North Korea: Antagonistic to the West

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3rd Apr 2019 International Relations Reference this


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Why is North Korea so antagonistic to the West? What can western countries do to bring North Korea to negotiating table in an amicable way? Elucidate your answer.


North Korea (NK) is a country found in the continent of Asia, it covers 130 square kilometres of water and 120,408 square kilometres of land with a total area of 120,538 square kilometres which makes it the 99th largest nation in the world (WorldAtlas, 2017). It has a population of 25,535,137 (, 2017) and the currency used is the North Korean Won (KPW). North Korea emerged in 1948 in the midst of the chaos after the end of World War II. Its history is ruled by its Great Leader, Kim Il-sung, who designed North Korea’s political affairs for nearly half a century. Following the Korean War, Kim Il-sung initiated the individual philosophy of Juche, or self-reliance, which turned into a directing light for North Korea’s development. In 1994, Kim Il-sung died however, the president post has been appointed “eternally” to him. Many years of this firmly state-controlled system have resulted in stagnation and a leadership reliant on the cult of personality. Aid agencies have predicted that up to two million individuals have died since the mid-1990s due to intense food deficiencies caused by natural catastrophic events and economic negligence. The nation depends on foreign food aid. The totalitarian state is also accused for deliberate human rights abuse. Amnesty International predicts that hundreds of thousands of individuals are detained in detention facilities, in which it says that torture is extensive and execution is common. (BBC News, 2017). This essay explains why North Korea is antagonistic to the west and suggests ways western countries can bring NK to negotiating table in an amicable way.

The General Sherman incident

For quite a long time North Korea has been one of the world’s most reserved societies. It is one of the few nations that is still under a nominally communist rule. North Korea’s nuclear aspirations have aggravated its firmly maintained separation from other countries in the world. Why is North Korea antagonistic to the west? It started with the General Sherman incident in 1866 when an intruding Western trade ship known as General Sherman, sustained by the annual monsoons, steamed up the Daedong River to Pyongyang despite firm warnings previously from Korean authorities to withdraw. When the storm subsided, the ship got stuck on a sandbar resulting ineffective negotiations to find a solution, in addition to the foreigners’ capture of a Korean official, NK perceived the United States (US) to intervene in Pyongyang without official permissions. This led to Korea attacking the ship by setting it on fire. Crew member swimming to the shore were all executed.

Punitive expedition; Byeonginyangyo

The General Sherman incident in has further molded the dominant reaction, among the Korean’s political and social authorities, to prospects of contact with the outside world. In fact, the beginning of that year the Prince Regent, or Doewongun, who had control of the throne, ordered a cruel persecution of Catholics resulting in killing several hundreds of believers which also included French priests working in secret. French navy then launched a punitive expedition on the west coast known as Byeonginyangyo, it refers to the French control of ganghwa island in striking back for execution of French priests and hundreds of believers. The campaign is the first armed encounter between Korea and a western power which lasted nearly a month and half (six weeks). The French pulled back, leaving the Korean government with an incorrect conviction that Korea can withstand imperialistic strategies of the countries without modernizing which only severed as to incentive to harden Koreans’ resistance. (, 2017)

Korean expedition; Shinmiyangyo

In 1871, the US started their first military action known as the Shinmiyangyo or the Korean expedition that steamed out Nagasaki, Japan with five U.S warships which carried 1,230 men under the command of Admiral John Roger. They brought in land and naval forces on the island of Ganghwa, representing as diplomatic delegates, trade relations and finding out about the General Sherman. But, Koreans had the policy that banned international ships on their waters. Hence when the US warships passed by, the Korean garrison attacked the ships. however, their outdated weapons did no damage to ships, the commander of the ship Amiral John Roger gave the Koreans 10 days to apologize and when they refused to comply, the US warships attacked the Korean garrison. This led to an armed conflict costing 200 Koreans and only 3 Americans. This led the Koreans to be even more isolated from foreigners then before, especially the west.

Partition of north and south Korea and Cold War

The partition of North and South Korea after Korean War in 1950 – 1953 furthered the drift. North Korea was occupied by Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and South Korea by United States and United Nation. This was supposed to be short-term, but conflicts between the US and Russians increased with the rise of Cold War between Russia and US led the US to occupy South Korea with a military government. This resulted in the formation of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 1948, Kim Il-sung declared the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in North Korea. DPRK was recognised by the Soviet Union due to their shared interest in communism and collectivism. The US till date refuses to diplomatically recognise DPRK, instead it issued economic sanctions against DPRK until 2008 which led North Korea to view the US as their enemies with conflicting interests in capitalism and imperialism, just like the Japanese.

Korean War (1950-1953)

Increasing bloody conflicts between the Soviet Union and US along the border eventually led North Korea to invade South Korea in 1950 and the US fought the war on South’s behalf. This Korean war led to the construction of the four-kilometre-wide border zone between North and south Korea known as “Korean Demilitarised Zone.” The war led to massive civilian casualties approximately five million died, with more casualties than world war II. North Korea agitated against US to wipe out 20% of its population with bombs and napalm. North Korean approaches towards the US, which were already destructive, drastically deteriorated. 

US Government

In 2002, President George W Bush administration extended the agitation by putting NK on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. NK viewed this as a declaration of war against them. In 2010, South Korea Navy’s Cheonam warship sank near the cost of Korea. Under President Obama administration, the west claimed the sinking of Cheonan warship was due to a torpedo fired by North Korea, increasing the tension between both the countries.  North Korea however insisted that the facts had been manipulated to increase the instability of Asia-Pacific. When Kim Jong-un wanted to launch a satellite to mark the 100th anniversary of Kim II-sumg’s birthday, the US suspended food aid in retaliation Fearing a long-range ballistic missile to hit the West coast in 2012, the US deployed military forces in Guam. US’s continued military presence in South Korea is perceived as the North as threatening. Recently, the deployment of missile strikes in Syria increased tensions among Pyongyang and White house. The US then installed anti-missile system in South: Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence system (Thaad). NK views this as US’s intervention and aggression towards their regime.

NK has not forgotten the destruction created by the Americans during the Korean war and till date continues to teach its children to hate the US imperialism. The Kim Dynasty, keen on dictatorship over its regime, refuses propaganda to its own people and continues to strive against the West even if it comes at the cost of starvation in their country.

Countries such as the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea have been engaged in on-and off negotiation with Pyongyang for quite few years to try to get it to drop its nuclear weapons program in return for various benefits. Regardless of these efforts, North Korea has increase its nuclear programme through years. Against the UN resolutions, it is making significant advancement in the improvement of long-range missiles. The UN has imposed new and tougher sanctions in both August and September 2017.  The resolutions prohibited many North Korean exports and restricts investments in the country. Furthermore, Beijing has limited oil supply of North Korea and will stop purchasing textiles from the ambushed country. These resolutions are estimated to cost North Korea nearly US$1 billion in revenues which would have a major effect on its economy.


  • BBC News. (2017). North Korea country profile. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Nov. 2017].
  • Council on Foreign Relations. (2017). TWE Remembers: The Korean Expedition of 1871 and the Battle of Ganghwa (Shinmiyangyo). [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].
  • Hwang, K. (2010). A history of Korea. 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.349-352.
  • indy100. (2017). 10 reasons North Korea hates the United States. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].
  • koreatimes. (2017). Korea, US and General Sherman incident. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].
  • (2017). French Campaign against Korea, 1866 – New World Encyclopedia. [online] Available at:,_1866 [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017].
  •  WorldAtlas. (2017). Where is North Korea?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Nov. 2017].
  • (2017). North Korea Population (2017, 2018) – Worldometers. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Nov. 2017].

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