Tactics Fact Sheet: North Korea

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Military guard posts of South Korea (bottom) and North Korea (top) standing opposite each other as seen from in the border city of Paju. (JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images) 


  • Japanese colonial rule in Korea lasted from 1910 to the end of world war II, 1945;
  • Japan perpetrated a raft of human rights abuses against the Korean population, including using Korean women as sex slaves for the Japanese army and repression of Korean language and culture;
  • With the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan and the end of the war in the Pacific, the US and Soviet Union temporarily divided Korea along the 38th parallel. The US wanted to prevent Soviet troops, who were fighting the Japanese in the north, from occupying all Korea. Japanese troops in the north surrendered to the Soviets; troops to the south surrendered to the US;

Korean War

  • Washington and Moscow failed to establish a single Korean government; two separate states were created in 1948: the Republic of Korea in the south and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north;
  • The Korean War (1950-53) saw each side try to reunite the country by force. The scale of destruction was huge, with more bombs being dropped on Korea from 1950 to 1953 than on all of Asia and the Pacific islands during World War II;
  • Approximately four million people were killed, including Korean, Chinese, and U.S. soldiers – Korean civilians were the largest casualty. Millions were displaced and families became separated, some forever as the two states have remained enemies with very little contact;


  • Neither side won. In July 1953, the fighting was stopped halted when North Korea (representing the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers) and the United States (representing the United Nations Command) signed the Korean War Armistice Agreement at Panmunjom;
  • This was a temporary cease-fire, and Article 4 Paragraph 60 required a political settlement to be made;
  • The armistice agreement established the Demilitarized Zone as the new border between the two sides. It also urged governments to hold a political conference within three months, to reach a formal peace settlement;
  • Over 60 years later, no peace treaty has been agreed, insecurity and fear have prevailed;
  • The armistice has been violated by both sides: including with the introduction of atomic weapons into South Korea by the United States in 1958, violating Article 2 Paragraph 13d of the armistice which stipulated that no new weapons be introduced into the peninsula;

Militarisation of the Peninsula

  • North Korea has developed its own nuclear weapons program and the Korean border is the most militarised in the world;
  • Both sides have substantial armies, military bases, and perform ongoing manoeuvres to prepare for war. The US has 28,000 US troops in South Korea and maintains large bases in the country. In the event of escalation, the US would have operational control over South Korean forces;
  • 2006: The US and South Korea agreed to change the role of American forces to a “more flexible, mobile, and rapidly deployable force” for the wider Asia-Pacific region;
  • Washington justifies its huge military presence in Korea by pointing to the North Korean threat. In turn, Pyongyang continues to develop its nuclear capabilities;
  • Since 1950 a system of sanctions has been imposed by the US on North Korea, affecting the population’s access to food, medicine, energy and industrial goods. North Korean trade and foreign investment have been severely affected;
  • Despite sanctions, the North Korean regime has not changed and has become entrenched in its strict control of its population;


  • South Korean President Kim Dae Jung introduced the more reconciliatory Sunshine Policy towards North Korea from 1998 to 2007;
  • 2000: a summit meeting between Kim Dae Jung and Chairman Kim Jong Il paved the way for joint economic and humanitarian initiatives;
  • After decades when people did not know if their relations were alive or dead, the governments allowed brief reunions between family members separated since the war;
  • 2013: North Korea’s third nuclear test, followed by the annual military exercises between South Korea and the United States. Typical of the tensions between the two sides;
  • Obama era: policy known as the strategic patience initiative, but North Korea tested five nuclear weapons and perfected its long-range missile program;
  • 2018: In 2018 President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong-un became the first sitting US president and North Korean leader to meet;
  • 2019: Donald Trump becomes first standing US president to go into North Korea, for so long enemy territory and a source of fear and insecurity. Trump and Kim Jong Un then crossed to South Korea where they met South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Trump announced working working-level meetings to be set up.

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