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The Korean Demilitarized Zone was established as a buffer zone between North Korea and South Korea following the 1953 armistice in the Korean War. It divides the peninsula roughly in half and is about 160 miles across and 2.5 miles wide.
More than 25 million South Koreans live under constant threat from North Korean heavy artillery, much of it in fortified positions along the border. The weapons are precise and have a range of up to 44 miles.
Greater Seoul, the capital of South Korea and a global economic powerhouse, sits just 25 miles from the DMZ.
South Korea is home to nearly 30,000 active-duty American military members. Camps Casey and Red Cloud — both within 20 miles of the DMZ — have more than 6,000 soldiers stationed there. Yongsan Garrison, in the heart of Seoul, has served as the headquarters for the U.S. military in South Korea. Because it lies within the North’s artillery range, the U.S. has begun moving operations to a new garrison in Pyeongtaek, roughly 35 miles to the south.
The Joint Security Area is overseen by the United Nations and is where diplomatic discussions between the two countries take place. It’s the only place where North and South Koreans stand face to face. South Korean guards, who must be black belts in taekwondo and meet certain height requirements, prevent anybody from crossing the border.
Between 2004 and 2016, more than 100 South Korean companies employed North Korean workers in the Kaesong Industrial Complex. The area, connected to the south by roads and rail, was started to ease tensions and help North Korea reform its flailing economy. South Korea pulled out after a 2016 rocket launch.
About half of the heavy artillery pieces along North Korea's southern border are multiple rocket launchers, including 18 to 36 that are 300 millimeter. Pyongyang has bragged about the reliability of these huge launchers, and state media last year published photos during a test-firing attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
An unintentional benefit of no people and no development for nearly 65 years: The slender DMZ is a nearly pristine ecological habitat. Several endangered species live there, including red-crowned (shown in photo) and white-naped cranes — which live near the Imjin River — and Amur gorals, which are related to goats and live in the mountainous areas.
The Sepo stockbreeding zone recently expanded livestock facilities to increase production of meat for the country, where food shortages are common.
Imnam Dam, on the Bukhan River in North Korea, was completed in 2003. In fear of an intentional release of massive amounts of water, South Korea constructed Peace Dam 22 miles to the south.
Haean, a small township of about 1,500 people, sits in the Haean Basin, nicknamed “The Punchbowl” by U.N. troops during the Korean War. In 1990, a 6-by-6-foot North Korean tunnel was discovered in the northern part of the valley before it could be completed. It was the fourth suspected invasion tunnel found in the DMZ.
The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang are just over 50 miles from the DMZ. South Korea plans to increase cybersecurity and mobilize more than 5,000 members of its armed forces to protect the venues.
About this story
Heavy artillery data courtesy of Curtis Melvin of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS and 38 North. Digital elevation data from the NASA Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. Map imagery from European Space Agency Sentinel satellite. Demilitarized zone data from OpenStreetMap. Relative elevations in this graphic are exaggerated from actual elevations.