Sole rule of the Kim family
After the Korean War (1950–53), the ruling Labor Party of Korea (PdAK) under the leadership of Kim Il Sung (1948–72 also Prime Minister) concentrated on the rapid reconstruction of the country with Soviet and Chinese help; by “purges” in the party, Kim eliminated his opponents and rivals on the way to absolute monarchy.
According to politicsezine, North Korea reacted to the power-political-ideological conflict between China and the Soviet Union with the nationalist »Juche« ideology (»ideology of independence«) developed by Kim Il Sung, which propagated greater political independence, economic independence and »national self-defense« a (quasi-religious) state doctrine was raised. After a new constitution was passed (1972), Kim took over the office of president. An immoderate personality cult that encompassed all of public life developed around the “Great Leader” and later expanded to include his son Kim Jong Il (“Beloved Leader”) (who was designated as his successor in 1979/80). Kim Jong Il joined 1990 became deputy chairman of the national defense committee and 1991 commander in chief of the army.
In December 1993, North Korea officially admitted for the first time that it was facing a severe economic crisis. After the severe floods of 1995/96 and a drought in 1997, a famine broke out which, according to North Korean figures, killed around 220,000 people by 1999, and according to Western estimates, possibly 2 million deaths. Some states, especially South Korea, and aid organizations supplied food.
After the death of Kim Il Sung in July 1994, followed by mass rallies of national mourning and an official three-year mourning period, his son Kim Jong Il effectively took over the successor; in October 1997 he became general secretary of the PdAK and in September 1998 also chairman of the National Defense Commission, which was declared the highest body of power. A new calendar had already been introduced in 1997, starting with the year Kim Il Sung was born in 1912.
In terms of foreign policy and economics, North Korea relied heavily on the Soviet Union (1961 conclusion of a treaty on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance, 1967 new defense and economic agreement), but also on the People’s Republic of China, with which it had also concluded a friendship treaty in 1961. Kim Il Sung tried to steer a course of his own between the two through a clever “rocking policy”. Even after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country, which was almost hermetically sealed from the outside, initially stuck to its orthodox communist policy. It only received noteworthy, but significantly reduced, economic aid from China, now its most important ally.
Relations with Japan were strained again in 1998 by the shooting down of a North Korean missile that crossed the northeast of the island state – additionally clouded by the problem of Japanese citizens kidnapped to North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. Negotiations on the normalization of mutual relations, which were interrupted in the meantime, did not lead to an agreement.
The government contacts between North and South Korea that were resumed at the beginning of the 1970s then broke off for a long time and – with the long-term goal of reunification – were only intensified again since 1990; however, the attempt at rapprochement suffered several setbacks. On the initiative of the South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, the first inter-Korean top-level meeting took place from June 13th to 15th, 2000 in Pyongyang. The inter-Korean understanding made slow progress and was repeatedly overshadowed by military incidents. – For more information see South Korea (inter-Korean relations).
Dispute over nuclear program
On September 17, 1991, North Korea was admitted to the UN together with South Korea. After North Korea refused special inspections of nuclear facilities in 1993 and threatened to terminate the Non- Proliferation Treaty, a conflict arose with the United States. After lengthy negotiations, on October 21, 1994, the two states concluded a framework agreement which, in addition to confidence-building measures, provided for a fundamental restructuring of the North Korean nuclear program within ten years. In return for the delivery of two light water reactors and (until their commissioning) of 500,000 tons of heavy oil annually, North Korea undertook to stop its plutonium production and to comply with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
When, according to American data, North Korea admitted in 2002 that it was working on a new nuclear program (for the enrichment of weapons-grade uranium) in breach of the treaty, the USA pushed for the nuclear plans to be abandoned as soon as possible. The situation came to a head when North Korea expelled the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2003, restarted its plutonium reactor, which had been shut down in 1994, and withdrew from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. A multilateral framework for discussion was finally agreed to solve the nuclear problem. However, several rounds in the context of six-state talks (North Korea, South Korea, USA, PR China, Japan, Russia) did not lead to any tangible result. While the USA demanded a “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling” of all nuclear facilities in North Korea,
On February 10, 2005, North Korea officially announced that it had manufactured nuclear weapons for “self-defense”. The six-party talks continued from July 2005, during which North Korea finally agreed on September 19, 2005 to renounce a military nuclear program and to rejoin the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to allow international inspections of its nuclear facilities. For this it received, inter alia. Security guarantees from the USA and pledges for economic aid and energy supplies, in addition, North Korea’s right to civilian use of nuclear energy was recognized. Despite the compromise reached, the multilateral negotiations then came to a standstill again.
On October 9, 2006, North Korea officially announced that it was conducting an underground nuclear weapon test. The UN Security Council then unanimously passed a resolution with sanctions, inter alia. a trade embargo on arms and restrictions on financial transfers. In a new round of negotiations in the framework of the six-state talks in February 2007, an agreement was reached on North Korea’s withdrawal from its nuclear program (including shutdown of the nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, approval of inspections by the IAEA). In return, North Korea received commitments for economic aid and energy supplies as well as security guarantees. But North Korea challenged the international community with another nuclear weapons and missile test in 2009, so that the UN Security Council tightened the sanctions imposed in 2006.
Kim Jong Un: Between threats and negotiations
After the death of Kim Jong Il on December 17, 2011, on December 29, 2011, Kim Jong Un, who had been General and Deputy Chairman of the National Defense Commission since 2010, was proclaimed “Supreme Leader of the Party, the Armed Forces and the People” on April 11, 2012 First Secretary of the Labor Party of Korea. On April 13, 2012, he was appointed First Chairman of the Defense Commission, which the Supreme People’s Assembly on April 9, 2014 unanimously confirmed. In December 2013, the state media reported the impeachment and arrest of Jang Song Taek (* 1946). The uncle of Kim Jong Unand Deputy Chairwoman of the Defense Commission was until then the second most powerful politician in the country. After a death sentence on December 12, 2013 by a military tribunal for alleged plans to overthrow, he was executed the next day. This strengthened Kim Jong Un’s position of power, according to foreign observers. In 2018, Kim madeseveral changes to the head of the army and the Ministry of Defense.
Kim Jong Un pushed North Korea’s missile and nuclear policy. An ICBM was launched in December 2012. Thereupon the UN Security Council decided on sanctions against persons and companies involved. Nevertheless, North Korea carried out another nuclear test in February 2013 after 2006 and 2009, which the Security Council acknowledged with tightened sanctions. In addition, North Korea temporarily closed the Kaesŏng Special Economic Zone for South Koreans. The regime’s international isolation increased after the fourth nuclear test (allegedly a hydrogen bomb) in January and the launch of a long-range missile in February 2016. South Korea then ceased operations in the Kaesŏng Special Economic Zone, whereupon North Korea closed it completely and expelled the South Korean workforce. The UN Security Council voted unanimously for new punitive measures, including Tightening of export restrictions.
For the first time since 1980, a PdAK party congress met again in 2016. According to Kim Jong Un’s instructions, the delegates decided to expand the nuclear arsenal, but only to use weapons if the sovereignty of the country was threatened. A fifth nuclear weapon test took place in September, followed by UN sanctions again. North Korea continued to work on its ICBM program in 2017. This exacerbated tensions with the US. The UN Security Council has now imposed sanctions on North Korea for the seventh time since 2006, which were tightened again after another nuclear weapon test in September and after the test of an ICBM in November.
In 2018, Kim Jong Un made a U-turn: in April, a summit meeting between the two Korean heads of state on the South Korean side of the border town of P’anmunjŏm confirmed the willingness for political detente. US President D. Trump alsoagreed to meet the North Korean dictator, which finally took place on June 12th in Singapore. Both signed an agreement on nuclear disarmament. Previously, Kimincluding having parts of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site destroyed and announcing that ICBMs will not be tested. North Korea, however, continued to reject the internationally verifiable and complete denuclearization required by the USA as a prerequisite for easing sanctions. So there was another summit between Kim and Trump on 27./28. 2. No progress in Vietnam in 2019 and new nuclear talks in Sweden in October 2019 were broken off without result.