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 amid the chaos following the end of the Second World War. 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 the cult of personality. The totalitarian state also stands accused of systematic human rights abuses.
Supreme leader: Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un is the third supreme leader in the Kim dynasty, founded by his grandfather Kim il-Sung, the country's leader at the time of its establishment.
Kim Jong-un took over from his father Kim Jong-il when he died from 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 over Korea ends with its Second World War surrender.
1948 - Korea is divided between the Soviet-backed North and the US-backed South.
1950-1953 - Korean War.
1994 - Founding President Kim Il-sung dies, succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il.
2002 - US names North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" in a stand-off between the West and North Korea which lasts for decades.
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.