In the aftermath of North Korea’s apparently successful test of an advanced—probably hydrogen—nuclear device, Nathan VanderKlippe reports on increased tensions between North Korea and its sworn enemy, the United States.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, current events, history

Key Questions to Explore:

  • What threat does North Korea represent to the United States and its allies, and why are U.S. military options unlikely to resolve the crisis?

New Terminology:

Crisis, sanctions, intercontinental ballistic missiles, non proliferation, retaliatory

Materials Needed:

Globe article, background information sheet*, Internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Tensions between North Korea and the U.S. increased significantly with North Korea’s successful testing of what some experts claim is a hydrogen bomb. As well, that country has demonstrated a successful ballistic missile program, with the ability to deliver a warhead as far away as the U.S. mainland. To the horror of the rest of the world, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un has openly threatened the U.S. territory of Guam with nuclear annihilation if the U.S. were to attack North Korea. In short, the situation has become an international crisis.

President Donald Trump has responded to North Korea’s threats with his own threats of a massive military retaliation involving “fire and fury.” However, most analysts, including former White House counsel Steve Bannon, agree that military options are limited, since any attack on North Korea would likely mean a conventional weapons counter-attack, targeting South Korean capital Seoul, resulting in the deaths of thousands of South Koreans and Americans.

Students can benefit from a lesson on the North Korean crisis. They will work in pairs to complete a short worksheet assignment, followed by a general class discussion of your preferred duration.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Engage students in a brief discussion about the current crisis involving North Korea. Discover what they already know about it, using the introduction, above, as a guide.
  • Explain terms, such as ‘intercontinental ballistic missile’ and ‘hydrogen bomb.’
  • If you have any students of Korean origin in class, perhaps they would be willing to offer opinions on the crisis.

Organize students in pairs.

Provide them with the Globe and Mail article by Nathan VanderKlippe, as well as the information sheet at the end of this lesson, and the following worksheet:

Work Sheet

  • Using the Internet, locate Korea on a map of the world and note the location of Seoul relative to the border between North and South Korea. Note as well, the location of Guam in the South Pacific.
  • Use the article by Nathan VanderKlippe, as well as the information sheet on North Korea, to answer the following questions and prompts:
  • Korea has been testing long-range missiles for some time. Why is it significant that it has achieved the ability to send a missile 12,000 km? Which country might they wish to target at such a distance?
  • North Korea has said that if the United States attacks or appears poised to attack North Korea, it would retaliate by attacking Guam. What is Guam’s relationship with the United States?
  • South Korea is a close ally of the United States. How has South Korea responded to the latest threats from North Korea?
  • Some experts say that the United States does not have a viable military option when it comes to responding to North Korean threats. Explain this in terms of:
    • The location of North Korean conventional weapons—artillery, for example;
    • The likely response of North Korea in the event of an attack by the United States;
    • The Chinese explanation of the cost to the United States—in terms of damage to its own people—were the U.S. to attack North Korea.
  • From your reading, does it seem that North Korea is likely to bow to international pressure to abandon its goals to become a nuclear-armed nation? Why or why not?
  • In your own opinion, how worried should Canadians be about the crisis? Is Canada directly or indirectly threatened? Do you think nuclear war could result from this current crisis? Why or why not?
  • Be prepared to share your answers with the rest of the class.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • When students have finished their worksheets, engage them in a general discussion about the issues. Compare and contrast their answers and see if you can achieve a class consensus on the seriousness of the crisis.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students can explain, in basic terms, why the situation involving North Korea and the United States is described as a crisis. They can explain why the United States likely does not have an acceptable military solution to the crisis.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students report on the latest news about the Korean crisis.

*Information sheet on North Korea:

North and South Korea were created in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, when the Soviets occupied what is now North Korea and the Americans South Korea. Both sides agreed to withdraw from the country, but only after the Soviets had installed a communist regime in the North and the Americans a democratic regime in the South. Kim Il Sung became the de facto dictator of North Korea, with the Chinese and Soviets his allies.

Tensions between the US and the USSR mounted in the late 1940s and boiled over on the Korean peninsula in 1950, when the North Koreans invaded the South, starting a three-year war. The United Nations became involved and 16 countries, including Canada, sent troops to the South to battle the invading communists. Almost 27,000 Canadians served in that war, 10 times the number of current Canadian military personnel now stationed in Afghanistan. More than 500 were killed. China came to the aid of the North Koreans and the war ground to a stalemate where it remains to this day, with North and South Korean military locked in a heavily armed waiting position on either side of the 38th parallel.

South Korea slowly developed into the Asian economic powerhouse it is today—note the prevalence of the Korean Hyundai automobiles and Samsung electronics and appliances in Canada, for example—while North Korea stagnated under its totalitarian regime. Unlike virtually all communist governments in recent decades, North Korea’s oppressive system became more insular and less-connected to the outside world over time. Access to information and the media remain tightly state-controlled, and movement into and out of the country is difficult in the extreme. Individual citizens have access only to the version of the world that their government feeds them via official media, which has been typically saturated with pro- Kim Jong-Un propaganda. In recent years, the emphasis has been on what is described as a looming and inevitable war with the United States.

Kim Jong-Un, the newest dictator, consolidated his power shortly after his father, Kim Jong-Il died, in 2011. Rather than acquiescing to international demands that he cease his country’s nuclear-arms program, the Supreme Leader has ramped it up, recently completing a sixth nuclear test and improving the range and reliability of his missiles. In addition to his growing nuclear arsenal, Kim Jong-Un retains a massive conventional weapons system, mostly targeting Seoul, South Korea, which lies about 50 kilometres from the border, well within conventional artillery range. In addition to Seoul’s Korean population, it is also home to thousands of Americans. Any attack on North Korea would likely result in an immediate attack on the South, with likely hundreds of thousands of casualties.