International Interactions Between United States and North Korea


The interaction between North Korea and the United States has been one of the most studied. This is because despite the two countries having established strong primary relationships in the ‘ancient’ Korean War, the relationship between the two partners has continued to deteriorate as a result of the United States suspiciously regarding its former ally’s nuclear programs. Although the hostilities between the two nations had remained to be assessed in terms of a ‘Cold War’ for a long time, it is notable that the two countries had had a relationship characterized by animosity and conflicts. As Kim noted, the US had remained the most dominant foreign actor in North Korea, albeit for many different political, economic, diplomatic and military reasons. The following is an assessment of these reasons as expressed in their interactions (1).

Economic Interactions

Despite the strained foreign relations between the two countries, economic interactions between these two feuding partners remained noticeable. For instance, despite the tensions that existed between these two countries, the United States took up an aiding role to continue supplying humanitarian aid to North Korea, especially after its food crisis and its war with its perennial rival, South Korea (Brune, 1286). Contrary to most peoples’ expectations, the United States has continued to offer humanitarian aid to the ‘poor’ members of North Korea, a gesture that has been boosted by the Congress decision to include the country amongst those to be aided in the US’s foreign budget.

Ideally, though the US had claimed that its continued humanitarian assistance to North Korea was as a result of its intention to aid the ‘poor’, North Koreans who had been affected by the food crisis, the US decision (of September 2005) to impose ‘targeted sanctions on North Korea as a result of its continued engagement in nuclear activities had left many wondering what the World ‘superpower’s real intention really was(Gardner 98). This surprise arose from the fact that the imposed economic sanctions were likely to affect North Korea’s (then) recovering economy.

In a nutshell, it should be stressed that though the two nations experienced strained relationships between themselves, little instances of improving relationships led to improved economic relations between these two countries. For example, the improving relationship in the year 1985 led to many US multinational companies establishing a proactive presence in the North Korean Republic. Likewise, Korean exports during the same period to the US surpassed US Dollars 10 million, notably from ‘nothing’ in the previous years (Winder 54). The year 1995 saw these companies export energy resources worth an estimated $24 billion to their motherland country. Some experts have argued that it is these economic interests that have kept the US at bay in launching the proposed attacks on the country’s nuclear programs.

Diplomatic Interactions

The diplomatic interaction between North Korea and the US can be traced back to the occupation of Korean territories by the USA and the then USSR. During this period, the USA had occupied South Korea while the then USSR, through its military, had occupied North Korea. The submission of North Korea to the USSR coalition and the association of the United with Japan (then a great enemy of North Korea) meant that North Koreans had to cut any direct diplomatic relationships with the US. The US, aware of the negative perception in which it was viewed by the North Koreans, did not tire in seeking to improve its relationships with the then unstable country. As a result, the United States Government, then led Reagan, organized a powerful diplomatic team. This team was led by both missionaries and US ministers. This team kept on reminding the Koreans that the USA could be a very partner in the course of North Korean seeking its independence (at a future date). This occurred in the period ranging 1945 to 1948. As the diplomatic relationships failed to improve, the US government established contacts with North Korea’s occupiers-USSR.

The decision by the North Koreans to ‘snub’ the USA had strongly hurt the Pentagon. This was shown in the late 1950s when the Pentagon failed to recognize their decision to seek the independence of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) despite its ally Soviet Union having accented to their plan.

The decision by the United States to support their request for independence increased the sour relationships that existed between the two rivals.

The year 1948 saw a great number of American soldiers withdraw from their occupation of South Korea. This withdrawal provided the opportunity for North Korean leader Kim II-sung to brand the Americans as imperialists who had succeeded the Japanese. This view was and has been held by most North Koreans.

The hard stances as taken by the previous US presidents, notably, former President Bush, only helped in worsening the diplomatic relationships between the two feuding partners. For instance, in the year 2003, Mr. Bush had been captured on camera “listing the DPRK as an axis of evil and a target of pre-emptive nuclear attack”, an accusation that was not lightly taken by the North Koreans (Ernest 51).

Military Interactions

Despite having developed poor diplomatic ties with the USA, North Korea did not give up its efforts of annoying its foe when it set up its first weapons and nuclear program in the year 1970 (Robinson & Baker 1). It should be noted that North Korea had strongly defended its nuclear program by stating that it wanted to meet its energy deficiencies, a justification that led to many neighboring states (except South Korea) supporting its nuclear plans. As such, it was able to carry on with its nuclear activities for a long period (approximated at 20 years) before the US launched heavy criticisms of its program. The widespread US protests led to the United Nations nuclear team paying a visit to assess the country’s nuclear activities in the year 1990.

The inspection, by the body of the United Nations tasked with monitoring nuclear facilities, established a lot of discrepancies in the statistical data that had been submitted to it by the Pyongyang government. The report had revealed that North Korea had been concealing a lot of evidence on the program (Robinson & Baker 2). Since the inspection had only been allowed to proceed by the Korean government after it feared that the USA might have gone ahead to implement its military force on its “safe” program, the UN report on the country’s nuclear activities had provided the USA with an opportunity of going ahead to attack the country’s nuclear activities.

Aware of the heavy damage that its economy was to incur incase of any US attacks, North Korea dropped its earlier hard-line stance on the program. Instead, the country engaged in constructive dialogues that saw its greatest ‘foe’- the United States adopt a friendly approach on the country. The US even went ahead and promised to compensate North Korea for its loss of electric power if it scrapped and put a freeze on its nuclear facilities and nuclear substances (Gardner 96).

Political Interactions

The long-lasting animosity that was manifest in US and North Korea relations has led to none, and if not, few political interactions between the two countries. The few attempts to initiate political engagements (in form of policy implementation) have been met by stiff resistance from the citizens of the two countries. For instance, the US Government’s (led by then-President Bill Clinton) decision to involve itself in Korean policies in the year 2003 reached higher levels of animation when Congressmen dismissed the US attempt of engaging in North Korea affairs as a screwed policy ever to be seen (Cha and Kang 3). The Koreans have also been aggressive in dismissing any US engagement in their political affairs.

In summary, it should be noted that as it was established in the research works of Chang and Kang “the debates over North Korea’s bombshell admission in October 2002 of a second nuclear weapons program, their withdrawal from the Nonproliferation Treaty and the ensuring crisis in 2003, were only the most proximate illustration of the perennial division of views on the opaque regime (1).


Brune, Lester. Chronological History of U.S. Foreign Relations: 1989-2000. 2nd edition. New York: Routledge, 2003. Print.

Cha, Victor & Kang, David. Nuclear North Korea: A Debate On Engagement Strategies. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. Print.

Ernest, Jonathan. Nuclear Weapon Initiatives: Low-yield R & D, Advanced Concepts, Earth Penetrators, Test Readiness. New York: Nova Publishers, 2005. Print.

Gardner, Hall. American Global Strategy and the ‘War on Terrorism’. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Ltd.,2003. Print.

Kim, Samuel. North Korean Foreign Relations in the Post-Cold World. Strategic Studies Institute, 2010. Web.

Robinson, Colin & Baker Stephen. Stand-off with North Korea: War Scenarios and Consequences. Centre for Defence Information, n.d. Web. 2011.

Winder, Joseph. The Korea-U.S. FTA: Prospects and Implications for the Bilateral Strategic Relationship. Winder International, 2010. Web.

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