The flag of North Korea. The star symbolizes Communism, the red for revolution, and the blue for peace and sovereignty.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK, is a country on the northern half of a peninsula in Northeast Asia. The country follows a form of left-nationalist ideology (arguably racist) called Juche, or self-sufficiency[1]. North Korea’s claims the entire Korean peninsula as does South Korea, a capitalist parliamentary democracy originally ruled by the strong man Syngman Rhee[2]. From 1950-1953, the two sides fought the Korean War, which ended in a stalemate.

The country is ruled by the Kim family which functions much like a monarchy. The current ruler is Kim Jong-un, son of Kim Jong-il, grandson of Kim Il-sung, the country's founder. There is a formal democratic structure which nominally rules the country.[3].


North Korea’s fate first diverged from South Korea in 1945. In that year, the Soviet Army liberated North Korea from Japanese colonial occupation[4] and agreed with the United States to hold elections for a unified Korean government. However, in 1948 the elections in the South were rigged, installing American puppet[5] Syngman Rhee. The North declined to participate, and held separate elections (undemocratic) in won by the Korean Workers' Party and Kim Il-sung.

Kim ll Sung, founder of the DPRK.

Meanwhile, in South Korea, Syngman Rhee’s dictatorship was characterized by immense repressions, actively aided by American forces under Lt. Gen. John R. Hodge[6]. For example, in April 1948 Syngman Rhee’s forces laid waste to Jeju Island as a punishment for an anti-government demonstration, killing 60,000 islanders[7]. Outraged, massive guerrilla resistance movements were founded across South Korea, under the leadership of the Workers' Party of South Korea’s Pak Hon-yong. Watching all this with concern were the North Koreans, who intervened in support of Pak’s guerrillas in 1950, beginning the Korean War.

The demoralized and under-equipped South Korean army was swiftly defeated, and the survivors were penned into a small pocket around Pusan[8]. However, the Soviets were at that time boycotting the United Nations security council in protest over the continued presence of Chiang Kai-shek’s government, which allowed the Western powers to pass a resolution to support the Syngman Rhee regime by military force[9].

Badly outnumbered, the North Koreans now strategically retreated to the Chinese border, the Communist government of which intervened in support of North Korea beginning on October 25th, 1950[10]. The forces supporting Syngman Rhee then retreated back to the border, and eventually peace was agreed in 1953.

Kim Il-sung now set about making North Korea a major industrial power out of the ruins of war, and through the use of economic planning[11] created an advanced, industrial economy. In fact, the North Korean economy was comparable or larger by per capita GDP until the 1970s and 1980s[12], and this was based more on industry than South Korea’s largely agrarian economy at the time.

However, with the fall of the Soviet Union (which left North Korea almost isolated), and because of western economic sanctions, North Korea has been prevented from exporting these industrial products in exchange for foodstuffs, as was the previous system. This has caused poverty amongst the North Korean people.

In 1994, Kim Il-sung died, and was made Honorary President. Power was divided between the three agencies of government, under the guidance of the Supreme People’s Assembly[13]. In particular, though, Kim-Jong il is believed to govern the country. From this time until 2008, North and South Korea lived in relative peace, with a democratic government taking power in the South for the first time. However, in 2008 South Korea saw the return of dictatorial capitalism with Lee Myung-bak.[14][15] Since then, North Korea has returned to a policy of Juche isolation.


Flag of the Workers Party of Korea.

The government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is based on a legislative branch, specifically the Supreme People’s Assembly. This body has vast authority, similar to other Parliaments, such as electing people to posts in the courts and the executive branches of government. It is elected every five years by “universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot”[16]. In addition to the Supreme People’s Assembly deputies, there is also an SPA Presidium, the “upper house” of the Assembly.&nbsp The Supreme People’s Assembly also appoints a cabinet, a council of ministers, which is in charge of directing many economic matter, and reporting to the SPA on the rest. The cabinet also is empowered to direct commissions, among other things.

Finally, the last major body of the government is the National Defence Commission, which is charged with organizing the military to defend North Korea from external threat[17].

By far, the largest political party in North Korea is the Korean Workers' Party. Other parties, however, do exist, including the Korean Social Democratic Party and the Chondoist Chongu Party[18]. Neither is repressed by the North Korean government.

Foreign relations

North Korea has long maintained close relations with the People's Republic of China and Russia. The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, resulted in a devastating drop in aid to North Korea from Russia, although China continues to provide substantial assistance. North Korea continues to have strong ties with its socialist southeast Asian allies in Vietnam and Laos, as well as with Cambodia[19].


A couple of North Korean soldiers enjoying a break while patrolling the border.

The continued threat of capitalist encirclement and siege has forced North Korea to maintain a large, well-equipped army. Additionally, in 2006, North Korea developed nuclear weapons, and may now possess a nuclear deterrent of six to eight deployable warheads.[20] However, they have sworn an oath to not use them unless someone has nuked them first, therefore they can use it for only nuclear self-defense.

North Korean Soldiers looking at the South side of the DMZ

North Korea has the largest percentage of citizens enlisted on the military (49.03 active troops per thousand citizens). North Korea has an estimation of 1.08 million armed personnel, compared with about 686,000 South Korean troops (and 3.5 million paramilitary forces) plus 29,000 US troops in South Korea.[21]

Social Services

The North Korean government offers a variety of social services, free to all North Korean people.


North Korea’s education system is government-paid and accessible for all[22], in contrast to the heavily privatized, tutoring-based system in South Korea. North Korea’s literacy rate is very high, at 99%[23]. This is

A schoolgirl at the Mangyondae Schoolchildrens Palace in Pyongyang.

identical for both North Korean men and women, and is tied for tenth-highest on Earth[24].

The education system is divided into primary and secondary education, much like most other countries, but with the addition of “social education”. This term includes a broad range of extracurricular activities, such as visiting “schoolchildren’s palaces”, with everything from theatres to academic debates[25].

North Korea also has a post-secondary education system, with traditional university and college campuses, as well as specialized technical schools. In October 2010, the North Koreans completed the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology[26].

Health Care

The North Korean government provides universal health care to all citizens. In fact, the World Health Organization has described North Korea’s health care system as “the envy of the developing world”, and described those who said otherwise as having “no science” [27]. The World Health Organization did note, however, the lack of medicines in the country, possibly related to the economic sanctions.


North Korea offers free food donatives to all the people who are unable to afford it[28]. It also provides housing and clothing[29].

Geography and Climate

Baekdu Mountain

North Korea is a mountainous country, formed by the activity of the Pacific Rim of Fire. The natural beauty of the country hides the truth, though, that only 18% of the surface area is arable (farm-able) land.

North Korea’s highest point is Baekdu Mountain, at 2,744 metres. This volcano is famous for the caldera lake at the summit.

North Korea’s climate is a temperate, and it includes a summer monsoon.

Demographics and Transportation

As of 2010, North Korea has a population of 23,991,000[30]. They are spread out in the lowlands, in both rural communities and large cities. For example, the capital city of Pyongyang had a population of 3,255,388. Few people live in the more mountainous areas in the eastern part of the country. North Korea has a relatively sustainable population growth rate, just 0.34%.


North Korea is a governed by an political party which supports rational, scientific thought, but this view is not imposed on the population. Although 64.4% of North Koreans are not religious, a number are, including 16.0% who practice shamanism, 13.5% who practice Cheondoism, and 4.5% who practice Buddhism, among others[31].


North Korea’s transportation networks are large and well-organized blend of systems. Railways and subways occupy a prominent role, the latter mainly in Pyongyang. The Pyongyang Metro has a high ridership rate, about

The Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang.

700,000[32], and it has two lines, totalling about 22 km in length. The architecture of the subway stations is often considered to be quite spectacular[32]. The railways are more utilitarian, but possess 5200 km of track, or 43.1 metres per square kilometre. For comparison, the United States has just 8.23 metres of highway for every square kilometre.

North Korea also possesses a road network, which includes three major highways. In addition to privately owned vehicles, the government operates a fleet of electric buses and trams[33].

North Korea also makes use of air travel, through state airline Air Koryo, and water transport, with 167 ships of more than 1000 tonnes. Air Koryo presently operates 59 aircraft, and is hoping to acquire new Ilyushin Il-96 and Tupolev Tu-204 jetliners, as well as lighter Sukhoi Superjet 100 regional jets.


North Korea is a planned economy[34] with nearly all enterprises owned and controlled by the state. GDP growth of 3.7% in 2009[35]. The economy remains based on

North Korean farmers working in a rice farm.

industry, accounting for 43.1% of the economy[36], followed by the services/ retail sector.

North Korea’s economy is limited by the refusal of other countries to trade with it due to an embargo resulting from its development of nuclear weapons. This limits the country’s inability to trade with other countries for natural resources not found in the country, such as fossil fuels and foodstuffs[37], in exchange for industrial products.

North Korea recognizes limited private property[38] and operates Special Economic Zones with conditions less planned by North Korea’s government.


Although North Korea is officially a socialist republic[39], many outside media organizations report that it is a Stalinist dictatorship [40][41]. Some non- stalinist communists, also think it cannot be labeled as truly communist, since the DPRK supports self- sufficiency and isolationism,[42] therefore not internationalism. Kim Il-sung's policy statements and speeches from the 1940s and 1950s confirm that the North Korean government accepted Joseph Stalin's 1924 theory of socialism in one country and its model of centralized autarkic economic development[43].

See Also


  1. International Institute of the Juche Idea
  2. Blum, William. Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since WWII. Monroe, Maine, Courage Press, p.49-52, 1995/2003.
  3. Socialist Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Chapter 6, Paragraph I, Articles 87-99, Paragraphs II-IV
  4. Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi. Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan, Cambridge, Massachusetts, First Harvard University Press, p.8, 9, 14, 24, 26, 29, 41, 59-60, 63, 71, 73, 76, 78-79, 84, 87, 94, 109, 151, 194-196, 200, 233-234, 252-254, 265-267,270, 273, 275, 296, 328, 2005.
  5. Syngman Rhee
  6. Blum, William. Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since WWII. Monroe, Maine, Courage Press, p.49-52, 1995/2003.
  7. NewsWeek
  8. Andrei Lankov (2010-01-31) January 1951: Life of Korean War Refugees in Busan The Korea Times
  9. Goncharov, Sergei N, Lewis, John W, and Xue Litai. Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War. Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, p.161, 1993.
  10. Goncharov, Sergei N, Lewis, John W, and Xue Litai. Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War. Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, p.199, 1993.
  11. Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Chapter 2, Article 34
  12. Historical Statistics
  13. Socialist Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Chapter 1, Paragraph I, Articles 87-99, Paragraphs II-IV
  14. Korea Times
  15. KCTU News
  16. Socialist Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Chapter 6, Paragraph I, Articles 89-90
  17. Socialist Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Chapter 6, Paragraph I, Articles 87-99, Paragraphs II-IV
  19. "Kim Yong Nam Visits 3 ASEAN Nations To Strengthen Traditional Ties". The People's Korea. 2001. Retrieved 2007-08-01.
  20. BBC News
  21. IISS 2010, pp. 319–321
  22. Library of Congress
  23. CIA World Factbook
  24. CIA World Factbook
  25. Encyclopedia Britannica
  27. BBC
  28. Library of Congress
  29. Socialist Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Chapter 2, Article 25
  30. UN: Development
  31. Religious Intelligence
  32. 32.0 32.1 Transcripts.CNN
  33. The Pyongyang Metro
  34. Socialist Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Chapter 2, Article 34
  35. Korea Times
  36. CIA World Factbook
  37. UNHCR
  38. Socialist Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Chapter 2, Article 24
  39. Constitution of North Korea, Chapter I, Article 1: "The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is an independent socialist State".
  40. "Freedom in the World, 2006". Freedom House. Retrieved 2007-02-13. "Citizens of North Korea cannot change their government democratically. North Korea is a totalitarian dictatorship and one of the most restrictive countries in the world."
  41. "A portrait of North Korea's new rich". The Economist. 2008-05-29. Retrieved 2009-06-18. "EVERY developing country worth its salt has a bustling middle class that is transforming the country and thrilling the markets. So does Stalinist North Korea."
  42. Cumings, Bruce. Korea's Place in the Sun: a Modern History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005. 414. Print.
  43. DPRK Religion
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