Korea has been referred to as the "Hermit Kingdom"
for centuries due to what Westerners perceived as a preference for isolation among the Korean people... a preference taken to historic extremes by Kim Il Sung
. Kim, known as the Great Leader, set up a Stalinist government in northern Korea leading to a war with the southern half of the country in 1953.
The Korean War:
The war, really a Cold War battle between global Communism and Western forces, has never officially ended. There was a cease fire which divided the country at the 38th parallel creating one of the most heavily armed borders in the world.
Kim Il Sung demanded total allegiance and cult-like adoration from his people. He died in 1994, and son Kim Jong Il
(known as the Dear Leader) picked up right where his father left off.
Besides being a brutal, authoritarian regime which has left its population among the poorest and hungriest on the planet, the government of North Korea has been openly belligerent toward the rest of the world. In order to get food (or merely to get attention) North Korea will, at times, launch missile tests which fly over Japan or kick international inspectors out of its nuclear power facilities.
North Korea and Nukes:
The world has long worried that North Korea has actually made nuclear weapons. In 2005, the government announced they did indeed possess "the bomb" and were not afraid to use it or sell it to other "outposts of tyranny." On October 9, 2006
North Korea conducted an underground test of a nuclear device.
North Korea is said to have installed heavy artillery all along the border with South Korea
. These guns are ready to reign destruction down on Seoul and other South Korean cities. This capability, and North Korea's unpredictability, mean the United States has to think twice before bombing North Korea's nuclear facilities or taking any other provocative action.
Outpost of Tyranny AND Axis of Evil:
When Condoleezza Rice appeared at her Senate confirmation hearings
to become Secretary of State she said, "To be sure, in our world there remain outposts of tyranny -- and America stands with oppressed people on every continent -- in Cuba, and Burma, and North Korea, and Iran, and Belarus, and Zimbabwe."
North Korea, along with Iran, is one of only two countries to be named both an "Axis of Evil" (in President George Bush's 2002 State of the Union address) AND an "Outpost of Tyranny."
Victory for Diplomacy?:
made in the "Six Party Talks
" (the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Russia, China, and Japan) in February 2007, North Korea has closed its only operating nuclear reactor. The United States and North Korea are even on a path to normal diplomatic relations
. And the United States is set to drop North Korea
from the list of state-sponsors of terrorism. South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun made a very rare visit to North Korea
in October 2007 where the countries announced agreements
including a pledge to formally end the Korean War, new economic cooperation, and direct transportation links.