When North Korea disclosed in fall 2002 an ongoing clandestine weapons
program, it fueled rising fears worldwide about the threat of
nuclear proliferation. The secret weapons program in North Korea violated a 1994 agreement with the United States, further
damaging an already tense relationship. This relationship is
marked by periodic crises between the two countries, whose intense
rivalry dates back to the beginning of the Cold War.
In months following the disclosure, North Korea has withdrawn from a key nuclear arms-control treaty, expelled United Nations monitors, and restarted a mothballed nuclear reactor capable of processing material for nuclear bombs. A U.S. aircraft on a reconnaissance mission surveying the country's military activities 150 miles off the coast of North Korea was intercepted by North Korean fighter jets.
The U.S. has responded by committing radar-eluding Stealth war planes, which haven't been deployed to the region in a decade. And the Pentagon continues to increase military presence on the Pacific Island of Guam.
Every U.S. president since 1945 has been faced with the same
essential question about North Korea: whether to pursue a policy
of containment or an effort at engagement. When the Japanese
ended their brutal regime in Korea at the close of World War
II, they surrendered not to a single victor, but to U.S. forces
in the South and to Soviet forces in the North.
The barbed wire that was rolled out on the 38th parallel became
the demarcation point for two Koreas. Korea's division between
the capitalist South and communist North, a line drawn by the
world's superpowers, cut right across the middle of the country
and separated countless families. On both sides of the line,
there has been an almost palpable longing for reunification
Over the last 10 years, dialogue between the two Koreas offered
hope for a reunified country. Relations between the United States
and North Korea also warmed. But then the latest crisis broke
out, revealing a residue of profound mistrust.
Here's an overview of watershed events in the history of U.S.-North
Korean relations that help explain the deep layers of suspicion
between the two countries.
2002: Nukes and the "Axis of Evil"
1994: Diplomacy With Pyongyang
1991: End of a Superpower
1976: An Axe Fight Nearly Triggers War
1968: Spy Ships and Infiltrators
1948: From Independence to War
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"Face-Off: A Short History United
States-North Korea Conflict" by Kelly Whalen, a freelance writer
and documentary producer based in Oakland, California.
Producer: Angela Morgenstern; Designed
by: Susan Harris, Fluent
Studios; see full
note: This page was slightly updated in March of 2003 for the
encore broadcast of "Suspicious Minds."