In 2002 President Bush named North Korea as a “rogue state”, as part of an “axis of evil.” As a deeply secretive society and one of the few remaining countries under communist rule, it is difficult to gauge exactly how much North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons will affect international peace in the coming years.

North Korea emerged in 1948 amid the chaos following the end of World War II. For almost half a century, its history is dominated by its Great Leader, Kim Il-sung. After the Korean War, Kim Il-sung introduced the personal philosophy of Juche, or self-reliance, which perhaps best explains North Korea’s current deviance from international standards. Kim Il-sung’s son, Kim Jong-il, is now head of state, but the post of president has been assigned “eternally” to his late father.

Kim Jong-Il, who is known as a flagrantly eccentric leader, has both kept his people under tight control and the international community guessing at his intentions. Internally, a range of systematic human rights abuses such as torture, public executions, slave labour, and forced abortions and infanticides in prison camps are routinely used. In addition, the state has been dubbed the world’s worst violator of press freedom by the media rights body Reporters Without Frontiers. Press outlets and broadcasters are all under direct state control, broadcasting government propaganda rather than news about North Korea’s economic hardships or famines. Aid agencies have estimated that up to two million people have died since the mid-1990s as a result of acute food shortages caused by natural disasters and economic mismanagement.

Although Kim Jong-Il Pyongyang has accused successive South Korean governments of being US “puppets”, in 1998 South Korea’s “sunshine policy” led by R.O.K. President Kim Dae-jung towards the north aimed to encourage change through dialogue and aid. The policy had three fundamental principles: no tolerance of provocations from the North, no intention to absorb the North, and the separation of political cooperation from economic cooperation. This policy eventually set the stage for the first inter-Korean summit, held in Pyongyang June 13-15, 2000. The summit produced a Joint Declaration noting that the two governments “have agreed to resolve the question of reunification independently.”

Internationally, the North Korea regime is notorious for its rhetorical posturing and diplomatic stalling tactics, especially when it comes to nuclear weapons. North Korea has been at the centre of international concerns since 2002, when it admitted to running a secret nuclear programme in violation of international agreements, and is suspected of having several nuclear weapons.

North Korea joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapons state in 1985, and released a Denuclearization Statement in 1992. However, lack of progress in developing and implementing an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency led to North Korea’s March 1993 announcement of its withdrawal from the NPT. In accordance with the terms of the Agreed Framework, in January 1995 the U.S. Government eased economic sanctions against North Korea in response to North Korea’s decision to freeze its nuclear program and cooperate with U.S. and IAEA verification efforts. In April 2000, canning of all accessible spent fuel rods and rod fragments was declared complete. However, in 2002, the Administration also became aware that North Korea was developing a uranium enrichment program for nuclear weapons purposes. North Korea subsequently announced that it was taking these steps to provide itself with a deterrent force in the face of U.S. threats and the U.S.’s “hostile policy.”

In October 2003, President Bush said he would be willing to consider a multilateral written security guarantee in the context of North Korea’s complete, verifiable, and irreversible elimination of its nuclear weapons program. However, based on North Korea’s historic unwillingness to cooperate with non-proliferation treaties, it seems more likely that North Korea will continue its posturing so that America sees it as a serious threat.