The first recorded kingdom (Choson) on the Korean Peninsula dates from approximately 2300 B.C. Over the subsequent centuries, three main kingdoms - Kogoryo, Paekche, and Silla - were established on the Peninsula. By the 5th century A.D., Kogoryo emerged as the most powerful, with control over much of the Peninsula, as well as part of Manchuria (modern-day northeast China). However, Silla allied with the Chinese to create the first unified Korean state in the late 7th century (688). Following the collapse of Silla in the 9th century, Korea was unified under the Koryo (Goryeo; 918-1392) and the Chosen (Joseon; 1392-1910) dynasties. Korea became the object of intense imperialistic rivalry between the Chinese (its traditional benefactor), Japanese, and Russian empires in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Following the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), Korea was occupied by Imperial Japan. In 1910, Japan formally annexed the entire peninsula. After World War II, Korea was split along the 38th parallel with the northern half coming under Soviet-sponsored communist control.
In 1948, North Korea (formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or DPRK) was founded under President KIM Il Sung, who consolidated power and cemented autocratic one-party rule under the Korean Worker's Party (KWP). After the Korean War (1950-53), during which North Korea failed to conquer UN-backed South Korea (formally the Republic of Korea or ROK), North Korea demonized the US as the ultimate threat to its social system through state-funded propaganda and molded political, economic, and military policies around the core ideological objective of eventual unification of Korea under Pyongyang's control. North Korea also declared a central ideology of juche ("self-reliance") as an internal check against outside influence while continuing to rely heavily on China and the Soviet Union for economic support. Establishing a policy of hereditary succession in North Korea, KIM Il Sung's son, KIM Jong Il, was officially designated as his father's successor in 1980, assuming a growing political and managerial role until the elder KIM's death in 1994. Under KIM Jong Il's reign, North Korea continued developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. KIM Jong Un was publicly unveiled as his father's successor in 2010. Following KIM Jong Il's death in 2011, KIM Jong Un quickly assumed power and has since occupied the regime's highest political and military posts.
After the end of Soviet aid in 1991, North Korea faced serious economic setbacks that exacerbated decades of economic mismanagement and resource misallocation. Since the mid-1990s, North Korea has faced chronic food shortages and economic stagnation. In recent years, the North's domestic agricultural production has improved, but still falls far short of producing sufficient food to provide for its entire population. Starting in 2002, North Korea began to tolerate semi-private markets but has made few other efforts to meet its goal of improving the overall standard of living. New economic development plans in the 2010s failed to meet government-mandated goals for key industrial sectors, food production, or overall economic performance. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, North Korea instituted a nationwide lockdown that has severely restricted its economy and international engagement. Since then, leader KIM Jong Un has repeatedly expressed concerns with the regime's economic failures and food problems, but in 2021 vowed to continue "self-reliant" policies and has reinvigorated his pursuit of greater regime control of the economy. As of 2023, despite slowly renewing cross-border trade, North Korea remains one of the World's most isolated and one of Asia's poorest countries.
North Korea has a history of provocative regional military actions and posturing that are of major concern to the international community and have limited North Korea’s international engagement, particularly economically. These include proliferation of military-related items; ballistic and cruise missile development and testing; WMD programs including tests of nuclear devices in 2006, 2009, 2013, 2016, and 2017; and large conventional armed forces. Following a period of heightened tensions between North Korea and the US in 2017, KIM in 2018 announced a pivot towards diplomacy, including a re-prioritization of economic development, a pause in missile testing beginning in late 2017, and a refrain from anti-US rhetoric starting in June 2018. However, despite high-level efforts to ease tensions during the 2018-19 timeframe, including summits with the leaders of China, South Korea, and the US, North Korea continued developing its WMD programs and, in recent years, issued statements condemning the US and vowing to further strengthen its military capabilities, including long range missiles and nuclear weapons.
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NOTE: The information regarding Korea North on this page is re-published from the 2023 World Fact Book of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and other sources. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Korea North 2023 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Korea North 2023 should be addressed to the CIA or the source cited on each page.
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