A Brief History of North Korea’s Nuclear Missile Program

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the only country to withdraw from the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The goal of North Korea’s government is to develop and possess sophisticated materials for self-defense, nuclear power, and offensive capabilities.

North Korea has made repetitive violations of the international norm against nuclear testing since 2000. A total of six tests have occurred, with the last in 2017 supposedly a thermonuclear device. 

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The United Nations Security Council has passed several resolutions that condemn the nuclear missile program of North Korea. Increasingly harsh sanctions against the country are intended to stop the development of these weapons. It has not quelled the threat.

North Korea Has 60 Years of Development Experience

The nuclear program in North Korea began in 1952 when the government established the Atomic Energy Research Institute. The country also became a founding charter of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in the Soviet Union in 1957.

North Korea received extensive assistance in the early 1960s from the Russians, including the construction of the Yongbyon Nuclear Research Center. The small reactor that the USSR installed became the first to produce radioisotopes in the country. It would become a training device for future scientists.

China helped in the 1960s to further develop the program, but most of the arsenal today comes from internal research instead of outside assistance.

Changes in the 1990s Led to Today’s Conflicts

North Korea signed a safeguards agreement in 1992 to help denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The government declared at the time that they had one small plutonium sample that came from reprocessed spent fuel rods.

International inspectors found that North Korea had reprocessed plutonium on at least three occasions. When the IAEA requested access to two suspected nuclear facilities in the country, the government declared them to be military sites.

This declaration led to North Korea withdrawing from treaties involving nuclear weapons. Technicians removed more spent fuel rods in 1994 without IAEA inspection or consent. That process started the first round of sanctions against the country.

Summits during the Trump Administration helped to thaw relationships, but the existence of a covert uranium enrichment site in 2018 indicates that the government is still concealing information.

The goal for the rest of the world is still to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. North Korea still feels that a need exists to defend themselves. That’s why the international community continues to be in a stalemate position.