It’s been a slow burn on the Korean peninsula to get to where we are today. Let’s go back in time to see how we got here.
How did the aggression with North Korea start?
Back in 1945, World War II had just ended. Japan no longer ruled Korea. The peninsula was split into two parts. The Soviet Union was in the North, and the U.S. was in the South. Three years later in 1948, Kim Il Sung became the Soviet-backed leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or North Korea. Kim was in power all through the Korean War (1950-1953).
Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, North Korea ramped up its industrial and defense ambitions. According to CIA documents, North Korea commandos were being sent across the border to South Korea. The commandos’ mission was to destabilize the South Korean government.
Why does North Korea see the U.S. as a threat?
In 1983 the U.S. invaded Grenada. The Reagan-era military policy and the Grenada invasion drove North Korea to develop nuclear weapons. North Korea thought the U.S., a committed ally to South Korea, could eventually train its sights on North Korea. By 1986 North Korea had a research nuclear reactor.
By 1993 North Korea fired a medium-range ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan. In 1994, President Clinton struck a deal with North Korea called “The Agreed Framework.” This same year Kim Il Sung’s son Kim Jung Il took the throne. The agreement shut down the North’s nuclear program in exchange for two things: 1. Oil and 2. Diplomatic relations, or so we thought. In 1995 North Korea founded another covert nuclear program.
How did things with North Korea get worse?
Things kick into overdrive here. In 1996 North Korea sent troops into the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The DMZ is the 200 mile, 2 miles wide heavily fortified border separating North Korea and South Korea. In 1998 North Korea fired a long-range rocket over Japan.
In 2000 the Clinton administration’s deal fell apart when President George W. Bush was elected. In 2002 North Korea kicked out United Nations inspectors and reactivated a nuclear facility. By 2003 North Korea had enough plutonium for six nuclear bombs.
In 2003 Muammar Gaddafi disarmed Libya’s nuclear program. No doubt Kim watched the deposed leader of Libya be captured and killed eight years later. Lesson learned was give up your nukes, and you give up your power. North Korea saw disarmament as an “invasion tactic” of the west.
In 2006 a new test was done in an underground facility sparking new sanctions by the U.N. These tests and provocations continued until Kim’s death in 2011.
Where are we now with North Korea?
His son Kim Jong Un has stepped up the nuclear program ever since. He has accelerated the program faster than anyone ever expected. Kim now has long-range missiles with nuclear warheads. These nuclear missiles threaten the U.S. and several allies in the region.
If we agree to peace talks with North Korea that is the same thing as saying we accept that are going to be a nuclear power with intercontinental ballistic missiles. A nuclear North Korea is unacceptable because North Korea is unpredictable.
The next play is in the hands of the North Koreans.
Behnke, A. (2008). Kim Jong Il’s North Korea. Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publishing Group.