For decades North Korea has been one of the world's most secretive societies. It is one of the few countries still under nominally communist rule.
North Korea's nuclear ambitions have exacerbated its rigidly maintained isolation from the rest of the world.
The country emerged in 1948 from the chaos following the end of World War Two. Its history is dominated by its Great Leader, Kim Il-sung, who shaped political affairs for almost half a century.
Decades of this rigid state-controlled system have led to stagnation and a leadership dependent on a cult of personality. The totalitarian state also stands accused of systematic human rights abuses.
DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF KOREA: FACTS
Area: 120,540 sq km
Population: 25.9 million
Life expectancy: 68 years (men) 75 years (women)
Supreme leader: Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un is the third leader from the Kim dynasty, founded by his grandfather Kim il-Sung.
Kim Jong-un took over from his father Kim Jong-il when the latter died of a heart attack in December 2011.
Under Kim Jong-un, North Korea has continued its policy of promoting the military at home while sending mixed signals to the rest of the world about its nuclear programme.
Radio and TV sets in North Korea are pre-tuned to government stations that pump out a steady stream of propaganda.
The press and broadcasters - all of them under direct state control - serve up a menu of flattering reports about North Korea's leader.
Economic hardship and famines are not reported. North Korea is one of the hardest countries for foreign media to cover.
Some key dates in North Korea's history:
1945 - Japan's colonial rule ends with its World War Two surrender.
1948 - Korea is divided between the Soviet-backed North and the US-backed South.
1950-1953 - Korean War ends in truce.
1994 - Founding President Kim Il-sung dies, succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il, who dies in 2011.
2018 - Kim Jong-un becomes first North Korean leader to enter the South when he meets South Korean President Moon Jae-in for talks. Weeks later he meets US President Donald Trump.