Korea (North)



Cold War

Far East


South Korea







For details of history see Korea (South)

Japanese Colony 1909-1945
Following the second world war the Soviet Union imposed as leader Kim Il Sung - a former Soviet officer - who created a Communist state of ferocious dictatorship. No doubt he was intended to be a Soviet puppet but long since became uncontrollable.

Division and Korean War 1950-53
It seemed to have been Kim Il Sung who attacked the South without consulting China or the Soviet Union. However, documents show Stalin knew and approved, hoping to control Manchuria and the whole of Korea. If Kim Il Sung had united the country, presumably the whole country would now be in much the same condition as the north is now. He was nearly defeated, after pushing the southern forces, including the Americans, into an enclave round Pusan, and then being beaten back almost to the Chinese border. He was saved by Chinese reinforcements and the war ended in a stalemate at nearly the same line that marked the division of the country at the end of the second world war.

Since then he caused the country to be rebuilt. But there is a great difference between the prestige projects seen by the few foreigners allowed in, and the ordinary life of the people, which is of Albanian quality.

Possible reunification
If reunification occurs it would probably have a similar effect to the unification of Germany. The South would absorb the north. There would be a period of economic disorganization but eventually the result would doubtless be a major economic power. This may happen if the economy collapses. The Southern government, however, is aware of the immense cost of rebuilding the North.

There may be a danger that the dying regime would resort to war.

Admitted to membership of the UN in September 1991. Until then had observer status. US vetoed applications until then - to match the veto of China for the admission of South Korea. How far is the state dependent on China? How influential could China be as the regime collapses? Is the regime collapsing? If so it is taking a long time.

Occasional military incidents occur between north and south. In March 2010 the north seems to have sunk a southern naval ship with a torpedo. It is not impossible that the war could resume.

In November 2010 northern forces bombarded a South Korean island, killing four people. Will this revive the war?

Leaked diplomatic telegrams seem to indicate that China would acquiesce in a collapse of the regime and a take over by the South. This would certainly be a relief for the starving people.








North Korea is one of the last remaining examples of 20th century totalitarianism and particularly the Stalinist form. The late leader Kim Il Sung (known as the Great Leader 1912-1994) and his son Kim Jong Il (the Dear Leader) are almost deified with pictures and images everywhere and a complete organization of the outward expression of the people. Perhaps this could be regarded as a modern version of the traditional emperor cult and an attempt to create a dynastic state.

One sign of this is that the purported birthplace of Kim Jong Il is on the sacred mountain Mount Paekdu where the mythical founder of the Korean Nation was first seen. In reality he was born in the Soviet Far East.

So far there have been few signs of relaxation other than a few tentative moves to talk with South Korea and talks with the US. The economic differences between the two countries are even more marked than those between the former east and west Germany.
The frontier between the states has been opened for a few reunions of relatives. And it is said that some officials have been meeting informally with southerners.

It is not yet known what the reaction of Kim Il Sung was to the fall of Ceausescu in Romania and of the other east European Communist dictatorships. No doubt, like Saddam Hussein, he studied it closely. With the loss of support from the Soviet Union the regime's position must be weaker. Moreover, China has abandoned Communist economics, while retaining the dictatorship. Probably the end will come unexpectedly. Kim Il Sung died 9 July 1994. He was succeeded by his son? So little was known about the state that commentators asked whether he would last? At the time people wondered whether he might do what king Juan Carlos did in Spain (a trusted follower who overturned the system)? No-one knew for sure even whether he was the ruler.

By February 1997 there were signs of disintegration. A senior party ideologist and member of the inner circle defected to the South.

Nevertheless the regime continues and in 2003 was reactivating its production of nuclear weapons and threatening to resume the war against the South. A serious crisis threatens. A nuclear weapon was claimed to have been tested in the northeast of the country in October 2006.

Negotiations on nuclear weapons may have reached an agreement to end nuclear research in mid-February 2007 in return for large economic aid. Surely the regime must collapse after so big a concession?.

In 2010 Kim Jong Il seemed to be trying to hand over the regime to his third son, Kim Jong-Un. Little is known about him but he is in his 20s and seems unlikely to be competent. Possibly the regime is actually run by the military, whose attack on South Korean Island threatens to revive the War (never formally ended).

He died 19 December 2011. Kim Jong Un was declared the "Great Successor". (Will he be known as "Baby Kim"?) Some reporters think the real "power behind the throne" will be his uncle, the husband of Kim Jong Il's sister.

Blaine Harden - Escape from Camp 14

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West






The economy is reported to be in as bad a condition as Albania and Romania were on the collapse of communism. Hand labor with little machinery available is common in the countryside. There was a period of comparative prosperity when the Soviet Union conducted barter trade, but this dried up after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Perhaps all the resources have gone into military industry, including the attempt to produce nuclear weapons. A great deal of effort must go into the mass parades of praise for the Leader. As in Cuba, the loss of barter trade with the Soviet Union and eastern Europe has caused economic dislocation. As in Yemen this may make unification the only way out. The integration of the North into the southern economy would be even more difficult than in Germany. Reports (Nov 94) that a market system is beginning.

Disastrous floods in Summer 1995 caused malnutrition. Collapse must be approaching. When?

An important economic influence on the north may be the rail connections being built across the border. If this is used to transport southern goods to China and the rest of Eurasia the isolation of the North will be lessened (even if the trains are sealed as they cross). There has been the beginning of Special Economic Zones, the policy that initiated China's rapid transformation. However, the nuclear explosion is leading to calls for economic sanctions which would prevent exports.

Possibly the agreement of February 2007 may lead to these sanctions being lifted.

More flooding in summer 2007.

In December 2007 a freight train service began to cross the border from the south, carrying parts for South Korean owned factories in a Special Economic Zone. This might be the beginning of economic change.






Believed to be working on nuclear weapons and in March 1993 left the Non-Proliferation treaty, which suggests to the UN that there is something to hide. IAEA inspectors have been refused access to some sites, which are therefore presumed to be weapons plants. (One hypothesis is that the plants may be fake intended to force the outside world to negotiate. In this case UN inspectors are excluded because they would reveal the real weakness of the state.) However, it seems more likely that the weapon program is near to producing a device, which would put Japan and South Korea at risk.

In 2002 and 2003 the production of nuclear materials may have been resumed.

A claimed nuclear test of a Hiroshima sized bomb took place on 8 October 2006.





Human Rights

One of the six worst countries for human rights abuse along with:

Burma (now improving)


Iraq under Saddam Hussein




Camps for political prisoners may be the worst in the world with torture and scientific experimentation, as in Nazi Germany. See the book by Blaine Harden

Last revised 28/03/12

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