North Korea's nuclear program has been making headlines — both good and bad — for ages. Just this part year, there were the advances in intercontinental ballistic missiles and the underground testing. But then came the Olympics and the detente with South Korea. Now even President Trump is considering meeting with Kim Jong Un. But the program, and the controversy over it, are nothing new. It's been in the works for decades. Here's how North Korea got nuclear weapons.
The push for stronger weapons began during and following the Korean War. The South, supported by the United States, had extensive firepower, and the North looked to Russia for support to try and counter the super power. That meant that North Korea received weapons and training from Russia. President Truman threatened to use atomic bombs at one point during the war. "That includes every weapon we have," he told a reporter in 1950, The Washington Post reported in 2006.
Following the armistice, which came into effect in 1953 and is still in effect today, the United States kept up the pressure on the North. In 1957, the United States put nuclear missiles in South Korea to threaten the North. Many of the nuclear weapons in the South were just miles from the Demilitarized Zone, and President Eisenhower threatened, as Truman did, to "remove all restraints in our use of weapons."
The first time that the nuclear question came up for the North was in the 1960s. President John F. Kennedy was pushing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty to try and stop the spread of nuclear weapons being developed around the world. North Korea refused to sign. The Soviet Union then gave the North its first nuclear reactor — a way to harness nuclear energy — just a few years later, in 1965, for research purposes, The Washington Post reported. North Korea had its own uranium mines.
It then started developing its second reactor, which was finished by the 1970s. Despite the fact that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors visited the country in 1977, by the '80s the North was well on its way to developing a nuclear weapons program — all in secret.
In 1985, North Korea did two things: It signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it used a hidden third reactor to develop nuclear weapon-grade material. From that point until today, it has been a cat-and-mouse game of the North promising to suspend the development of nuclear weapons while secretly carrying on their research.
Under both the Bush and Clinton administrations, international inspectors would go to North Korea. An agreement in 1994 made by President Clinton gave the North economic aid in exchange for a halting of the nuclear program. But the development did not end, and in 2002 President Bush announced that the North had acknowledged attempting to build a nuclear weapon yet again. This is widely remembered as when the North was named part of the "Axis of Evil."
Since then, it has been yet more of the same. The North promises to dismantle the program in exchange for various forms of aid, but meanwhile its scientists keep refining more nuclear material to turn it into weapons-grade material.
Now, it would seem once again that the North is dismantling the program. Satellite pictures show that buildings on the test site used for many of the nuclear tests have been torn down. This is backed up by statements from the North Korean government that it will completely shut down the program in advance of the talks with Trump.
What isn't clear yet is what will happen to their current arsenal, which may include nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.