Ian Sansom wrote in The Guardian: “After seizing power in 1948, Kim styled himself as a kind of North Korean Stalin. According to the Guinness Book of Records he presided over the world's most decisive election: in October 1962 his Workers Party of Korea won with a 100 percent turn-out and a 100 percent vote. Kim Il Sung remains North Korea's official president even though he's been dead since 1994.

But that wasn’t all. According to Bradley K Martin, he presented himself not only as North Korea's great leader and liberator, but also as the country's "leading novelist, philosopher, historian, educator, designer, literary critic, architect, industrial management specialist, general, table tennis trainer ... and agriculture experimenter." Juche, his emphatic philosophy, which promoted self-reliance, guided by a great leader. "Man is the master of everything and decides everything," declared Kim, which can be interpreted as him being the master of everything and deciding everything. [Source: Ian Sansom, The Guardian, April 30, 2011]

Kim Il Sung was named premier after North Korea was formally established in 1948. After a constitutional change in 1972, became president, a position he held until his death in 1994. According to “Governments of the World”: During his time in power, Kim Il Sung oversaw an immense amount of change in North Korea, much of which has turned out to have profoundly negative consequences. In particular, Kim attempted to construct a "self-reliant" communist system with uniquely Korean characteristics. This effort is epitomized in the concept of juche, which, according to the DPRK Constitution, is "a revolutionary ideology with a people-centered view of the world that aims to realize the independence of the masses, the guiding principle of its actions" (Handbook 1996, p. 11). [Source: Governments of the World: A Global Guide to Citizens' Rights and Responsibilities, Thomson Gale, 2006]

David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: He held every important post in the country, including General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, its one party, and President of the country. And when he died, no one had yet really figured out his game: whether he was using the threat of an atomic weapon to get economic aid for his bankrupt country, or whether he was wielding it as a suicide pill to save his regime from absorption by the South.”

North Korea After the Korean War

After the Korean War (1950-53) all but large buildings were destroyed in Pyongyang. According to a New York Times report written in October 1950: "the besieged capital of North Korea looks from the air like an empty citadel where death is king. It seems no longer to be a city at all. It is more like a blackened community of the dead." North Korea's economy was devestated and had to built up from scratch.An emphasis was placed on the military sector and internal economic planning.

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “Aid from other Communist countries helped the North Koreans regain their balance. The Soviet Union and China played the biggest role in North Korea's recovery. Other countries also helped. East Germany, for example, raised funds and sent supply trains to help one city in particular, the port of Hiingnam, which had been blown up by the Americans during their retreat in December 1950. Today the German plan for the rebuilt city of Hungnam is still visible in the way the streets and many major buildings are constructed. Like South Korea, which received massive aid from the United States and United Nations as well as private groups in the West, North Korea was fortunate to have many outside friends who helped it recover from the war. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: “At the end of the war, it seemed as if the North was destined to be the truly successful Korea. It had abundant natural resources, and with Chinese and Soviet help, Mr. Kim began an ambitious program of rehabilitation and industrialization with Soviet-model collective farms and heavy industry. A propaganda campaign led citizens to believe their country was an oasis of wealth and stability in a world impoverished by cruel capitalism. They had no way to see or hear about anything else: To this day there is no television from outside the country and no foreign publications allowed. The few foreign visitors are kept on a tight leash.” [Source: David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 10, 1994]

Kim Il Sung After the Korean War

The Korean War gave Kim Il Sung a excuse to tighten his control on his Party and the Party’s control over every aspect of like in North Korea. He brutally purged his government of enemies and divided the North Korean population into three categories: loyal, waverers and hostile elements. Perhaps hundreds of thousands were sent to concentration camps where many were executed. Several million Koreans fled Kim Il Sung's dictatorial regime. After that North Korea became a secretive society, largely closed off from outside world except for it alliances with China and the Soviet Union, and their satellites.

David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: Mr. Kim emerged in a position to wipe out his remaining rivals. In later years he was to send his political enemies to work in the uranium mines, where the life expectancy was about two years. Those mines turned out to be critical assets. Years later he never forgot the threats issued by MacArthur and Truman, that the Americans might end the war with a mushroom cloud. The fear that the North could be subject to nuclear attack from the United States, to many minds, was the real start of North Korea's nuclear program. [Source: David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 10, 1994]

Land Reform in North Korea

A land reform law enacted in 1946 confiscated the holdings of big landowners and distributed them to poor farmers and tenants. The consequences of this compulsory redistribution were as much social as economic. Many rich farmers fled to the United-States-occupied half of the peninsula south of the thirty-eighth parallel. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

Rural collectivization, carried out in three stages between 1945 and 1958, had profound implications for a society consisting mainly of farmers living in small hamlets scattered throughout the countryside. The new class of individual landholders — whose holdings could not exceed five chngbo in lowland areas, or twenty chngbo in mountainous ones — had little time to enjoy their status as independent proprietors because the state quickly initiated a process of collectivization. In the initial stage, "permanent mutual aid teams" were formed in which landholders managed their own land as private property but pooled labor, draft animals, and agricultural tools. This stage was followed by the stage of "semisocialist cooperatives," in which land, still privately held, was pooled. The cooperative purchased animals and tools out of a common fund, and the distribution of the harvest depended on the amount of land and labor contributed. The third and final stage involved the establishment of "complete socialist cooperatives" in which all land was turned over to collective ownership and management. Cooperative members were paid solely on the basis of labor contributed.

The 1959 edition of the North Korea Central Yearbook reported that approximately 80 percent of all farmers had joined socialist cooperatives by December 1956 and that by August 1958 all had joined. A land law passed in 1977 stipulated that all land held by cooperatives would be transferred gradually to state ownership or "ownership by the entire people."

The state encouraged the merging of cooperatives so that they would coincide with the ri, or ni (village). The number of cooperatives with between 101 and 200 households increased from 222 cooperatives in 1954 to 1,074 cooperatives in 1958. The number of cooperatives with between 201 and 300 households increased from twenty cooperatives in 1955 to 984 cooperatives in 1958.

The merging process had important implications for kinship and family life: it broke down the isolation of the single hamlet by making the socialist cooperative the basic local unit and thus diluted p'a ties. The traditional kinship system and its strict rules of exogamy worked best in the isolation of hamlets. With the passing of the hamlets, the traditional kinship system and its strict rules of exogamy were seriously undermined.

Purges and Persecutions in North Korea

Kim Il Sung was ruthless and cunning in consolidating power. On several occasions he blamed potential rivals for failures and then purged them. The mid- and late-1950s was characterized by a series of purges in which people accused of having even the slightest hint of “anti-Party, counter-revolutionary” disloyally” risked being executed or sent to a North Korean gulag with their families. Most of those who were sent did not return. .

Ian Buruma wrote in The New Yorker: “After the Korean War ended in the ruin of his country, Kim Il Sung, to deflect the blame, had tens of thousands of people purged, sending many to prison or hard-labor camps. Christians and Buddhists who had not already fled to the South were persecuted in large numbers, and many were killed. To cleanse his own ranks of possible rivals, Kim had many of his most intimate and loyal associates arrested and tortured. As Jasper Becker notes in “Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea” (Oxford; US$28), four hundred and fifty thousand out of six hundred thousand Party members were investigated and punished for “violating Party rules.” The Great Leader's policy, to be memorized by prison guards, was that anyone who opposed, or could conceivably be opposed to, Kim's absolute rule would be singled out for “eradication.” [Source: Ian Buruma, The New Yorker, August 22, 2005]

“By the time Kim Jong Il, the Dear Leader, took over from his father as the absolute ruler of North Korea, the country was a slave society, where only the most trusted caste of people were allowed to live in sullen obedience in Pyongyang, while vast numbers of potential class enemies were worked to death in mines and hard-labor camps. After Kim Il Sung's death, in 1994, the regime suspended executions for a month, and throughout the following year it committed relatively few killings. Since this was at the height of a famine, largely brought on by disastrous agricultural policies, hundreds of thousands were already dying from hunger. Then word spread that Kim Jong Il wished to “hear the sound of gunshots again.” Starving people were shot for stealing a couple of eggs.

Kim Il Sung’s Power and Influence in North Korea

A senior analyst at the Rand Corporation told Time, "If Kim Il Sung said white is black, he could make it stick. No one now has that sort of authority." Kim once told the people of North Korea that frog liver extract was good of his health. Soldiers from the People's Army collected 5,000 frogs and sent them to the presidential palace.

David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: “During his rule North Koreans were urged to devote at least two hours a day, and four on Saturdays, to "Kim study," memorizing his sayings. His birthday was, for decades, the nation's greatest holiday, celebrated with "mass games" in which North Korean youth performed remarkable gymnastic feats. It is a country of operas like "My Happy Country with a Great Leader," whose lyrics include: O, Generalissimo, Kim Il Sung, Our fatherly leader! The people are unfailingly loyal to you! Our party is the best in the world! Socialism is the best in the world! Let's defend Socialism, Under the unfurled red banner! [Source: David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 10, 1994]

Anne Penketh wrote in The Independent: “One giant mural painted on the wall of the people's culture palace has four people in the foreground symbolising North Korean society: a worker, an intellectual, a rifle-toting soldier and a woman who represents the farming community. They all look towards a shining future, illuminated by the sun which symbolises the leader. They are inspired by the book they hold in their hand: the works of Kim Il Sung. In the background there are power plants, a ship and other industrial achievements. [Source: Anne Penketh, The Independent, September 17, 2004]

“A government minder interprets the mural, saying: "Now soldiers have been added to defend our socialism, chosen by the Korean people themselves." She also explains the meaning of the Juche idea invented by Kim Il Sung: "I am master of my destiny, without relying on anyone else." That of course, means no contact with the outside world, or as little as possible. In the Looking Glass world of North Korea it means that no foreign contribution to the economy can ever be recognised.

Third Party Congress of 1956

Fyodor Tertitsky wrote in NK News: “The third congress in 1956 was convened very soon after Nikita Khrushchev denounced Joseph Stalin at the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). It was a time of great unease for Kim Il-sung, who was afraid this shift in political landscape could cost him his grip on power. And he was right: Leonid Brezhnev, the CPSU representative to the congress, gave a speech that year in which he mentioned the “restoration of Leninist norms of collective leadership”, which was seen as a veiled attack on Kim’s one-man rule. [Source: Fyodor Tertitsky for NK News, part of the North Korea network, The Guardian, May 5, 2016]

“However, the real attack on Kim’s authority came later – in August – when a group of more liberal-minded Party officials tried to remove Kim from power. They agreed with Brezhnev about Kim’s personality cult violating Leninist rules. However, Kim was well prepared for the attack, and the opposition was swiftly crushed.

The first conference, in 1958, different to a congress only in the amount of pomp and ceremony, was when Kim attempted to finish his purge of any opposition voices. Kim expelled the dissenters from the ruling circles immediately after the attempt on his power, but was later forced to backtrack by the Soviets and the Chinese. However, when Moscow and Beijing’s attention was no longer focused of Pyongyang as relations between them began to deteriorate, Kim was free to act as he pleased – and the opposition was, once and for all, removed. Peter Ward, a scholar who has studied this conference in great depths, suggests that North Korea was probably influenced by China for choosing a conference as a model for purge. In 1955, the Communist Party of China removed Rao Shushi and Gao Gang for opposing Mao Zedong – and it was also conducted at a conference, not on a congress.

Party Congresses and Conferences in the 1960s and 70s

Fyodor Tertitsky wrote in NK News: The fourth congress, 1961 was the first after the DPRK became politically independent from the Soviet Union. The Party’s ruling institutions were now fully comprised of Kim’s old friends and followers (largely former Manchurian guerrillas). The personality cult as we know it was yet to be constructed, but the age of political factions had been eradicated. The second conference was perhaps the most enigmatic major event in North Korean history. No transcripts from it exist in the public domain while reports about the proceedings from foreign embassies in Pyongyang at the time remain murky. Even East German diplomats, despite serious efforts, failed to obtain any transcripts. Their reports simply stated that some high-ranking politicians were seemingly purged. [Source: Fyodor Tertitsky for NK News, part of the North Korea network, The Guardian, May 5, 2016]

It was also thought to have been at this conference that the DPRK announced the militarisation of the economy. Various sources say that Kim was considering a second attempt to invade the South in the late 1960s and testimonies from people in Pyongyang at the time suggest it was a time of intense drills for both military personnel and civilians.

This conference also started the process which led to the dramatic birth of Kim’s personality cult. He purged some of his loyal comrades, known as the “Kapsan faction”, and in April 1967 announced the creation of the “monolithic ideological system”. This was really when North Korea transformed into a fully autocratic and repressive state.

Four years after such a landmark meeting, the fifth congress in 1970 passed by comparatively uneventfully. Kim delivered a speech about the “three revolutions” – ideological, technological and cultural, which had to be implemented. This showed that the DPRK’s concept of a revolution was no longer a Soviet, but a Maoist one, in which the revolution is not a people’s uprising to overthrow the regime, just the regular activity of the ruling party.

North Korea claims that it was at this congress that Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung’s son, introduced the iconic badges featuring his father’s face, which all North Koreans have to wear to this day.

Important Korean Worker’s Party Congress of 1980

Fyodor Tertitsky wrote in NK News: The sixth and – until 2016– last congress of the Workers’ Party convened in 1980. Its main purpose was to quietly present the heir to the throne – Kim Jong-il. However, it was not until 1981 that Kim Jr came to be officially and openly presented as his father’s successor. Many foreign guests attended this congress – mostly from African countries. Perhaps the most notable visitor was Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. [Source: Fyodor Tertitsky for NK News, part of the North Korea network, The Guardian, May 5, 2016]

The long-delayed Sixth Party Congress, convened from October 10-14, 1980, was attended by 3,220 party delegates (3,062 full members and 158 alternate members) and 177 foreign delegates from 118 countries. Approximately 1,800 delegates attended the Fifth Party Congress in November 1970. The 1980 congress was convened by the KWP Central Committee to review, discuss, and endorse reports by the Central Committee, the Central Auditing Committee, and other central organs covering the activities of these bodies since the last congress. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993 *]

The Sixth Party Congress reviewed and discussed the report on the work of the party in the ten years since the Fifth Party Congress. It also elected a new Central Committee. In his report to the congress, Kim Il Sung outlined a set of goals and policies for the 1980s. He proposed the establishment of a Democratic Confederal Republic of Kory as a reasonable way to achieve the independent and peaceful reunification of the country. Kim Il Sung also clarified a new ten-point policy for the unified state and stressed that North Korea and South Korea (the Republic of Korea, or ROK) should recognize and tolerate each other's ideas and social systems, that the unified central government should be represented by Pyongyang and Seoul on an equal footing, and that both sides should exercise regional autonomy with equal rights and duties. Specifically, the unified government should respect the social systems and the wishes of administrative organizations and of every party, every group, and every sector of people in the North and the South, and prevent one side from imposing its will on the other.*

Kim Il Sung also emphasized the Three Revolutions, which were aimed at hastening the process of political and ideological transformation based on juche ideology, improving the material and technical standards of the economy, and developing socialist national culture. According to Kim, these revolutions are the responsibility of the Three Revolution Team Movement — "a new method of guiding the revolution, which combined political and ideological guidance with scientific and technical guidance. This approach enabled the upper bodies to help the lower levels and rouse masses of the working people to accelerate the Three Revolutions." The teams perform their guidance work by sending their members to factories, enterprises, and cooperative farms. Their members are party cadres, including those from the KWP Central Committee, reliable officials of the government, persons from economic and mass organizations, scientists and technicians, and young intellectuals. Kim Il Sung left no question that the Three Revolution Team Movement had succeeded the Ch'llima Movement and would remain the principal vehicle through which the party pursued its political and economic objectives in the 1980s.*

The linkage between party and economic work also was addressed by Kim Il Sung. In acknowledging the urgent task of economic construction, he stated that party work should be geared toward efficient economic construction and that success in party work should be measured by success in economic construction. Accordingly, party organizations were told to "push forward economic work actively, give prominence to economic officials, and help them well." Party officials were also advised to watch out for signs of independence on the part of technocrats.*

The membership and organization of the KWP are specified in the party rules. There are two kinds of party members: regular and probationary. Membership is open to those eighteen years of age and older, but party membership is granted only to those who have demonstrated their qualifications; applications are submitted to a cell along with a proper endorsement from two party members of at least two years in good standing. The application is acted on by the plenary session of a cell; an affirmative decision is subject to ratification by a county-level party committee. A probationary period of one year is mandatory, but may be waived under certain unspecified "special circumstances." Recruitment is under the direction of the Organization and Guidance Department and its local branches. After the application is approved, an applicant must successfully complete a one-year probationary period before becoming a full party member.*

Kim Il Sung’s North Korea

In 1994, after Kim Il Sung’s death, David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: “To step into Kim Il Sung's North Korea was to enter a laboratory from Orwell's wildest imaginings: a country that could not afford to keep the lights on at night, and yet which built — but may never open — Asia's tallest hotel, a country where the people seemed almost robotic in their praise of their leader and his son, Kim Jong Il, his presumed successor. Millions of North Koreans, until this morning's news, have never lived in a country not run by Kim Il Sung. [Source: David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 10, 1994]

Anne Penketh wrote in The Independent: “For the North Korean people, indoctrinated and blind to the outside world in their hermetically-sealed universe, have been brought up to believe that their impoverished state is a Communist paradise. Any imperfections are blamed on the "hostile" Americans, with whom the country is still technically at war. [Source: Anne Penketh, The Independent, September 17, 2004]

The guide at the giant flame-topped Juche tower, which was erected as a monument to Kim Il Sung's Juche policy, points towards a pyramid on the other side of the Taedong river. It is a 150-storey hotel that was never completed. Work ceased when the economy collapsed in crisis in the 1990s, but the guide, dressed in the turquoise robes of the national costume, explains that "financial problems because of the U.S. and some natural disasters" prevented its completion.

It is even hinted that natural disasters, such as the famine, floods and drought that have devastated the country...can be blamed on the US. The latest edition of the Pyongyang Times, marking the 56th anniversary of the founding of North Korea by Kim Il Sung, notes that the "entire nation was in a tumult of joy at the news that the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea was founded". It points out that "the country suffered the worst-ever economic difficulties due to growing US moves to isolate and stifle it since the 1990s". The same edition denounces the U.S. "scurvy trick" of appearing to advocate dialogue while pressing ahead with military preparations for a "war scenario". North Korea's nuclear preparations are therefore necessary: "To shelter oneself from the rain, one must spread the umbrella."

Signs of the devotion of the people to their...leader are everywhere. Last Sunday, in the driving rain, a man holding an umbrella made his way to the giant bronze statue where he laid a wreath and bowed in a mark of respect. The following day, in glorious sunshine, throngs of young couples made their way to the statue on the way to their weddings, dressed in the bright colours of the national costume. One happy parent was filming a couple with a clunky video camera as they posed on a lawn in the park where the statue holds pride of place. Moments earlier, they had taken part in the ritual wreath-laying. "All Korean people hold Kim Il Sung in high esteem," the father explained. "We are accustomed to greet the president." The couple met at the same factory, where according to the groom "we were making a contribution to the construction of the country". As other wedding parties splashed in the fountains, three 10-year-old boys were making their way home from school, wearing the red neckerchiefs of the school uniform. Asked about their feelings for Kim Il Sung, they replied: "He was a distinguished and clever man."

In a country where Christianity once flourished, the Great Leader stands at the pinnacle of a religious mythology with its own Holy Trinity. “Although a mural of Kim Jong Il graces the entrance of the foreign ministry in central Pyongyang, and his portraits sit alongside those of his father inside every office, the official propaganda, with its billboards and official notices, is devoted to Kim Il Sung.”

Development and Domestic Policy Under Kim Il Sung

According to the “Columbia Encyclopedia”: “After the Korean War, the Communist government of North Korea used the region's rich mineral and power resources as the basis for an ambitious program of industrialization and rehabilitation. With Chinese and Soviet aid, railroads, industrial plants, and power facilities were rebuilt. Farms were collectivized, and industries were nationalized. In a series of multiyear economic development plans, the coal, iron, and steel industries were greatly expanded, new industries were introduced, and the mechanization of agriculture was pushed. [Source: “Columbia Encyclopedia”, 6th ed., Columbia University Press]

Song Soon-jong, an influential North Korean resident in Japan told Newsweek, "North Korea has become something like the Kim Il Sung Corporation. A good sample was the visit of Sun Myung Moon, anti-Communist leader. Anything goes, as long as money is pumped in.

While millions of dollars was devoted to "military first" or Songun policy, ordinary people lived in feudal conditions and endured power cuts and shortages. Few people owned cars and only the most trusted members of the regime were allowed outside the country. David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: The cost of the country's huge army took its toll on the economy. The DMZ, along the 38th parallel, became a eerie landscape of mines, tank traps and heavy artillery, and remains so to this day. Both sides built up enormous forces: Mr. Kim installed artillery that could shell Seoul from the North. But Mr. Kim also worried about his Communist allies. He was eager to maintain his slightly distant relationship with China and the Soviets, juggling them to keep from getting crushed. [Source: David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 10, 1994]

According to “Governments of the World”: “North Korea's isolation and extreme secretiveness make it difficult to assess accurately its level of socioeconomic development. The economy has fared very poorly, both in relative and absolute terms, since the early 1970s. Of course, many developing countries experienced economic difficulties during the 1970s, when oil prices rose sharply, but North Korea had not yet recovered by the beginning of the twenty-first century. [Source: Governments of the World: A Global Guide to Citizens' Rights and Responsibilities, Thomson Gale, 2006]

Economy Under Kim Il Sung

North Korea has a socialist command economy. Beginning with the Three-Year Plan (1954-56) at the end of the Korean War and the shortened Five-Year Plan (1957-60) that succeeded it, reconstruction and the priority development of heavy industry has been stressed, with consumer goods a low priority. This strategy of industrialization, biased toward heavy industry, pushed the economy forward at record growth rates in the 1950s and 1960s. The First Seven-Year Plan (1961-70 — extended for three years because of Soviet aid stoppages in the early 1960s caused by North Korea's support for China in the Sino-Soviet dispute) — also projected a higher than average growth rate. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993*]

Agriculture was collectivized after the Korean War, in stages that went from mutual aid teams to second-stage cooperatives, but stopped short of building the huge state farms found in the Soviet Union or the communes of China. Relying mostly on cooperative farms corresponding to the old natural villages and using material incentives (there was apparently little ideological bias against using such incentives), North Korea pushed agricultural production ahead, and its general agricultural success was acknowledged. The United States government estimated in 1978 that grain production had grown more rapidly in North Korea than in South Korea and that living standards in North Korea's rural areas had probably improved more quickly than those in South Korea. Nevertheless, production has fallen behind and North Korea has failed to reach projected targets, for example, the production of 10 million tons of grain by 1986.

According to “Governments of the World”: “After the Korean War (1950–1953) North Korea embarked on an ambitious reconstruction plan, which resulted in relatively rapid economic growth and the development of a heavy industrial and agricultural base. Much of this growth, however, was based on the ability of the regime to quickly and effectively marshal hitherto underutilized resources (especially labor and land) in a process scholars call "extensive economic growth." By the 1960s, North Korea, like many of its centrally planned counterparts, had largely exhausted this process, and economic growth slowed significantly. Still, the economy appeared robust, especially compared to South Korea's, which grew very slowly after the Korean War. Indeed, to many observers at the time, North Korea was considered the miracle economy, whereas few held out much hope for South Korea. [Source: Governments of the World: A Global Guide to Citizens' Rights and Responsibilities, Thomson Gale, 2006]

“Beginning in the 1970s, the North Korean leadership attempted to reinvigorate the economy with a large-scale modernization program, and for the first time the government turned to major Western countries for technology and financial capital. The program was largely unsuccessful. Part of the blame can be attributed to the oil crisis of the 1970s, which negatively affected almost all developing countries.Scholars also blamed North Korea's excessive military spending and its inefficient and ill-advised economic strategies, which were based on central planning and a rejection of free-market principles. Although these criticisms are valid, the South Korean government from the 1960s through the 1980s also had a disproportionately large military budget and engaged in centralized and heavily bureaucratized economic planning but it did not suffer the same setbacks. [Source: Governments of the World: A Global Guide to Citizens' Rights and Responsibilities, Thomson Gale, 2006]

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “ Kim used his own personality as a rallying point for the demoralized North Korean people, inspiring them to Herculean labors in the effort to rebuild their country. By the early 1970s, the North Korean economy was humming, with heavy industry and agriculture leading the way. North Korean products were bartered to China and the Soviet Union in return for oil and other strategic commodities the North Koreans lacked. Its per capita income was higher than in the south, and in Cold War terms it seemed that the socialist/Communist part of Korea had outdone the capitalist/democratic part of Korea. However, the pattern of economic development in North Korea was different from that in the south. Using guidance from the Soviet Union, the North Koreans emphasized heavy industry and agricultural development and neglected consumer production. The North Korean emphasis on heavy industry did not raise the standard of living of ordinary people as quickly as it rose in the south. The reason is that ordinary workers did not buy locomotives, steel, and railroad track. In the south, the factories made products for export but they also made products that ordinary people could use, from clothing and cosmetics to televisions and automobiles. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

According to the “Columbia Encyclopedia”: “By the mid-1990s more than 90 percent of the economy was socialized and 95 percent of the country's manufactured products were made by state-owned enterprises. A serious postwar population loss, resulting from the exodus of several million people to the South, was somewhat offset by the immigration of Chinese colonists and Koreans from Manchuria and Japan...The country's large expenditures on its military and centralized control have been drags on the economy, as has been the nation's inability (since the 1990s) to produce or import enough food to feed its people, which has resulted in chronic malnutrition and, at times, famine. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps as many as two million, are believed to have died from starvation in the mid-1990s. [Source: “Columbia Encyclopedia”, 6th ed., Columbia University Press]

Decline of the North Korean Economy in the 1970s and 80s

David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: The country began its slow spiral down in the 1970's. South Korea, with twice the population and a booming economy built on steel, cars, computer chips and other consumer goods, began to pull ahead: its economic growth was far faster, and the South's per capita income in 1990 was five times higher than the North's. [Source: David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 10, 1994]

By the early 1970s, North Korea had clearly exhausted extensive development of its industries based on its own, prewar Japanese, or new Soviet technologies, and therefore turned to the West and Japan to purchase turnkey plants. These purchases ultimately caused North Korea's problems with servicing its external debt — estimated at between US$2 billion and US$3 billion for the years 1972-79. Later seven- and ten-year plans failed to reach projected growth rates; still, a study published by the United States Central Intelligence Agency in 1978 estimated that North Korea's per capita gross national product (GNP) equaled South Korea's as late as 1976. Since that time, however, it has fallen behind South Korea, and transportation bottlenecks and fuel resource problems have plagued the economy. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993*]

According to “Governments of the World”: “North Korea was unable to finance its debts through exports, and the government ultimately defaulted on its loans from Western countries — becoming the first communist country to do so. In 1979, the country renegotiated its international debts, but a year later it defaulted again (except on loans from Japan). Beginning in 1980, North Korea has generally been excluded from international capital markets and has relied on "creative" methods to finance consistent trade deficits (e.g., arms sales, drug trafficking, counterfeiting, overseas remittances, and humanitarian aid). [Source: Governments of the World: A Global Guide to Citizens' Rights and Responsibilities, Thomson Gale, 2006]

“By the 1980s, North Korea's per capita gross domestic product, which had once been higher than South Korea's, was only one-third of that of its rival. Kim Il Sung began to initiate several economic reforms. In 1982, Kim proposed a plan to increase agricultural production through land reclamation and development of the country's infrastructure. Two years later, in September 1984, he announced a joint venture law designed to attract foreign capital and technology. This reform proved to be largely unsuccessful, however; only sixty joint ventures were developed between 1986 and 1992. In 1991 the North Korea government created a Special Economic Zone, or SEZ, in the northeast regions of Najin, Chongjin, and Sonbong.

“More seriously, the reforms failed to avert a severe food crisis, which hit North Korea in the 1990s. Some observers contend that this was the worst humanitarian disaster of the decade. According to one estimate, from 1994 to 1998, 2 to 3 million people died of starvation and hunger-related illnesses (as with other data related to North Korea, however, this figure is not completely reliable). Although the proximate cause of the food crisis was severe flooding, another contributing factor was the sharp reduction in imports of heavily subsidized food, equipment, and crude oil from the former Soviet Union and China in the early 1990s. At the same time, however, North Korea's heavy reliance on external sources — and its inability to respond adequately to the crisis — was exacerbated by deep and pervasive flaws in the country's economic and political systems.

North Korean Economy Plummets in the 1990s After the Soviet Union Collapse

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “North Korea's biggest economic problem had always been its lack of farmland and the part of Korea lying north of the 38th parallel has always depended on imports from abroad or from the south, which was now cut off by the border, to feed its population. The idea of Juch'e self-sufficiency in agriculture was attractive to North Korea's leadership but ultimately it proved impossible to achieve. Instead, North Korea supported itself by bartering raw materials to other Communist countries, using exports of metals, timber, and coal to pay for food and oil, and by selling heavy manufactures such as railroad equipment and military hardware in foreign markets. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

“This worked for as long as there was a community of nations willing to barter with North Korea. However, when Communism fell in Europe in the early 1990s the former socialist countries stopped making special arrangements to benefit the North Koreans. The former Soviet Union demanded money in exchange for the vital oil resources it had been sending. China did likewise. Meanwhile, the West continued its long-standing trade embargo against North Korea, refusing to extend credit or needed materials to help it develop its economy. The result is that North Korea experienced an energy shortage followed by a shortage of everything that required energy.

“The economy began to contract. The existing rationing system turned into a government demand to cut daily meals from three to two, and the country's dream of Juch'e selfsupport collapsed into a nightmare of shortages and even starvation. The North Korean people, by all accounts, are a hardworking and loyal population whose patriotism is a significant part of the story of their country's survival. “

Foreign Policy During the Kim Il Sung Era

Since the end of the Korean War, the two Koreas have faced each other across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), engaged most of the time in unremitting, withering, unregenerate hostility, punctuated by occasional, brief thaws and increasing exchanges between Pyongyang and Seoul. Huge armies still are poised to fight at a moment's notice. The emergence of the Sino-Soviet conflict in 1969, the United States opening to China in 1971-72, and the end of the Second Indochina War in 1975, however, were some of the watershed changes in world politics that both seemed to empty the Cold War logic of its previous meaning and changed the great power configuration. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

North Korea maintained close relations with the Soviet Union and China but preserved a degree of independence. It used Sino-Soviet tensions to tray to obtain the most benefits from each side. David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: “Mr. Kim courted his allies, but kept a measure of independence. In a single week in 1961, he signed treaties of friendship, cooperation and mutual military and economic assistance with both China and the Soviet Union. He continued to accept aid from both countries when the need arose. Through the years that need arose increasingly often. [Source: David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 10, 1994]

In the late 1970s, Pyongyang's policy towards Moscow and Beijing was somewhat of a balancing act. Nonetheless, North Korea began using a term of opprobrium for Soviet imperialism, dominationism (chibaejui), a term akin to the Chinese term, hegemonism. By and large, Pyongyang adhered to the Chinese foreign policy line during the Carter years, while taking care not to antagonize the Soviet Union needlessly. When Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978, North Korea forcefully and publicly condemned the invasion while maintaining a studied silence when China responded by invading Vietnam. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

In 1991 both Koreas joined the United Nations after the North dropped its opposition to such a move. In the early 1980s, there were three- way talks among the United States, North Korea, and South Korea, and China sponsored talks between Pyongyang and Washington. U.S.-Soviet détente also mitigated North Korea’s warlike stance, although South Korea’s growing prestige and economic success put Pyongyang on the defensive. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, China became North Korea's most important ally. Beginning under Kim Il Sung but increasing under Kim Jong Il began engaging in arms sales to nations opposed to the United States, and giving support to terrorist activities and international drug trafficking.

Relations Between North and South Korea During the Kim Il Sung Era

In what seemed to be a miraculous development, the Koreas held talks at a high level in 1972. After years of hostility and intransigence, the “Red Cross Talks talks” between the director of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency and Kim Yong-ju, Kim Il Sung's younger brother culminated in a July 1972 announcement that both sides would seek reunification peacefully, independently of outside forces, and with common efforts toward creating a "great national unity" that would transcend the many differences between the two systems. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

Within a year, however, this initiative had effectively failed and were not resumed for 18 years.. The United States dropped its decision to withdraw troops from Korea in 1979, North Korea upgraded its army and began building invasion tunnels under the DMZ.

In September 1990, the Prime Ministers of North and South Korea meet for the first time. In 1991, North and South Korea signed a non-aggression pact and agreed to a series of meetings on reunification. Kim Il Sung died only weeks before he was supposed to have a summit with South Korean president Kim Young Sam. Some breakthroughs occurred as a result of this such as the visits of southerners from divided families to the North and South Korean economic investment in the North. The process temporarily halted in 1994 with the death of Kim Il Sung.

Relations Between North Korea and the U.S. During the Kim Il Sung Era

Cold Wars tensions existed between North Korea and the United States through the 1950s and 1960s. North Korea has objected to the U.S. military presence in Korea and its economic assistance to South Korea. It views the United States as the strongest imperialist force in the world and as the successor to Japanese imperialism. The Korean War only intensified this perception. The United States views North Korea as an international outlaw. The uneasy armistice that halted the intense fighting of the Korean War has occasionally been broken. Economic sanctions have been in place on North Korea since it invaded South Korea in the early 1950s. These sanctions prevent trade, investment, air travel and shipping between the United States and North Korea. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

Since 1945 North Korea's relationship with the United States has been marked by almost continuous confrontation and mistrust. The uneasy armistice that halted the intense fighting of the Korean War has occasionally been broken. In 1968, more than 100 soldiers died along the DMZ and the United States spy ship Pueblo was seized (See Below). In April 1969, a North Korean plane shot down a U.S. Navy EC-121 spy plane, killing all 31 Americans on board. In In 1976 of two American soldiers were killed at the P'anmunjm "Peace Village" in the middle of the DMZ. North Korea's assassination of several United States-educated South Korean cabinet officials in 1983 and the terrorist bombing of a South Korean airliner in 1987 likewise has reinforced United States perceptions of North Korea as unworthy of having diplomatic or economic ties with the United States.

The increased friction between China and the Soviet Union and warming of relations between North and South Korea in the 1970s initially had an immediate and beneficial impact on Korea. The Nixon administration withdrew a division of United States soldiers from South Korea. North Korea responded by virtually halting attempts at infiltration. and by significantly reducing the defense budget in 1971. Within a year, however, this initiative had effectively failed.

United States policy again shifted, if less dramatically, when the administration of Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) announced plans for a gradual but complete withdrawal of United States ground forces from South Korea (air and naval units would remain deployed in or near Korea). At that time, a prolonged period of North Korean courting of the United States began. In 1978, however, the first of the large-scale military exercises called Team Spirit, involving more than 200,000 United States and South Korean troops, was held. And, in 1979, the Carter administration dropped its program of troop withdrawal in reaction to North Korea's rapid and extensive upgrading of its army and the discovery of North Korean-built tunnels under the DMZ; the administration committed itself to a modest but significant build-up of force and equipment levels in South Korea. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

By the early 1980s, changing United States-China relations also had repercussions in the two Koreas. China said publicly that it wished to play a role in reducing tension on the Korean Peninsula. In January 1984, for the first time, a major North Korean initiative called for three-way talks between the United States, South Korea, and North Korea. Through most of the 1980s, China sought to sponsor talks between Washington and Pyongyang — talks that occasionally took place in Beijing at the ministercounselor level — and encouraged Kim Il Sung to take the path of diplomacy. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

Following South Korea's lead, the United States in 1988 launched its own modest diplomatic initiative. Washington sought to reduce Pyongyang's isolation and to encourage its opening to the outside world. Consequently, the United States government began facilitating cultural, scholarly, journalistic, athletic, and other exchanges with North Korea. After a hesitant start, by the early 1990s almost monthly exchanges were occurring in these areas between the two nations, a halting but significant movement away from total estrangement. But at the same time the United States imposed sanctions on North Korea in 1988 for alleged terrorist activity and expressed concern over reports that North Korea was building a nuclear weapons plant.

The atmosphere between Pyongyang and Washington warmed significantly in 1991 and 1992. The United States supported the simultaneous admission of both Koreas into the U.N. in September 1991. That same month, President George Bush announced the withdrawal of all tactical nuclear weapons worldwide. In January 1992, after North Korea had publicly committed itself to the signing of a nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA and to permitting IAEA inspections of its primary nuclear facility at Yongbyon, President Bush and South Korean president Roh Tae Woo took the unprecedented step of cancelling their 1992 joint annual military exercise Team Spirit.

Pueblo Incident

On January 23, 1968, the U.S. Navy electronic surveillance ship, “USS Pueblo”, was seized by four North Korean patrol boats and two MiG fighters in the Sea of Japan off North Korea’s east coast. Bullets were shot through the hull before the ship was pulled to a North Korean port. One American soldier was killed in the attack and 10 others were wounded. North Korea claimed the ship was inside its coastal zone while the U.S. Navy contended it was in international waters. The 83-member crew was held hostage in a prison for 335 days and released in December 1968. One sailor died in captivity.

The Pueblo seizure was personally ordered by Kim Il Sung and regarded as a great victory against the American devils by the North Koreans and a great humiliation for the United States and the captain of the Pueblo, Commander Lloyd Bucher. The Pueblo was the first Navy vessel to surrender in peacetime since 1807 and become a propaganda trophy for North Korea. Even today ordinary Koreans can visit it as part of tours organized in part to stir up nationalism.

Initially, many Americans favored a hard line. The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee suggested dropping a nuclear bomb on a North Korean city. In 1968, South Korean leader Park Chung Hee urged the United States to attack North Korea in retaliation for the seizure of the Pueblo. In a letter to U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, he wrote: “We should show our resolute stand and determination that they cannot commit an aggressive act free of punishment.” Historians have argued that the United States failed to retaliate because it was bogged down in Vietnam. Kristof wrote: “ President Lyndon Johnson resisted, noting that bombing North Korea would not bring our hostages home. So the U.S. tried full-bore diplomacy. It was frustrating, slow and not wholly successful, but in the end was the best of a bunch of bad alternatives.”

The crew was freed after a strange ceremony in which a “confession” was signed and a U.S. general signed a written apology while verbally repudiating it at the same time.. The Pueblo was kept by the North Koreans and is now on display in the Taedong River in Pyongyang as “a symbol of North Korean ability to deal with the greatest power in the world.” The Pueblo is the only active-duty U.S. warship in foreign hands

Crew of the Pueblo

Nicholas D. Kristof wrote in the New York Times: The crew were “tortured into writing confessions. To signal that the confessions were forced, the sailors listed accomplices like the television character Maxwell Smart. When forced to pose for a photo, some crew members extended their middle fingers to the camera, explaining to the North Korean photographer that this was a Hawaiian good luck sign. After the photo was published and the North Korean guards realized they'd been had, the sailors suffered a week of particularly brutal torture.”[Source: Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, July 19, 2005]

In 2008, a federal judge awarded more than US$65 million to several men who were captured and tortured by North Korea during the seizure of the Pueblo. The lawsuit was filed by William Thomas Massie, Donald Raymond McClarren, Dunnie Richard Tuck and the estate of Lloyd Bucher. U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. entered the judgment against the country. North Korea never responded to the lawsuit and can be assumed will not pay unless they are politically and diplomatically pressured to do so. [Source: Jesse J. Holland Associated Press, December 31. 2008]

Jesse J. Holland of Associated Press wrote: “The crew kept the military chain of command alive and resisted their captors. Some of the torture described to Kennedy included “severe physical beatings with karate blows, broom handles, belt buckles, boards and chairs, along with punches with rifle butts and whatever else that was handy.” “Massie, Tuck, McClarren, suffered physical and mental harm that has endured for the past 39 years and likely will continue to endure throughout the rest of their lives. Cmdr. Bucher suffered such effects until he died” in 2004, Kennedy said.

Impact of the Collapse of the Soviet Union on North Korean

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc had very little effect on North Korea in terms of liberalizing and opening up the country. If anything it forced North Korea to become more isolated and less reform-minded. The economic impact though was monumental. By the middle of the 1990s, North Korea had stopped functioning. Stephen Kotkin wrote in the Washington Post: “Without subsidies there was no more cheap fuel. The power stations rusted, and people stole the copper wire to pay for food. Without electricity the factories closed, then the schools, then the hospitals. More than a million people starved to death. Only the little US aid that the regime allowed to reach the population finally reduced the suffering.” [Source: Stephen Kotkin, Washington Post, February 28, 2010]

David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: “With the end of the cold war came the greatest blow of all: An end to the subsidies from Russia and, to some extent, from China that kept the North Korean economy going.” Between 1989 and 1994, by South Korean estimates, the North's gross domestic product shrunk 2 or 3 percent a year.” [Source: David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 10, 1994]

The Soviet Union stunned North Korea in September 1990 when it established diplomatic relations with South Korea. After that and the collapse of the Soviet Union in August 1991, North Korea worked to build a relationship with Russia's new political leaders. North Korea's efforts to recapture some of the previous closeness and economic benefits of its relationship with the former Soviet Union was seriously hampered, however, by Russia's preoccupation with its own political and economic woes. Trade between the two nations dropped dramatically after 1990. North Korea could not compete with the quality of goods South Korea offered. Whereas the Soviet Union had extended credit without problems to North Korea, Russia demanded hard currency for whatever North Korea purchased. Russia revised the 1961 defense treaty between North Korea and the Soviet Union. The revision freed Russia from an obligation to militarily assist North Korea except in the event that North Korea is invaded. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993*]

North Korea was diplomatically, politically, and economically far more isolated in mid-1993 than at any time since 1945. Although a member of the U.N. since 1991, North Korea's relations with its two closest allies — China and the former Soviet Union — have undergone a fundamental shift unlikely to revert to previous patterns. In mid 1993 North Korea appears to be on a dual track. On the one hand, Pyongyang's signing of the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchanges, and Cooperation, and the conclusion of a nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA point to its striving for greater acceptance in the international community by measuring up to internationally desired norms. On the other hand, Pyongyang continues to act as an international outlaw by selling ballistic missiles abroad, refusing to sign the convention on chemical and biological warfare, and refusing to comply with the terms for nuclear inspections.

The reemergence of detente between the United States and the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s provided a major opportunity to resolve the Korean confrontation. Seoul, more than Pyongyang, was effective in exploiting these new opportunities. As Seoul's prestige has grown, it has clearly put Pyongyang on the defensive, perhaps more than at any time since the Korean War. The sharp changes in world politics in the late 1980s placed the fate of the Kim regime in the balance. North Korea survived amid the failure of most other communist systems at least in part because of the historical, nationalistic, and indigenous roots that its leaders have sought to foster since the 1940s, drawing on a tradition of resistance to foreign pressure going back to the states of Koguryo and Parchae that existed over 1,500 years ago.

Tensions Over North Korea’s Nuclear Program in 1994

Tensions increased on the Korean peninsula in 1994 after confirmation that North Korea had developed a nuclear program. After direct talks with the United States, North Korea agreed to freeze its nuclear program in return for shipments of oil and the construction of two new light-water reactors for power (the latter were not built, however). North Korea briefly withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: For decades the Kims had been building a nuclear complex at Yongbyon, a mountainous area 60 miles north of the capital. Around 1980, construction began on a 25-megawatt reactor, that American intelligence agencies argued that the plant was designed for making plutonium, not for making electricity. The cat-and-mouse game over” the years that followed was “all about the North's progress in building that technology, while denying it. [Source: David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 10, 1994]

“But every time there was talk of finally taking action regarding North Korea's nuclear development, the Asian allies fretted that Mr. Kim should not be provoked. The warning lights became impossible to ignore in March 1993, when the North announced it would pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty rather than face continued pressure for disclosure and inspections. Their withdrawal was later suspended, but inspectors were kept out. When North Korea began removing more fuel from its reactor, potentially creating material for five more nuclear weapons, the United States moved for United Nations sanctions. As fears of a confrontation grew, the United States sent more equipment to its bases in Japan and South Korea, from Patriot missiles to ammunition to laser-guided bombs.

Brink of War with North Korea?

In 1994, there were concerns that a second Korean War might bear out over the North Korean nuclear issue. One North Korean official declared that Seoul might be turned into a "sea of fire." The Pentagon drew up plans to boost air power and reinforce units in East Asia, and evacuate 80,000 American civilians from South Korea, and send tens of thousands of extra troops there. One general later said, the North Koreans "would see their window of opportunity closing and they would come.”

Bill Clinton had just become president of the United States in 1995. Some conservatives thought Clinton should have ordered B-52 bombers to bomb North Korea's plutonium processing plant. There were worried if such an action was taken it could spread radioactive material over all North and South Korea, miss the weapons, and trigger a war. Clinton later said his administration threatened North Korea with destruction of its nuclear facilities. “We were in a very intense situation...We actually drew up plans to attack North Korea and to destroy their reactors, and we told them we would attack unless they ended their nuclear program.” U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry made “timely threats.”.

In the summer of 1994, when many people in the U.S. were discussing a second Korean War, the South Koreans themselves had other things on their mind. The highways were full of vacationers on their way to holiday resorts. Many Koreans felt that the North was not ready to begin a war because its economy was severely depressed and it longer had the support of Russia and China. Others argued these conditions were reasons that North Korea might enter a war

When tensions flair between North and d South Korea, it is said, the sale of noodles usually shoots ups. In 1994 when North Korea announced it might withdraw from the International Atomic Energy Agency department stores in Seoul filled with panic shoppers buying as much as they could carry.

Jimmy Carter Visits North Korea

When the North Korean nuclear crisis was at its height in 1994, as Clinton and his advisors were making plans to move combat-ready troops and tactical aircrafts and long-range bombers into front-line positions, their meeting was interrupted by a telephone call from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Alarmed that no senior U.S. official had been sent to North Korea to discuss the matter with Kim Il Sung, Carter took it upon himself to visit Pyongyang on his own as a private citizen.

After a meeting with Carter on June 16, 1994, Kim Il Sung agreed to an immediate freeze in nuclear activity and said he would allowed U.N. officials to inspect the nuclear reactors in return for the dropping of sanctions. The Clinton administration was not informed of he Kim Il Sung's decision until Carter appeared live on Cable News Network to announce the deal. One official called Carter's intervention "near traitorous." "It looked as if we were contracting our foreign policy," one White House official told the Washington Post, "Like we were bystanders...and had totally lost control." Nonetheless, both backed away from their hostile position and tensions eased.

North Korea rejoined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty after agreeing to halt the reprocessing of plutonium, in return for US$5 billion of fuel supplies.No one is sure why Kim Il Sung decided to back down. Some analyst believed he lost his nerve when faced with all out war with the United States, while others say he was pressured by China, who said it might not use its U.N. veto to halt the sanctions. After Carter's visit Kim Il Sung said that he was willing to have summit meeting with South Korean president Kim Young Sam and begin high-level talks with the United States in return for the softening of some U.S. demands. The events never occurred because Kim Il Sung died shortly afterwards.

David E. Sanger wrote in the New York Times: “In the last weeks of his life, Mr. Kim had one brilliant maneuver left. He let Mr. Carter who was deeply opposed to sanctions, take up a two-year-old invitation to come visit Pyongyang as a private citizen. After the first night of talks, Mr. Carter went on television to announce that the Great Leader was ready to deal: He would freeze the country's nuclear program while the United States talked about a range of diplomatic and economic benefits that might end the North's isolation from the world. Meanwhile, international inspectors, who had been barred from parts of the nuclear sites, could stay there. The Clinton Administration was suspicious, but eventually dove through the opening. Mr Carter also emerged with an invitation from the South: A summit meeting between the Presidents of North and South Korea, a first since the peninsula was divided in 1945. Five decades after Asia's the war ended in a precarious stalemate, it would have been a symbolic melting of the last Cold War division. For many Koreans it would have undoubtedly raised a surge of nationalism that Kim Il Sung would have applauded: differences aside, we are all Koreans, our country divided only because we were pawns of the Cold War. He died 17 days before the meeting was to begin.” [Source: David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 10, 1994]

Agreed Framework between the United States of America and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (1994)

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators the North Korean nuclear crisis “was eventually, if temporarily, resolved through a document known as the Agreed Framework between the U.S. and DPRK (the agreement basically broke down by 2002). While many of the political and technical issues surrounding nuclear proliferation are complex, this document is useful for understanding some of the different agendas involved in US-North Korean relations and their character over the past few decades. [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University, ^^^ ]

Agreed Framework between the U.S. and DPRK was divided into four main areas: I) Both sides will cooperate to replace the DPRK’s graphite.moderated reactors and related facilities with light water reactor (LWR) power plants. II) The two sides will move toward full normalization of political and economic relations. III) Both sides will work together for peace and security on a Korean peninsula. IV) Both sides will work together to strengthen the international nuclear non.proliferation regime. [Source: The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), 2009]

Under part I): 1) A) In accordance with the October 20, 1994 letter of assurance from the U.S. President, the U.S. will undertake to make arrangements for the provision to the DPRK of a LWR project with a total generating capacity of approximately 2,000 MW(e) by a target date of 2003. B) The U.S. will organize under its leadership an international consortium to finance and supply the LWR project to be provided to the DPRK. The U.S., representing the international consortium, will serve as the principal point of contact with the DPRK for the LWR project. C) The U.S., representing the consortium, will make best efforts to secure the conclusion of a supply contract with the DPRK within six months of the date of this Document for the provision of the LWR project. Contract talks will begin as soon as possible after the date of this Document. D) As necessary, the U.S. and the DPRK will conclude a bilateral agreement for cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

2) In accordance with the October 20, 1994 letter of assurance from the U.S. President, the U.S., representing the consortium, will make arrangements to offset the energy foregone due to the freeze of the DPRK’s graphitemoderated reactors and related facilities, pending completion of the first LWR unit. A) Alternative energy will be provided in the form of heavy oil for heating and electricity production. B) Deliveries of heavy oil will begin within three months of the date of this Document and will reach a rate of 500,000 tons annually, in accordance with an agreed schedule of deliveries.

3) Upon receipt of U.S. assurances for the provision of LWR’s and for arrangements for interim energy alternatives, the DPRK will freeze its graphite.moderated reactors and related facilities and will eventually dismantle these reactors and related facilities. A) The freeze on the DPRK’s graphite.moderated reactors and related facilities will be fully implemented within one month of the date of this Document. During this one.month period, and throughout the freeze, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be allowed to monitor this freeze, and the DPRK will provide full cooperation to the IAEA for this purpose. B) Dismantlement of the DPRK’s graphite.moderated reactors and related facilities will be completed when the LWR project is completed. C) The U.S. and the DPRK will cooperate in finding a method to store safely the spent fuel from the 5 MW(e) experimental reactor during the construction of the LWR project, and to dispose of the fuel in a safe manner that does not involve reprocessing in the DPRK.

4) As soon as possible after the date of this document U.S. and DPRK experts will hold two sets of experts talks. A) At one set of talks, experts will discuss issues related to alternative energy and the replacement of the graphite.moderated reactor program with the LWR project. B) At the other set of talks, experts will discuss specific arrangements for spent fuel storage and ultimate disposition.

Was Kim Il-Sung Opposed to Nuclear Weapons?

A declassified Chinese document revealed in 2008 seemed to show Kim Il-Sung's opposition to nuclear weapons. In a letter dated October 30 1964, Kim Il Sung told the then Chinese prime minister, Zhou Enlai, that North Korea supported banning and destroying all nuclear weapons. [Source: Mark Tran, The Guardian, November 17, 2008]

Mark Tran wrote in The Guardian: “The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) has consistently maintained that nuclear weapons should be completely banned and nuclear weapons should be thoroughly destroyed. The Korean people will stand shoulder to shoulder with the peace-loving people of the whole world for the realisation of the complete ban and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons. But in correspondence the following year, Kim congratulated China on its successful atomic tests and supported Beijing's nuclear development as a defensive measure against US nuclear threats, Yonhap said.

Kim Il-sung's stance on nuclear weapons may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. During an inter-Korean summit last year, Kim Jong-il said he would eventually give up nuclear weapons to realise his father's "dying wish". Other Pyongyang leaders have made similar remarks in public.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: Daily NK, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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