"North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il's death opens a period of intense danger and risk, but also potentially enormous opportunity for America and its allies. Kim's health had obviously been poor for some time, and his regime has worked to ensure an orderly transition to his son, Kim Jong Eun. The Kim family and its supporters, with everything obviously at stake, will work strenuously to convey...
America and North Korea
Prior to WWII, Korea had spent several decades under repressive Japanese occupation. Following the Russo-Japanese war (1904-1905), Russia and Japan debated splitting Korea into two nations. Just 40 years later a very similar idea was proposed. This time it was carried out. After the Allies won World War II, the Korean peninsula was partitioned into two separate nations along the 38th parallel. By 1947 the Republic of Korea was formed in the south and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north. The agreement left the Soviet Union in charge of the North, while the South would be administered by the United States. Very few Koreans were in favor of splitting the country and in the few years following the 38th parallel partition both sides made attempts to reunify the country. Due to the animosity between each of the administering nations the attempts were unsuccessful.
On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. To this day, it claims that the United States was the first aggressor. With the backing of the United Nations, the United States came to the aid of South Korea, sending large numbers of ground troops to the peninsula. On the other side, the North Koreans had strong support from the Chinese and Soviets. After three years of fighting across the Korean peninsula and eventual stalemate along the 38th parallel, a cease-fire armistice was signed between the belligerents. And despite those three years, the 38th parallel, with a heavily secured and defended demilitarized zone (DMZ), would once again split the two nations. Unknown to many around the world due to the relative peace in the region over the last fifty years, the Korean War has technically never ended. Even in the absence of a full-scale war, the North and South are still at such odds that an official peace agreement has yet to be signed.
Paving the road for this seemingly perpetual divide have been North Korea's ostentatious and brazen leaders. Beginning with Kim Il-Sung's dictatorship in 1972, the Kim dynasty has remained in place. This form of Communism is based on the "Juche Idea." This ruling philosophy stresses national independence and a belief that man determines everything. It also preaches the superiority of the Korean people. This has aided in keeping the North Korean people enigmatically supportive of the repressive regime as well as isolated from the rest of the world. His son, Kim Jong-Il took over after his father's death in 1994. Kim Jong-un recently succeeded his father in December 2011.
Because of this ongoing war the United States is still helping to protect the South Koreans, while also hoping to foment an eventual reunification under a strong democracy. Roughly 30,000 American soldiers, working together with the large and advanced South Korean military, are currently stationed there.
Though receiving some economic and military aid from a several other countries, North Korea no longer has the type of alliance that it had during the beginning of the war. However, this has done little to deter the country from building a massive army, developing and testing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, and using bellicose language against South Korea and the United States. In the face of strong international criticism, North Korean leaders have shown very few signs of wanting to end the war or even devise a compromise. The words of North Korean Kim Myon-chol underscore the continued hostility:
"On detecting the slightest signs that the US intends to launch a first strike, Kim [Jong-il] would order his armed forces to move first and blaze key US metropolitan targets with high-precision nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), several exploding at high altitudes. It goes without saying that operating nuclear power stations would be prime targets, sitting ducks."
In the wake of Kim Jong-il's death in December 2011, many observers expressed uncertainty as to which direction his son and successor Kim Jong-un would take the country. With the dictator gone, South Koreans and their allies have reason to hope for at least more peaceful and diplomatic relations, perhaps even reunification. But very little is known about Kim Jong-un, and early signs seem to indicate that the nations may still be far from reaching true peace.
The greatest international fear and inhibitor to eventual peace is North Korea's further expansion of its nuclear ambitions. On a domestic level, its extreme isolation and secrecy has added to the haunting mystery of North Korea. It is unknown as to whether Kim Jon-un will continue or even exacerbate the repressive policies of his predecessors. In light of this, people all over the world look on and hope for economic and political liberalization and freedom for the long-oppressed North Korea people.
Currently, there is no consensus among North Korea's adversaries as to what action should be taken. Because of North Korea's attempts to run its dictatorship through fear and vaunting, as well as its acts of verbal and physical aggression against South Korea and the United States, there have been several instances that could have escalated in military action. In both South Korea and the United States, there are those who call for retaliatory action against North Korea. Others argue that, much like the case of the Soviet Union, the world must simply remain calm for the communist system to collapse without a bloody war.
This section explores the unfortunate status quo in the region and the different possible solutions. As tensions remain with military threats against the US or its allies, understanding our historical relationship with North Korea is the first step toward deciding how this delicate situation might be resolved.
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