Country Listing

North Korea Table of Contents

North Korea



Military personnel symbolizing the branches of the Korean People's Army Forces.

IN THE EARLY 1990s, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, (DPRK, or North Korea) was one of the most militarized countries in the world. North Korea's confrontational relationship with the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) is one of the last legacies of the Cold War, 1992, however, hinted at the beginning of a new era of reconciliation. Nonetheless, the peninsula remains divided, with two large armies tactically deployed forward along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ--see Glossary) that is demilitarized in name only.

The division of Korea originated as a consequence of a territorial partition imposed at the end of World War II (1939- 45). When Japanese forces on the peninsula surrendered, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to divide the landmass into dual occupation zones at the thirty-eighth parallel, the Soviet Union occupying the north and the United States the south. The arrangement was intended to be temporary, and the country was to be unified after free elections. Instead, diametrically different political systems were set up in the two areas, and all ensuing diplomatic efforts to unify the country have failed.

A communist attempt at reunification by military action in 1950 brought on the Korean War (1950-53), known in North Korea as the Fatherland Liberation War. The fighting was stopped with an armistice in July 1953, but the hostile political and military relationship between the two Koreas remained unsolved, and the North-South military confrontation continues. There is no convincing evidence that P'yongyang has ever given up the option of reuniting the peninsula by force of arms. In fact, despite growing economic difficulties, North Korea continues to devote its scarce resources to maintaining a force structure that appears unjustifiable on defensive considerations alone. Some officials in the South Korean government believe that North Korea has designated 1995 as the year for reunification and is accelerating its preparations for war.

In 1992 some observers regarded the possibility of war on the Korean Peninsula as low, a judgment based on the global political changes that have ended the confrontation between East and West. Despite the end in the early 1990s to the Cold War competition that had created South Korea and North Korea, the confrontation on the peninsula has not dissipated. Multiple areas of friction between the two countries, including potential nuclear weapons development by North Korea, continue to suggest the possibility of conflict, either deliberate or as a result of miscalculation.

The North Korean leadership has created a Stalinist state that perhaps even exceeds the model. P'yongyang subjects its people to rigid controls: Individual rights are subordinate to those of the state and party. The Ministry of Public Security is charged with maintaining law and order and internal security, and has sweeping powers over the lives of citizens.

The North Korean penal code is draconian and stipulates harsh punishments, particularly for political crimes. Its legal and criminal systems are patterned after Soviet models in force during the occupation after World War II. Little information is available on specific criminal justice procedures and practices.

Although the constitution (adopted in 1948, revised in 1972, and again in 1992) states that courts are independent and that judicial proceedings are carried out in strict accordance with the law--and includes elaborate procedural guarantees to carry out the law--there are strong indications that safeguards are seldom followed in practice. The legal system reflects strong authoritarian impulses and the subordination of the interests of the individual to the state, or to the cause of revolution. Not all details of the law are available to the citizens, and, as of mid-1993, there were indications that liberally defined political crimes were prosecuted with little regard for legal constraints.

Data as of June 1993

Country Listing

North Korea Table of Contents