The Korean War began on June 25, 1950 when North Korea launched an invasion of South Korea. After the engaged forces seesawed up and down the peninsula, it concluded in a military stalemate on July 27, 1953. An armistice agreement ended the fighting, no final peace treaty has ever been signed. A heavily fortified line running along the 38th parallel continues to divide the countries of North and South Korea. In South Korea today, approximately 10 million people live in the range of the North’s massive border concentration of artillery and other weapons.
After the war ended, North and South Korea followed different paths politically and economically. South Korea, slightly larger than the state of Indiana, has population of 51.1 million. Since the end of the war, South Korea has made great strides in the economic sphere. Its economy now ranks among the top 15 in the world. South Korea’s per capita GDP computed at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) is roughly $39,400. North Korea is a bit larger than Virginia. It has a population of approximately 25.2 million. Although militarily proficient, North Korea has the unenviable distinction of having the most centrally controlled economy in the world. Its per capita GDP (PPP) is estimated to be around $1,800. The unemployment rate is estimated to be in 25 percent range. Among the world’s economies, North Korea’s ranks near the bottom.
Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s tyrannical leader, is about 34 years of age. He has been in power as the Supreme Leader of North Korea since 2011. Mr. Kim uses purges and executions liberally to ensure his fearsome hold on power remains unchallenged. Although he has held the top job for some time, Mr. Kim has never met a foreign head of state. Even though its economy is wretched, North Korea has put much of its resources into nuclear and intercontinental missile programs.
North Korea began testing missiles in 1993 and has made steady improvements in their capacity and range. North Korea tested six nuclear weapons between 2006 and 2017, one of which may have been a hydrogen bomb. As the country’s nuclear and missile capabilities increase, anxieties regarding North Korea’s intentions grow in the region and the United States. North Korea’s missiles now pose a threat to Japan, Guam, Hawaii and possibly the continental U.S.
What are Mr. Kim’s goals? To drive the U.S. out of South Korea and unify the peninsula under the rule of the North Korean government? Or some other sinister objective? After more than 60 years of military deadlock, it seems highly unlikely that the immense nuclear and missile undertakings can be interpreted as an added deterrent to aggression from South Korea. As North Korea’s increasing sophistication in nuclear bomb building and delivery systems intensifies concern in the United States, the use of military action to control North Korea’s expanding nuclear arsenal is being mulled over in American governmental agencies.
The United States has assured China that its goal is the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and not to change the government of North Korea. In China, the North Korean nuclear issue is becoming a distraction from other priorities. Will the growing problem cause China to crack down on its infuriating neighbor? The ruling class in economically inept North Korea is wedged between a prosperous South Korea and a growing China. Is one of their goals to obtain monetary aid and other economic concessions? Will the increasingly strict international economic sanctions be able to bring about a change in North Korean nuclear policy? Can Mr. Kim’s nuclear ambitions be curtailed or is he totally deaf to reason? An enlarging group of apprehensive governments are looking for answers to these and other questions.