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)
2017.02.03 U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis says any use of nuclear weapons by North Korea would be met with an "overwhelming" response. bbc.com (See also James Mattis) 2017.02.13 Nikki Haley responds to North Korean ballistic missile launch with a statement at the U.N.: "We call on all members of the Security Council to use every available resource to make it clear to the North Korean regime, and its enablers, that these launches are unacceptable." The phrase "enablers" refers to China and is seen as an unusually public criticism. cnn.com (See also Nikki Haley, United Nations) 2017.02.13 The Pentagon has assessed that North Korea's weekend ballistic missile launch showed new capabilities. The launch involved the first land-based test of an intermediate-range missile that, in the past, has been fired from a submarine. It flew farther than any previous North Korean tests, about 300 miles before dropping into the Sea of Japan. cnn.com (See also United Nations) 2017.02.13 Trump was in the Mar-a-Lago Club terrace with the Japanese prime minister when news broke that North Korea had test-fired a ballistic missile and rather than move to a secure location he turns the dining room into open-air situation room. washingtonpost.com (See also Japan, First 100 Days) 2017.02.26 Informal talks scheduled for next week between a North Korean delegation and a team of former U.S. officials are canceled after the Trump administration withdraws its initial approval of the North Koreans' visas, two people who had planned to participate said. cnn.com 2017.03.09 Nikki Haley rebuffed a proposal from China that the U.S. “apply the brakes” to an escalating standoff with North Korea, saying “positive action” was required before it would engage with the “irresponsible” Kim Jong Un. washingtonpost.com (See also China, Nikki Haley) 2017.03.17 Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said pre-emptive military action was "on the table" if the threat from the North's weapons program reached a level requiring it. bbc.com (See also Rex Tillerson) 2017.04.03 Nikki Haley says Trump will pressure China to respond to ballistic missile launches by North Korea. reuters.com (See also China, Nikki Haley) 2017.04.03 Trump says, "If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you." bbc.com 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) 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)
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.