An RTÉ News Special Report

Nuclear Stand-Off

North Korea has been described as "the worst problem in the world"*. It's got the bomb, a million man army, and an unpredictable leader. So does its adversary, the United States. As the two square off, RTÉ News looks inside the Hermit Kingdom.

*Mark Bowden, The Atlantic, August 2017

Infant Deaths

Babies born in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) have a one in three chance of dying. Of those who survive, one third are so malnourished they are stunted.

Bombs, not Bread

While Kim Jong Un pours the country's money into his vast military machine, the life expectancy of his struggling citizens continues to fall. His grandfather, who started the Kim dynasty, was called Great Leader. Like his father, Kim is known as Dear Leader.

Racial Mythology

Children are taught to venerate the bloodline of the Kim family which supposedly has quasi-mystical powers to lead all Koreans, said to be the purest of all races.

A History of Violence

In 1950, Mr. Kim's grandfather invaded South Korea, with the help of China, who along with Russia continues to prop up the dynasty. Their dangerous policy aims to avoid a unified Korea which supports the US, which led the retaliation against the invasion.

The Korean War

Then, as now, media coverage of Korea is often partisan in nature.

Families Torn Apart

After seeing each other for the first time in more than five decades, North Koreans bid their South Korean relatives farewell as they finish a three-day family reunion in July 2007. It's the first time they have met since the Korean War tore their families - and many others - apart.

Painful Separation

To mark the Lunar New Year, South Korean families visit the Demilitarised Zone (or "38th Parallel") to pray to their relatives in the North. 250km long, 4km wide and heavily mined throughout, the DMZ separates the two nations.

'...gangster state...'

North Korea is the world's most corrupt country, and has been described as a "gangster state"*. Most workers earn €2 or €3 a month. While farmers are forced to use their own faeces as fertilisers, the Dear Leader inherited over €4bn after his father's death in 2011.

*Prof Robert E Kelly speaking to RTÉ, August 2017

A Million Dead

Until its collapse, the USSR bank-rolled North Korea. Sanctions and Pyonyang's recklessness led to a massive famine. While the young Kim was schooled in luxury in Switzerland, at least a million North Koreans starved to death, perhaps including some of these people working to repair a sea wall in 1997.

Global Ambitions

The Triumph Arch in Pyongyang honours Mr Kim's father, who detonated North Korea's first nuclear bomb in 2006. US sabotage has probably played a role in the string of failed missile launches in recent years.

Regional Terror

Mr Kim has accelerated his nuclear programme and is making worrying progress towards his goal of being able to bomb the US. North Korean missile tests prompt outrage and fear in Seoul, which sits in the shadow - and within easy reach - of its aggressive neighbour.

War Games - High Stakes

While Mr Kim continues to launch missiles and detonate nuclear bombs, he also orders his armed forces to engage in live fire exercises.

Illegal Trade

Mr Kim has worked around sanctions, which the UN Security Council has now beefed up. He has managed to trade internationally, source oil and uses Chinese banks. Pressure is mounting on Bejing to crack down on sanction-busting trade across its border.

No Quick Fix

The US says it will not tolerate a nuclear armed North Korea with the capacity to attack it, and will destroy the DPRK if necessary. Kim Jong Un is committed to developing those weapons. This long-standing crisis is now escalating dangerously. Where it will end is anyone's guess.