North Korea has been constantly provoking the world with its actions and words. Recently, the country's military has declared the 1953 armistice agreement (truce) with South Korea invalid. It has cut off all phone lines with S.Korea and the U.S, and has threatened a nuclear attack.
While experts believe that N.Korea does not have a nuclear warhead capable of reaching American shores, the U.S is not taking any chances. Last Friday, U.S Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced plans to install 14 missile interceptors in the U.S West Coast, to add to the 30 already existing ones in Alaska and California.
To understand what the Korean Armistice means is to look back at the turbulent history of the region.
The tale of two Koreas
The division of Korea only happened after World War II, when the region was freed from Japanese occupation. Neither the US nor the Soviet Union could agree on how to administer the land. Korea was divided into two along an imaginary line called the 38th parallel.
The Russians installed a communist government in N.Korea led by Kim Il-Sung, while S.Korea moved towards democracy with support from the U.S. When the North invaded the South in 1950, an all-out war broke out, called the Korean War. Again, the U.S supported South Korea, while the Soviet Union and China supported the North.
The war ended in 1953 with the Armistice agreement and the creation of a DMZ (De-militarized Zone) between the two countries. The Korean DMZ is the most heavily fortified two-mile wide border between the two countries. Landmines dot the landscape, and hundreds of thousands of troops from either side are always on guard with guns trained on the other side.
The latest provocation
N.Korea is ruled by the Kim dynasty. Kim Jong-un - the grandson N.Korea's founder, became the country's leader after his father passed away in December 2011. It appears that young Kim wants to assert his power. The country conducted an underground nuclear test in February, defying an international ban.
In a meeting on March 7, the U.N (United Nations) slapped stricter sanctions on the country. Sanctions are a way of isolating the country by cutting off economic and financial aid and used to keep N.Korea in check. Even China, which has supported the Kim regime, voted in favor of the sanctions. This has angered N.Korea, prompting the recent declarations.
South Korea is not taking this threat lightly. It has stepped up joint military drills with the U.S and warned residents of an island close to the northern border to be ready to evacuate. The Korean peninsula is once again on the edge.
Courtesy CNN, BBC, National Geographic