North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has grown with each Kim regime


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Although specifics weren’t provided, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un joined his counterpart to the south in promising to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons.

The vow to create a “nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization” came during the Koreas’ historic summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in late April, and just before the much-anticipated meeting between Kim and U.S. President Trump.

Kim also promised he wouldn’t interrupt Moon’s sleep anymore, referring to the North’s seeming penchant for early morning missile tests in 2017.

“I feel like I’m firing a flare at the starting line in the moment of (the two Koreas) writing a new history in North-South relations, peace and prosperity,” Kim told Moon.

He also acknowledged the widespread skepticism over the summit. “We have reached big agreements before but were unable to fulfill them … There are skeptical views on whether the meeting today will yield meaningful results,” he said. “If we maintain a firm will and proceed forward hand-in-hand, it will be impossible at least for things to get worse than they are now.”

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Kim is the first known member of his family’s dynasty to set foot on South Korean soil since 1953. There, at least in front of cameras, his rhetoric has drastically changed since he engaged in a war of words with Trump throughout the first year of the U.S. president’s time in the White House. (Kim called Trump a “dotard;” Trump called the North Korean leader “short and fat.”)

Since Kim took over North Korea in 2011, the regime rapidly expanded and tested its missile arsenal with weapons capable of striking the U.S. mainland. His end goal, he once said, was to “establish the equilibrium of real force with the U.S. and make the U.S. rulers dare not talk about military options” for the North.

Read on for a brief look at how North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has grown throughout the regimes in the past century.

Kim Il Sung, leader from 1948-1994

Servicepersons of the Korean People's Army (KPA) and the Korean People's Internal Security Forces (KPISF), civilians, school youth and children visited the statues of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il on the occasion of the 72nd anniversary of national liberation in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on August 15, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS    ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES.  SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC1652B32590

Kim Il Sung did not live long enough to see his country’s first successful nuclear weapons test. In this photo, members of the Korean People’s Army and the Korean People’s International Security Forces stand in front of a statue of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on the 72nd anniversary of national liberation.  (KCNA via Reuters)

Kim Il Sung can be credited with founding North Korea and propelling the nation’s nuclear program forward — but he did not live to see his country conduct its first nuclear test.

It was under the first Kim that North Korea began to build up its nuclear reactors. And it was under his leadership that the nation began the Korean War — surely a catalyst that led the leader to believe his nation needed nuclear weapons, Dr. Sung-Yoon Lee, the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, told Fox News in an interview.


“The seeds of nuclear aspirations were sown in the Korean War,” Lee said.

The Korean War pitted North Korea and its ally China — two nations that did not have nuclear capabilities at the time — against a nuclear-armed U.S., making it “clear to the first Kim that nuclear weapons are very powerful, a powerful deterrent,” Lee said.

Kim Jong Il, leader from 1994-2011

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il salutes during a ceremony commemorating North Korea's 50th anniversary of the founding of the state in Pyongyang September 9. North Korea celebrated its 50th anniversary with a grand military parade featuring banners hailing long life for the country's late founder, Kim Il-sung.


Kim Jong Il was called the “dictator who turned North Korea into a nuclear state” after his death.  (Reuters)

When the second leader of the Kim dynasty died in 2011, Kim Jong Il was remembered as the “dictator who turned North Korea into a nuclear state,” in his New York Times obituary.

And it’s Kim Jong Il that really “gets the credit of taking the country down the nuclear path,” Lee said.

In the beginning of his reign — he was North Korea’s supreme leader from 1994 to 2011 — North Korea denied that it had a nuclear weapons program.


However, in 2003, Pyongyang announced that North Korea was withdrawing from the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which barred the nation from making nuclear weapons.

By 2005, North Korea confirmed that it had its own nuclear weapons. It tested its first nuclear device in 2006.

Kim Jong Un, leader from 2011-present

FILE - In this April 15, 2017, file photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves during a military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea. South Korea's military said Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 North Korea fired an unidentified missile from its capital Pyongyang that flew over Japan before landing in the northern Pacific Ocean. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

Kim Jong Un is credited with accelerating North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.  (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Kim Jong Un is credited with accelerating North Korea’s push for nuclear weapons, and under the Obama administration, many of the world’s attitudes toward the East Asian nation’s nuclear capabilities became less blasé than in the past, Lee said.

Kim Jong Un also crossed a major threshold for his country in the summer of 2017 — the ability to credibly threaten the U.S. with an intercontinental ballistic missile.

In 2017, North Korea successfully tested its longest-ever flight of a ballistic missile. The intermediate-range weapon traveled 3,700 miles and passed over Japan before it landed in the Pacific. The country also tested its most powerful nuclear test to date this year.

After the missile test, Kim Jong Un said North Korea is nearing “equilibrium” with the U.S. in terms of its military force.

The increasingly frequent and aggressive tests added to outside fears that North Korea is closer than ever to building a military arsenal that could viably target the mainland of the U.S. or its allies in Asia.

Calling Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man,” Trump said in 2017 that the dictator is on a “suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

“The United States has great strength and patience,” Trump said. “But if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

But 2018 brought a dramatic turn of events after he declared in a stark New Year’s address that a nuclear launch button is “always on my table.” Kim Jong Un has offered to meet with Trump and became the first known member of his family’s dynasty to set foot in South Korea since 1953. At the historic summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, both leaders pushed for peace and would work toward a “nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.”

However, neither leader provided any specific measures or seemed to forge a potential breakthrough on the issue that has captivated and terrified many, especially since last year.

 Edmund DeMarche and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kaitlyn Schallhorn

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