Soviet Civil Authority

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The division of Korea into South Korea and North Korea stems from the 1945 Allied victory in World War II, ending the Empire of Japan's 35-year colonial rule of Korea. The United States and the Soviet Union agreed to temporarily occupy the country as a trusteeship with the zone of control demarcated along the 38th parallel. The purpose of this trusteeship was to establish a Korean provisional government which would become "free and independent in due course."[1]

Though elections were scheduled, the Soviet Union refused to cooperate with United Nations plans to hold general and free elections in the two Korean zones, and as a result, a Communist state was permanently established under Soviet auspices in the north and a pro-Western state was set up in the south.[2] The two superpowers backed different leaders and two states were effectively established, each of which claimed sovereignty over the whole Korean peninsula.

The Korean War, which lasted from 1950 to 1953, left the two Koreas separated by the Korean Demilitarized Zone through the Cold War and into the 2010s. The 2000s saw some improved relations between the two sides, overseen in the south by liberal governments, who were more amicable towards the north than previous governments had been.[3] These changes were largely reversed under conservative South Korean president Lee Myung-bak who opposed the north's continued development of nuclear weapons.

Historical background

Korea under Japanese rule (1910–1945)

As the Russo-Japanese War ended in 1905, Korea became a nominal protectorate, and was annexed in 1910 by Japan.

End of World War II (1939–45)

Main article: World War II

In November 1943, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek met at the Cairo Conference to discuss what should happen to Japan's colonies, and agreed that Japan should lose all the territories it had conquered by force. In the declaration after this conference, Korea was mentioned for the first time. The three powers declared that they were, "mindful of the enslavement of the people of Korea, ... determined that in due course Korea shall become free and independent.”[4]

For Korean nationalists who wanted immediate independence, the phrase "in due course" was cause for dismay. Roosevelt may have proposed to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin that three or four years elapse before full Korean independence; Stalin demurred, saying that a shorter period of time would be desirable. In any case, discussion of Korea among the Allies would not resume until Germany was defeated.

Soviet invasion of Manchuria

With the war's end in sight in August 1945, there was still no consensus on Korea's fate among Allied leaders. Many Koreans on the peninsula had made their own plans for the future of Korea, and few of these plans included the re-occupation of Korea by foreign forces. Following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, Soviet soldiers invaded Manchuria,[5] as per Stalin's agreement with Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference of February 1945.

However, American leaders were suspicious of the people's committees forming all over the peninsula, and suspected that without American intervention, the whole peninsula would elect to come under Communist government and Soviet influence. Soviet forces arrived in Korea first, but occupied only the northern half, stopping at the 38th parallel, per the agreement with the United States.[6]

On August 10, 1945 two young officers – Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel – were assigned to define an American occupation zone. Working at extremely short notice and completely unprepared, they used a National Geographic map to decide on the 38th parallel. They chose it because it divided the country approximately in half but would leave the capital Seoul under American control. No experts on Korea were consulted. The two men were unaware that forty years previous, Japan and Russia had discussed sharing Korea along the same parallel. Rusk later said that had he known, he "almost surely" would have chosen a different line.[7] Regardless, the decision was hastily written into General Order No. 1 for the administration of postwar Japan.

General Abe Nobuyuki, the last Japanese Governor-General of Korea, had been in contact with a number of influential Koreans since the beginning of August 1945 to prepare the hand-over of power. On August 15, 1945, Lyuh Woon-Hyung, a moderate left-wing politician, agreed to take over. He was in charge of preparing the creation of a new country and worked hard to build governmental structures. On September 6, 1945, a congress of representatives was convened in Seoul. The foundation of a modern Korean state took place just three weeks after Japan's capitulation. The government was predominantly left wing; many of those who had resisted Japanese rule identified with Communism's views on imperialism and colonialism.

Post World War II

South Korea

On September 7, 1945, General MacArthur announced that Lieutenant General John R. Hodge was to administer Korean affairs, and Hodge landed in Incheon with his troops the next day. The troops occupied Southern Korea and took over comfort stations, then the women in comfort stations became western princess.[8]

The Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea sent a delegation with three interpreters, but he refused to meet with them. Thus, they refused to recognize the People's Republic of Korea or the Korean Provisional Government.[9] In September 1946, South Korean citizens rose up against the Allied Military Government. The U.S. military has maintained a presence on the Korean peninsula through to the present day.

The former President of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea, the government-in-exile in Shanghai, and ardent anti-communist Syngman Rhee, was considered an acceptable candidate to provisionally lead the country since he was considered friendly to the US, having traveled and studied stateside. Under Rhee, the southern government conducted a number of military campaigns against left-wing insurgents who took up arms against the government and persecuted other political opponents. Over the course of the next few years, between 30,000[10] and 100,000 people would lose their lives during the war against the left-wing insurgents.[11]

In April, 1948, Jeju islanders rose up against South Korean officials, and South Korea sent troops to repress the rebellion. Tens of thousands of islanders were killed and by one estimate, 70% of the villages were burned by the South Korean troops.[12] The uprising lasted until the end of the Korean War.

In August 1948, Syngman Rhee became the first president of South Korea. In October 1948, the Yeosu-Suncheon Rebellion took place, in which some regiments rejected the suppression of the Jeju uprising and rebelled against the government.[13] In 1949, the Syngman Rhee government established the Bodo League in order to keep an eye on its political opponents. The majority of the Bodo League's members were innocent farmers and civilians who were forced into membership.[14] The registered members or their families were executed at the beginning of the Korean War. On December 24, 1949, South Korean Army massacred Mungyeong citizens who were suspected communist sympathizers or their family and affixed blame to communists.[15]

North Korea

Provisional People's Committee for North Korea
Provisional government



Aegukga (1946–1947)
Aegukka (1947–1948)
Location of northern Korea.
Capital Pyongyang
Languages Korean
Government Communist provisional government
Chairman of Committee
 -  Feb 1946 – Sep 1948 Kim Il-sung
Chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea
 -  Aug 1946 – Jun 1949 Kim Tu-bong
Historical era Cold War
 -  Soviet troops stationed in North Korea August 1945
 -  Soviet Civil Authority ends February 1946
 -  Land reform March 1946
 -  DPRK established September 9, 1948
Currency Won

Throughout August, Koreans organized the country into people's committee branches for the "Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence" (CPKI, 조선건국준비위원회). The Soviet Army allowed for these committees to continue to function since they were friendly to the Soviet Union, but still established the Soviet Civil Authority to begin to centralize the independent committees. Further provisional committees were set up across the country putting Communists into key positions. In March 1946 land reform was instituted as the land from Japanese and collaborator land owners was divided and handed over to poor farmers. Kim Il-sung initiated a sweeping land reform program in 1946.

Organizing the many poor civilians and agricultural laborers under the people's committees a nationwide mass campaign broke the control of the old landed classes. Landlords were allowed to keep only the same amount of land as poor civilians who had once rented their land, thereby making for a far more equal distribution of land. The North Korean land reform was achieved in a less violent way than that of China or Vietnam. Official American sources stated, "From all accounts, the former village leaders were eliminated as a political force without resort to bloodshed, but extreme care was taken to preclude their return to power."[16] This was very popular with the farmers, but caused many collaborators and former landowners to flee to the south where some of them obtained positions in the new South Korean government. According to the U.S. military government, 400,000 northern Koreans went south as refugees.[17]

Key industries were nationalized. The economic situation was nearly as difficult in the north as it was in the south, as the Japanese had concentrated agriculture in the south and heavy industry in the north.

In February 1946 a provisional government called the Provisional People's Committee was formed under Kim Il-sung, who had spent the last years of the war training with Soviet troops in Manchuria. Conflicts and power struggles rose up at the top levels of government in Pyongyang as different aspirants maneuvered to gain positions of power in the new government. At the local levels, people's committees openly attacked collaborators and some landlords, confiscating much of their land and possessions. As a consequence many collaborators and others disappeared or were assassinated. Soviet forces departed in 1948.

Inter-Korean Relationships

Many still believe that the Koreas are still in a state of war and all the members in the international community should be alert to the danger. This was shown to be especially true after the attack of ROKS Cheonan sinking, the world has their eyes on North Korea's next move, and two Koreas' tension has flared[by whom?] since then. The incident chilled inter-Korean relations and seemed to freeze all exchanges between the two Koreas. As soon as the investigation team revealed that Cheonan was sunk by North Korea, President Lee implemented countermeasures called the May 24 Measures. The South Korean government suspended all inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation with the North except the business operation in the Kaeseong Industrial Complex and the pure humanitarian aid for the underprivileged people in North Korea.

There is a great deal of skepticism about North-South Korea relationships. In the economic field, there is a misunderstanding[by whom?] of allegation that South is just giving away everything to the North without receiving anything in return. However, either in comparison with the previous South Korean government or the former West German aid to East Germany, Kim Dae Jung government's assistance to North Korea has been rather minuscule. For example, the aid to North Korea in the year 2000 was only .017 percent of South Korea's GDP which is less than one-fourth of the former West Germany's annual aid to East Germany.[18]

On July 7, 1988, with the announcement of the Presidential Declaration for National Self-esteem Unification and Prosperity, South and North Korea officially promoted inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation. Inter-Korean exchanges and cooperation stopped temporarily when North Korea withdrew from the NPT in March 1993, but it eventually resumed its course and remains in effect until now. Up until 1989, only one person crossed the border but that number has increased over the years and now stands at 130,000. Inter-Korean trade recorded 19 million US dollars in 1989 but it reached 1.9 billion US dollars in 2010. Additionally, the total amount of humanitarian aid from 1995 to late 2010 equals approximately 2.9 billion US dollars.

The foreign relations that define the place of North and South Korea in the world community today are product of the trajectories. Starting with 1945 nation building process of South Korea led by US, South has been allied with United States whereas North Korea has allied with China and Russia. However with the increasing prosperity of China and its power in the international society, North Korea has limited power in China.[19]

Elections and UN intervention

With mistrust growing rapidly between the formerly allied United States and Soviet Union, no agreement was reached on how to reconcile the competing provisional governments. The U.S. brought the problem before the United Nations in the fall of 1947. The Soviet Union opposed UN involvement.

The UN passed a resolution on November 14, 1947, declaring that free elections should be held, foreign troops should be withdrawn, and a UN commission for Korea, the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea, should be created. The Soviet Union, although a member with veto powers, boycotted the voting and did not consider the resolution to be binding. In April 1948, a conference of organizations from the north and the south met in Pyongyang. This conference produced no results, and the Soviets boycotted the UN-supervised elections in the south. There was no UN supervision of elections in the north.

On May 10, 1948 the south held a general election. Syngman Rhee, who had called for partial elections in the south to consolidate his power as early as 1947, was elected, though left-wing parties boycotted the election. On August 15, the "Republic of Korea" formally took over power from the U.S. military. In the North, the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" was declared on September 9, with Kim Il-sung as prime minister.

Korean War

Main article: Korean War

This division of Korea, after more than a millennium of being unified, was seen as unacceptable and temporary by both regimes. From 1948 until the start of the civil war on June 25, 1950, the armed forces of each side engaged in a series of bloody conflicts along the border. In 1950, these conflicts escalated dramatically when North Korean forces invaded South Korea, triggering the Korean War. The Korean Armistice Agreement was signed three years later ending hostilities and effectively making the division permanent. The two sides agreed to create a four-kilometer wide buffer zone between the states, where nobody would enter. This area came to be known as the Demilitarized Zone or DMZ.

Geneva Conference and NNSC

As dictated by the terms of the Korean Armistice, a Geneva Conference was held in 1954 on the Korean question. Despite efforts by many of the nations involved, the conference ended without a declaration for a unified Korea.

The Armistice established a Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) which was tasked to monitor the Armistice. Since 1953, members of the Swiss[20] and Swedish[21] Armed Forces have been members of the NNSC stationed near the DMZ.

Post division of Korea incidents

Since the division of Korea, there have been numerous instances of infiltration and incursions across the border largely by North Korean agents, although the North Korean government never acknowledges direct responsibility for any of these incidents. A total of 3,693 armed North Korean agents have infiltrated into South Korea between 1954 to 1992, with 20% of these occurring between 1967 and 1968.[22] According to the 5 January 2011 Korea Herald, since July 1953 North Korea has violated the armistice 221 times, including 26 military attacks.[23]

In 1976, in now declassified meeting minutes, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense William Clements told Henry Kissinger that there had been 200 raids or incursions into North Korea from the south, though not by the U.S. military.[24] Details of only a few of these incursions have become public, including raids by South Korean forces in 1967 that had sabotaged about 50 North Korean facilities.[25]

Some instances of incidents caused by North Korea include:

Land border incidents

Between 1966 and 1969, a series of land border and DMZ incidents occurred. Other incidents after 1969 include the following:

  • April 1970: Three North Korean infiltrators were killed and five South Korean soldiers wounded at an encounter in Kumchon, Gyeonggi-do.[26]
  • November 1974: The first of what would be a series of North Korean infiltration tunnels under the DMZ was discovered.
  • March 1975: A second North Korean infiltration tunnel was discovered.
  • June 1976: Three North Korean infiltrators and six South Korean soldiers were killed in the eastern sector south of the DMZ. Another six South Korean soldiers were injured.
  • 18 August 1976: The Axe Murder Incident resulted in the death of two U.S. soldiers and injuries to another four U.S. soldiers and five South Korean soldiers in a neutral zone of the Joint Security Area.
  • October 1978: The third North Korean infiltration tunnel was discovered.
  • October 1979: Three North Korean agents attempting to infiltrate the eastern sector of the DMZ were intercepted, killing one of the agents.
  • March 1980: Three North Korean infiltrators were killed attempting to enter the south across the estuary of the Han River.
  • March 1981: Three North Korean infiltrators spotted at Kumhwa, Gangwon-do, one was killed.
  • July 1981: Three North Korean infiltrators were killed in the upper stream of Imjin River.
  • May 1982: Two North Korean infiltrators were spotted on the east coast, one was killed.
  • March 1990: The fourth North Korean infiltration tunnel was discovered, in what may be a total of 17 tunnels in all.
  • May 1992: Three North Korean infiltrators dressed in South Korean uniforms were killed at Cheorwon, Gangwon-do. Three South Koreans were also wounded.
  • October 1995: Two North Korean infiltrators were intercepted at Imjin River. One was killed, the other escaped.
  • April 1996: Several hundred North Korean armed troops entered the Joint Security Area and elsewhere on three occasions in violation of the Korean armistice agreement.
  • May 1996: Seven North Korean soldiers crossed the DMZ but withdrew when fired upon by South Korean troops.
  • April 1997: Five North Korean soldiers cross the military demarcation line's Cheorwon sector and fired at South Korean positions.
  • July 1997: Fourteen North Korean soldiers crossed the military demarcation line, causing a 23-minute exchange of heavy gunfire.
  • May 2006: Two North Korean soldiers enter the DMZ and cross into South Korea. They return after South fires warning shots.
  • October 2006: South Korea fires warning shots after North Korean soldiers cross briefly into their side of the border.
  • 23 November 2010: After a Northern warning to cease planned military drills near the island of Yeonpyeong, the South commenced the drill. The North then bombarded the island with heavy artillery in response to the firings related to the South's readiness-exercise and the South returned fire with howitzers. On Yeonpyeong, 4 were killed (including 2 civilians) and 15 injured.[27]

Incidents in other areas

  • June 1969: North Korean agent reached Huksan Island, resulting in 15 killed.
  • August 1975: Two North Korean infiltrators intercepted at Gochang County, Jeollabuk-do kills one infiltrator, two South Korean soldiers and wounds another two South Korean soldiers.
  • November 1978: Three North Korean agents killed two South Korean civilians in Hongseong, one civilian in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do and another civilian at Osan, Gyeonggi-do.
  • November 1980: Three North Korean infiltrators and one South Korean civilian were killed at Whenggando, Jeollanam-do. Six others were wounded.
  • December 1980: Three North Korean infiltrators and two South Korean soldiers were killed off the southern coast of Gyeongsangnam-do. Two other South Korean soldiers were wounded.
  • September 1984: A North Korean infiltrator killed two civilians and wounded another at Daegu before committing suicide.
  • October 1995: Two North Korean infiltrators were intercepted at Buyeo County. One was killed, the other captured.
  • 17 September 1996: 26 North Korean military personnel landed on the east coast near Jeongdongjin, 20 kilometres south-east of Gangneung, Gangwon-do from a disabled North Korean submarine. Out of these, 11 were killed by North Korean commandos from the submarine presumably in a bid to save the rest. 13 were killed by South Korean soldiers as they tried to make their way back over the DMZ over the next 49 days, one was captured and one escaped. 13 South Korean soldiers and 4 civilians were killed, and five others wounded, including an off-duty ROK soldier strangled by the escaping infiltrators. North Korea threatened to retaliate over the incident, and in October 1996, a South Korean diplomat, Choe Deok-geun, was found poisoned in Vladivostok by a substance similar to that carried on the submarine.[28][29][30][31] By 29 December, however, the North issued an official statement expressing "deep regret" over the submarine incident, although it did not issue a direct apology. In return, the South Korean government returned the cremated remains of the infiltrators to the North via Panmunjom on 30 December. The beached submarine remains at Jeongdongjin, where it has since been turned into an outdoor exhibit. Investigations in the South over the intrusion resulted in twenty ROK officers and soldiers punished for "negligence of duty" and the dismissal of a lieutenant general and a major general. A taxi driver who first spotted the intruders and alerted the authorities was given a hefty reward.

Maritime incidents

  • June 1981: A North Korean spy boat was sunk off Seosan, Chungcheongnam-do, with nine agents killed, 91 injured and one captured.
  • October 1985: A North Korean spy ship was sunk by the South Korean navy off the coast of Busan.
  • May 1996: Five North Korean naval patrol craft entered South Korean waters in the west coast and withdrew after a four-hour confrontation with Southern forces. Another incident in June 1996 saw three North Korean naval patrol craft intruding for three-hours in the same area.
  • June 1997: Three North Korean patrol boats entered South Korean waters in the Yellow Sea, firing at South Korean patrol boats.
  • 22 June 1998: in the 1998 Sokcho submarine incident, a North Korean Yugo class submarine was found caught in fishing nets in South Korean waters 18 km off the coast from Sokcho. South Korean fishermen observed the crew trying to untangle the submarine from the fishing nets and notified the South Korean navy. The submarine was subsequently towed by a South Korean corvette to a navy base near Sokcho. The submarine sank as it approached the base, it was later salvaged and when opened all nine crew were found dead in an apparent group suicide.[32] North Korea criticized the South for causing the death of the crew and demanded the return of the bodies and submarine on 27 June. South Korean President Kim Dae Jung asked for the North to "admit responsibility and take reasonable measures" in response.
  • July 1998: A dead North Korean frogman was found with paraphernalia on a beach south of the DMZ.
  • November 1998: A North Korean spy boat entered South Korean waters near Ganghwa Island but escaped upon detection.
  • 17–18 December 1998: In the Battle of Yosu, a North Korean semi-submersible boat was sunk near Yeosu after an exchange with the South Korean navy. A North Korean frogman's body was found near the site.
  • June 1999: A nine-day confrontation was sparked when several North Korean ships intruded into disputed waters near the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea. A firefight erupted on 15 June 1999, sinking a North Korean torpedo boat and damaging five others. Two South Korean vessels were lightly damaged. North Korea issued a warning that violent exchanges would continue if the disputed waters were to continue being intruded by South Korea or the United States.
  • 9 April 2001: North Korean patrol boats entered South Korean waters briefly over the Northern Limit Line but retreated when challenged by the South Korean Navy. Similar incidents were reported on February 5, March 3 and April 10. 12 maritime intrusions were reported in total in 2001.
  • 5 January 2002: North Korean patrol boats continued to infiltrate into South Korean waters, with another craft spotted off Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea.
  • 29 June 2002: North Korean patrol boats crossed the Northern Limit Line and fired at a South Korean patrol boat. This provoked a small but deadly firefight. The South Korean boats sustained 24 casualties and was sunk making its way back to port. After heavy fire the North Korean vessel retreated in flames and sustained 38 casualties. Although it managed to make its way back to port, the boat was severely damaged.
  • 11 November 2009: North Korean patrol ship was set on fire after attacking a South Korean ship in the Yellow Sea.[33]
  • 26 March 2010: The South Korean warship Cheonan sinks, with 46 sailors dying. On 19 May 2010 an investigation said a North Korean submarine caused the sinking.[34]

Air incidents

  • 15 April 1969: North Korea shoots down an EC-121 over the East Sea, 31 American service men were killed.
  • 19 February 2003: A North Korean fighter jet entered South Korean airspace over the Yellow Sea, the first since 1983. Six South Korean fighter planes responded, and the North Korean plane departed after two minutes.
  • 17 June 2011: South Korean soldiers mistakenly fired on an Asiana commercial airplane with small-arms fire; they believed it to be North Korea's military aircraft.[35]

See also



  • Oberdorfer, Don. The Two Koreas : A Contemporary History. Addison-Wesley, 1997, 472 pages, ISBN 0-201-40927-5
  • Cumings, Bruce. The Origins of the Korean War: Liberation and the Emergence of Separate Regimes, 1945-1947. Princeton University Press, 1981, 607 pages, ISBN 0-691-09383-0

External links

  • South Korean Ministry of Unification (Korean and English)
  • North Korean News Agency (Korean and English)
  • [1] (English)
  • Korea Web Weekly (English)
  • NDFSK (Mostly Korean; some English)
  • Koreascope (Korean and English)
  •, has list of Post-World War II US and Soviet administrators (in English)
  • Korean Unification Studiesja:連合軍軍政期 (朝鮮史)


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