Foreign policy and defense
The Korean War has characterized North
Korea's foreign and security policy for more than half a
century (see Conflicts: Korea). War permits formally
prevail with South Korea, as the 1953 ceasefire
agreement was not followed by any peace agreement. Since
the 1990s, international relations have largely been
about North Korea's nuclear weapons program, and the
world's attempts to put an end to it.
The pursuit of independence according to the juche
ideology (see Political system) has been the official
guiding principle in North Korea's foreign policy. It
has contributed to the country's isolation, although in
reality it has long been closely linked to China and the
Soviet Union (see Modern History).
Overview of business holidays and various national observances in North Korea for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Nowadays, North Korea has diplomatic relations with
most countries in the world, including most of the EU.
However, diplomatic relations with the US are lacking
and Washington's interests are represented in Pyongyang
by the Swedish Embassy.
Attempts to get North Korea to discontinue its
nuclear weapons program have taken place with both
carrot and whip. Pyongyang has also been attracted with
oil, food deliveries and trade exchanges, and has been
penalized with frozen bank accounts, delisted goods
deliveries and other penalties.
The North Korean regime has promised numerous times
to refrain from developing nuclear weapons, but has done
so anyway. Since 2012, North Korea has inscribed in its
constitution that the country is a nuclear weapons
state. The country is also believed to have an active
chemical weapons program and possibly biological weapons
In light of the fact that the United States had
nuclear weapons in South Korea, as early as the 1950s,
North Korea initiated a program to develop nuclear
technology, with the potential for both nuclear and
nuclear weapons. The US nuclear weapons were removed in
the 1970s. In 1992, North and South Korea agreed that
the Korean Peninsula should be free of nuclear weapons.
North Korea refused, despite allowing the UN Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect facilities suspected of
preparations for nuclear weapons. But in 1994, Pyongyang
signed an agreement with the United States that the
North Koreans would scrap nuclear reactors that could
have been used for peaceful nuclear power - and for the
development of nuclear weapons. In return, North Korea
would get help with its energy supply through oil
supplies and help with the construction of light water
In the years that followed, North Korea's program of
developing robots capable of carrying weapons long
distances was also discussed. Promises and broken
promises made each other succeed. In 2003, North Korea
formally withdrew from the International
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - which it joined in 1985
but never followed. The decision prompted the United
States to pressure North Korea into so-called six-party
talks, in which South Korea, China, Japan and Russia
also participated, to get Pyongyang to discontinue its
nuclear weapons program.
First nuclear test
But in October 2006, the North Koreans for the first
time blasted an underground charge. The reactions in the
outside world became strong. The UN introduced sanctions
that put an end to the import of military equipment.
The six-party talks continued and in 2007 a
breakthrough appeared to be reached when, among other
things, North Korea agreed to close its reactor in
Yongbyon and other nuclear facilities and allow
inspections by the IAEA. North Korea, in return,
received promises of energy and food aid, normalized
relations and enforced sanctions.
Nor did the pledges now lead to any major course
change. In 2009, instead, the tone hardened. When the UN
condemned the trial of a long-range robot, North Korea
responded by jumping off the six-party talks. In May of
the same year, the country again conducted a test of a
nuclear weapon. In February 2013, a third underground
explosion was conducted.
During the second half of the 2010s, North Korea
increased the amount of robotic and nuclear weapons
tests. A fourth nuclear test was carried out in early
2016 and shortly thereafter another rocket launch.
According to the outside world, it was again a cover for
the work of developing long-range missiles that can be
equipped with nuclear weapons.
In response to the US and South Korea's decision to
deploy an air defense system in South Korea (see South
Korea: Foreign Policy and Defense), with the stated
purpose of protecting South Korea from missile attacks
from the north, in July of the same year, North Korea
fired three robots into the sea outside South Korea.
The same autumn, the country performed another
nuclear test, the fifth in order. North Korean sources
said that after the test, the country was now
technically able to mount nuclear warheads on robots.
Continued robot testing followed, resulting in new
tensions and sharpened sanctions from the UN.
On US initiative, the United Nations Security Council
in August 2017 adopted additional sanctions against
North Korea. The sanctions, which completely prohibit
the country from exporting coal, iron and lead, were
estimated to reduce export revenues by more than a
After a sixth nuclear test took place in September
2017 - the first hydrogen bomb found - new sanctions
were introduced for the eighth time since the country
conducted the first nuclear test in 2006. This time, a
limit was placed on how much oil was allowed to be
exported to North Korea. This mainly concerned China,
which is the country that mainly supplies North Korea
with oil. Chinese oil exports could continue at the same
level as last year, but no more. A ban on North Korea's
important textile exports was also introduced. In
addition, new visas were also not issued for North
Korean guest workers.
After a close relationship with South Korea and the
United States (see below), in the spring of 2018, North
Korea's leaders announced that the country no longer
needed to test nuclear weapons and long-range robots
because they now had nuclear weapons that could deter
the country's enemies. He also said he was willing to
work for nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula. No
more nuclear and robotic tests would be done and the
nuclear weapons testing facility destroyed, as witnessed
by foreign journalists.
Relations with South Korea
North Korea has never acknowledged South Korea, but
has the goal of reuniting the peninsula (the reverse
also applies). Despite this, a cautious dialogue was
initiated between the countries in the 1970s and in the
mid-1980s group trips began with meetings between family
members who had not met since the Korean War. After the
end of the Cold War around 1990, trade and talks
When North Korea released the requirement that only a
reunited Korea could join the UN, both Korea were
admitted as members there in 1991. The following year, a
broad cooperation agreement came into force.
In June 2000, a historic summit was held in Pyongyang
between Kim Jong-Il and South Korea's President Kim
Dae-Jung. They decided on financial cooperation,
re-established rail links and reopened liaison office at
the Panmunjom border station. At the inaugural Olympic
Games in Sydney the same year, North and South Korea's
participants marched in together.
North Korea's nuclear test in 2006 created new
tensions. A second summit between North and South Korea
in 2007 gave hope for more icing, but in practice did
not lead far. In 2009, the rhetoric of war was escalated
and after the second test blast, the North said it was
no longer bound by the 1953 standstill agreement.
In 2010, the situation was further tightened. In
March, 46 South Korean sailors died after the warship
Cheonan exploded and dropped near the Yellow Sea border.
An international investigation found that a North Korean
torpedo dropped the ship. Pyongyang refused to interfere
and broke all relations with Seoul. In November, a
firefight broke out when North Korea suddenly fired
artillery fire at the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong,
also near the border. Four South Koreans were killed in
the attack, which also caused material destruction.
The situation remained predominantly tense between
countries and worsened by North Korea's rocket launch
and nuclear test 2012-2013.
Following Pyongyang's rocket launch in early 2016,
South Korea made the decision to close the Kaesong joint
industrial zone, which the countries have been operating
along with some disruption since 2004 (see Industry).
Although the conflict was perceived as more frozen
than ever towards the end of 2017, an iceberg occurred
in early 2018. In January of that year, for the first
time since Kim Jong-Un's accession as North Korean
leader, bilateral talks were held at a high level. The
official reason for the talks was to discuss North
Korea's participation in the Winter Olympics in
Pyeongchang in South Korea next month. During the
inaugural ceremony, North and South Korean contestants
marched together and later met with South Korean
President Moon Jae-In North Korea's Former Head of State
Kim Yong-Nam and Kim Jong-Un's sister Kim Yo-Jong. In
April of that year, a historic meeting was held, in the
border town of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone,
between Kim Jong-Un and South Korean President Moon
The two Korean leaders then met on two more occasions
in 2018 and agreed on concrete measures to reduce
tensions and spur joint cooperation. These included
removing land mines along the common border and reducing
the number of guard posts. In addition, a reunion was
held for families who split up in the Korean War and
ended up on each side of the border. However, the
continued international sanctions against North Korea
have put a stalemate on closer economic cooperation
between the states and investments in North Korea.
Relations with the United States
Relations with the United States are particularly
closely related to the game around the core program.
Pyongyang ideally wants direct negotiations with
Washington and only reluctantly agreed that other
countries in the region participated in the six-party
talks that lasted until 2009. North Korea counts the
United States as its main enemy and accuses South Korea
of being its puppet state.
The relationship was extraordinarily much in tune
with then-US President George W Bush's 2002 speech on
the "axis of evil" - North Korea, Iran and Iraq. When
Barack Obama took office as president in 2009, there
were hopes of thunderstorms. Instead, North Korea
provoked the launch of a long-range robot and then a
After Donald Trump took office as new US president in
January 2017, the relationship between the two countries
became increasingly hostile as North Korea expanded its
robot tests (see Calendar). The same spring, in
conjunction with the annual military exercises between
South Korea and the United States, when North Korea's
leadership has traditionally protested openly with
threatening statements, the turmoil in the Korean
peninsula increased again. But the Trump leadership made
it clear that the goal was for North Korea to be piloted
again in a dialogue on the nuclear program. To achieve
this, diplomacy and further sanctions would be used. At
the same time, the American press had also increased the
pressure on China (see below) to actively participate in
attempts to get North Korea on the right path.
After Kim Jong-Un suddenly began a rapprochement with
South Korea in early 2018, he also came in the spring
with an invitation to President Trump. This man
surprisingly agreed to hold a summit with Kim Jong-Un.
The meeting finally took place on June 12 the same year
in Singapore. It was the first time a US president met
with North Korea's leaders. The two leaders discussed
nuclear disarmament and signed a document to promote the
Korean Peninsula to be free of nuclear weapons. The
United States pledged to safeguard North Korea's
security and would also stop the recurring military
exercises with South Korea. In addition, it was agreed
to endeavor to establish a formal peace agreement after
the Korean War. However, how it all went to was very
unclear and therefore further meetings were needed.
In February 2019, Trump and Kim Jong-Un met at a
second summit, this time in Vietnam's capital Hanoi.
Expectations were high before the meeting, both of the
parties as well as the outside world. But the summit was
stranded and had to be canceled prematurely. The
countries blamed each other. The US believed that the
North Koreans demanded too much, according to President
Trump, to lift all sanctions, against the partial
dismantling of the Yongbyon nuclear facility. It was
stated from North Korean sources that they had only
demanded that the sanctions introduced in 2016-2017 be
Relations with China
Since the end of the Cold War, China has been North
Korea's closest ally. A friendship agreement was signed
in 1961 between the countries where China promises to
come to the rescue of North Korea in an external attack.
Almost all of North Korea's trade is done today with
China, which is also an important source of food and
energy for the North Koreans. But the relationship is
complicated and China's influence seems more limited
Beijing has tried to intercept North Korea's nuclear
weapons test blasts in the early 2000s and participated
in its condemnations. At the same time, China is
believed to be more concerned about instability in the
Korean Peninsula than for the nuclear weapons
themselves. Beijing has supported UN sanctions against
North Korea, but Chinese leaders have not wanted to
resort to overly harsh methods to avoid the collapse of
the Pyongyang regime. Not least, in China, there is a
strong concern about a refugee storm across the common
After Kim Jong-Un took over the leadership of North
Korea, relations cooled. But in early 2018, just before
the planned US summit, Kim Jong-Un made a train trip to
Beijing, where he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The trip, Kim Jong-Un's first official trip abroad as a
North Korean leader, was perceived by observers as a way
to assure Beijing that it was not excluded from the
negotiations that had begun on the situation on the
Relations with Japan
Japan has joined South Korea and the United States in
the conflict on the Korean Peninsula and Japan also has
a military alliance with the United States. This has
made North Korea perceive Japan as an enemy. Relations
have been further strained by the difficult experiences
of the North Koreans during the former Japanese colonial
empire and a dispute over North Korea's abduction of
Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s. In 2002,
Pyongyang acknowledged that 13 Japanese were kidnapped,
of which five were sent back, but according to Tokyo,
hundreds of Japanese may be detained in North Korea.
North Korea has the world's fourth largest military
power and is the most militarized country in terms of
population. Military spending in recent years has been
estimated at around one quarter of gross domestic
product (GDP). The military has over one million
soldiers and several million reservists. The military
service can last up to twelve years in the army and up
to ten years in the Navy.
It is unknown how many nuclear weapons North Korea
has available: estimates range from 15 to 60. It can
produce both highly enriched uranium and plutonium for
nuclear bombs. The sixth nuclear test 2017 was a
hydrogen bomb and the most powerful to date.
With its robot tests, North Korea has also shown that
it has developed several different types of robots, from
short-range, to medium- and long-range weapons.
FACTS - DEFENSE
1 100 000 men (2017)
The air Force
110,000 men (2017)
60,000 men (2017)