Modern Korean History | Wilson Center

Modern Korean History

Understanding the North Korean Regime

Research on North Korea’s government system has undergone significant changes since the 1990s. While it is still a challenge to conduct fieldwork in North Korea, to say the least, the strengthening of economic cooperation between North and South Korea, together with advancements in satellite technology, have increased the amount of information available. Testimonies by North Korean defectors are also rich sources of information, especially from former high-ranking government officials.

North Korea and the East German Stasi, 1987-1989

The archives of the East German Stasi feature revelations about North Korea’s intelligence services and international relations at the end of the Cold War

Although the archives of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc have revealed much about North Korea’s foreign policies and the country’s domestic conditions, these sources tell us very little about North Korea’s international intelligence cooperation, its domestic intelligence services, or its military structures and practices.

Nuclear Tests Are Not What You Think

Above: Reagan observes North Korean positions at the DMZ, November 1983

The United States bargained with Israel, Pakistan, and South Africa to stave off nuclear tests. Can it do the same in North Korea?

The Punggye-ri site in North Korea appears primed for a nuclear test. Waiting for the order, personnel now pass the time by playing volleyball, with one suspected “volleyball net set up at the command center area”.

The EC-121 Shoot Down and North Korea’s Coercive Theory of Victory

On April 15, 1969, North Korea shot down an American EC-121 reconnaissance aircraft. The incident has special meaning in the history of US-North Korea relations. 

The Rocky Way Ahead: South Korea's Position in Asia

The Spring 2017 issue of the Harvard International Review magazine features an article written by the Asia Program's senior associate for Northeast Asia, Shihoko Goto.

The Pueblo Hostage Crisis

A newly released Soviet record suggests the real tragedy of the Pueblo crisis was that the Americans did not act sooner

The Pueblo hostage crisis lasted from the 23rd of January to the 23rd of December, 1968, during which the USS Pueblo was captured and its crew taken hostage and tortured by the North Koreans.

Excavating South Korea’s Nuclear History

Diplomatic records and oral histories offer leads, while other sources remain out of reach

Anyone could tell you that secrecy and limited access to North Korean sources constrain our understanding of the Hermit Kingdom’s nuclear intentions and technical capabilities.

North Korea’s Palace Intrigue

SEOUL, South Korea — After the 14th-century Korean ruler Taejo, founder of the Joseon dynasty, chose the youngest of his eight sons to succeed him, a spurned son killed the heir apparent and at least one of his other half brothers and eventually rose to the throne.

The Coal Hard Truth

History shows China’s coal ban will hurt North Korea

In a surprise move on February 18th, Chinese authorities announced a ban on North Korean coal imports. This decision will hit Pyongyang hard. The DPRK traded 22.5 million tons of coal with China last year, roughly one third of its total exports and one of its few major sources of foreign currency.