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North Korea Table of Contents

North Korea




Soldiers participate in civilian industrial and agricultural work.
Courtesy Democratic People's Republic of Korea Mission to the United Nations


Armistice Hall, North Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone. Marker commemorates site of armistice negotiations.

On the surface, P'yongyang appears to have the capability to maintain public order. As North Korea opens to the outside world, it will be necessary, however, to control the impact of external influences. The leadership apparently is well aware of the potential dangers from "foreign pollution." Although reports of economic unrest increased in mid-1993, they remain infrequent, despite North Korea's poor economic performance in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

A number of stabilizing elements assist the regime's efforts to maintain internal order. The society seems united in popular support for the party, and the people have a strong sense of national pride. Kim Il Sung, by all indications, truly is admired and supported by the general population.

Although P'yongyang has gone to extreme lengths to quarantine its citizens from information about and the influences of the outside world, and uses its monopoly of the means of socialization to promote one party line, it is fighting a battle it cannot win. Outside information, particularly about South Korea's economic progress and the collapse of communism, is increasingly reaching North Korean society. The massive network of citizen surveillance suppresses overt deviance, although there are growing signs that ordinary North Koreans are not putting much effort or commitment into their work. There also is evidence that the visible privileges of the party elite are well known and resented. This fact suggests that when the post-Kim Il Sung period arrives, it may become apparent that many North Koreans have maintained only a formalistic commitment to the regime and have reserved judgment until given the opportunity to put their preferences into political action.

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Given the closed nature of North Korea, much of the available information on that country comes from the two governments that consider North Korea a potential security threat--the Republic of Korea and the United States. The Republic of Korea Ministry of National Defense's annual Defense White Paper series (published in both Korean and English) and the United States Defense Intelligence Agency's 1991 publication of North Korea: The Foundations for Military Strength are particularly noteworthy.

Relatively few book-length studies addressing North Korea's national security posture, the role of its military in society, or its internal security situation are available. Robert A. Scalapino and Chong-Sik Lee's two-volume Communism in Korea is increasingly dated, but remains a basic resource for research on all issues dealing with North Korea.

Two publications by the Seoul-based Research Center for Peace and Unification of Korea merit attention. Lee Suck-Ho's PartyMilitary Relations in North Korea: A Comparative Analysis and Suh Dae-Sook's article on the rise of partisan generals, "Arms and the Hammer and Sickle," are insightful, as is Lee Chung Min's The Emerging Strategic Balance in Northeast Asia: Implications for Korea's Defense Strategy and Planning for the 1990s.

Other useful sources for general military information include the Military Balance, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook, and United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency publications. Occasional articles in Asian Defence Journal, often by Gordon Jacobs, and in the various Jane's publications, often by Joseph S. Bermudez, also are invaluable. Jacobs and Bermudez have produced interesting insights into parts of the North Korean military through careful analysis of available information.

The value of journal articles on North Korean security affairs varies widely. Asian Survey, Far Eastern Economic Review, Korea and World Affairs, and The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis are generally useful and relatively free of bias. On the whole, however, journal articles often present contradictory information and use inconsistent terminology. It is also difficult to determine the continued validity of information over time, given the evolution of the North Korean defense establishment.

South Korean investigative journalism, particularly monthlies such as Wlgan Chosn, is increasingly producing the insights of defectors and travelers to North Korea. These pieces offer interesting insights into daily life and public order in North Korea.

Materials in English on public order, internal security, and domestic stability are uncommon because the closed nature of North Korea has inhibited scholarly inquiry into its legal system. Cho Sung-Yoon and Kang Koo-chin are among the few scholars who have studied North Korea's constitution and legal system. Details of the February 1, 1975, revision of North Korea's criminal code were only becoming known outside North Korea beginning in 1992.

Source materials in English on most issues in North Korea are uncommon, aside from the translations published by the Joint Publications Research Service and the Foreign Broadcast Information Service. Japan's Kita Ch sen, Kita Ch sen Mondai, and Genji Kenky and the periodic publications of South Korea's Pukhan Yn'guso and Kuktong Munje Yn'guso are valuable resources for information on domestic dissent or national security matters. An annotated version of the revised 1987 DPRK Criminal Code was published in the March 1992 Hritsu jih [Legal Review] (Tokyo). A translation of the revised 1992 constitution was released by the South Korean government-affiliated Naewoe Tongsin in November 1992. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of June 1993

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