests of their nuclear arsenal. The United States have since responded in kind with sanctions implemented under the Obama administration in 2016, severely limiting the growth of the North Korean economy.