Since its inception, the North Korean regime has been a formidable opponent of the United States, and that trajectory doesn’t seem to be coming to an end soon. With the recent announcement of an opening of dialogue between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, many have called into question the rocky relationship between the two nations since the Korean War. If this meeting comes to fruition, President Trump will be the first sitting president to meet with a North Korean leader. Let’s break down the history between the United States and North Korea.

End of World War II

The timeline of relations between the United States and North Korea began at the end of World War II when the peninsula was liberated from Japanese control. Eventually, at the height of the communism scare in the 1940s and 1950s, the peninsula was divided along the 38th parallel. The newly formed North Korea was headed by the Soviet-backed Kim Il-Sung, known as the “Great Leader.” The Korean War led to the creation of the demilitarized zone, or the DMZ, that still separates the two countries today.

After Korean War

After the war, the United States helped to rebuild South Korea, while China and Russia helped to rebuild the North. This is where the beginning of the war on nuclear weapons starts. In 1985, after being pressured from Russia, North Korea signed the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, in 1993, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, accused the North of violating the treaty. Later in 2006, the North conducts its first underwater nuclear weapons test.

An important note, diplomacy was attempted on multiple occasions between the two countries, and thus far to no avail. The Clinton Administration attempted negotiations in 1994, choosing diplomacy over a plan to bomb North Korea’s nuclear plant at Yongbyon. During this time, Kim Il-Sung’s son, Kim Jong-il, took over. They signed the Agreed Framework, which began the process of freezing and eventually dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons facilities. When the Bush Administration took power, the United States took a hard-line approach to relations with North Korea, thus ending the agreement. In 2003, North Korea left the Non-Proliferation Treaty. By 2006, the North conducted its first nuclear test.

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Test of first nuclear weapon

In October of 2006, with heightened tensions, the North tested its first weapon, albeit a very small one. North Korea blamed U.S. rhetoric for their eventual deployment of the bomb. After this initial test, tensions fizzled slightly during the remainder of the Bush Administration. During this time, North Koreans are living under economic and commercial sanctions implemented by the United Nations.

Obama administration

During the Obama Administration, North Korea tested its second nuclear weapon in 2009. Kim Jong-Un becomes leader in 2012 after the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il. A third nuclear test is conducted in 2013. Accusations fly between the United States and North Korea after the Sony breach of 2014, followed by added U.S. sanctions on North Koreans. The strategy toward North Korea during the Obama years was known as “Strategic Patience”.


Fast forward to 2017, and North Korea tests a weapon that many believe could reach Alaska. Increased missile tests in the Pacific get close to the U.S. territory of Guam prompting heightened tensions. Within the past year, North Korea has carried out its sixth, and most powerful, nuclear test to date. Tensions appeared to simmer during the recent Winter Olympics in South Korea. 

In an ever changing and evolving political landscape, no one truly knows what will come of these proposed talks between the United States and North Korea. The West has attempted in the past to bring peace and lessen tensions on the Korean peninsula, to no avail. If these talks do happen, they will certainly be unprecedented, and the Trump Administration will be navigating through uncharted waters. Yet, the world is optimistic for a peaceful resolution to the decades long battle for nuclear power and prominence.

Joleen T
FFL Contributor
Joleen is a Contributor at FFL. She enjoys reading, going to Chipotle, and drinking copious amounts of coffee. You can find her at the library, or studying for the LSAT. Her goal is to become a lawyer, and eventually run for public office. Her role models are Nikki Haley and Sandra Day O’Connor.

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