U.S. Policy Towards North Koreaby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
How have relations between the United States and North Korea changed over time?
Historically, the main point of contention lies in the forced separation between the democratic government in South Korea and the communist government in North Korea. The stability U.S. relations with North Korea are closely tied to how stable relations are between North Korea and South Korea. Ever since the Korean War, the communist government of North Korea has remained fairly hostile to the known world in general and the U.S. in particular. While U.S. officials still do not consider North Korea a friendly nation, the policy of dealing with North Korea has changed over the decades from one of force, as seen during the Korean War, to one of diplomacy, as seen in more recent years. While the overall object of America’s policy, the reunification of North and South Korea, has not changed, the means by which American politicians and diplomats seek to do so have indeed changed over time.
In June of 1950, when the North Korean regime under Kim Il-Sung sought to conquer all of Korea, the U.S. entered the war in an effort to stop the spread of communism in that area. At this point, while America’s usual policy towards communist governments was one of containment, the open aggression by Kim Il-Sung moved the United States to actively attempt to halt the growth of communism in Korea, especially in light of Kim’s support from communist-controlled countries such as China and the Soviet Union. Under General MacArthur, the U.S. forces forced the North Korean army back. However, when the troops crossed the 38th Parallel, the line that divided North and South Korean territory, China entered the fray, sending the People’s Volunteer Army over the China-Korean border to force the U.S. and South Korean troops back. By the time the war finally ended in 1953, the 38th Parallel once again separated the two Koreas. Although the United States government intended to bring an end to communism in North Korea, the military muscle of China prevented this policy from succeeding.
Though the U.S. merely signed an armistice rather than a real peace treaty with North Korea after the war, its policy towards the country changed. Instead of actively trying to overthrow the regime, the United States government adopted a policy of containing communism and keeping it from spreading to other countries. The logic for this kind of thinking explains how the U.S. dealt with communism in other parts of the world, such as Vietnam. But the situation in Korea starkly illustrated this policy, with both North and South Korea heavily guarding the 38th parallel with heavy military force. Although the U.S. initially aided this guard effort to prevent another attack from North Korea, President Nixon pulled out a division of American troops from South Korea in 1970 in an attempt to encourage negotiations between the two Koreas. This effort failed to cause any real unification, and during the Carter administration the U.S. abandoned its policy of withdrawing troops to improve relations with North Korea. However, the policy enacted by Nixon began America’s trend of trying to deal with North Korea through diplomatic channels rather than military strength.
Throughout the 1980s, relations between North Korea and the U.S. began to take on a new diplomatic form when North Korea called for three-way talks between the two Koreas and the United States. But while many meetings took place between the three nations, no real action was taken to actually improve relations. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) also did its part to aid U.S. efforts; after all, the communist government of China is as supportive of North Korea as the U.S. is supportive of the South Korean democracy. Although neither these talks nor any other meetings of multiple nations have had any drastic effect on improving the U.S.-North Korean relationship, they did have the effect of establishing the current U.S. policy of peace talks.
But while the diplomatic approach to dealing with North Korea continued throughout the 1990s and up through 2005, two issues that would severely exacerbate the situation forced the U.S. to alter the tone of its diplomacy: North Korea’s nuclear program, and their treatment of human rights. From 1992 to 1993, a series of peace talks led to an agreement to de-nuclearize both Koreas, in light of how nuclear weapons could cause the situation to spiral out of control. Although North Korea agreed to halt its pursuit of nuclear weaponry, it later went back on its promise and began harvesting plutonium with the intention of building nuclear weapons. Though Kim Jong-Il, the current communist dictator of North Korea, claimed to do so in response to American hostility, the prospect of nuclear weapons being available to North Korea proved an alarming development. Another key issue with North Korea lies in the fact that North Korea has and still does rule with its people with astonishing tyranny. Freedom of speech or freedom of the press simply does not exist, and the regime under Kim Jong-Il brutally cracks down on any North Korean who dares oppose it. Because of the absolute control of the economy by the regime, famine has taken a severe toll on the North Korean population. In light of the appalling human rights violations acted out by Kim Jong-Il’s government, the U.S. under President Bush began to treat North Korea with more sternness than in previous diplomatic efforts.
And thus has the history of the relationship between the United States and North Korea led up to today’s policy of dealing with North Korea through diplomatic channels, but firmly nevertheless. In 2005, the U.S. sought six-party peace talks with North Korea, while North Korea demanded one-on-one talks with the U.S. Certainly, North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weaponry has not helped matters, and there certainly is no love lost between Kim Jong-Il and G.W. Bush Presidential administration. President Bush has frequently denounced Kim Jong-Il for his treatment of his own people, while Kim Jong-Il recently called President Bush “a half-baked man” and Vice President Cheney a “bloodthirsty beast.” Despite these high tensions, U.S. officials hold on to hopes of handling North Korea non-violently. All in all, America has sought the same goal in dealing with North Korea throughout the years: peaceably uniting it with South Korea.
1. “The Korean War,” North Korea, Library of Congress Studies 1993, http://lcweb2.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?frd/cstdy:@field(DOCID+kp0024)
2. “North Korea International Relations,” Country Studies,
3. Herskovitz, John, “North Korea calls U.S.'s Cheney a ‘bloodthirsty beast,’” Reuters, June 2, 2005, http://www.reuters.co.in/locales/c_newsArticle.jsp;:429f4b12:49769a31a78e32d1?type=worldNews&localeKey=en_IN&storyID=8675592
4. “U.S. Policy Towards North Korea,” Korea, North, Relations with U.S. (Notes) http://www.geographyiq.com/countries/kn/Korea_North_us_relations_summary.htm
5. Hitchens, Christopher, “Worse than 1984: North Korea, Slave State,” Slate, May 2, 2005, http://slate.msn.com/id/2117846
6. Green, Olwyn, “The 38th Parallel,” Korea, 1950-1953, http://www/kmike.com/oz/38th.htm
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