The bitter “conflict of words” between the US and North Korea, over the latter nation’s ambition to develop nuclear weapons, has dominated world headlines since the time Donald Trump emerged as a front-runner in a race to become the 45th US president. To understand the genesis of this conflict, we have to look to the modern history of Korea to see why leaders in North Korea have never quite gotten along with the US.
When Josef Stalin agreed to join the war in Asia against Japan, the Soviet Red Army invaded China on August 9, 1945 in co-ordination with the Korean guerrillas who played a key role in defeating the Imperial Japanese Army north of the 38th parallel on the Korean peninsula. At the end of the war, the Soviets handed their occupation zone to the Soviet puppets in Korea, who fought as captains in the Soviet Red Army like Kim Il Sung, thus laying the ground work for Stalin to entrench Soviet Communism in Asia.
When Harry S Truman took office on April 12, 1945, he clashed with Josef Stalin over the latter leader’s intentions to impose Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and in retaliation, the Russians decided to create a permanent state north of the 38th parallel line in the fall of 1948. Kim Il Sung was duly installed as the first president and this marked the start of the Kim dynasty in North Korea. In June, 1949 when the US withdrew from South Korea, a desire to unify Korea under Communist rule tempted Kim Il Sung to invade South Korea and this act of aggression begun the Korean War on June 25, 1950. By July, a multi National force led by the US had entered the war on South Korea’s behalf.
The fight on the Korean peninsula was a symbol of a global struggle against Communism and out of “defensive necessity” Mao Tse-tung sent in 260,000 Chinese troops to preserve the status quo. The anti-American feelings at the core of Mao’s intervention in the Korean War marked the end of Soviet Russia’s sole influence over North Korea. But as Mao was preparing to withdraw his troops, the Russians offered to transfer nuclear technology to North Korea as a security guarantee to Kim Il Sung.
This tendency to provide nuclear technology as a security guarantee to Stalin’s puppets marked the beginning of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions in 1956. Later when Kim Il Sung fell out with his sponsors ie Russia in 1961 over Khrushchev’s agenda to desecrate Stalin’s legacy and with China over Mao’s brutal enforcement of the Cultural Revolution in 1965, he decided to adopt the ideology of self-reliance at home to avoid the disintegration of his regime from external interference. He also designated a successor among his sons, who would go on to preserve his legacy.
In 1994, Kim Il Sung was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-Il at a time when the Soviet Union was no more and most Communist economies were collapsing. The inability for decades to attract foreign investments hampered food production and this led to a severe famine in 1994. To alleviate the effects of this famine, Kim Jong-Il agreed to freeze North Korea’s plutonium production programme in exchange for aid and economic cooperation, as seen in the “Agreed Framework” he signed with the US.
However, this moratorium on weapons development was lifted when President George W Bush in his state-of-the union address on January 29, 2002, described North Korea as a common enemy of the US and went on to invade Iraq on March 20, 2003. This war on global terrorism emboldened North Korea to defend its right to develop nuclear weapons and on January 10, 2003, North Korea announced its withdrawal from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
The US requested China to open the Six Party Talks to find a peaceful solution to this crisis. But North Korea pulled out from these talks and conducted its first nuclear test on October 9, 2006. On December 17, 2011, Kim Jong-Il died and he was succeeded by a third leader of the Kim dynasty, Kim Jong-un, who issued orders for a third nuclear test on February 12, 2013. So, overall, the desire to preserve the revolution that started with the defeat of Imperial Japan in 1945, is what fuels North Korea’s active hostility towards the US.
Mr Makumbi is an advocate licensed to practice law in Uganda.