With tensions at an all-time high, North Korea has been making headlines with its nuclear program and leader Kim Jong Un’s belligerence. However, the country has significantly changed since its beginning. They have gone through substantial changes since the Korean War ended in 1953, and it continues to change in the modern day.
Today North Korea is in a perilous state. It has been isolated from the world and sanctioned. Its people suffer from malnutrition, and the country’s economy consists mainly of selling Soviet-era weapons to black markets.
The North Korean population suffers from an increasingly strict totalitarian government. “The regime is a problem for the people,” said world history teacher Mr. Reilly, “The regime only works to keep the ruling class in power.” According to Reporters Without Borders and Heritage.org, North Korea ranks last in the world for press and economic freedom.
The increasing trend of world-wide disapproval of North Korea peaked in 2016 when it was discovered that it had been testing nuclear arms in direct violation of the Non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty established by the United Nations. This has led to increasing sanctions against the nation and an end to the agreement signed with the United States and Russia in 2007 that provided fuel to the North Koreans and the disposal of their nuclear waste.
The laying down of sanctions occurred during the third leadership change in North Korea during its 69-year existence. North Korea has had a ruling dynasty of the Kim family and the North Korean Workers’ Party.
Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, North Korea had a wide range of allies in the Communist Bloc and was a very successful state, objectively more successful than South Korea, which later overshadowed them. Up until now North Korea had been recovering from the collapse of the Soviet Union.
During the North Korean recovery period, there were efforts to reunite the Korean peninsula despite the major political differences. North and South Korea jointly ran a factory on the North Korean Side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The factory led to closer cooperation up until recently when South Korea said it was pulling out of the deal.
Reilly explained that reunification today is unlikely. “It depends on China. I don’t see it happening unless China changes its personal opinion.” China is North Korea’s last remaining ally and uses them as a buffer zone. “China has the power to kick out the regime today… but wants the buffer zone between them and the U.S. friendly South Korea.” China has also been under pressure due to its egregious human rights violations and environmental impact. “China sees it in their best interest [to keep North Korea around]. They want the friend,” Reilly said.
North Korea today has stayed relatively the same socially because of the Songbun system. North Korean families are stratified into classes that determine where they go to school and what jobs they are allowed to have adults. This results in social immobility and powerful upper classes that keep the lower classes down.
The land occupied by North Korea has had little change since the Kim dynasty has controlled it. It has been poorly managed by the government, and the cities that currently exist are the same ones that were destroyed and rebuilt from the Korean War, which spawned the country.
Reilly said that North Korea is a result of World War 2. Following the end of World War 2, Korea was taken from Japan and split between the Soviets and Americans. “North Korea was propped up by the Soviet Union.” During the Korean War, the Chinese then took the country under its influence. “China propped up the North Korean Government in the Korean War… The United Nations would have beaten North Korea.” But China’s involvement caused the North Koreans to maintain their land up until the modern day.
Prior to the war, the Korean Peninsula had been divided between American and Soviet influence. This led to two different ideologies attempting reunify the area, resulting in a swift South Korean takeover and an even quicker recapturing of the peninsula by the Americans. As a result China became involved, and the border solidified in the same relative area that it started. This has led to the polarization of the region and the wildly different Koreas that the world sees today.
“North Korea remains… a Stalinist state bent on terrorism,” said Colonel Hancock. “Their ability to matchup missile technology with nuclear weapons makes them a very dangerous opponent [to the United States today].”