Conflict over core programs
In 2002, North Korea confirmed in talks with the United States that it had enriched uranium and produced plutonium, a breach of the 1994 agreement. The United States stopped oil supplies and other aid. IAEA inspectors were expelled from North Korea, which also denounced the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty), the agreement to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology in the world.
In 2003, the United States received help from North Korea’s ally China and from Russia to initiate six-party talks, in which South Korea and Japan also participated. The talks yielded few results and were slowed down in 2004, when it was revealed that South Korea had previously secretly enriched uranium.
In 2005, according to a2zdirectory, North Korea officially declared that it had produced nuclear weapons “in self-defense” and said it would strengthen its nuclear arsenal. The following year, North Korea tested a number of robots and conducted its first nuclear test in October.
China has now criticized North Korea and agreed to UN sanctions that, among other things, stopped the import of heavy weapons and luxury goods to North Korea.
However, the six-party talks resumed and in 2007 North Korea promised to present its nuclear energy program, close all facilities and allow inspections. The exchange would be financial aid, abolished sanctions and negotiations with the United States to lift the stamp of terrorism and to bring about a peace agreement.
The Yongbyon reactor was shut down, and in October 2007 a summit was held between Kim Jong-Il and South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyan. They agreed on multi-billion-dollar economic cooperation, as part of South Korea’s desire to help rebuild the declining North Korean economy. Seoul fears a sudden reunification, which would impose insurmountable financial burdens on South Korea.
Tensions and military conflict
As the new president of South Korea in 2008, Lee Myung-Bak launched a tougher policy towards North Korea. Tensions also rose between North Korea and the United States. US President Barack Obama’s diplomacy-oriented foreign policy in early 2009 failed to improve relations.
North Korea left the six-party talks, test-fired a long-range robot again, expelled IAEA inspectors and conducted a second nuclear test. The UN Security Council again responded with sanctions. The outside world’s willingness to provide aid to North Korea decreased, which led to increased food shortages in the country. A drastic currency reform at the end of 2009 exacerbated the situation for many North Koreans.
In March 2010, a South Korean warship sank after an explosion and 46 people died. Following an international investigation, South Korea announced that a North Korean torpedo attack had sunk the ship. The South froze trade with the North, which severed other ties and put the military on alert. From the North Korean side, the ongoing annual military exercises between South Korea and the United States were also seen as a preparation for war. North Korea threatened revenge, showed off a newly built uranium enrichment plant and fired grenades at the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, killing and wounding as a result.
Kim Jong-Un takes over
After a long illness, Kim Jong-Il died in December 2011. His son Kim Jong-Un promised as the country’s new leader that the North Koreans would get better. Despite the sanctions of the outside world, a couple of years into the 2010s, a certain lightening began to be discerned for the economy, which was adapted somewhat more in the market economic direction.
In February 2012, North Korea agreed to inspections and to stop nuclear testing in exchange for US food aid. But the agreement ran out of steam just a couple of months later when North Korea made a failed attempt to launch a satellite during the celebration of Kim Il-Sung’s 100th birthday. North Korea claimed that it was part of the space program, but the outside world classified it as a covert test of a long-range weapon in violation of UN resolutions. In May of the same year, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on North Korean state-owned enterprises.
A new satellite launch later that year and a third nuclear test in early 2013 were again punished with UN sanctions.
North Korea opened a few years into the 2010s to resume talks between the six parties and reach a peace agreement with the United States. At the same time, Pyongyang wanted North Korea to be recognized as a nuclear-weapon state – that the country had this status had also been enshrined in the 2012 constitution.
Relations between the two Korean states remained unstable; recurring military incidents and diplomatic disputes were interspersed with periods of rapprochement when, among other things, families living on opposite sides of the border could be hit.
New nuclear tests
North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons continued despite sanctions from the outside world. During 2016−2017, North Korea conducted three new nuclear tests and dozens of missile tests. The country successfully tested intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) robots for the first time, and in the autumn of 2017 a hydrogen bomb was tested with an explosive power that, according to observers, was 16 times larger than the Hiroshima bomb.