Editor's note: Reuters is reporting that today's second North Korean missile launch was detected two hours after the first failed launch. The first missile was launched from the east coast city of Wonsan and fell into the sea between the Korean peninsula's east coast and Japan. It was reported as the fifth consecutive failed missile test. - Tom
North Korea (listen), officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK; Chosŏn'gŭl: 조선민주주의인민공화국; hancha: 朝鮮民主主義人民共和國; MR: Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguklisten), is a country in East Asia, in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. The name Korea is derived from the Kingdom of Goguryeo, also spelled as Koryŏ. Pyongyang is both the nation's capital as well as its largest city, with a population just over 2.5 million. To the north and northwest the country is bordered by China and by Russia along the Amnok (known as the Yalu in China) and Tumen rivers. The country is bordered to the south by South Korea (officially the Republic of Korea), with the heavily-fortified Korean Demilitarized Zone separating the two.
Korea was annexed by the Empire of Japan in 1910. After the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II in 1945, Korea was divided into two zones along the 38th parallel by the United States and the Soviet Union, with the north occupied by the Soviets and the south by the Americans. Negotiations on reunification failed, and in 1948 two separate governments were formed: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the north, and the Republic of Korea in the south. An invasion initiated by North Korea led to the Korean War (1950–53). Although the Korean Armistice Agreement brought about a ceasefire, no official peace treaty was ever signed. Both states were accepted into the United Nations in 1991. The DPRK officially describes itself as a self-reliant socialist state and holds elections. However, critics regard it as a totalitarian dictatorship. Various outlets have called it Stalinist, particularly noting the elaborate cult of personality around Kim Il-sung and his family. International organizations have also assessed human rights violations in North Korea as belonging to a category of their own, with no parallel in the contemporary world. The Workers' Party of Korea, led by a member of the ruling family, holds power in the state and leads the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland of which all political officers are required to be members.
Over time North Korea has gradually distanced itself from the world communist movement. Juche, an ideology of national self-reliance, was introduced into the constitution as a "creative application of Marxism–Leninism" in 1972. The means of production are owned by the state through state-run enterprises and collectivized farms. Most services such as healthcare, education, housing and food production are subsidized or state-funded. From 1994 to 1998, North Korea suffered from a famine that resulted in the deaths of between 0.24 and 3.5 million people, and the country continues to struggle with food production. North Korea follows Songun, or "military-first" policy. It is the country with the highest number of military and paramilitary personnel, with a total of 9,495,000 active, reserve, and paramilitary personnel. Its active duty army of 1.21 million is the fourth largest in the world, after China, the U.S., and India. It also possesses nuclear weapons.