The origins of the Korean state began with Korean pottery dating back to 8000 BC, with three kingdoms flourishing in the 1st century BC. The name Korea is derived from the Kingdom of Goguryeo, also spelled as Koryŏ, which was one of East Asia's greatest empires. During the 7th century, Korea under Later Silla and Balhae dynasties enjoyed over a millennium of relative tranquility under long lasting dynasties with the invention of the Hangul script, created by Sejong the Great in 1446. Korea was annexed by the Empire of Japan in 1910 until the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II in 1945, when Korea was divided into two zonesalong 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). The Korean Armistice Agreement brought about a ceasefire, and 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 formally holds elections. 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 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 possesses nuclear weapons. North Korea is an atheist state with no official religion and where public religion is discouraged.