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    Japan annexed Korea as part of its empire in 1910 after it won the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95 and Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05. Korea had been under the Japanese control until the end of World War II in 1945. The surrender of Japan in August 1945 led to the immediate division of Korea into two occupation zones, with the United States administering the southern half of the peninsula and the Soviet Union taking over the area to the north of the 38th parallel. This division was meant to be temporary until the United States, United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China could arrange a trusteeship administration. But initial hopes for a unified 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: the Republic of Korea in the South and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north. Both governments claimed the peninsula, and relations became strained. After several border clashes, North Korean troops invaded the south in June 1950, which started the Korean War that lasted for three years. An armistice ended the war in 1953, but a permanent peace treaty has never been signed.

    After the Korean War, North Korea adopted a policy of diplomatic and economic self-reliance as a check against outside influence. As such, North Korea is one of the world's most centrally-planned and isolated economies. Decades of the rigid state-controlled system and adherence to the philosophy of self-reliance have destroyed the country’s economy, and large scale military spending has eaten into resources needed for investment and consumer industries. The country suffers from chronic food shortages caused by natural disasters and economic mismanagement. Since the mid-1990s, North Korea has been dependent on foreign aid to feed millions of its people.

    In July 2006, North Korea test fired a number of short-range missiles. Diplomatic efforts aimed to rein in North Korea's nuclear ambitions, and North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for aid. It shut down the Yongbyon nuclear reactor in July 2007. But tensions between North Korea and the rest of the world have again increased steadily since  2008.  The leadership by the highly flamboyant and volatile Kim Jong-il have been cause for concern as regards global security.  His death in 2011 and succession by the even more flamboyant and volatile Kim Jong-un has done nothing to quiet the fears of the rest of the global community about North Korea's threat to global security.

    Editor's Note on North Korea's Nuclear Test History:

    In October 2006, North Korea said it intended to test a nuclear weapon.  Despite strenuous urging by the international community, including China, that North Korea not follow this course, North Korea carried out a test of a nuclear weapon. The international community responded to North Korea’s announcement with widespread condemnation and a punitive United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing financial and security sanctions.

    Resolution  1718 called for  the inspections on cargo going to and from North Korea to search for weapons, a ban on the sale or transfer of materials related to North Korea's unconventional weapons program, and a freeze on the transfer of funds connected with North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The resolution was passed under Chapter Seven, Article 41, of the United Nations Charter; however, absent from Resolution 1718 was the Chapter Seven provision that would enforce the sanctions via military force. For its part,  the North Korean government in Pyongyang decried Resolution 1718,  and warned that subsequent pressure by the United States would be regarded as  "a declaration of war."

    April 2009 saw North Korea take provocative action by launching a communications satellite into space via rocket.  That claim was widely viewed as obfuscation of a missile test.  Then a month later in May 2009, less than three years after the earlier underground nuclear test, North Korea conducted a second such test, arguing the merits of its right to a military deterrent. Days later, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the armistice that ended the Korean War.

    At the international level, the United Nations Security Council noted that the 2009 nuclear test by North Korea was a violation of Security Council Resolution 1718, which prohibits Pyongyang from carrying out nuclear tests.  In response, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1874 in June 2009 -- a month after the underground nuclear test.  The resolution was passed under Chapter Seven, Article 41, of the United Nations Charter, and imposed further economic and commercial sanctions on North Korea.  Additionally,  it encouraged United Nations member states to search North Korean cargo in the effort to enforce those sanctions.

    It should be noted that the nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 constituted unassailable violations of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1718  and  1874, which exist in tandem with Article 41 of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter and compel compliance by all member states. They are binding under international law.   The 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests were also breaches of  the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  The apparent nuclear test on Feb. 12, 2013 would also stand as a flagrant violation of that treaty.

    In March 2013, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2094 censuring North Korea for its February  nuclear test and imposing an even stricter sanctions regime on that country.  The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the unanimous adoption of the resolution delivered a strong message to North Korea that its pursuit of nuclear weapons would not be tolerated by the international community.  Still, North Korea responded in April 2013 by cutting off its connections with South Korea, ending its armistice, threatening to re-open its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, and issuing brazen threats against South Korea and the United States.

    By May 2013, the political climate appeared to have cooled.  In June 2013, there was a bizarre mix of progress and retreat on the diplomatic front as the two Koreas  planned and then cancelled bilateral negotiations; however, North Korea then proposed direct talks with the United States.  In August  2013 through September 2013, the two Koreas finally agreed to re-open operations at the jointly-administered Kaesong industrial zone. But once again, there was a mix of progress and retreat as by September 2013, signs pointed to the fact that operations were being restarted at North Korea's Yongbyon reactor.

    The first part of 2014 was marked by a flurry of brazen activity by North Korea in the form of ballistic missile tests, threats of a "new form" nuclear test, and the exchange of fire with South Korean forces in the flashpoint disputed maritime region. Later in 2014, North Korea fired short range missiles on various occasions coinciding with visits to South Korea by world leaders, such as Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pope Francis.  In early 2015, with joint military exercises looming between the United States and South Korea, North Korea launched anti-ship missiles from hoverships. North Korea's news agency  published images showing  the hoverships launching a so-called "cutting-edge anti-ship rocket” that would be used to secure the contested marine border with South Korea.

    It was to be seen if these  latest moves were  acts  of belligerence aimed at improving North Korea's negotiating position for the future, or, if they were intended to be blatant and irrational acts of provocation.



    Government Structure

    conventional long form: 
    Democratic People's Republic of Korea

    conventional short form:
    North Korea

    local long form:

    local short form:

    Communist totalitarian state led by a personalist, autocratic leader

    Executive Branch:
    Head of state:
    Kim Jong-un (since Dec. 2011 when the younger son succeeded long serving Kim Jong-il after his death)

    On Dec. 19, 2011, it was announced that North Korea's mercurial and autocratic leader, Kim Jong-il, had died. Blamed for keeping North Koreans on the brink of starvation, the nation on the edge of economic collapse, and the global community in a state of anxiety over the country's nuclear program, Kim Jong- il was believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008. Since then, his health was regarded to be in a state of decline.  The North Korean leader's actual death took place two days earlier on Dec. 17, 2011, when Kim Jong-il was reportedly on a train trip -- his preferred means of transportation.  His death was described as being due to "great mental and physical strain" as the North Korean leader was participating in a field guidance tour. Known as "Dear Leader" to the North Korean people, the rule of Kim Jong- il can well be viewed as one of the remaining "cults of personality" in the modern world.

    Attention quickly turned to who would fill the power chasm. To that end, the known "great successor" to stand at the helm of the country was Kim Jong- un -- the son of Kim Jong-il, whom had been promoted to the rank of general in the Korean People's Army more than a year earlier. At that time in September 2010, the companion news involved Kim Jong- il's sister, Kim Kyong Hui, who had also been promoted and was regarded as a possible caretaker leader after in post- Kim Jong-il era. Of course, in December 2011, there was almost no mention of Kim Kyong Hui; instead, the international media was focused on the little-known Kim Jong-un. Educated in Switzerland and believed to be in his late 20s, Kim Jong Un was Kim Jong-il's third son; Kim Jong-un had been chosen as a successor partially because his disposition was regarded as more suitable for the post of leader than his older brothers.

    At home in North Korea, citizens were urged to hold steadfast in their loyalty to Kim Jong-un. . As reported by the New York Times, North Korean television broadcast images of the country's senior military leaders saluting Kim Jong-un  as he received mourners at a mausoleum, where the body of Kim Jong-il laid in state.  The particular imagery was ostensibly intended to show that Kim Jong-un had gained the allegiance of North Korea's powerful military. Ultimately, Kim Jong-un would have to consolidate his power both symbolically and practically, or he could be relegated to a figurehead role at the helm of a ruling  military cadre.  But speculation on that score came to a close at the end of the year when  Kim Jong-un was offically named supreme commander of the country's armed forces. That particular appointment was made in accordance with provisions set forth in Kim Jong-il's will.

    The last election was held in April 2012; election results: KIM Jong Un elected

    Head of government:
    Premier Pak Pong-ju (since April 2013)

    Naegak (cabinet) members, except for Minister of People's Armed Forces, are appointed by SPA

    Legislative Branch:
    Unicameral Supreme People's Assembly (Ch'oego Inmin Hoeui):
    687 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms

    Last held March 2014 (next to be held in March 2019)

    Election results:
    percent of vote by party -

    seats by party - 
    NA; ruling party approves a list of candidates who are elected without opposition; a token number of seats are reserved for minor parties

    Judicial Branch:

    Central Court, judges are elected by the Supreme People's Assembly

    Adopted 1948, completely revised Dec. 27, 1972, revised again in April 1992 and in 1998.

    Legal System:
    Based on Prussian civil law system with Japanese influences and communist legal theory; no judicial review of legislative acts; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

    Administrative Divisions:

    9 provinces (do, singular and plural) and 4 municipalities (si, singular and plural)

    Provinces -
    Chagang-do (Chagang), Hamgyong-bukto (North Hamgyong), Hamgyong-namdo (South Hamgyong), Hwanghae-bukto (North Hwanghae), Hwanghae-namdo (South Hwanghae), Kangwon-do (Kangwon), P'yongan-bukto (North P'yongan), P'yongan-namdo (South P'yongan), Yanggang-do (Yanggang)

    Municipalites -  
    Kaesong-si (Kaesong), Najin Sonbong-si (Najin), Namp'o-si (Namp'o), P'yongyang-si (Pyongyang)

    Political Parties:
    major party -
    Korean Workers' Party or KWP

    minor parties - 
    Chondoist Chongu Party  (under KWP control), Social Democratic Party  (under KWP control)

    17 years of age; universal

    Key Data

    Notable Cities


    Other Key Data

    Region : Asia
    Population :  25,248,140
    Area Total :  120,540
    Area Land :  120,410
    Coast Line :  2,495
    Capital :  Pyongyang
    Climate :  Temperate with rainfall concentrated in summer
    Languages :  Korean
    Currency :  1 Wn = 100 chon
    Holiday :  DPRK Foundation Day is 9 September (1948), Liberation Day (from Japanese Rule) is 15 August (1945)st

    Average Daily Temperature

    January : Data Unavailable
    July : Data Unavailable
    Annual Rainfall : mm / 36.1"



    Ethnic Divisions

    Koreans : 100.00 %


    Buddhism and Confucianism : %
    some Christianity and Chondogyo : %

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