U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: North Korea, June 1996
Released by the Bureau of Public Affairs

Official Name: Democratic People's Republic of Korea



Area: 120,410 sq. km. (47,000 sq. mi.), about the size of Mississippi.
Cities: Capital--Pyongyang. Other cities--Hamhung, Chongjin, 
Wonsan, Nampo, and Kaesong.
Terrain: About 80% of land area is moderately high mountains 
separated by deep, narrow valleys and small, cultivated plains. The 
remainder is lowland plains covering small, scattered areas.
Climate: Long, cold, dry winters; short, hot, humid, summers.

People *

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Korean(s).
Population: 23 million.
Annual growth rate: About 2%.
Ethnic groups: Korean; small Chinese and Japanese populations.
Religions: Buddhism, Shamanism, Chongdogyo, Christian; religious 
activities have been virtually nonexistent since 1945.
Language: Korean.
Education: Years compulsory--11. Attendance--3 million (primary, 1.5 
million; secondary, 1.2 million; tertiary, 0.3 million). Literacy--90%.
Health: Medical treatment is free; one doctor for every 700 inhabitants; 
one hospital bed for every 350. Infant mortality rate--27/1,000. Life 
expectancy--males 66 yrs., females 73 yrs.


Type: Highly centralized communist state.
Independence: September 9, 1948.
Constitution: 1972; reportedly revised in 1992.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state); premier (head of 
government). Legislative--Supreme People's Assembly. Judicial--
Supreme Court; provincial, city, county, and military courts.
Subdivisions: Nine provinces; four province-level municipalities 
(Pyongyang, Kaesong, Chongjin, Nampo); one free trade zone (Najin-
Sonbong FTZ).
Political party: Korean Workers' Party (communist).
Suffrage: Universal at 17.

Economy *

GNP (1991): $22.5 billion; 30% is agriculture, 31% is mining and 
manufacturing, and 39% is services and other.
Per capita GNP (1991): $1,038.
Agriculture: Products--rice, corn, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, 
Mining and manufacturing: Types--steel, cement, textiles, 
petrochemicals, machines.
Trade (1990): Exports--$1.95 billion; machinery and equipment, 
military hardware, iron, steel, metal ores, nonferrous metals, 
nonmetallic minerals, textile fibers. Imports--$2.85 billion: textiles, 
petroleum, coking coal, grain. Major partners--Russia, China, Japan, 
Hong Kong, European countries. These figures do not include trade 
with South Korea.
Exchange rate (August 1995)--2.02 won=U.S.$1.

* In most cases, the figures used above are estimates based upon 
incomplete data and projections.


The United States does not maintain any diplomatic, consular, or trade 
relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K., or 
North Korea). Negotiations are ongoing to implement a provision of 
the 1994 agreed framework between the U.S. and D.P.R.K. for an 
exchange of diplomatic missions at the liaison office level.

On September 20, 1995, a consular protecting power arrangement was 
implemented, allowing for consular protection by the Swedish embassy 
of U.S. citizens traveling in North Korea. The Swedish embassy in 
Pyongyang is not authorized to issue U.S. visas. U.S. citizens and 
residents wishing to travel to North Korea must obtain visas in third 

There are no U.S. Government restrictions on travel by private U.S. 
citizens to North Korea. However, they may only spend money in 
North Korea to purchase items related to travel. In addition, $100 
worth of merchandise for personal use may be brought back into the 
United States as unaccompanied baggage. (Also see Travel and 
Business Information.)

North Korea has been included on the U.S. list of states supporting 
international terrorism since January 1988, after North Korean agents 
bombed a South Korean airliner--KAL flight 858--on November 29, 
1987, causing the deaths of 115 people.

U.S. law prohibits almost all financial and commercial transactions 
with North Korea by persons or firms subject to U.S. jurisdiction. 
Exceptions were made in 1988 for informational material and 
commercial export of goods meeting basic human needs. Export of 
goods, whether as a sale or donation, requires a specific license by the 
U.S. Treasury Department. Under the 1994 agreed framework, the 
United States is committed to further easing of its sanctions on North 
Korea as progress is made in implementing the framework.

The U.S. seeks progress from North Korea in the following areas as 
being necessary for improved bilateral relations: credible 
condemnations of terrorism, dialogue between North and South Korea 
on the future and possible reunification of the Korean peninsula; 
nuclear matters, return of the remains of U.S. military personnel 
missing in action during the Korean war, and greater respect for human 
rights. The U.S. also has expressed concern about North Korea's export 
of ballistic missiles and related technology, and the North Korean 
conventional military threat.

U.S. Support for North-South Reunification

The United States supports the peaceful reunification of Korea--divided 
following World War II--on terms acceptable to the Korean people and 
recognizes that the future of the Korean peninsula is primarily a matter 
for them to decide. The U.S. believes that a constructive and serious 
dialogue between the authorities of North and South Korea is necessary 
to resolve the issues on the peninsula, and that concrete steps to 
promote greater understanding and reduce tension are needed to pave 
the way for reunifying the Korean nation. The U.S. remains prepared to 
participate in negotiations between North and South Korea if so desired 
by the two Korean Governments and provided that both are full and 
equal participants in any such talks.

On the basis of these principles, on April 16, 1996, President Clinton 
and South Korean President Kim Young Sam proposed to convene a 
"Four Party Meeting" of representatives of South Korea, North Korea, 
the United States, and the People's Republic of China as soon as 
possible, without preconditions. The purpose of this meeting would be 
to initiate a process aimed at replacing the current military armistice 
agreement with a permanent peace. In framing this proposal, the U.S. 
and South Korea took the D.P.R.K.'s expressed concerns into account. 
The main difference between this proposal and North Korean proposals 
is that the D.P.R.K. wishes to negotiate only with the U.S. This is not 
feasible, as the establishment of a permanent peace is primarily the 
responsibility of the Korean people--North and South.

Recognizing that the North's isolation is an inherently destabilizing 
factor in the Northeast Asia region and an impediment to the peaceful 
reunification of Korea, the United States encourages the D.P.R.K. to 
adopt policies that will help bring it more fully into the world 
community. To advance this goal--and in support of South Korean 
President Roh Tae Woo's 1988 reunification initiatives (see, under 
Foreign Relations, Reunification Efforts Since 1971)--the U.S. 
Government on October 31, 1988, announced the following steps 
regarding relations with the D.P.R.K.:

--Authorized U.S. diplomats to hold substantive discussions with 
D.P.R.K. officials in neutral settings;
--Encouraged unofficial, nongovernmental visits from the D.P.R.K. in 
academics, sports, culture, and other areas;
--Facilitated the travel of U.S. citizens to the D.P.R.K. by permitting 
travel services for exchanges and group travel on a case-by-case basis; 
--Permitted certain commercial exports to the D.P.R.K. of goods that 
meet basic human needs (food, clothing, medical supplies, etc.) on a 
case-by-case basis.

As a result, there have been cultural, academic, and diplomatic 
exchanges between the two countries. From January 1989 to May 
1993, U.S. and North Korean officials met 33 times in Beijing, China. 
The first political-level meeting between the U.S. and the D.P.R.K. 
occurred on January 22, 1992, between U.S. Under Secretary of State 
Arnold Kanter and Korean Workers' Party Secretary Kim Yong Sun. 
Both sides outlined their policies toward bilateral and inter-Korean 

U.S. Efforts on Denuclearization

North and South Korea had begun talks in 1990 which resulted in a 
1991 denuclearization accord (see, under Foreign Relations, 
Reunification Efforts Since 1971). Lack of progress on implementation 
of this accord triggered actions on both sides that led to North Korea's 
March 12, 1993, announcement of its withdrawal from the Nuclear 
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The UN Security Council on May 11 
passed a resolution urging the D.P.R.K. to cooperate with the 
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and to implement the 
1991 North-South denuclearization accord. It also urged all member 
states to encourage the D.P.R.K. to respond positively to this 
and to facilitate a solution.

The U.S. responded by holding political-level talks with the D.P.R.K. 
in early June 1993 that led to a joint statement outlining the basic 
principles for continued U.S.-D.P.R.K. dialogue and North Korea's 
"suspending" its withdrawal from the NPT. A second round of talks 
was held July 14-19, 1993, in Geneva. The talks set the guidelines for 
resolving the nuclear issue, improving U.S.-North Korean relations, 
and restarting inter-Korean talks, but further negotiations deadlocked. 

Following the D.P.R.K.'s spring 1994 unloading of fuel from its five-
megawatt nuclear reactor, the resultant U.S. push for UN sanctions, and 
former U.S. President Carter's June 1994 visit to Pyongyang, a third 
round of talks between the U.S. and the D.P.R.K. opened in Geneva on 
July 8, 1994. The talks were recessed upon news of the July death of 
North Korean President Kim Il Sung, then resumed in August. On 
October 21, 1994, representatives of the United States and the D.P.R.K. 
signed an agreed framework for resolving the nuclear issue.

The 1994 framework calls for the following steps.

--North Korea agreed to freeze its existing nuclear program under 
enhanced IAEA safeguards.
--Both sides agreed to cooperate to replace the D.P.R.K.'s graphite-
moderated reactors for related facilities with light-water (LWR) power 
--The two sides agreed to move toward full normalization of political 
and economic relations.
--Both sides will work together for peace and security on a nuclear-free 
Korean peninsula.
--Both sides agreed to work together to strengthen the international 
nuclear non-proliferation regime.

In accordance with the terms of the 1994 framework, the U.S. 
Government in January 1995 responded to North Korea's decision to 
freeze its nuclear program and cooperate with U.S. and IAEA 
verification efforts by easing economic sanctions against North Korea 
in four areas through:

--Authorizing transactions related to telecommunications connections, 
credit card use for personal or travel-related transactions, and the 
opening of journalists' offices;
--Authorizing D.P.R.K. use of the U.S. banking system to clear 
transactions not originating or terminating in the United States and 
unblocking frozen assets where there is no D.P.R.K. Government 
--Authorizing imports of magnesite, a refractory material used in the 
U.S. steel industry--North Korea and China are the world's primary 
sources of this raw material; and
--Authorizing transactions related to future establishment of liaison 
offices, case-by-case participation of U.S. companies in the light water 
reactor project, supply of alternative energy, and disposition of spent 
nuclear fuel as provided for by the agreed framework, in a manner 
consistent with applicable laws.

Despite this, smooth implementation of the 1994 agreed framework 
was obstructed for a time by North Korea's refusal to accept South 
Korean-designed LWR model reactors. U.S. and D.P.R.K. negotiators 
met for three weeks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and on June 12, 1995, 
reached an accord resolving this issue.

North Korea agreed to accept the decisions of the Korean Peninsula 
Energy Development Organization (KEDO) with respect to the model 
for the LWRs and agreed that KEDO would select a prime contractor 
to carry out the LWR project. The KEDO executive board announced 
that it had selected the South Korean-designed Ulchin 3-4 LWR as the 
reference model for the project and that a South Korean firm would be 
the prime contractor. The South Korean prime contractor would be 
responsible for all aspects of the LWR project including design, 
manufacture, construction, and management. In this Kuala Lumpur 
accord to the 1994 Geneva agreed framework, the D.P.R.K. also agreed 
to negotiate directly with KEDO on all outstanding issues related to the 
LWR project.

On December 15, 1995, KEDO and the D.P.R.K. signed the Light 
Water Reactor Supply Agreement. KEDO teams have also made a 
number of trips to North Korea to survey the proposed reactor site; in 
the spring of 1996, KEDO and the D.P.R.K. began negotiations on 
implementing protocols to the supply agreement.

Historical and Cultural Highlights

The Korean peninsula was first populated by peoples of a Tungusic 
branch of the Ural-Altaic language family who migrated from the 
northwestern regions of Asia. Some of these peoples also populated 
parts of northeast China (Manchuria); Koreans and Manchurians still 
show physical similarities. 

Koreans are racially and linguistically homogeneous. Although there 
are no indigenous minorities in North Korea, there is a small Chinese 
community (about 50,000) and some 1,800 Japanese wives who 
accompanied the roughly 93,000 Koreans returning to the North from 
Japan during 1959-62.

Korean is a Ural-Altaic language and is related to Japanese and 
remotely related to Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, and Mongolian. 
Although dialects exist, the Korean spoken throughout the peninsula is 
mutually comprehensible. In North Korea, the Korea alphabet (hangul) 
is used exclusively, unlike in South Korea, where a combination of 
hangul and Chinese characters is used as the written language.

Korea's traditional religions are Buddhism and Shamanism. Christian 
missionaries arrived as early as the 16th century, but it was not until 
the 19th century that they founded schools, hospitals, and other modern 
institutions throughout Korea. Major centers of 19th-century 
missionary activity included Seoul and Pyongyang, and there was a 
relatively large Christian population in the north before 1945. Although 
religious groups exist in North Korea, most available evidence suggests 
that the government severely restricts religious activity.

According to legend, the god-king Tangun founded the Korean nation 
in 2333 BC. By the first century AD, the Korean peninsula was divided 
into the kingdoms of Silla, Koguryo, and Paekche. In 668 AD, the Silla 
kingdom unified the peninsula. The Koryo dynasty--from which 
Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century derived the Western name 
"Korea"--succeeded the Silla kingdom in 935. The Choson dynasty, 
ruled by members of the Yi clan, supplanted Koryo in 1392 and lasted 
until the Japanese annexed Korea in 1910.

Throughout most of its history, Korea has been invaded, influenced, 
and fought over by its larger neighbors. Korea was under Mongolian 
occupation from 1231 until the early 14th century and was plundered 
by Japanese pirates in 1359 and 1361. The unifier of Japan, Hideyoshi, 
launched major invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597. When Western 
powers focused "gunboat" diplomacy on Korea in the mid-19th 
century, Korea's rulers adopted a closed-door policy, earning Korea the 
title of "Hermit Kingdom."

Though the Choson dynasty paid fealty to the Chinese court and 
recognized China's hegemony in East Asia, Korea was independent 
until the late 19th century. At that time, China sought to block growing 
Japanese influence on the Korean peninsula and Russian pressure for 
commercial gains there. This competition produced the Sino-Japanese 
War of 1894-95 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. Japan 
emerged victorious from both wars and in 1910 annexed Korea as part 
of the growing Japanese empire.

Japanese colonial administration was characterized by tight control 
from Tokyo and ruthless efforts to supplant Korean language and 
culture. Organized Korean resistance during the colonial era--such as 
the March 1, 1919, Independence Movement--was unsuccessful, and 
Japan remained firmly in control until the end of World War II in 1945.

Japan surrendered in August 1945, and Korea was liberated. However, 
the unexpectedly early surrender of Japan led to the immediate division 
of Korea into two occupation zones, with the U.S. administering the 
southern half of the peninsula and the U.S.S.R taking over the area to 
the north of the 38th parallel. This division was meant to be temporary 
and to facilitate the Japanese surrender until the U.S., U.K., Soviet 
Union, and China could arrange a trusteeship administration.

At a meeting in Cairo, it was agreed that Korea would be free "in due 
course;" at a later meeting in Yalta, it was agreed to establish a four-
power trusteeship over Korea. In December 1945, a conference 
convened in Moscow to discuss the future of Korea. A five-year 
trusteeship was discussed, and a joint Soviet-American commission 
was established. The commission met intermittently in Seoul but 
deadlocked over the issue of establishing a national government. In 
September 1947, with no solution in sight, the United States submitted 
the Korean question to the UN General Assembly.

Initial hopes for a unified, independent Korea quickly evaporated as the 
politics of the Cold War and domestic opposition to the trusteeship 
plan resulted in the 1948 establishment of two separate nations with 
diametrically opposed political, economic, and social systems and the 
outbreak of war in 1950 (see, under Foreign Relations, Korean War of 


North Korea's faltering economy and the breakdown of trade relations 
with the countries of the former socialist bloc--especially following 
fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the 
Soviet Union--have confronted Pyongyang with difficult policy 
choices. Other centrally planned economies in similar difficulties have 
opted for domestic economic reform and liberalization of trade and 
investment.  Despite its recent moves toward limited economic 
opening, North Korea's leadership seems determined to maintain tight 
political and ideological control.

About 80% of North Korea's terrain consists of moderately high 
mountain ranges and partially forested mountains and hills separated 
by deep, narrow valleys and small, cultivated plains. The most rugged 
areas are the north and east coasts. Good harbors are found on the 
eastern coast. Pyongyang, the capital, near the country's west coast, is 
located on the Taedong River.

Although most North Korean citizens live in cities and work in 
factories, agriculture remains a rather high 30% of total GNP, although 
output has recently been falling. While trade with the South has 
expanded since 1988, no physical links between the two remain, and 
the infrastructure of the North is generally poor and outdated.

North Korea suffers from chronic food shortages, which were 
exacerbated by record floods in the summer of 1995. In response to 
international appeals, the United States, from September 1995 through 
June 1996, has provided four tranches of humanitarian aid totaling $8.5 
million for international agencies' relief activities in the D.P.R.K.

Colonial Rule and Postwar Division

Beginning in the mid-1920s, the Japanese colonial administration 
concentrated its industrial development efforts in the comparatively 
underpopulated and resource-rich northern portion of Korea, resulting 
in a considerable movement of people northward from the agrarian 
southern provinces of the Korean peninsula.

This trend was reversed after the end of World War II, when more than 
2 million Koreans moved from North to South following the division 
of the peninsula into Soviet and American military zones of 
administration. This southward exodus continued after the 
establishment of the D.P.R.K. in 1948 and during the 1950-53 Korean 
war. The North Korean population is now 21.8 million, compared with 
44.5 million in South Korea.

The post-World War II division of the Korean peninsula resulted in 
imbalances of natural and human resources, with disadvantages for 
both the North and the South. By most economic measures, after 
partition the North was better off in terms of industry and natural 
resources. The South, however, had two-thirds of the work force. In 
1945, about 65% of Korean heavy industry was in the North but only 
31% of light industry, 37% of agriculture, and 18% of the peninsula's 
total commerce.

North and South both suffered from the massive destruction caused 
during the Korean war. In the years immediately after the war, North 
Korea mobilized its labor force and natural resources in an effort to 
achieve rapid economic development. Large amounts of aid from other 
communist countries, notably the Soviet Union and China, helped the 
regime achieve a high growth rate in the immediate postwar period.

Efforts at Modernization

During the early 1970s, North Korea, probably noting the more rapid 
economic development of the South, attempted a large-scale 
modernization program through the importation of Western 
technology, principally in the heavy industrial sectors of the economy. 
Unable to finance its debt through exports that shrank steadily after 
the worldwide recession stemming from the oil crisis of the 1970s, the 
D.P.R.K. became the first communist country to default on its loans 
from free market countries.

In 1979, North Korea was able to renegotiate much of its international 
debt, but in 1980 it defaulted on all of its loans except those from 
Japan. By the end of 1986, the North's hard-currency debt had reached 
more than $4 billion. It also owed nearly $2 billion to communist 
creditors. The Japanese also declared the North in default. By 1993, 
North Korea's debt was estimated at $10 billion.

Largely because of these debt problems but also because of a 
prolonged drought and mismanagement, North Korea's industrial 
growth slowed and per capita GNP fell below that of the South. By the 
end of 1979, per capita GNP in the North was about one-third of that in 
the South. The causes for this relatively poor performance are complex, 
but a major factor is the disproportionately large percentage of GNP 
(possibly as much as 25%) that the North devotes to the military.

In April 1982, Kim Il Sung announced a new economic policy giving 
priority to increased agricultural production through land reclamation, 
development of the country's infrastructure--especially power plants 
and transportation facilities--and reliance on domestically produced 
equipment. There was also more emphasis on trade.

In September 1984, North Korea promulgated a joint venture law to 
attract foreign capital and technology. The new emphasis on expanding 
trade and acquiring technology, however, was not been accompanied 
by a shift in priorities away from support of the military. Today, North 
Korea has an international trade share--exports plus imports--of 12% of 
GNP, well below South Korea's figure of 55%.

In 1991, the D.P.R.K. announced the creation of a Special Economic 
Zone (SEZ) in the northeast regions of Najin, Chongjin, and Sonbong. 
Investment in this SEZ has been slow in coming. Problems with 
infrastructure, bureaucracy, and uncertainties about investment security 
and viability have hindered growth and development.

Most recently, the D.P.R.K. announced in December 1993 a three-year 
transitional economic policy placing primary emphasis on agriculture, 
light industry, and foreign trade.

North-South Economic Ties

The two Koreas have begun to develop economic ties. Following a 
1988 decision by the South Korean Government to allow trade with the 
D.P.R.K. (see, under Foreign Relations, Reunification Efforts Since 
1971), South Korean firms began to import North Korean goods. 
Direct trade with the South began in the fall of 1990 after the 
unprecedented September 1990 meeting of the two Korean Prime 
Ministers. Trade between the countries increased from $18.8 million in 
1989 to $174 million in 1992.

During this period, the chairman of the South Korean company 
Daewoo--Kim Woo Choong--visited the North, and an agreement was 
created to build a light industrial complex at Nampo. In other 
negotiations, there were discussions to develop tourism and build road 
and rail links in Korea. Economic contacts continued to develop until 
the spring of 1993, when North Korea's withdrawal from the NPT 
slowed the expansion of North-South economic cooperation.

South Korean President Kim Young Sam prohibited substantial direct 
investment in the North until the nuclear issue was resolved, although 
inter-Korean trade continued, with South Korea becoming one of the 
D.P.R.K.'s largest trading partners. With the signing of the U.S.-
D.P.R.K. agreed framework on October 21, 1994, President Kim 
announced he would again allow discussions for investments.


North Korea has a centralized government under the rigid control of 
the communist Korean Worker's Party (KWP), which all government 
officials belong to. A few minor political parties are allowed to exist 
in name only, presumably to present a facade of representative 
government to the outside world. Kim Il Sung, commonly referred to 
as "Great Leader," dominated the government from 1948 until his 
death in July 1994. Kim served both as Secretary General of the KWP 
and as President of North Korea.

Little is known about the actual lines of power and authority in the 
North Korean Government despite the formal structure set forth in the 
constitution. Following the death of Kim Il Sung, his son--Kim Jong Il-
-appears to have inherited supreme power. However, 11/2 years after 
his father's death, Kim Jong Il has not formally assumed Kim Il Sung's 
two main titles: North Korean President and Secretary General of the 

An inner core of ranking members of the Korean Workers' Party, 
including an increasing number of Kim Jong Il's followers, dominates 
the political system and the economy through an elaborate party 
structure and through the civilian and military bureaucracies. A 
pervasive personality cult has developed around Kim Jong Il, who was 
groomed for many years to succeed his father. Kim's continuing media 
buildup suggests that he eventually will succeed his father in one or 
both of his positions.

North Korea's 1972 constitution was reportedly amended in late 1992, 
but the D.P.R.K. has never publicized the changes. The government is 
led by the president and, in theory, a super-cabinet called the Central 
People's Committee (CPC).

The constitution designates the CPC as the government's top 
policymaking body. It is headed by the president, who also nominates 
the other committee members. The CPC makes policy decisions and 
supervises the cabinet, or State Administration Council (SAC). The 
SAC is headed by a premier and is the dominant administrative and 
executive agency.

Officially, the legislature, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), is the 
highest organ of state power. Its members are elected every four years. 
Usually only two meetings are held annually, each lasting a few days. 
A standing committee elected by the SPA performs legislative 
functions when the Assembly is not in session. In reality, the Assembly 
serves only to ratify decisions made by the ruling KWP.

North Korea's judiciary is "accountable" to the SPA and the president. 
The SPA's standing committee also appoints judges to the highest court 
for four-year terms that are concurrent with those of the Assembly.

Administratively, North Korea is divided into nine provinces and four 
provincial-level municipalities--Pyongyang, Chongjin, Nampo, and 
Kaesong. It also appears to be divided into nine military districts.

Principal Party and Government Officials

Kim Jong Il--KWP Politburo Standing Committee member; KWP 
Secretary; Supreme Commander of the People's Armed Forces; 
Chairman of the National Defense Commission; son of Kim Il Sung 
and de facto heir.
Kang Song San--SAC Premier; KWP Politburo member
Kim Yong Nam--Foreign Minister; SAC Vice Premier; KWP Politburo 
Kim Hyong U--Ambassador to the UN


North Korea's relationship with the South has informed much of its 
post-World War II history and still drives much of its foreign policy. 
North and South Korea have had a difficult and acrimonious 
relationship in the four decades since the Korean war.

North Korea occupies the northern portion of a mountainous peninsula 
projecting southeast from China, between the Sea of Japan and the 
Yellow Sea. Japan lies east of the peninsula across the Sea of Japan. 
North Korea shares borders with the People's Republic of China along 
the Yalu River and with China and Russia along the Tumen River.

The military demarcation line (MDL) of separation between the 
belligerent sides at the close of the Korean war forms North Korea's 
boundary with South Korea. A demilitarized zone (DMZ) extends for 
2,000 meters (just over one mile) on either side of the MDL. Both the 
North and South Korean Governments hold that the MDL is only a 
temporary administrative line, not a permanent border.

During the postwar period, both Korean Governments have repeatedly 
affirmed their desire to reunify the Korean peninsula, but until 1971, 
the two governments had no direct, official communications or other 
contact. They have yet to have a presidential-level summit. During 
former U.S. President Carter's 1994 visit, Kim Il Sung agreed to a 
ever North-South summit. The two sides went ahead with plans for a 
meeting in July but had to shelve it because of Kim's death.

Korean War of 1950-53

As noted, differences developed after World War II over the issue of 
establishing a Korean national government. The Soviet Union and 
Korean authorities in the North refused to comply with the UN General 
Assembly's November 1947 resolution on elections and blocked entry 
of the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea into the North.

Despite this refusal, elections were held in the South under UN 
observation, and on August 15, 1948, the Republic of Korea was 
established in the South. Syngman Rhee, a Korean nationalist leader, 
became the Republic's first president. On September 9, 1948, the North 
established the Democratic People's Republic of Korea headed by then-
Premier Kim Il Sung, known for his anti-Japanese guerrilla activities in 
Manchuria during the 1930s. Both administrations claimed to be the 
only legitimate government on the peninsula.

After the establishment of the two states, South Korea experienced 
several violent uprisings by indigenous, pro-North Korean leftist 
guerrillas. As Soviet troops left in late 1948 and U.S. troops in the 
spring of 1949, border clashes along the 38th parallel intensified.

North Korean forces invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. The 
United Nations, in accordance with the terms of its Charter, engaged in 
its first collective action, and established the UN Command (UNC), to 
which 16 member nations sent troops and assistance. Next to South 
Korea, the United States contributed the largest contingent of forces to 
this international effort. The battle line fluctuated north and south, 
and after large numbers of Chinese "People's Volunteers" intervened to 
assist the North, the battle line stabilized north of Seoul near the 
38th parallel.

Armistice negotiations began in July 1951, but hostilities continued 
until July 27, 1953. On that date, at Panmunjom, the military 
commanders of the North Korean People's Army, the Chinese People's 
Volunteers, and the UNC signed an armistice agreement. Neither the 
United States nor South Korea is a signatory to the armistice per se, 
although both adhere to it through the UNC.

The armistice called for an international conference to find a political 
solution to the problem of Korea's division. This conference met at 
Geneva in April 1954 but, after seven weeks of futile debate, ended 
without agreement or progress. No comprehensive peace agreement 
has replaced the 1953 armistice pact; thus, a condition of belligerency 
still exists on the peninsula.

Reunification Efforts Since 1971

In August 1971, North and South Korea agreed to hold talks through 
their respective Red Cross societies with the aim of reuniting the many 
Korean families separated following the division of Korea and the 
Korean war. After a series of secret meetings, both sides announced on 
July 4, 1972, an agreement to work toward peaceful reunification and 
an end to the hostile atmosphere prevailing on the peninsula. Officials 
exchanged visits, and regular communications were established 
through a North-South coordinating committee and the Red Cross.

However, these initial contacts broke down and ended in 1973 
following South Korean President Park Chung Hee's announcement 
that the South would seek separate entry into the United Nations and 
after the kidnapping from Tokyo of South Korean opposition leader 
Kim Dae Jung by the South Korean intelligence service. There was no 
other significant contact between North and South Korea until 1984.

The breakdown of these talks characterized the intermittent nature of 
inter-Korean dialogue. Basic differences in approach--North Korea 
insisting on immediate steps toward reunification before discussing 
specific, concrete issues and South Korea maintaining that, given the 
long history of mutual distrust, reunification must be a gradual, step-
by-step process--made improved North-South relations an elusive aim.

Dialogue was renewed on several fronts in September 1984, when 
South Korea accepted the North's offer to provide relief goods to 
victims of severe flooding in South Korea. Red Cross talks to address 
the plight of separated families resumed, as did talks on economic and 
trade issues and parliamentary-level discussions. However, the North 
then unilaterally suspended all talks in January 1986, arguing that the 
annual U.S.-South Korea "Team Spirit" military exercise was 
inconsistent with dialogue. There was a brief flurry of negotiations on 
cohosting the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which ended in failure and was 
followed by the 1987 KAL flight 858 bombing.

In a major initiative in July 1988, South Korean President Roh Tae 
Woo called for new efforts to promote North-South exchanges, family 
reunification, inter-Korean trade, and contact in international forums. 
Roh followed up this initiative in a UN General Assembly speech in 
which South Korea offered for the first time to discuss security matters 
with the North.

Initial meetings that grew out of Roh's proposals started in September 
1989. In September 1990, the first of eight prime minister-level 
meetings between North Korean and South Korean officials took place 
in Seoul, beginning an especially fruitful period of dialogue. The prime 
ministerial talks resulted in two major agreements: the Agreement on 
Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchanges, and Cooperation (the 
"basic agreement") and the Declaration on the Denuclearization of the 
Korean Peninsula (the "joint declaration").

The basic agreement--signed on December 13, 1991--calling for 
reconciliation and nonaggression established four joint commissions. 
These commissions--on South-North reconciliation, South-North 
military affairs, South-North economic exchanges and cooperation, and 
South-North social and cultural exchange--were to work out the 
specifics for implementing the general terms of the basic agreement. 
Subcommittees to examine specific issues were created, and liaison 
offices were established in Panmunjom, but in the fall of 1992, the 
process came to a halt because of rising tension over the nuclear issue.

The joint declaration on denuclearization was initialed on December 
31, 1991. It forbade both sides to test, manufacture, produce, receive, 
possess, store, deploy, or use nuclear weapons and forbade the 
possession of nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities. 
A procedure for inter-Korean inspection was to be organized and a 
North-South Joint Nuclear Control Commission (JNCC) was mandated 
with verification of the denuclearization of the peninsula.

On January 30, 1992, the D.P.R.K. also signed a nuclear safeguards 
agreement with the IAEA, as it had pledged to do in 1985 when 
acceding to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This safeguards 
agreement allowed IAEA inspections to begin in June 1992. In March 
1992, the JNCC was established in accordance with the joint 
declaration, but subsequent meetings failed to reach agreement on the 
main issue of establishing a bilateral inspection regime.

As the 1990s progressed, concern over the North's nuclear program 
became a major issue in North-South relations and between North 
Korea and the U.S. The lack of progress on implementation of the joint 
nuclear declaration's provision for an inter-Korean nuclear inspection 
regime led to reinstatement of the U.S.-South Korea Team Spirit 
military exercise for 1993. The situation worsened rapidly when North 
Korea, in January 1993, refused IAEA access to two suspected nuclear 
waste sites and then announced in March 1993 its intent to withdraw 
from the NPT. During the next two years, the U.S. held direct talks 
with the D.P.R.K. that resulted in a series of agreements on nuclear 
matters (see, under U.S. Policy Toward North Korea, U.S. Efforts on 

Defense and Military Issues

North Korea now has the fourth-largest army in the world. The North 
has an estimated 1.2 million armed personnel, compared to about 
650,000 in the South. Military spending equals 20-25% of GNP, with 
about 20% of men ages 17-54 in the regular armed forces. North 
Korean forces have a substantial numerical advantage over the South 
(approximately 2 or 3 to 1) in several key categories of offensive 
weapons--tanks, long-range artillery, and armored personnel carriers.

The North has perhaps the world's second-largest special operations 
force (55,000), designed for insertion behind the lines in wartime. 
While the North has a relatively impressive fleet of submarines, its 
surface fleet has a very limited capability. Its aging air force has 
twice  the number of aircraft as the South; but except for a few advanced 
fighters, the North's air force is obsolete. The North--like the South--
deploys the bulk of its forces well forward, along the DMZ. Several 
North Korean military tunnels under the DMZ were discovered in the 

In 1953, the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) was created to 
oversee and enforce the terms of the armistice. The Neutral Nation 
Supervisory Committee (NNSC)--originally made up of delegations 
from Poland and Czechoslovakia on the D.P.R.K.-Chinese People's 
Volunteers side and Sweden and Switzerland on the UN side--monitors 
the activities of the MAC.

In recent years, North Korea has sought to dismantle the MAC in a 
push for a new "peace mechanism" on the peninsula. In April 1994, it 
declared the MAC void and withdrew its representatives. Prior to this, 
it had forced the Czechs out of the NNSC by refusing to accept the 
Czech Republic as the successor state to Czechoslovakia, an original 
member of the NNSC. In September 1994, at the D.P.R.K.'s urging, 
China "recalled" the Chinese People's Volunteers representatives to the 
MAC, and in early 1995, North Korea forced Poland to remove its 
representatives to the NNSC from the North Korean side of the DMZ.

In April 1996, the D.P.R.K. declared that it would no longer fulfill its 
obligation under the military armistice agreement to maintain the 
DMZ. This was followed by three nights of minor incursions into the 
northern sector of the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom, after which 
the situation returned to normal.

Also over the last several years, North Korea has moved even more of 
its rear-echelon troops to hardened bunkers closer to the DMZ. Given 
the proximity of Seoul to the DMZ (some 25 miles), South Korean and 
U.S. forces are likely to have little warning of any attack. The United 
States and South Korea continue to believe that the U.S. troop presence 
remains an effective deterrent against North Korean aggression.

Relations Outside the Peninsula

After 1945, the Soviet Union supplied the economic and military aid 
that enabled North Korea to mount its invasion of the South in 1950. 
Soviet aid and influence continued at a high level during the Korean 
war; as mentioned, the Soviet Union was largely responsible for 
rebuilding North Korea's economy after the cessation of hostilities. In 
addition, the assistance of Chinese "volunteers" during the war and the 
presence of these troops until 1958 gave China some degree of 
influence in North Korea. In 1961, North Korea concluded formal 
mutual security treaties with the Soviet Union (inherited by Russia) and 
China, which have not been formally ended.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the establishment of diplomatic relations 
between the United States and China, the Soviet-backed Vietnamese 
occupation of Cambodia, and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan 
created strains between China and the Soviet Union and, in turn, in 
North Korea's relations with its two major communist allies. North 
Korea tried to avoid becoming embroiled in the Sino-Soviet split, 
obtaining aid from both the Soviet Union and China and trying to avoid 
dependence on either. Following Kim Il Sung's 1984 visit to Moscow, 
there was a dramatic improvement in Soviet-D.P.R.K. relations, 
resulting in renewed deliveries of advanced Soviet weaponry to North 
Korea and increases in economic aid.

The establishment of diplomatic relations by South Korea with the 
Soviet Union in 1990 and with the PRC in 1992 put a serious strain on 
relations between North Korea and its traditional allies. Moreover, the 
fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the disintegration of 
the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in a significant drop in communist 
aid to North Korea. Despite these changes and its past reliance on this 
military and economic assistance, North Korea proclaims a militantly 
independent stance in its foreign policy in accordance with its official 
ideology of juche, or self-reliance.

At the same time, North Korea maintains membership in a variety of 
multilateral organizations. It became a member of the UN in September 
1991. North Korea also belongs to  the Food and Agriculture 
Organization; the International Civil Aviation Organization; the 
International Postal Union; the UN Conference on Trade and 
Development; the International Telecommunications Union; the UN 
Development Program; the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural 
Organization; the World Health Organization; the World Intellectual 
Property Organization; the World Meteorological Organization; the 
International Maritime Organization; the International Committee of 
the Red Cross; and the Nonaligned Movement.


The D.P.R.K. is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since 
1987, when KAL 858 was bombed in flight. The D.P.R.K. has made 
several statements condemning terrorism, most recently a May 1994 
Foreign Ministry spokesman statement "opposing any act encouraging 
and supporting terrorism." The D.P.R.K. and South Korea pledged in 
their 1991 reconciliation agreement to "refrain from all acts destroying 
and overthrowing the other side" and not use arms against one another. 
North Korea appears to be respecting a promise to the Philippine 
Government to suspend its support for the communist New People's 

Normalization talks with Japan have been complicated by North 
Korea's refusal to respond to questions concerning the status of a 
Korean resident of Japan allegedly kidnapped by North Koreans in the 
1980s to teach Japanese to D.P.R.K. agents. Pyongyang continues to 
provide sanctuary to members of the Japanese Communist League-Red 
Army Faction who participated in the hijacking of a Japan Airlines 
flight to North Korea in 1970.


The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program 
provides Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel 
Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that 
Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Consular Information 
Sheets exist for all countries and include information on immigration 
practices, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of 
crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the 
posts in the subject country. They can be obtained by telephone at 
(202) 647-5225 or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the Consular 
Affairs Bulletin Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a modem 
with standard settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications on 
obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are available from 
the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, 
Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800. 

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may 
be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers 
for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 
(404) 332-4559 gives the most recent health advisories, immunization 
recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking 
water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled Health 
Information for International Travel (HHS publication number CDC-
95-8280, price $14.00) is available from the U.S. Government Printing 
Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800. 

U.S. passports are valid for travel to North Korea. Further information 
on entry requirements may be available from the North Korean mission 
to the UN in New York; otherwise, such information and visas are 
available from North Korean consulates in countries which maintain 
diplomatic relations with the D.P.R.K.

There is no U.S. embassy or consulate in North Korea. The 
Government of Sweden, acting through its embassy in Pyongyang, 
serves as the interim consular protecting power for the U.S. 
Government in North Korea. The Swedish embassy is located at 
Daedonggang District, Pyongyang; tel. and fax: 850-2-381-7258.

Further Electronic Information:

Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the 
CABB provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and 
helpful information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of 
charge to anyone with a personal computer, modem, 
telecommunications software, and a telephone line.

Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the 
Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. 
foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes 
Background Notes; Dispatch, the official weekly magazine of U.S. 
foreign policy; daily press briefings; directories of key officers of 
foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at 
http://www.state.gov; this site has a link to the DOSFAN Gopher 
Research Collection, which also is accessible at 

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly 
basis by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on 
the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an 
array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. 
Priced at $80 ($100 foreign), one-year subscriptions include four discs 
(MSDOS and Macintosh compatible) and are available from the 
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. 
Box 37194, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 
or fax (202) 512-2250.

Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy 
information also is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S. 
Government Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387. 
For general BBS information, call (202) 512-1530.

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department 
of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related 
information, including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on 
the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB 
Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.

Additional Resources

Available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government 
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402:

Library of Congress. North Korea: A Country Study. 1994
Department of State. The Record on Korean Unification 1943-1960. 
Department of the Army. Communist North Korea: A Bibliographic 
Survey. 1971.

The following titles are provided as a general indication of the 
published on this country. The Department of State does not endorse 
unofficial publications.

Baldwin, Frank, ed. Without Parallel: The American-Korean 
Relationship Since 1945. New York: Pantheon Books, 1974.
Barnds, William J. The Two Koreas in East Asian Affairs. New York: 
New York University Press, 1976.
Bucher, Lloyd M. Bucher: My Story. New York: Doubleday, 1970.
Chung, Joseph S. The North Korean Economy: Structure and 
Development. Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1974.
Clough, Ralph. Embattled Korea: The Rivalry for International 
Support. Colorado: Westview Press, 1987.
Cumings, Bruce. The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. 1. Princeton: 
Princeton University Press, 1981.
________. The Origins of the Korean War, Vol. 2. Princeton: 
Princeton University Press, 1990.
Eckert, Carter, Ki-Baik Lee, Young Ick Lew, Michael Robinson, and 
Edward W. Wagner. Korea Old and New: A History. Seoul: Ilchokak 
Publishers for Harvard University Press, 1990.
Foot, Rosemary. The Wrong War: American Policy and the 
Dimensions of the Korean Conflict, 1950-53. Ithaca: Cornell 
University Press, 1985.
Han, Woo-kuen. The History of Korea. Honolulu: East-West Center 
Press, 1971.
Henderson, Gregory. Korea: The Politics of the Vortex. Cambridge: 
Harvard University Press, 1968.
Henthorn, William. History of Korea. New York: The Free Press, 
Hwang, In K. The Neutralized Unification of Korea. Cambridge: 
Schenkman, 1980.
Kihl, Young Hwan. Politics and Policies in Divided Korea. Colorado: 
Westview Press, 1984.
Kim, Hak-joon. The Unification Policy of South and North Korea, 
1948-1976: A Comparative Study. Seoul: Seoul National University 
Press, 1977.
Kim, Ilpyong J. Communist Politics in North Korea. New York: 
Praeger, 1975.
Kim, Joungwon Alexander. Divided Korea: The Politics of 
Development 1945-1972. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976.
Kim, Young C. and Abraham M. Halpern. The Future of the Korean 
Peninsula. New York: Praeger, 1976.
Koh, Byung Chul. The Foreign Policy Systems of North and South 
Korea. Berkeley: University of California, 1984.
________. The Foreign Policy of North Korea. New York: Praeger, 
Lee, Chong-sik. Korean Workers' Party: A Short History. Stanford: 
Hoover Institution Press, 1978.
________. Materials on Korean Communist 1945-1947. Honolulu: 
Center for Korean Studies, University of Hawaii, 1977.
________. The Politics of Korean Nationalism. Berkeley: University of 
California Press, 1963.
Lee, Chong-sik and Se-Hee Yoo, ed. North Korea in Transition. 
Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, 1991.
Lee, Ki-baik. A New History of Korea. Cambridge: Harvard University 
Press, 1984.
MacDonald, Donald S. The Koreans: Contemporary Politics and 
Society. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988.
Merrill, John. Korea: The Peninsular Origins of the War. Newark: 
University of Delaware Press, 1988.
Nahm, Andrew C. North Korea: Her Past, Reality, and Impression. 
Kalamazoo: Center for Korean Studies, Western Michigan University, 
Paige, Glenn D. The Korean Decision. New York: The Free Press, 
________. Korean People's Democratic Republic. Stanford: Hoover 
Institution Press, 1966.
Palais, James B. Politics and Policy in Traditional Korea. Cambridge: 
Harvard University Press, 1976.
Ridgeway, Matthew B. Korean War. New York: Doubleday, 1964.
Scalapino, Robert A. and Jun-yop Kim, eds. North Korea Today: 
Strategic and Domestic Issues. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian 
Studies, 1983.
________. and Chong-sik Lee. Communism in Korea. 2 vols. 
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972.
Suh, Dae-sook. Kim Il Sung: A Biography. Honolulu: University of 
Hawaii Press, 1989.
________. The Korean Communist Movement, 1918-1948. Princeton: 
Princeton University Press, 1966.
________ and Lee, Chong-sik. Political Leadership in Korea. Seattle: 
University of Washington Press, 1976.
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