The division between North and South Korea happened after the conclusion of World War II, and it ended the Japanese rule, which had been in effect for 35 years. The United States and the USSR each took control of one half of the former country of Korea, with the USA taking the south and the USSR taking the north. The two countries attempted to negotiate towards the goal of a unified Korea, but failed. As a result, elections were held in the south portion in 1948, supervised by the United Nations. The winner was Syngman Rhee, who was a noted anti-communist. Meanwhile, in the north, Kim Il-sung was named leader by Joseph Stalin.
The Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
South Korea became the Republic of Korea and North Korea became the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and both governments claimed that they were the official government of the entire Korean peninsula. This eventually lead to the Korean War, which began in 1950. Korea had previously been unified for centuries, and the sudden division was viewed as extremely contentious right away by both governments. It was also seen as temporary. After the governments were established, and before the official start of the war, both sides engaged in various conflicts along the dividing border. The forces of North Korea eventually took it a step further by invading the south. The UN immediately intervened with a force led by the USA.
While North Korea’s forces were in the South, they attempted to unite Korea under their regime. Initially, the intervention from the UN was supposed to restore the border, however, both Syngman Rhee and General Douglas MacArthur agreed that North Korea’s forces had ruined the border concept entirely. MacArthur further said that he wanted to pursue uniting Korea, not just driving the North back to their territory.
The Korean War
North Korea’s forces were able to take over 90 percent of the South’s territory before being attacked by US forces. The North’s forces were driven from the South, and then South Korean and UN forces crossed the previous border. Before this happened, China warned that it would get involved if the South tried to take over the North. As the North had attempted to do, the South also tried to unite Korea with its occupation. However, China finally intervened, as it said it would, and drove the South’s forces back into their own territory.
By 1951, the 38th parallel had become a fairly stable front line for the ongoing war, but both sides began to consider peace. Syngman Rhee wanted the war continue until the South won, but the North’s side wanted an armistice. After three years, both sides eventually signed the Korean Armistice Agreement, which created the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Rhee did not accept the agreement and continued to lobby for uniting Korea by force.
Present Day Korean Relations
North and South Korea have remained in technical conflict since the Korean War, which never really ended in a final sense. Both governments have continued to claim ownership of the Korean peninsula, and negotiations between both countries have generally failed to produce any results towards unification, or even full peace. Military confrontations have continued as well. North Korea is largely supported by China in the present day as the USSR no longer exists. South Korea is still strongly supported by the United States and its allies.
In 2018, some progress was made as the North’s leader Kim Jong-un met with the South’s leader Moon Jae-in. The leaders met in the DMZ and signed the Panmunjom Declaration to end military activities at the border.