As the American conflict with North Korea gains intensity, there seem to be few good options for those opposed to the nuclear build-up of Kim Jung-un’s regime. Some foreign policy wonks think deterrence is the answer. It worked during the Cold War. But can it work with Kim, an arguably less rational leader than the Soviets of years ago. What do you think?
I’m reposting our Korean War Timeline — first published in 2011 — because I think it provides some insight into today’s confrontation, both with North Korea and with our close ally South Korea. For not only is the US angry with North Korea, the Trump administration is accusing South Korea with appeasement and threatening to back out of a five year old trade deal. Perplexing since South Korea has been a close ally for about seven decades and the US has a 67 year old military alliance with the nation.
I do think that it’s worth revisiting this conflict especially since the war itself is called the ‘unknown war’ or the ‘forgotten war.’ So here’s the Korean War Timeline.
1943: The Cairo Declaration was adopted by the Allies.
The Cairo Declaration stated that “Korea shall be free and independent.”
The United States and the Soviet Union agreed that — following the Japanese surrender — Korea would be divided at the 38th parallel into Northern and Southern zones of military occupation.
Soviet forces enter Korea from the North.
American troops land in the South of Korea.
March 20, 1946:
The US – USSR Joint Commission begins drafting recommendations on the membership of the Korean transitional democratic government. This work is challenging because the Soviets and the Americans have differing views on democracy. The process ends in a deadlock, and the US submits the ‘Korean issue’ to the United Nations.
Parliamentary elections are held in the Southern zone under the supervision of the UN transitional commission. The USSR refuses to admit UN representatives in the North.
August 25, 1948:
The USSR severs diplomatic relations with the United States under the pretext that the Americans are holding two Soviet teachers against their will. The US reports that the teachers decided to stay in American custody of their own accord.
December 12, 1948:
The UN General Assembly recognizes the South Korean government in Seoul as the country’s lawful government and recommends the withdrawal of military occupation.
December 25, 1948:
The Soviet Union declares that it has pulled its troops out of North Korea. Notwithstanding, both superpowers continue building up their presence on the Korean Peninsula. The mutual antagonism of the two Korean regimes is increasingly apparent.
The UN Security Council rejects Soviet demands to exclude Chinese nationalists on the island of Formosa, now Taiwan, from the UN. In response, the Soviet delegation boycotts UN meetings for 8 months. This provides the Russians with an automatic excuse to regard all Security Council resolutions adopted during this period as illegitimate.
June 25, 1950:
North Korea mounts a military offensive on the Republic of Korea. The same day, the UN convenes to discuss the Korean issue at the request of the Americans. It adopts a resolution demanding the immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of North Korean troops South of the 38th parallel.
July 7, 1950:
The UN Security Council establishes a unified command over US led troops operating under the UN flag against North Korea. US troops make up more than 90% of the UN force. Sixteen other states also deploy troops. Five states dispatch medical units.
Russia, China, and North Korea consider these actions unjustified. Soviet Ambassador to the UN, Yakov Malik boycotts Security Council meetings and forfeits the right to vote.
Dwight D. Eisenhower becomes President of the United States, succeeding Harry Truman. He threatens China with the use of nuclear force if Beijing refuses to accept and armistice in Korea.
July 27, 1953:
The US and the USSR reach an armistice agreement in Panmunjom, near the 38th parallel. Korea is divided into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea.
December 31, 1991:
The two Koreas agree on a nuclear ban. They initial an agreement banning nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula, but they don’t settle on measures to ensure compliance.
January 30, 1992:
North Korea signs an agreement to permit inspections of its seven sites at Yongbyon, a heavily guarded nuclear complex 60 miles north of Pyongyang.
March 12, 1993:
To avoid international inspections of its suspected nuclear weapons development program, North Korea announces it’s withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it ratified in 1985. North Korea then rethinks withdrawing, but begins stockpiling plutonium.
May 29, 1993:
North Korea conducts what appears to be the first successful test of the country’s homegrown midrange missile, raising Japanese fears that missiles could reach some of Japan’s most populous cities.
The US Central Intelligence Agency tells President Bill Clinton that North Korea may have one or two nuclear bombs.
North Korea averts a possible trade embargo by allowing one full inspection of seven atomic sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an arm of the United Nations responsible for monitoring nuclear installations worldwide. The North refuses to let inspectors take radioactive samples from critical parts of its nuclear reprocessing center at Yongbyon.
IAEA inspectors return to North Korea to finish their inspection, concluding that the country is within days of obliterating evidence of how much (if any) nuclear fuel has been diverted to its weapons program. The Pentagon says the spent fuel could provide enough material for four or five nuclear bombs.
May 31, 1994:
North Korea tests a cruise missile designed to sink ships at a range of more than 100 miles.
North Korea announces its withdrawal from the IAEA and says the agency’s inspectors will no longer be allowed in the country. It also threatens to turn its stockpile of nuclear fuel into bombs.
The Clinton Administration reinforces the American military presence in South Korea.
Former President Jimmy Carter, acting on his own, travels to North Korea and meets with President Kim Il-sung. He strikes a deal that averts confrontation.
July 9, 1994:
President Kim Il-sung dies suddenly. His son, Kim Jong-il becomes leader.
October 21, 1994:
The US and North Korea sign a pact.
- North Korea agrees to freeze and then dismantle the complex in Yongbyon; it also agrees to open up two secret military sites to inspection by international experts.
- An international consortium agrees to replace North Korea’s current graphite nuclear reactors with new light-water reactors which produce little weapons-grade plutonium.
- The US and its allies agree to provide fuel oil to the North.
August 31, 1998:
The North fires a two-stage Taepodong-1 missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean.
January 20, 2001:
In his first State of the Union Address, President Bush charges that Iran, Iraq, and North Korea “constitute an axis of evil.”
North Korea admits that it has been conducting a major clandestine nuclear program using enriched uranium. It declares it has now “nullified” its agreement with the US to freeze all nuclear weapons development activity.
The North decides to begin harvesting plutonium from its five-megawatt reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear complex. American satellites detect plutonium being carted away, presumably for conversion to bomb fuel.
August 9, 2003:
Six nation talks begin. The US, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan hold the first of several rounds of negotiations with North Korea in Beijing.
May 11, 2005:
North Korea says it has removed 8,000 spent fuel rods from a reactor at its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon in order to bolster its nuclear arsenal. The assertion cannot be verified.
September 19, 2005:
North Korea agrees to end its nuclear weapons program in return for security, economic, and energy benefits.
July 5, 2006:
The North launches seven missiles over the Sea of Japan. Other nations condemn the tests, and the United Nations Security Council later passes a resolution condemning them.
October 8, 2006:
North Korea says it has set off its first nuclear test. Although the test fizzled, it was enough to win unanimous passage of a resolution imposing new economic sanctions.
October 31, 2006:
North Korea agrees to resume the six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.
February 13, 2007:
The US and four other nations reach a tentative agreement to provide North Korea with about $400 million in fuel oil and aid, in return for the North’s starting to disable its nuclear facilities and allowing nuclear inspectors back into the country.
June 27, 2008:
North Korea demolishes the cooling tower at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor site.
Pyongyang noves to resume the reprocessing of plutonium, complaining that the Bush adminstration hasn’t fulfilled a promise to remove North Korea from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
October 11, 2008:
North Korea agrees to resume disabling its nuclear plant and to allow inspectors access to its declared nuclear sites. In return, the Bush administration removes the North from its list of states sponsoring terrorism.
With the Bush administration leaving office, six-nation talks collapse. North Korea says there will be no more talks and vows to increase its nuclear efforts, including uranium enrichment.
April 5, 2009:
North Korea defies the US, China, and a series of United Nations resolutions by launching a rocket that the country says is designed to propel a satellite into space. The US argues that the North is edging toward the capability to shoot a nuclear warhead on a longer range missile.
May 25, 2009:
North Korea’s official news agency announces that the country has successfully conducted its second nuclear test.
President Obama’s team determines that it cannot do business with the North Korean government and essentially freezes the relationship.
May 26, 2009:
North Korea fires three more missiles into the sea near Japan.
June 12, 2009:
The UN Security Council votes unanimously on an enhanced package of sanctions, including the inspection of cargo vessels and airplanes suspected of carrying military material in or out of the country.
The Obama administration concludes that North Korea’s new plant to enrich nuclear fuel uses technology that is significantly more advanced than what Iran has assembled.
North and South Korea have still not signed a peace treaty. American troops remain in deployment at the 38th parallel under the UN flag.
By some estimates, 2.5 million people died in the war, over one million of them Chinese.
December 19, 2011:
Kim Jong-il dies of a heart attack.
December 29, 2011:
North Korea declares Kim Jong-un its “supreme leader.” The son of Kim Jong-il, Mr. Kim is now commander of the 1.2 million strong Korean People’s Army.
February 29, 2012:
North Korea agrees to suspend nuclear weapons tests and uranium enrichment and to allow international inspectors to verify and monitor activities at its main reactor, as part of a deal that includes an American pledge to ship food aid to the nation.
April 12, 2012:
North Korea launches a rocket that the US and its allies call a provocative pretext for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that might one day carry a nuclear warhead. The launching fails.
The failed launching draws immediate international condemnation, including the suspension by the US of food aid.
May 4, 2012:
An American-based institute says that North Korea has resumed construction of a nuclear reactor that would give the country a new source of spent nuclear fuel from which plutonium, a fuel for nuclear weapons, can be extracted.
December 12, 2012:
North Korea successfully launches a long-range rocket into orbit. The rocket travels beyond the Philippines and apparently puts an object into orbit.
In response to the United Nations Security Council’s unanimous decision to tighten sanctions, North Korea bluntly threatens the US, declaring:
- it has no interest in talks on denuclearization
- it will forge ahead with missile and weapons development
- its objective is to hit American territory.
February 12, 2013:
North Korea confirms that it has conducted its third nuclear test.
February 25, 2013:
Park Geun-hye becomes the first woman sworn in as President of South Korea.
February 28, 2013:
Dennis Rodman , former NBA basketball star, meets with North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and proclaims him a “friend for life.” Mr. Rodman and the crew of Vice Media, which is producing an HBO series, are now the only Americans know to have met Mr. Kim.
March 7, 2013:
The United Nations Security Council orders new economic sanctions agains North Korea for its third nuclear test last month. The vote
- involves painful new constraints on North Korean banking, trade, and travel
- pressures countries to search suspect North Korean cargo
- includes new enforcement language.
March 11. 2013:
North Korea nullifies the 1953 war truce.
President Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, announces that the US Treasury Department will impose sanctions on a North Korean bank that specializes in foreign-exchange transactions.
March 15,, 2013:
The US says it will deploy additional ballistic-missile interceptors along the Pacific Coast by 2017 in response to North Korea’s tests of nuclear technology and long-range missiles.
March 27, 2013:
North Korea cuts off the last remaining military hot lines with South Korea.
March 28, 2013:
The US flies two B-2 Spirit bombers on practice runs over South Korea.
Kim Jong-un places North Korea’s missile units on stand-by to be ready to strike US military bases in South Korea and the Pacific.
North Korea says it is entering a “state of war” with South Korea.
The US sends F-22 stealth fighter jets to Osan Air Base, the main US Air Force base in South Korea. The fighters will join military drills aimed at underscoring the US commitment to defend Seoul in the face of intensifying threats from North Korea.
Want to learn more about Korea? Check out the following posts.
We also have a post on Korean War Music. Just click here.