The Koreas: North and South

One of the most long-standing, complex and bitter tensions in the Pacific Rim has been the relationship between North and South Korea. Today's North and South Korea are the successor states of ancient Korea. Prior to the end of World War II in 1945, the territories that are now North and South Korea were one political entity. Korea was under Japanese control from 1910 to 1945. From 1919 to the mid-1930s, Japanese control of Korea was not overtly oppressive. In the period leading to World War II, however, Japan's increasing militarism led to the imposition of increasingly harsh and strict control over Korea, which continued during the War. After Japan's defeat in World War II, Korea was divided into American and Soviet zones of control, which became North and South Korea. The Korean War started in 1950 with a Soviet-approved North Korean offensive into South Korea. US troops entered South Korea as part of a UN sponsored "police action." After initially heavy losses, allied troops gained significant ground, crossed the 38th parallel- and brought China into the war. The Korean War ended in 1953 with the stabilization of the de facto boundary between North and South Korea at the 38th parallel. The Korean War was bloody and destructive, resulting in the deaths of over 3,000,000 people- mostly Korean and Chinese. The uneasy end of the Korean War led to the fortification of South Korea with American troops, and an increasingly militaristic stance of the North Korean state.

North and South Korea have technically been in a state of war since the end of the Korean War in 1953. While some limited North-South Korean dialogues began in 1971, most communication has been indirect, through the form of North Korea's military build-up, South Korea's firm alliance with the United States, and propagandistic statements by both Koreas. North Korea has long viewed the American presence in South Korea as a threat to its power, whereas South Korea sees the US presence as the only obstacle to a North Korean invasion. North Korean-South Korean relations since the end of the Korean War have been characterized by significant saber-rattling, periods of rapprochement, and by several major crises. Throughout this period the United States has been a major player in all significant inter-Korean crises. The Korean peninsula came close to re-entering violent conflict in 1968, in 1976, and again in 1979. On January 21, 1968, commandos from a North Korean special forces unit crossed the truce line into South Korea. 1 Only two days later, "North Korean patrol boats seized the USS Pueblo, a US Navy intelligence gathering vessel, in the international waters of the East Sea off Wonsan. One USS Pueblo crewmember was killed in the boarding and 82 were taken POW and held captive." 2 The combination of these two events led to high levels of American and South Korean military activity, and dangerously high tensions on the Korean peninsula twenty years ago.
During the early 1970s, tensions between North and South Korea appeared to be ebbing. The level of American troops in South Korea had been dramatically reduced, removing one of the obvious signs of division. In 1972, North and South Korea began to work toward peaceful reunification and an eventual end to the hostile atmosphere on the peninsula. However, these contacts broke down in 1973 after South Korean President Park Chung Hee announced that the South would seek separate entrance into the United Nations. 3
In the later 1970s, tensions between South Korea and North Korea continued to increase. One major incident, involving the United States, South Korea, and North Korea was the so-called "Hatchet Incident." "On August 18, 1976 North Korean troops attacked an American-South Korean party that had gone to trim a tree next to the Bridge of No Return in the Demilitarized Zone." 4 The US soldiers were attacked after the North Korean army officials ordered them to halt their activity. The rapid attack ended with two US officers dead and nine UN guards injured.
This incident spurred a large-scale mobilization by South Korean, American and North Korean forces. Eventually, "on the morning of 21 August 1976 a joint mission involving ROK and UN-supported American troops felled the tree. The poplar tree was removed entirely and a small monument was placed with the names of those killed and injured. Under OPERATION PAUL BUNYAN this action was backed up by an armed platoon, 27 helicopters, and a number of B-52 bombers flying along the DMZ. The North Koreans held their fire, and within an hour the operation was complete." 5 The violence that erupted out of a seemingly minor dispute shows the persistent high level of tension on the Korean peninsula.
Many of North Korea's actions against South Korea were subtle, targeted to take advantage of South Korea's weaknesses without drawing US attention and intervention. The 1979 assassination of South Korea's president threw South Korea into a chaotic transition period. Concerns about possible North Korean attempts to exploit South Korea during this vulnerable period led to a large-scale US troop build-up in Korea. DEFCON 3 was declared on the very day that Park was assassinated, and "a powerful American naval task force moved into the Korean strait to counter any possible North Korean plans to exploit the death of President Park." 6
Since the early 1990s, tensions on the Korean peninsula have centered around North Korea's growing military capabilities: nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. As well, South Korea's path toward democratization, and its remarkable economic and technological development, has enhanced the contrast between the two nations. "The nuclear challenge from North Korea in 1993 and 1994 focused on halting of the existing North Korean nuclear program, which by June 1994 was poised to leap forward in its production of weapons-grade plutonium." 7 Although Pyongyang had agreed to allow IAEA inspectors to tour North Korean facilities (in accordance with the North-South Korean 1991 Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression, Exchanges and Cooperation, and the Joint Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula), North Korea refused to allow officials to tour its facilities, and announced its intentions to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This action led to increased US military actions and presence in South Korea, including the deployment of Patriot missiles. Finally, "after a period of high tension brought on by failure to resolve the nuclear issue, and Security Council discussion of UN sanctions against the DPRK, former President Carter's visit to Pyongyang in June 1994 helped to defuse tensions and resulted in renewed South-North talks." 8
Yet another period of increased tensions began in 1998, when North Korea launched a medium-range Taepo Dong 1 ballistic missile on 31 August 1998. The rocket flew over the Japanese island of Honshu, and plunged into the Pacific Ocean. North Korea's test of its new Taepo Dong missile evoked swift international condemnation. 9 The launch coincided with the installation of Kim Jong-Il as leader, and preparations for North Korea's 50th anniversary. While North Korean claims that they had also launched a satellite at this time proved unfounded, the test of the Taepo Dong missile raised increased regional fears about North Korea's military capabilities. Subsequent tests of even longer-range North Korean missiles, evidence of North Korean nuclear activities, and sale of missiles, have added an increased sense of danger to the Asia-Pacific.
Despite these concerns, the year 2000 brought significant calming developments in relations between North and South Korea. For the first time in fifty years the leaders of the two nations met in person. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, known for his reclusiveness and harsh rule, surprised observers by presenting a personable, friendly, and media-savvy image. The summit, which took place in Pyongyang from June 13th to June 15th, 2000, was "the first of its kind in more than half a century of territorial partition marked an important occasion of opening a bright prospect of removing distrust and confrontation between the north and the south." 10 The summit was especially notable because the North Korea president personally greeted South Korea's President Kim Dae-Jung at the airport. 11 The Korean summit was an impressive success, and resulted in the brief reunion of 200 Koreans separated during the war, and a North-South declaration in which the two Koreas agreed to work toward reunification, settle humanitarian issues, increase economic cooperation, and to encourage continued dialogues between the two nations. 12 The Korean summit certainly suggests a lessening of tensions on the Korean peninsula, and the potential beginning of a new era in intra-Korean relations. Significant obstacles to peace remain, including the American military presence in South Korea and the robust North Korean missile program, and, as of spring 2001, further ROK-DPRK talks are on hold. Thus, this new era may yet give way to increased tensions and harsh words- and possibly to renewed conflict.
As the following chapters elucidate, both nations have a strong interest in developing space technologies, though each approaches these developments from a vastly different perspective. In the North, space technologies are primarily of interest for the military power they may convey. The South pursues the development of space technologies to support both civilian and military needs.

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