Lay of the Land: Located in northeast Asia, the Korean Peninsula juts south from Manchuria into the Pacific Ocean. Mountains cover most of the northern and southwestern regions of the peninsula, and a coastal plain runs along the eastern coast. North Korea occupies the northern portion of the Korean Peninsula, covering an area of 46,541 square miles, which is roughly the size of Pennsylvania. North Korea is bordered by China and Russia to the north, by South Korea along the Korean Demilitarized Zone, by the Yellow Sea and Korea Bay to the west, while Japan lies to the east across the Sea of Japan. The highest point in North Korea is Paektu-san Mountain at 9,003 feet. Korea’s longest river is the Yalu, which flows for 491 miles. The capital and largest city is Pyongyang, which is home to more than 2.5 million people.
Although North Korea is viewed today as an extreme example of a Communist dictatorship the roots of Korean authoritarianism begin deep in the peninsula’s history. The current regime has used Koreans’ traditional respect for authority and their fear of foreign invasion to control the people of North Korea through an ideology of Juche, or national self-reliance. Koreans’ traditional respect for authority is rooted in Confucianism, while Korea’s fear of external threats is a byproduct of invasions they have endured countless times,
Throughout Bill Clinton’s presidency, North Korea’s nuclear program was consistently a part of his administration’s international agenda. In 1994, the United States and North Korea both agreed to the 1994 Agreed Framework, which prohibited all of North Korea’s enrichment programs and halted construction of extant facilities. In a concerted effort with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the US worked to steer North Korea from uranium enrichment programs. Overall, North Korea complied with the restrictions specified during the Clinton Administration; the US and North Korea were generally amiable with regards to restrictions on nuclear proliferation. North Korea, however, had increasing frustration over delays in construction of LWR and threatened in 1998 to restart nuclear research.
Trade between the US and North Korea is virtually nonexistent. In 2007, the US imported nothing from North Korea, and the last year of any significant imports was 2004, when the U.S. imported $1.4 million worth of medicinal, dental and pharmaceutical preparations. United States exports to North Korea are minimal. In 2008 the US exported to North Korea $34.2 million worth of corn and $10.7 million worth of wheat.
North Korea is probably the least free, most strictly regimented society in the world. Human rights there are virtually unknown, and the government effectively isolates its people from any independent knowledge of the outside world by controlling all media, including radio and the Internet. The people of North Korea have never known freedom. After centuries of feudalism, they experienced Japanese colonialism and the neo-Stalinism of Kim-Il sung and Kim Jong-il, who in 2008 was named by Parade magazine as the world’s worst dictator.
When it comes United States policy toward North Korea, the crux of the debate concerns whether or not to impose sanctions. Since 2006, when North Korea initiated its first nuclear test, the international community has become weary of the erratic behavior of Kim Jung-il. In response to the 2006 test, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1718, which authorized an embargo on arms and luxury goods, a travel ban, and an asset freeze on individuals. Arguments in favor of sanctions argue that North Korea’s leaders will make more concession and become more conciliatory at the negotiation table if there is marked fragility and weakness in their government. Historically, North Korea has made concessions when there are significant changes in its economy or relations with other nations.
The U.S. does not have formal diplomatic relations with North Korea, and hence does not maintain an Embassy in North Korea. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang represents the U.S. as a consular protecting power.
North Korea does not have formal diplomatic relations with the U.S., and hence does not maintain an Embassy in the U.S., but it does have a permanent mission to the U.N. in New York.