Korea was entered by the Soviet Union and the
United States at the end of the Second World War. In
1948, North Korea was proclaimed and in 1950–1953, a
bloody war raged between the Communist state, with
Chinese and Soviet support, and South Korea supported by
US-led UN troops. North Korea has subsequently been
ruled by iron hand by Kim Il-Sung, his son Kim Jong-Il
and, since 2011, by his grandson Kim Jong-Un. Since the
1990s, the economy has been in crisis and famine has hit
the population. At the same time, North Korea puts huge
sums on the military and, in spite of protests around
the world, blasted its first nuclear weapon in 2006.
When Japan was defeated by the Allied victories at
the end of World War II, North Korea was invaded by the
Soviet military while the southern part was taken by the
Americans. A dividing line between the Soviet troops in
the north and the American in the south was drawn along
the 38th latitude. The USSR formed a communist system in
the north under the leadership of Kim Il-Sung. In the
south, the United States established a temporary
government of moderate nationalists.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing North Korea. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
The United States drew the Korean issue to the UN in
1947. The General Assembly appointed a commission to
organize elections throughout Korea. The Soviet refused
to let the Commission into "its" part of the country,
and the UN could only arrange elections in the south.
Following the May 1948 elections, a new state in the
South - the Republic of Korea - was proclaimed in
August. The same month elections were held for a North
Korean People's Assembly and on September 9, 1948, the
Democratic People's Republic of Korea was formed. Kim
Il-Sung was appointed prime minister. In 1949 the
Communist Korean Workers' Party was founded, with Kim as
The new state received political, economic and
military support from the Soviet Union, but Kim Il-Sung
also sought to maintain good relations with China's new
communist regime under Mao Zedong. North Korea's
military was built strong with Soviet weapons.
Propaganda wars were going on between the north and the
south, and along the standstill line there were many
In June 1950, North Korea attacked over the 38th
latitude. At the initiative of the United States, the UN
Security Council (boycotted by the Soviet Union) called
on the members of the organization to support South
Korea with troops. The United States came to lead and
dominate the UN operation.
The North Koreans quickly occupied much of South
Korea, but were soon forced back to the border with
China. When a few hundred thousand Chinese soldiers
intervened, the UN troops were in turn pushed back. From
April 1951 the front stabilized along the 38th latitude,
but fighting continued until July 1953, when a
standstill agreement was concluded in Panmunjon.
However, no peace agreement was ever reached and the
demilitarized zone along the latitude still forms the
border between North and South Korea. The Korean War
claimed at least a few million lives, but according to
some sources, more than 5 million died.
The Soviet Union, China and Eastern Europe
contributed financially to North Korea's reconstruction.
During the 1950s, the country's industry surpassed South
Korea and the North Koreans were given free education
and medical care.
By the early 1960s, Kim Il-Sung had outmaneuvered all
competitors for power. But his focus on North Korean
self-reliance, juche (see Political system), led to
However, there was a certain opening to the outside
world, including South Korea, in the early 1970s. Modern
technology was imported from the West and trade
increased. But North Korea could not afford to pay for
its imports, and soon there were reports of shortages of
food and other goods. At the same time, an ideological
campaign was launched for the North Koreans to devote
their days to eight hours of work, eight hours of rest,
and eight hours of study of the juche ideology.
Kim Jong-Il takes over power
When it was announced in 1984 that Kim Il-Sung's
eldest son Kim Jong-Il would eventually succeed his
father as president, the son had already gained a
prominent position in the power apparatus. He was
appointed commander-in-chief in 1991 and chaired by the
National Defense Commission in 1993, and was gradually
considered in practice as the country's leader.
Disarmament among the military and confrontations
between soldiers and workers, who complained about
working and living conditions, created political
concern. In addition, North Korea's isolation and
economic problems increased after the dissolution of the
Soviet Union in 1991 (see Economic overview).
Kim Il-Sung's death in 1994 sparked speculation about
possible upheavals or course changes in closed North
Korea. Kim Jong-Il seemed to have a firm grip on power,
but more and more dropouts contributed to speculation
about power struggles, social unrest and growing
In 1995 and 1996, the situation worsened dramatically
with floods, and in 1997 the country was hit by severe
drought. Reluctantly, North Korea acknowledged
"temporary food problems". The country was forced to
accept extensive food aid from the outside world. Some
sources estimate that at least one million people
starved to death in three years. According to other
estimates, it was rather two million - one in ten
inhabitants of the country.
The economic and social collapse strengthened the
military's power. Political purges occurred while
promoting military service. The emphasis on the
principle of the "military first", songun, with absolute
priority for military spending was given increased
importance (see Political system).
Thunderstorm with South Korea
Increasing contacts with South Korea culminated in
June 2000, when Kim Jong-Il received South Korea's
President Kim Dae-Jung during a historic state visit to
Pyongyang (see Foreign Policy and Defense). The
continued relations were marked by North Korea's
economic crisis. Hard winters created an acute energy
shortage. Pyongyang demanded electricity supplies as a
condition for continued talks with Seoul. New floods and
continued famine were followed by UN calls for relief.
At the same time as the military strengthened its
grip, North Korea initiated cautious reforms in the
market economy in 2002 (see Economic overview). The
regime was felt compelled to do so to avoid collapse of
the petrified society. But the experiment led to
inflation and growing gaps between businessmen in larger
cities and the majority of people who have to trade
ration cards in government stores. The scope for reform
was also minimal, when the "military first" policy
Economic cooperation with the Western world was
complicated by the conflict over North Korea's nuclear
program. In October 2006, for the first time, the
country blasted a nuclear weapons charge (see Foreign
Policy and Defense).
From 2008 Kim failed to appear from some official
contexts and it was later confirmed that he suffered a
severe stroke. Nevertheless, he was re-elected chairman
of the National Defense Commission in March 2009 and his
position was strengthened through changes in the
Protests against currency reform
Following a second test of nuclear weapons in the
spring of 2009, UN sanctions were tightened, the world's
aid willingness decreased and food shortages in the
country worsened. At the same time, measures were taken
to reduce inflation and take control of the emerging
market economy with growing income gaps. Private shops,
markets and restaurants that emerged were closed and the
use of foreign currency was banned. In December 2009, a
currency reform was implemented, in which one hundred
won became a single won. People had a week to exchange
old notes for new ones, and no one had to exchange more
than 100,000 won, about SEK 250.
The reform triggered great anger among many North
Koreans who at one time became poorer. There were
reports of riots and attacks on security people who
tried to stop food smuggling. Several people must have
been executed as a result.
The social unrest caused the regime to mitigate the
currency reform, partly through increased exchange rate
limits (see also Economic overview). The political
failure led to a number of layoffs within the military
and party leadership. The food shortage worsened in
2010, partly due to the withdrawal of assistance from
South Korea (see Foreign Policy and Defense).
Kim Jong-Un becomes new leader
In December 2011, Kim Jong-Il died in a heart attack,
69 years old. The scene had already been prepared for
his youngest son Kim Jong-Un, barely 30 years old, to
take over. He had already received prominent posts when
the party held its first major meeting in 30 years in
2010. Soon he was appointed chairman of the party's
central military commission, chairman of the National
Defense Commission (see Political system) and first
secretary of the party.
The world hopes that the change of leadership would
lead to greater openness and less confrontation soon
came to shame. In April 2012, Pyongyang launched a
long-range rocket to deploy a satellite into space.
However, the launch was a failure as the rocket crashed
shortly after takeoff. The reactions around the world
became strong, because it was all seen as a disguised
attempt to test a long-range weapon. The United States
immediately broke an agreement to provide North Korea
with extensive food assistance against the termination
of its nuclear weapons and missile program.
In December 2012, North Korea launched a new rocket
launch, this time successfully. The condemnations became
sharp in the outside world and the UN Security Council
decided to extend the existing sanctions against North
Korea. When North Korea tested a nuclear weapon for the
third time in February 2013, the UN responded with new
sanctions. Strict restrictions were imposed on goods
imports and financial transactions as well as travel
bans for leading persons.
There were no signs of major political course
changes. But in the spring of 2013, at the urging of Kim
Jong-Un, the party adopted a new political development
which prioritized not only the nuclear weapons program
and the military, as in the military's first policy, but
also the country's economy.