Historic summit in which North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meets with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, photo courtesy of Quartz

Korean Peninsula: A history of conflict

The future of foreign relations between North Korea and its adversaries seems to be promising. In late March of this year, Kim Jong-un met with President Xi Jinping of China to discuss relations. This came as a big surprise to the world and got news outlets talking about a potential meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un. In addition, he met with South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, in South Korea, making himself the first North Korean leader to meet with a South Korean president.

All of these actions are the first steps in creating peace in the Korean peninsula and ending tensions between the US and North Korea. This circling conversation has left many wondering about how and when all of this conflict started.

Image of Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, in expectation of the two meeting up, photo courtesy of CNN

Introduction: 1945-1948:

After WWII ended, the Soviet Union sent troops to occupy northern Korea, which ended Japanese occupation of Korea. The communist Korean Worker’s Party, backed by the Soviet Union, took control over Korea and installed Kim Il-sung as leader. Soviet troops then withdrew from the country.


Map of the Korean Peninsula from after the Korean War to present, photo courtesy of YouTube

The US-backed and democratic South Korea declares independence over the Soviet supported North. This led to the North Korean Invasion and the Korean War.


After three years of war and conflict, an armistice ends the Korean War, splitting North and South Korea at the 38th parallel, where the border was first drawn.



The Korean peninsula experiences rapid industrial growth when many farmers move to urban cities to become industrial workers.


In January, North Korea captures a US naval intelligence ship, USS Pueblo, and captures and tortures its crew. The crew returns to the US eventually, however the USS Pueblo itself remains in North Korea.


North and South Korea discuss peaceful reunification but are unsuccessful due to the unstable political power of each country.


Kim Il-sung designates his eldest son, Kim Jong-il, as his successor.


North Korea joins the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, banning the country from producing nuclear weapons.


The Yongbyon research nuclear reactor becomes operational in North Korea.


North and South Korea join the United Nations (UN).


The International Atomic Energy Agency accuses North Korea of violating the  Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and demands inspectors to be sent to nuclear waste storage sites in North Korea. Later this year, North Korea test-fires a medium range Rodung ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan.


In July, Kim Jong-il becomes leader of North Korea after Kim Il-Sung’s death. In October, North Korea and the US sign an Agreed Framework in which Pyongyang commits to freezing its nuclear program in return for two light water nuclear reactors and heavy fuel oil.


Severe famine and floods are responsible for the death of three million North Koreans. In the meantime, North Korea will no longer accept the armistice that ended the Korean War  and sends thousands of soldiers to the demilitarized border. Later in the year, a North Korean submarine with 26 men on board navigate near a South Korean town, causing the South Koreans to attack and kill all but one of the crew, and more death follows with several skirmishes.


North Korea fires a multistage long-range rocket which flies over Japan, landing in the Pacific Ocean, well beyond their known capability.


Landmark Korean summit takes place in Pyongyang between Kim Jong-il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, paving the way for better relations between the two countries. In addition, South Korea grants over 3,500 North Korean prisoners to return to North Korea.


North and South Korean naval ships fight each other in the Yellow Sea, causing the death of 34 people. Later in the year, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visits North Korea. The US, Japan, and South Korea halt oil shipments to North Korea following North Korea’s reported admission that it has secretly been developing a nuclear program.


North Korea withdraws from a 1992 agreement with South Korea which keeps the Korean Peninsula free from nuclear weapons.


North Korea publicly admits to have produced nuclear weapons “for self defense”.


North Korea conducts its first nuclear weapons test underground, and in response, the UN imposes economic and commercial sanctions on North Korea.


North Korea shuts down its main Yongbyon reactor after receiving heavy fuel oil as part of an aid package. In addition, at the second inter-Korean summit, President Roh Moo-hyun becomes the first South Korean leader to walk across the Demilitarized Zone separating the North and South.


North and South Korean relations get worse when the new South Korean President Lee Myung-bak declares to take a harder line against North Korea.


North Korea launches a long range rocket and condemnation by the UN prompts North Korea to walk out of six-party talks and restart its nuclear facilities. Furthermore, North Korea carries out their second nuclear underground test.


North Korea sinks a South Korean warship near the the Sea border. Later in the year, Kim Jong-Un is appointed to senior political and military posts.


Kim Jong-il dies and his son, Kim Jong-Un, takes his position as leader of North Korea.


North Korea claims it has missiles that can hit the US mainland.


North Korea has its third nuclear weapons test and announces that all of the main Yongbyon nuclear facilities will be restarted. Meanwhile, North Korea’s only ally, China, bans exports of items that could be used to make nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons to North Korea. Furthermore, Kim Jong-Un’s uncle, Chang Song-Thaek, is found guilty of attempting to overthrow the government and is executed.


North Korea test fires two medium-range missiles, and the US, Japan, and South Korea meet in the Netherlands to discuss the matter. The end of the year is prompted with cyber attack accusations between the US and North Korea after a Sony pictures film which mocks Kim Jong-Un.


North Korea confirms that it has put its Yongbyon nuclear plant back into operation since its non-activity dating back to 2007. Later on, the US imposes new sanctions on North Korea over rapid weapons productions.


North Korean government announces its first alleged hydrogen bomb test. Furthermore, the year follows the Worker’s Party’s first congress in 40 years. Finally, the UN further tightens sanction on North Korea by aiming to cut coal imported to North Korea.


The year begins with Kim Jong-Un claiming that North Korea is in the final stages of developing long-range missiles capable of carrying warheads. Following these claims, North Korea test fires a long range missile into the Sea of Japan. The end of this year experiences arguably the greatest tension between the US and North Korea when North Korea threatens to fire ballistic missiles near the US Pacific Territory of Guam.


North and South Korean women’s hockey team at the 2018 Winter Olympics, photo courtesy of The Hankyoreh

2018 starts out strong when North Korea sends female hockey players to join the South Korean hockey team in the Olympics. To the public’s surprise, President Trump and Kim Jong-Un plan to meet and discuss nuclear disarmament of the Korean peninsula. In the meantime, Kim Jong-un becomes the first North Korean leader to enter the South and agree to end hostile actions.


The Korean peninsula has seen a lot of conflict between the end of WWII and the present. However, the tensions between North Korea and the US and its allies seems to be curbing with Kim Jong-un’s new willingness to discuss matters with other world leaders.

Written by Oskar Salminen

My name is Oskar Salminen and I am a junior at MC. I am 100% Finnish and have dual citizenship. Also, I love European cars.

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