North Korea’s impact on North-East Asian security

Authored by: Nolan Theisen

East and South-East Asia

Print publication date:  March  2013
Online publication date:  July  2013

Print ISBN: 9781857436396
eBook ISBN: 9780203146026
Adobe ISBN:


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Despite the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (North Korea) deliberate intractability and imperviousness to trends of global and regional economic integration, the stubbornly reclusive Kim dynasty has defied the conventional wisdom of experts who continue to predict its imminent collapse to this day (Song 2012; Pritchard 2011). Dictatorships are inherently more vulnerable during times of power transition, but Kim Jong Un’s appointment and rapid ascent to the top has thus far proceeded without a setback. While there are signals that the ground might be breaking for limited economic reforms under the incumbent leader, there is increasing pessimism over the possibility of a reversal in the country’s nuclear policy. It is also unlikely that targeted economic liberalization will have any effect on the North’s fundamental dependency on its nuclear programme for security. Substantively Kim Jong Un has not deviated from any of his father’s policies yet, although he has identified more with his late grandfather in the soft manner by which he interacts with the citizenry. By its sheer nature economic reform would generate competition and create institutional friction, challenging the existing military-first doctrine of songun and potentially compromising the very legitimacy upon which his transferred power rests. The longevity of the regime and its ability to maintain firm control over its population despite horrendous economic conditions and chronic food shortages is indicative of the successful indoctrination of a cult ideology backed by the loyal service of the internal security apparatus that preserves an airtight police state. While the indefinite continuation of draconian economic policies and outside censorship does not appear sustainable in the long run, it is not a pressing concern that will dictate any form of immediate or unpredictable change. Thus, an uneasy and combustible status quo remains in post-Kim Jong Il North-East Asia with the Korean Peninsula at its focal point.

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