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North Korea

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North Korea, officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (the DPRK; Chosŏn'gŭl: 조선민주주의인민공화국; Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk), is a country in East Asia, in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. The country follows a form of left-nationalist ideology called Juche, or self-sufficiency[1] which was described by the 1972 constitution of North Korea as a "creative application of Marxism–Leninism" in 1972.[2][3] In 2009, the constitution was amended again, quietly removing the brief references to communism (Chosŏn'gŭl: 공산주의).[4]

North Korea claims to hold elections and describes itself as a self-reliant socialist state,[5] but it is considered by others to be a Stalinist totalitarian dictatorship,[14][15][16] with an alleged cult of personality around Kim Il-sung and his family.

North Korea’s claims to control over the entire Korean peninsula are contested by South Korea, a capitalist nation originally ruled by dictator Syngman Rhee,[17] described by the DPRK as "fascist".[18] From 1950-1953, the two sides fought the Korean War, which failed to result in a decisive victory for either side.

The highest organ of state power in North Korea is the Supreme People’s Assembly. The other bodies are the National Defence Commission, chaired by Kim Jong-Il, the Presidium, chaired by Kim Yong-nam, and the cabinet (government ministers), chaired by Choe Yong-rim.[19]

North Korea follows Songun, or military-first policy.[20] It is the world's most militarized society, with a total of 9,495,000 active, reserve, and paramilitary personnel. Its active duty army of 1.21 million is the 4th largest in the world, after China, the US, and India.[21] It also possesses nuclear weapons.[22][23]


North Korea's fate first diverged from South Korea in 1945. In that year, the Soviet Army liberated North Korea from Japanese colonial occupation[24] and agreed with the United States to hold elections for a unified Korean government. However, in 1948 the elections in the South were rigged, installing staunch anti-Communist[25] Syngman Rhee. The North declined to participate, and held separate elections in won by the Korean Workers' Party and Kim Il-sung. Meanwhile, in South Korea, Syngman Rhee's dictatorship was characterized by immense repressions, actively aided by American forces under Lt. Gen. John R. Hodge[26]. For example, in April 1948 Syngman Rhee's forces laid waste to Jeju Island as a punishment for an anti-government demonstration, killing 60,000 islanders[27]. Outraged, massive guerrilla resistance movements were founded across South Korea, under the leadership of the Workers' Party of South Korea’s Pak Hon-yong. Watching all this with concern were the North Koreans, who intervened in support of Pak’s guerrillas in 1950, beginning the Korean War.

The demoralized and under-equipped South Korean army was swiftly defeated, and the survivors were penned into a small pocket around Pusan,[28]. However, the Soviets were at that time boycotting the United Nations security council in protest over the continued presence of Chiang Kai-shek's dictatorship, which allowed the Western powers to pass a resolution to support the Syngman Rhee regime by military force.[29]

Badly outnumbered, the North Koreans now strategically retreated to the Chinese border, the Communist government of which intervened in support of North Korea beginning on October 25, 1950[30]. The forces supporting Syngman Rhee then retreated back to the border, and eventually a ceasefire was agreed in 1953.

In 1994, Kim Il-sung died, and was made Honorary President. Power was divided between the three agencies of government, the Supreme People's Assembly[31]. From this time until 2008, North and South Korea lived in relative peace, with a democratic government taking power in the South for the first time. However, in 2008 South Korea saw the return of dictatorial capitalism with Lee Myung-bak.[32][33] Since then, North Korea has returned to its policy of Juche.


The government of North Korea is based on a legislative branch, specifically the Supreme People's Assembly. This body has vast authority, similar to other Parliaments, such as electing people to posts in the courts and the executive branches of government. It is elected every five years by "universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot"[34]. In addition to the Supreme People's Assembly deputies, there is also an SPA Presidium, the "upper house" of the Assembly. The Supreme People's Assembly also appoints a cabinet, a council of ministers, which is in charge of directing many economic matters, and reporting to the SPA on the rest. The cabinet also is empowered to direct commissions, among other things.

Finally, the last major body of the government is the National Defence Commission, which is charged with organizing the military to defend North Korea from external threat[35].

By far, the largest political party in North Korea is the Korean Workers' Party. Other parties, however, do exist, including the Korean Social Democratic Party and the Chondoist Chongu Party[36]. Neither is repressed by the North Korean government.

Foreign relations[edit]

North Korea has long maintained close relations with the People's Republic of China and Russia. The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, resulted in a devastating drop in aid to North Korea from Russia, although China continues to provide substantial assistance. North Korea continues to have strong ties with its socialist south-eastern Asian allies in Vietnam and Laos, as well as with Cambodia.[37]


The continued threat of capitalist encirclement and siege has forced North Korea to maintain a large, well-equipped army. Additionally, in 2006, North Korea developed nuclear weapons, and may now possess a nuclear deterrent of six to eight deployable warheads.[38] However, they have sworn an oath to not use them unless someone has nuked them first, therefore they can use it for only nuclear self-defence.

North Korea has the largest percentage of citizens enlisted on the military (49.03 active troops per thousand citizens). North Korea has an estimation of 1.08 million armed personnel, compared with about 686,000 South Korean troops (and 3.5 million paramilitary forces) plus 29,000 US troops in South Korea.[39]

Social Services[edit]

The North Korean government offers a variety of social services, free to all North Korean people.


North Korea's education system is government-paid and accessible for all[40], in contrast to the heavily privatized, tutoring-based system in South Korea. North Korea's literacy rate is very high, at 99%.[41] This is identical for both North Korean men and women, and is tied for tenth-highest on Earth.[42]

The education system is divided into primary and secondary education, much like most other countries, but with the addition of "social education". This term includes a broad range of extracurricular activities, such as visiting "schoolchildren's palaces", with everything from theatres to academic debates[43].

North Korea also has a post-secondary education system, with traditional university and college campuses, as well as specialized technical schools. In October 2010, the North Koreans completed the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.[44]


In 2010, Amnesty International conducted a report, titled: The Crumbling State of Health Care in North Korea,[45] which claimed that North Korean citizens had to barter for healthcare, that the hospitals in the country were barely functional, and that epidemics were made worse by malnutrition.[46]

This was based on a very small sample of people who had left the country up to nine years previously, and was criticised by the World Health Organization as having "no science in the research" as healthcare in the country was "the envy of the developing world". The World Health Organization did note, however, the lack of medicines in the country, possibly related to the economic sanctions.[46]

The WHO also noted that "there is no known incidence of HIV infection among the population in DPRK".[47]


North Korea offers free food donatives to all the people who are unable to afford it[48]. It also provides housing and clothing[49].

Geography and Climate[edit]

North Korea is a mountainous country, formed by the activity of the Pacific Rim of Fire. The natural beauty of the country hides the truth, though, that only 18% of the surface area (2.2 million hectares) is arable land.[50]

North Korea's highest point is Paektu Mountain, at 2,744 metres. It is the highest mountain on the Korean Peninsula and in north-eastern China.[51] This volcano is famous for the caldera lake at the summit.

North Korea's climate is a temperate, and it includes a summer monsoon.

Demographics and transportation[edit]

As of 2010, North Korea has a population of 23,991,000[52]. They are spread out in the lowlands, in both rural communities and large cities. For example, the capital city of Pyongyang had a population of 3,255,388. Few people live in the more mountainous areas in the eastern part of the country. North Korea has a relatively sustainable population growth rate, just 0.34%.


North Korea is "a country that has embraced science and rationalism", according to the Korean Friendship Association.[53] Although 64.4% of North Koreans are atheist, a number are, including 16.0% who practice shamanism, 13.5% who practice Cheondoism, and 4.5% who practice Buddhism, among others[54].


North Korea's transportation networks are large and well-organized blend of systems. Railways and subways occupy a prominent role, the latter mainly in Pyongyang. The Pyongyang Metro has a high ridership rate, about 700,000[55], and it has two lines, totalling about 22 km in length. The architecture of the subway stations is often considered to be quite spectacular[55]. The railways are more utilitarian, but possess 5200 km of track, or 43.1 metres per square kilometre. For comparison, the United States has just 8.23 metres of highway for every square kilometre.

North Korea also possesses a road network, which includes three major highways. In addition to privately owned vehicles, the government operates a fleet of electric buses and trams[56].

North Korea also makes use of air travel, through state airline Air Koryo, and water transport, with 167 ships of more than 1000 tonnes. Air Koryo presently operates 59 aircraft, and is hoping to acquire new Ilyushin Il-96 and Tupolev Tu-204 jetliners, as well as lighter Sukhoi Superjet 100 regional jets.


Following the devastation of the Korean War, Kim Il-sung set about making North Korea a major industrial power out of the ruins of war, and through the use of economic planning[57] created an industrial economy. In fact, the North Korean economy was larger by per capita GDP until the 1970s and 1980s[58], and this was based more on industry than South Korea's largely agrarian economy at the time. A large number of regeneration programs were quickly carried out in the country,[59] and North Korea claims that the economic system implemented by Kim Il-sung revived the country in 10 years.[60]

Nowadays, North Korea is a planned economy[61] with GDP growth of 3.7% in 2009[62]. The economy remains based on industry, accounting for 43.1% of the economy[63], followed by the services/ retail sector.

North Korea's economy is, however, limited by the country's inability to trade with other countries for natural resources not found in the country, such as fossil fuels and foodstuffs[64], in exchange for industrial products.

The country has not levied taxes since 1974, as government revenues from the economy have met or exceeded the annual budget.[65]

North Korea does, however, recognize private property[66] and operates Special Economic Zones with conditions less planned by North Korea's government.


Although North Korea is officially a socialist republic[67], many outside media organizations report that it is a Stalinist dictatorship[68][69]. Some communists also think it cannot be labelled as communist, since the DPRK supports self-sufficiency and isolationism,[70] therefore not internationalism. Kim Il-Sung's policy statements and speeches from the 1940s and 1950s confirm that the North Korean government accepted Joseph Stalin's 1924 theory of socialism in one country and its model of centralized autarkic economic development[71].

See Also[edit]


  1. ,International Institute of the Juche Idea
  2. (1972). Constitution of North Korea (1972). URL accessed on 7 May 2009.
  3. Martin, Bradley K. (2004). Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty, New York City, New York: Thomas Dunne Books. "Although it was in that 1955 speech that Kim gave full voice to his arguments for juche, he had been talking along similar lines as early as 1948."
  4. DPRK has quietly amended its Constitution (Template:webcite)
  5. Constitution of North Korea
  6. Spencer, Richard (28 August 2007). "North Korea power struggle looms". The Telegraph (online version of United Kingdom's national newspaper) (London). Retrieved 31 October 2007. "A power struggle to succeed Kim Jong-il as leader of North Korea's Stalinist dictatorship may be looming after his eldest son was reported to have returned from semi-voluntary exile." </li>
  7. Parry, Richard Lloyd (5 September 2007). "North Korea's nuclear 'deal' leaves Japan feeling nervous". The Times (online version of United Kingdom's national newspaper of record) (London). Retrieved 31 October 2007. "The US Government contradicted earlier North Korean claims that it had agreed to remove the Stalinist dictatorship’s designation as a terrorist state and to lift economic sanctions, as part of talks aimed at disarming Pyongyang of its nuclear weapons." </li>
  8. Walsh, Lynn The Korean crisis. CWI online: Socialism Today, February 2003 edition, journal of the Socialist Party, CWI England and Wales., website of the committee for a worker’s international. URL accessed on 31 October 2007.
  9. Brooke, James (2 October 2003). "North Korea Says It Is Using Plutonium to Make A-Bombs". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2007. "North Korea, run by a Stalinist dictatorship for almost six decades, is largely closed to foreign reporters and it is impossible to independently check today's claims." </li>
  10. Buruma, Ian (13 March 2008). "Leader Article: Let the Music Play On". The Times of India. Retrieved 27 March 2008. "North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is one of the world's most oppressive, closed, and vicious dictatorships. It is perhaps the last living example of pure totalitarianism– control of the state over every aspect of human life." </li>
  11. Freedom in the World, 2006. Freedom House. URL accessed on 13 February 2007.
  12. "Economist Intelligence Unit democracy index 2006" (PDF). Economist Intelligence Unit. 2007. Retrieved 9 October 2007. North Korea ranked in last place (167) </li>
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  72. </ol>