The ongoing Twitter battle and aggressive rhetoric from leaders Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un has thrown world politics on its head. Talk of nuclear war and growing tensions have dominated the media. But how did we get here? How did North Korea emerge? Where does its aggressive and secretive dictatorial state come from? And why is Trump intent of going toe-to-toe with the nation? Let’s find out…

In 1896 a businessman named Aleksander Bezabrazov petitioned Russia’s Tsar, Nicholas II. His desire? To establish a commercial enterprise on the Yalu River in order to profit from valuable timber concessions. In doing so, Russia would be able to peacefully annex Korea and wrestle the Asian state from the Japanese.

Korea was already an oddity in world politics by 1896. The ruling Josean dynasty had installed the society with strong Confucianist beliefs, thus forcing the state into an autocratic system which promoted isolationism. Korea was aptly named ‘The Hermit Kingdom’. A year after Bezabrazov’s proposal, the ruling Josean, King Gojong, under increasing pressure to curtail mounting Japanese influence, established the Korean Empire.

The interference of Japan had stemmed from Korea’s need to fend off Chinese advances. Korea was a desire of China, Russia and Japan, hence one state was needed to fend off the others. Japan was able to stave off the Ming dynasty in 1895, in order to keep the Japanese at bay, a Korean Empire was established.

Then there was Bezabrazov. His proposal would eventually result in the establishment of a timber company on the Yalu River for Russian benefit. His new state position and power in the region saw him use aggressive politics to obtain more land. With huge Russian funds at his disposal, he was able to maintain troops along the Yalu River. Bezabrazov’s aggressive forays provoked an all-out war with Japan in 1904.

By 1905 the Russians had lost the Russo-Japanese conflict. Superior Japanese sea power and Russian logistical issues contributed to a humiliating defeat. By 1910, Korea was annexed and absorbed by the Empire of Japan.


Emperor Gojong: Korea’s imperial leader stands in Japanese court dress in 1910 as the country accepts it’s annexation. Source: Korea Times.


Post-War Korea.

It wasn’t until Japan’s catastrophic defeat in 1945 at the hands of Harry Truman’s’ H-bombs that our story re-emerges. The fallout of another world war prompted a much tighter world security. The United Nations were keen to put countries under the control of greater world powers, to re-establish some balance in world politics.

The main powers of the new world? A communist USSR and the Capitalist USA. Korea, like Germany and Vietnam, was divvied up. The North went to Stalin, the South to the lesser known President Alben Barkley. Cold War politics took a front seat. The USSR embarked on aggressive campaigns across Eastern Europe. Infiltrating governments and consequently establishing their own puppet Communist states in Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary – creating the Eastern Bloc. North Korea received the same treatment. It emerged as the new Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in 1948.


Korean War: US soldiers moving North Korean POW’s in the early stages of the war. Source: The Intercept.

South Korea continued as a westernised, modern state, the North remained in the grip of an ultra-Communist belief. The Korean war of 1951 did very little to change that. The de-militarised border still remains, to this day, whilst the 1.2 million death toll served only to widen the north/south divide. In 1991, the Eastern Bloc was able to break away from the USSR and cause its collapse. Despite this, The People’s Republic took an economic hit but remained Communist. Like their Josean forefathers, the new dynasty kept to a policy of isolationism under the guise of the Juche ideology, believing in a completely self-sufficient state.


North Korea remains a communist autocracy due to the old USSR, plain and simple. Why is it a threat? Besides its talk of aggression, it is a relic of the Cold War. Korea is the only world state to have been directly influenced by the USSR’s brand of Communism. Trump, as an egotistical ultra-American, sees this as a serious threat and well he might, he’s old enough to remember Russo-American tensions. Is it isolationism? That answer isn’t so straightforward. Obviously, it has routes in the old Josean dynasty but other Communist states have kept to an ideology of complete self-sufficiency, and Juche. Notably Pol Pot’s Cambodia, a state which suffered mid 90’s like North Korea.

Grand gesture: Bill Clinton visits previous North Korean leader Kim Jong II. Source: The Japan Times.