For decades North Korea has been one of the world's most secretive societies. It is one of the few countries still under nominally communist rule. North Korea's nuclear ambitions have exacerbated its rigidly maintained isolation from the rest of the world. The country emerged in 1948 amid the chaos following the end of the Second World War. Its history is dominated by its Great Leader, Kim Il-sung, who shaped political affairs for almost half a century. Decades of this rigid state-controlled system have led to stagnation and a leadership dependent on the cult of personality. The totalitarian state also stands accused of systematic human rights abuses. The current leader of North Korea is Kim Jong-un, the grandson of Kim Il-sung. He succeeded his father Kim Jong-il in 2011. (Source: BBC)
2017.06.07 North Korea has condemned Trump for pulling the United States out of the Paris agreement on climate change, dubbing it a “shortsighted and silly decision.” washingtonpost.com (See also Climate Change, Environment) 2017.07.22 Congress agrees on a bill to impose sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea, posing a difficult veto dilemma for Trump. washingtonpost.com (See also Russia, Iran, Foreign Policy, Trump Relationship with Russia) 2017.08.03 Trump blamed Congress for the United States’ poor relationship with Russia, a day after he signed sanctions legislation that he said was flawed and unconstitutional. nytimes.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior, Russia, Assaults on Government, Iran, Russian Meddling in Election) 2017.08.08 Trump's retweet of a Fox News story claiming US satellites detected North Korea moving anti-ship cruise missiles to a patrol boat raised concerns after US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley indicated that the information in the report is classified and was leaked. cnn.com (See also Unprecedented Actions, Nikki Haley) 2017.08.09 Despite Trump's tweet claiming that his first order as president was to renovate and modernize the nuclear arsenal, experts called his statement "completely false," "a total lie," "patently absurd," and "misleading." buzzfeed.com (See also False Statements) 2017.08.12 While Guam is being threatened by nuclear attack from North Korea, Trump told their president that they don't need to worry, since their tourism will boost tenfold. nytimes.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior) 2017.08.16 White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told associates he never intended to do an "interview" with an editor at the American Prospect, a left-wing publication. axios.com (See also Steve Bannon, John Kelly) 2017.09.18 Donald Trump’s tweet about long gas lines in North Korea has residents puzzled, as there are no lines at the few service stations in Pyongyang, a city of about 2 million people. washingtonpost.com (See also False Statements) 2017.09.19 In a dark, terrorism-focused speech at the UN, Donald Trump said, "We will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket Man" — his name for Kim Jong Un — "is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime." buzzfeed.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior) 2017.09.22 Senior aides to Donald Trump repeatedly warned him not to deliver a personal attack on North Korea’s leader at the United Nations this week, saying insulting the young despot in such a prominent venue could irreparably escalate tensions and shut off any chance for negotiations to defuse the nuclear crisis. latimes.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior, Foreign Policy) 2017.09.24 The Trump administration announced new restrictions on visitors from eight countries — an expansion of an existing travel ban that has spurred fierce legal debates over security, immigration and discrimination, adding Chad, North Korea and Venezuela to the new indefinite ban. washingtonpost.com (See also Muslim Immigration Ban, Racism, Nationalism, Foreign Policy, Iran) 2017.09.29 Two months after signing it, Donald Trump has not begun enforcing a law imposing new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea, Senators John McCain and Ben Cardin, and with just two days to go, his administration has not provided information related to Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors required under the measure. reuters.com (See also Russia, Iran) 2017.10.01 Donald Trump undercut his own secretary of state, calling his effort to open lines of communication with North Korea a waste of time, and seeming to rule out a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear-edged confrontation with Pyongyang, just a day after Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said he was reaching out in hopes of starting a new dialogue. nytimes.com (See also Rex Tillerson, Department of State, Unpresidential Behavior, Nuclear Weapons) 2017.10.08 Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, charged in an interview on Sunday that President Trump was treating his office like “a reality show,” with reckless threats toward other countries that could set the nation “on the path to World War III.” nytimes.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior, Iran, False Statements, Rex Tillerson, James Mattis, John Kelly) 2017.10.11 Donald Trump said he wanted what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal during a gathering this past summer of the nation’s highest-ranking national security leaders, leading to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling him a "moron." nbcnews.com (See also Rex Tillerson, Foreign Policy, Department of State, Iran, Afghanistan, Mike Pence, Steven Mnuchin) 2017.10.13 European leaders pushed back sharply Friday against Donald Trump’s decision to strip White House backing from the Iran nuclear deal, saying the move would weaken U.S. credibility, drive a wedge within the Western alliance and hurt global efforts to address dangers from Tehran to North Korea. washingtonpost.com (See also Foreign Policy, Iran, Unprecedented Actions) 2017.10.17 A federal judge largely blocked the Trump administration from implementing the latest version of their travel ban, which was set to bar various types of travelers from Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Chad, Somalia, North Korea and Venezuela. washingtonpost.com (See also Legal Issues, Immigration, Muslim Immigration Ban, Syria, Iran) 2017.11.14 Congressional lawmakers raised concerns about Donald Trump's ability to use nuclear weapons during a hearing Capitol Hill amid bipartisan anxiety over launch process procedures and indications that the administration has considered the option of a first strike on North Korea. cnn.com (See also Unprecedented Actions) 2017.12.04 Germans see Trump as bigger problem than North Korea or Russia. reuters.com (See also Trump Effect, Foreign Policy, Russia) 2018.01.02 Donald Trump again raised the prospect of nuclear war with North Korea, boasting in playground terms that he commands a “much bigger” and “more powerful” arsenal of devastating weapons than the outlier government in Asia. nytimes.com (See also Unpresidential Behavior, National Defense, Nuclear Weapons) 2018.01.09 The Trump administration plans to loosen constraints on the use of nuclear weapons and develop a new low-yield nuclear warhead for US Trident missiles. theguardian.com (See also Nuclear Weapons, National Defense, Russia, China) 2018.02.18 Amid global anxiety about Donald Trump’s approach to world affairs, U.S. officials had a message for a gathering of Europe’s foreign policy elite this weekend: Pay no attention to the man tweeting behind the curtain. washingtonpost.com (See also H.R. McMaster, Russia, Unpresidential Behavior) 2018.03.08 North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has invited Donald Trump to meet for negotiations over its nuclear program. nytimes.com (See also Foreign Policy) 2018.03.13 Donald Trump has fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and plans to nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him as the nation’s top diplomat, orchestrating a major change to his national security team amid delicate outreach such as possible talks with North Korea. washingtonpost.com (See also Resignations and Dismissals, Rex Tillerson, Department of State, Mike Pompeo) 2018.05.24 Donald Trump, citing a flurry of hostile statements from North Korea, pulled out of a highly anticipated summit meeting with Kim Jong-un. nytimes.com (See also Foreign Policy, Reversals)
In an opinion piece for The New York Times entitled Trump and North Korea: A Looming Foreign Policy Crisis, Joel S. Wit (Senior Fellow at the US-Korea Institue, Johns Hopkins SAIS, and founder of 38North) writes:
The reality of the past eight years is that North Korea has methodically plotted and implemented a strategy of building missiles and warheads using the political shield of China, a country unwilling to impose crippling sanctions sought by the United States. The United States, on the other hand, was either too busy paying attention to other international problems or too misinformed to realize that China was not going to carry Washington’s water. As a result, the North Korean W.M.D. cancer was essentially left to metastasize. We have now reached another critical moment.
We may be on the cusp of the Trump administration’s first major foreign policy crisis, with last Sunday’s missile test only the first in a series of missile and nuclear weapons tests. Unless Washington quickly formulates a strategy for dealing with Pyongyang — that includes not only sanctions and protecting our allies but diplomatic outreach to the North — it is going to be a rough ride.