Democratic People's Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K. or North Korea)
Area: 120,410 sq. km. (47,000 sq. mi.), about the size of Mississippi.
Cities: Capital--Pyongyang. Other cities--Hamhung, Chongjin, Wonsan, Nampo, and Kaesong.
Terrain: About 80% of land area is moderately high mountains separated by deep, narrow valleys and small, cultivated plains. The remainder is lowland plains covering small, scattered areas.
Climate: Long, cold, dry winters; short, hot, humid, summers.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Korean(s).
Population (1998): 21.2 million.
Annual growth rate: About -0.03%.
Ethnic groups: Korean; small Chinese and Japanese populations.
Religions: Buddhism, Shamanism, Chongdogyo, Christian; religious activities have been virtually nonexistent since 1945.
Education: Years compulsory--11. Attendance--3 million (primary, 1.5 million; secondary, 1.2 million; tertiary, 0.3 million). Literacy--99%.
Health (1998): Medical treatment is free; one doctor for every 700 inhabitants; one hospital bed for every 350. Infant mortality rate--88/1,000. Life expectancy--males 49 yrs., females 54 yrs.
Type: Highly centralized communist state.
Independence: September 9, 1948.
Constitution: 1948; 1972, revised in 1992.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state); premier (head of government). Legislative--Supreme People's Assembly. Judicial--Supreme Court; provincial, city, county, and military courts.
Subdivisions: Nine provinces; four province-level municipalities (Pyongyang, Kaesong, Chongjin, Nampo); one free trade zone (Najin-Sonbong FTZ).
Political party: Korean Workers' Party (communist).
Suffrage: Universal at 17.
GDP (1997): $21.8 billion; 25% is agriculture, 60% is mining and manufacturing, and 15% is services and other.
Per capita GDP (1997): $900 purchasing power parity.
Agriculture: Products--rice, corn, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, tobacco.
Mining and manufacturing: Types--steel, cement, textiles, petrochemicals, machines, military equipment.
Trade (1996): Exports--$912 million; machinery and equipment, military hardware, iron, steel, metal ores, nonferrous metals, nonmetallic minerals, textile fibers. Imports--$1.95 billion: textiles, petroleum, coking coal, grain. Major partners--Russia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, European countries. These figures do not include trade with South Korea.
*In most cases, the figures used above are estimates based upon incomplete data and projections.
The Perry Process
On November 12, 1998, President Clinton named former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry to conduct a comprehensive review of U.S. policy toward North Korea. The President's decision rose out of North Korea's August 31, 1998 launching of a "Taepodong-1" ballistic missile, which was widely perceived as a destabilizing act.
The U.S. seeks progress from North Korea in the following areas as being necessary for improved bilateral relations: credible condemnation and forswearing of terrorism, continued dialogue between North and South Korea on the future and possible reunification of the Korean Peninsula, nuclear matters, restraints on the development of long-range missiles, return of the remains of U.S. military personnel missing in action during the Korean war, and greater respect for human rights. The U.S. also has expressed concern about North Korea's export of ballistic missiles and related technology and the North Korean conventional military threat.
After a comprehensive review of U.S. policy, a May 25-28, 1999 trip to Pyongyang, and extensive international coordination, especially with the Governments of South Korea and Japan, Dr. Perry issued his report, "Review of United States Policy Toward North Korea: Findings and Recommendations" on October 12, 1999. The report recommended a two-path strategy. If North Korea would address areas of concern, the U.S. (and U.S. allies) would "in a step-by-step and reciprocal fashion, move to reduce pressures on the D.P.R.K. that it perceives as threatening.... If the D.P.R.K. moved to eliminate its nuclear and long-range missile threats, the United States would normalize relations with the D.P.R.K., relax sanctions that have long constrained trade with the D.P.R.K. and take other positive steps..."If, however, North Korea refused to go down this 'positive path,' "the United States and its allies would have to take other steps to assure their security and contain the threat."
As part of the process begun by Dr. Perry, the U.S., South Korea, and Japan established a high-level Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group (TCOG) to coordinate North Korea policy. The TCOG's creation was announced jointly by representatives of the three governments on April 25, 1999, after a meeting in Hawaii. There were six TCOG meetings in 1999, including a summit in Auckland on September 12 and a ministerial level meeting in Singapore on July 27. A 12th TCOG meeting was held on October 7, 2000, in Washington.
On September 25, 2000, the State Department announced that Dr. William Perry was stepping down from his duties as North Korea Policy Coordinator. Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman, the Counselor of the Department, succeeded Dr. Perry as North Korea Policy Coordinator and Special Adviser to the President and the Secretary of State.
From October 8-12, 2000, North Korean Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok, the First Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission, visited the U.S. as the Special Envoy of Chairman Kim Jong Il. At the conclusion of his visit, the two countries issued a Joint Communique in which the two sides stated that neither government would have hostile intent toward the other and confirmed the commitment of both governments to make every effort in the future to build a new relationship free from past enmity. Among other issues, the communique mentioned missile issues and the Agreed Framework, and it noted that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright would visit the D.P.R.K. "to convey the views of U.S. President William Clinton directly to Chairman Kim Jong Il...and to prepare for a possible visit by the President of the United States."
The United States does not maintain any diplomatic, consular, or trade relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K., or North Korea). Negotiations are ongoing to implement a provision of the 1994 Agreed Framework between the U.S. and D.P.R.K. for an exchange of diplomatic missions at the liaison office level.
On September 20, 1995, a consular protecting power arrangement was implemented, allowing for consular protection by the Swedish Embassy of U.S. citizens traveling in North Korea. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang is not authorized to issue U.S. visas. U.S. citizens and residents wishing to travel to North Korea must obtain visas in third countries.
There are no U.S. Government restrictions on travel by private U.S. citizens to North Korea. However, they may spend money in North Korea only to purchase items related to travel, e.g. plane and train tickets, accommodations, meals, guide and admission fees. In addition, $100 worth of merchandise for personal use may be brought back into the United States as unaccompanied baggage. (Also see Travel and Business Information.)
U.S. Support for North-South Dialogue and Reunification
The United States supports the peaceful reunification of Korea--divided following World War II--on terms acceptable to the Korean people and recognizes that the future of the Korean Peninsula is primarily a matter for them to decide. The U.S. believes that a constructive and serious dialogue between the authorities of North and South Korea is necessary to resolve the issues on the peninsula, and that concrete steps to promote greater understanding and reduce tension are needed to pave the way for reunifying the Korean nation. The U.S. remains prepared to participate in negotiations between North and South Korea if so desired by the two Korean Governments and provided that both are full and equal participants in any such talks.
On the basis of these principles, on April 16, 1996, President Clinton and South Korean President Kim Young Sam proposed to convene a "Four Party Meeting" of representatives of South Korea, North Korea, the United States, and the People's Republic of China as soon as possible, without preconditions. The purpose of these "Four Party Talks" has been to initiate a process aimed at replacing the current military armistice agreement with a permanent peace. Six plenary sessions of the Four Party Talks were held in Geneva from December 1997 through August 1999. Two subcommittees have been created to discuss armistice replacement and tension reduction.
On his inauguration in February 1998, R.O.K. President Kim Dae-jung enunciated a new policy of engagement with North Korea dubbed "The Sunshine Policy." The policy had three fundamental principles: no tolerance of provocations from the North, no intention to absorb the North, and the separation of political cooperation from economic cooperation. Private sector overtures would be based on commercial and humanitarian considerations. The use of government resources would entail reciprocity. President Kim's consistent application of this policy eventually set the stage for the inter-Korean summit held in Pyongyang June 13-15, 2000.
The U.S. has strongly supported R.O.K. President Kim Dae-jung's engagement policy and welcomed the active phase of North-South dialogue that began with the inter-Korean summit. That summit produced a Joint Declaration noting that the two governments "have agreed to resolve the question of reunification independently and through the joint efforts of the Korean people. . . ." Following the summit, the two Koreas held ministerial-level meetings July 29-31 in Seoul and August 29-September 1 in Pyongyang. They also held Defense Minister talks on Cheju Island (South Korea) September 25-26. Also, on September 14, following a visit to South Korea by Kim Yong Sun (Chairman of the Korean Workers' Party's Asia-Pacific Peace Committee), the R.O.K. and D.P.R.K. announced that Chairman Kim Jong Il would visit South Korea in the near future, following a visit by Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) Presidium President Kim Yong Nam. This dialogue led the two governments to open liaison offices in the truce village of Panmunjom on August 14. On August 15, in accordance with the summit's Joint Declaration, the two sides sent delegations of 100 members of separated families to each other's capitals for reunion meetings. On September 18, R.O.K. President Kim Dae-jung presided over a groundbreaking ceremony for the planned re-linking of the Seoul-Sinuiju railway line, which crosses through the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
U.S. Efforts on Denuclearization
North and South Korea had begun talks in 1990, which resulted in a 1991 denuclearization accord (see, under Foreign Relations, Reunification Efforts Since 1971). Lack of progress on implementation of this accord triggered actions on both sides that led to North Korea's March 12, 1993, announcement of its withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The UN Security Council on May 11 passed a resolution urging the D.P.R.K. to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and to implement the 1991 North-South denuclearization accord. It also urged all member states to encourage the D.P.R.K. to respond positively to this resolution and to facilitate a solution.
The U.S. responded by holding political-level talks with the D.P.R.K. in early June 1993 that led to a joint statement outlining the basic principles for continued U.S.-D.P.R.K. dialogue and North Korea's "suspending" its withdrawal from the NPT. A second round of talks was held July 14-19, 1993, in Geneva. The talks set the guidelines for resolving the nuclear issue, improving U.S.-North Korean relations, and restarting inter-Korean talks, but further negotiations deadlocked.
Following the D.P.R.K.'s spring 1994 unloading of fuel from its five-megawatt nuclear reactor, the resultant U.S. push for UN sanctions, and former U.S. President Carter's June 1994 visit to Pyongyang, a third round of talks between the U.S. and the D.P.R.K. opened in Geneva on July 8, 1994. The talks were recessed upon news of the July death of North Korean President Kim Il Sung, then resumed in August. On October 21, 1994, representatives of the United States and the D.P.R.K. signed an Agreed Framework for resolving the nuclear issue.
The 1994 Agreed Framework calls for the following steps.North Korea agreed to freeze its existing nuclear program to be monitored by the IAEA.
In accordance with the terms of the 1994 Framework, the U.S. Government in January 1995 responded to North Korea's decision to freeze its nuclear program and cooperate with U.S. and IAEA verification efforts by easing economic sanctions against North Korea in four areas through:
North Korea agreed to accept the decisions of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), the financier and supplier of the LWRs, with respect to provision of the reactors. KEDO subsequently identified Sinpo as the LWR project site and held a groundbreaking ceremony in August 1987. In December 1999, KEDO and KEPCO signed the Turnkey Contract (TKC), permitting full-scale construction of the LWRs.
In January 1995, as called for in the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework, the U.S. and D.P.R.K. negotiated a method to store safely the spent fuel from the five-megawatt reactor. According to this method, U.S. and D.P.R.K. operators would work together to can the spent fuel and store the canisters in the spent fuel pond. Actual canning began in 1995. In April 2000, canning of all accessible spent fuel rods and rod fragments was declared complete.
In 1998, the U.S. identified an underground site in Kumchang-ni, D.P.R.K., which it suspected of being nuclear-related. In March 1999, after several rounds of negotiations, the U.S. and D.P.R.K. agreed that the U.S. would be granted "satisfactory access" to the underground site at Kumchang-ni. In October 2000, during Special Envoy Jo Myong Rok's visit to Washington, the U.S. announced in a Joint Communique with the D.P.R.K. that U.S. concerns about the site had been resolved.
As called for in Dr. William Perry's review of U.S. policy toward North Korea (see under U.S. Policy Toward North Korea) the U.S. and D.P.R.K. launched new negotiations in May 2000 called the Agreed Framework Implementation Talks.
HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL HIGHLIGHTS
The Korean Peninsula was first populated by peoples of a Tungusic branch of the Ural-Altaic language family who migrated from the northwestern regions of Asia. Some of these peoples also populated parts of northeast China (Manchuria); Koreans and Manchurians still show physical similarities.
Koreans are racially and linguistically homogeneous. Although there are no indigenous minorities in North Korea, there is a small Chinese community (about 50,000) and some 1,800 Japanese wives who accompanied the roughly 93,000 Koreans returning to the North from Japan during 1959-62.
Korean is a Ural-Altaic language and is related to Japanese and remotely related to Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, and Mongolian. Although dialects exist, the Korean spoken throughout the peninsula is mutually comprehensible. In North Korea, the Korean alphabet (hangul) is used exclusively, unlike in South Korea, where a combination of hangul and Chinese characters is used as the written language.
Korea's traditional religions are Buddhism and Shamanism. Christian missionaries arrived as early as the 16th century, but it was not until the 19th century that they founded schools, hospitals, and other modern institutions throughout Korea. Major centers of 19th-century missionary activity included Seoul and Pyongyang, and there was a relatively large Christian population in the north before 1945. Although religious groups exist in North Korea, most available evidence suggests that the government severely restricts religious activity.
According to legend, the god-king Tangun founded the Korean nation in 2333 BC. By the first century AD, the Korean Peninsula was divided into the kingdoms of Shilla, Koguryo, and Paekche. In 668 AD, the Shilla kingdom unified the peninsula. The Koryo dynasty--from which Portuguese missionaries in the 16th century derived the Western name "Korea"--succeeded the Shilla kingdom in 935. The Choson dynasty, ruled by members of the Yi clan, supplanted Koryo in 1392 and lasted until the Japanese annexed Korea in 1910.
Throughout most of its history, Korea has been invaded, influenced, and fought over by its larger neighbors. Korea was under Mongolian occupation from 1231 until the early 14th century and was plundered by Japanese pirates in 1359 and 1361. The unifier of Japan, Hideyoshi, launched major invasions of Korea in 1592 and 1597. When Western powers focused "gunboat" diplomacy on Korea in the mid-19th century, Korea's rulers adopted a closed-door policy, earning Korea the title of "Hermit Kingdom."
Though the Choson dynasty paid tribute to the Chinese court and recognized China's hegemony in East Asia, Korea was independent until the late 19th century. At that time, China sought to block growing Japanese influence on the Korean Peninsula and Russian pressure for commercial gains there. This competition produced the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. Japan emerged victorious from both wars and in 1910 annexed Korea as part of the growing Japanese empire.
Japanese colonial administration was characterized by tight control from Tokyo and ruthless efforts to supplant Korean language and culture. Organized Korean resistance during the colonial era--such as the March 1, 1919, Independence Movement--was unsuccessful, and Japan remained firmly in control until the end of World War II in 1945.
Japan surrendered in August 1945, and Korea was liberated. However, the unexpectedly early surrender of Japan led to the immediate division of Korea into two occupation zones, with the U.S. administering the southern half of the peninsula and the U.S.S.R taking over the area to the north of the 38th parallel. This division was meant to be temporary and to facilitate the Japanese surrender until the U.S., U.K., Soviet Union, and China could arrange a trusteeship administration.
At a meeting in Cairo, it was agreed that Korea would be free "in due course;" at a later meeting in Yalta, it was agreed to establish a four-power trusteeship over Korea. In December 1945, a conference convened in Moscow to discuss the future of Korea. A 5-year trusteeship was discussed, and a joint Soviet-American commission was established. The commission met intermittently in Seoul but deadlocked over the issue of establishing a national government. In September 1947, with no solution in sight, the United States submitted the Korean question to the UN General Assembly.
Initial hopes for a unified, independent Korea quickly evaporated as the politics of the Cold War and domestic opposition to the trusteeship plan resulted in the 1948 establishment of two separate nations with diametrically opposed political, economic, and social systems and the outbreak of war in 1950 (see, under Foreign Relations, Korean war of 1950-53).
North Korea's faltering economy and the breakdown of trade relations with the countries of the former socialist bloc--especially following the fall of communism in eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union--have confronted Pyongyang with difficult policy choices. Other centrally planned economies in similar straits have opted for domestic economic reform and liberalization of trade and investment. Despite its recent moves toward limited economic opening, North Korea has thus far avoided making any fundamental changes. Its leadership seems determined to maintain tight political and ideological control.
About 80% of North Korea's terrain consists of moderately high mountain ranges and partially forested mountains and hills separated by deep, narrow valleys and small, cultivated plains. The most rugged areas are the north and east coasts. Good harbors are found on the eastern coast. Pyongyang, the capital, near the country's west coast, is located on the Taedong River.
Although most North Korean citizens live in cities and work in factories, agriculture remains a rather high 25% of total GNP, although output has not recovered to early 1990 levels. While trade with the South has expanded since 1988, no physical links between the two remain, and the infrastructure of the North is generally poor and outdated.
North Korea suffers from chronic food shortages, which were exacerbated by record floods in the summer of 1995 and continued shortages of fertilizer and parts. In response to international appeals, the U.S. provided 500,000 tons of humanitarian food aid in the period July 1999-June 2000 through the UN World Food Program and through U.S. private voluntary organizations.
Colonial Rule and Postwar Division
Beginning in the mid-1920s, the Japanese colonial administration concentrated its industrial development efforts in the comparatively underpopulated and resource-rich northern portion of Korea, resulting in a considerable movement of people northward from the agrarian southern provinces of the Korean Peninsula.
This trend was reversed after the end of World War II, when more than 2 million Koreans moved from North to South following the division of the peninsula into Soviet and American military zones of administration. This southward exodus continued after the establishment of the D.P.R.K. in 1948 and during the 1950-53 Korean war. The North Korean population is now 21.2 million, compared with 46.4 million in South Korea.
The post-World War II division of the Korean Peninsula resulted in imbalances of natural and human resources, with disadvantages for both the North and the South. By most economic measures, after partition the North was better off in terms of industry and natural resources. The South, however, had two-thirds of the work force. In 1945, about 65% of Korean heavy industry was in the North but only 31% of light industry, 37% of agriculture, and 18% of the peninsula's total commerce.
North and South both suffered from the massive destruction caused during the Korean war. In the years immediately after the war, North Korea mobilized its labor force and natural resources in an effort to achieve rapid economic development. Large amounts of aid from other communist countries, notably the Soviet Union and China, helped the regime achieve a high growth rate in the immediate postwar period.
Efforts at Modernization
During the early 1970s, North Korea attempted a largescale modernization program through the importation of Western technology, principally in the heavy industrial sectors of the economy. Unable to finance its debt through exports that shrank steadily after the worldwide recession stemming from the oil crisis of the 1970s, the D.P.R.K. became the first communist country to default on its loans from free market countries.
In 1979, North Korea was able to renegotiate much of its international debt, but in 1980 it defaulted on all of its loans except those from Japan. By the end of 1986, hard-currency debt had reached more than $4 billion. It also owed nearly $2 billion to communist creditors, principally Russia. The Japanese also declared the D.P.R.K. in default. By 2000, taking into account penalties and accrued interest, North Korea's debt was estimated at $10-$12 billion.
Largely because of these debt problems but also because of a prolonged drought and mismanagement, North Korea's industrial growth slowed, and per capita GNP fell below that of the South. By the end of 1979, per capita GNP in the D.P.R.K. was about one-third of that in the R.O.K. The causes for this relatively poor performance are complex, but a major factor is the disproportionately large percentage of GNP (possibly as much as 25%) that the D.P.R.K. devotes to the military.
In April 1982, Kim Il Sung announced a new economic policy giving priority to increased agricultural production through land reclamation, development of the country's infrastructure--especially power plants and transportation facilities--and reliance on domestically produced equipment. There also was more emphasis on trade.
In September 1984, North Korea promulgated a joint venture law to attract foreign capital and technology. The new emphasis on expanding trade and acquiring technology, however, was not accompanied by a shift in priorities away from support of the military. In 1991, the D.P.R.K. announced the creation of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the northeast regions of Najin, Chongjin, and Sonbong. Investment in this SEZ has been slow in coming. Problems with infrastructure, bureaucracy, and uncertainties about investment security and viability have hindered growth and development.
The D.P.R.K. announced in December 1993 a 3-year transitional economic policy placing primary emphasis on agriculture, light industry, and foreign trade. However, lack of fertilizer, natural disasters, and poor storage and transportation practices have left the country more than a million tons short of grain self-sufficiency each year. Moreover, lack of foreign exchange to purchase spare parts and oil for electrical generation has left many factories shuttered. Without significant opening to the outside world and substantial outside resources, the D.P.R.K. is unlikely to return to a path of sustainable economic growth.
North-South Economic Ties
Following a 1988 decision by the South Korean Government to allow trade with the D.P.R.K. (see, under Foreign Relations, Reunification Efforts Since 1971), South Korean firms began to import North Korean goods. Direct trade with the South began in the fall of 1990 after the unprecedented September 1990 meeting of the two Korean Prime Ministers. Trade between the countries increased from $18.8 million in 1989 to $333.4 million in 1999, much of it processing or assembly work undertaken in the North.
During this decade, the chairman of the South Korean company Daewoo visited the D.P.R.K. and reached agreement on building a light industrial complex at Nampo. In other negotiations, Hyundai Asan obtained permission to bring tour groups by sea to Kumgangsan on the southeast coast of the D.P.R.K. and more recently to construct an 800-acre industrial complex at Kaesong, near the DMZ, at a cost of more than $1 billion.
In response to the Kim Jong Il/Kim Dae-jung summit, the D.P.R.K. and the R.O.K. agreed in August 2000 to reconnect the Seoul-Sinuiju railroad where it crosses the DMZ. In addition, the two governments said they would build a four-lane highway bypassing the truce village at Panmunjom. Once these projects are completed, the Kaesong industrial park will have ready access to South Korean markets and ports.
New Commercial Ties
On June 19, 2000, the United States announced easing of sanctions against North Korea and allowed a wide range of exports and imports of U.S. and D.P.R.K. commercial and consumer goods. Imports from North Korea are permitted, subject to an approval process. Direct personal and commercial financial transactions are allowed between U.S. and D.P.R.K. persons. Restrictions on investment also have been eased. Commercial U.S. ships and aircraft carrying U.S. goods are allowed to call at D.P.R.K. ports.
The Departments of Treasury, Commerce, and Transportation have issued regulations, published in the June 19, 2000 Federal Register, affecting sanctions-easing. Points of Contact: Treasury--Dennis P. Wood, Chief of Compliance Programs, Office of Foreign Assets Control, Tel. (202) 622-2490, http://www.treas.gov/ofac; Commerce--James A. Lewis, Director, Office of Strategic Trade, Bureau of Export Administration, Tel. (202) 482-0092; Transportation--Christopher T. Tourtellot, Office of the Assistant General Counsel for International Law, Tel. (202) 366-9183.
This easing of sanctions does not affect U.S. counterterrorism or non-proliferation controls on North Korea, which prohibit exports of military and sensitive dual-use items and most types of U.S. assistance. Statutory restrictions, such as U.S. missile sanctions, remain in place. Restrictions on North Korea based on multilateral arrangements also remain in place.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
North Korea has a centralized government under the rigid control of the communist Korean Workers' Party (KWP), to which all government officials belong. A few minor political parties are allowed to exist in name only. Kim Il Sung ruled North Korea from 1948 until his death in July 1994. Kim served both as Secretary General of the KWP and as President of North Korea.
Little is known about the actual lines of power and authority in the North Korean Government despite the formal structure set forth in the constitution. Following the death of Kim Il Sung, his son--Kim Jong Il--inherited supreme power. Kim Jong Il was named General Secretary of the Korean Workers' Party in October 1997, and in September 1998, the SPA reconfirmed Kim Jong Il as Chairman of the National Defense Commission and declared that position as the "highest office of state." North Korea's 1972 constitution was amended in late 1992. The government is led by the president and, in theory, a super cabinet called the Central People's Committee (CPC).
The constitution designates the CPC as the government's top policymaking body. It is headed by the president, who also nominates the other committee members. The CPC makes policy decisions and supervises the cabinet, or State Administration Council (SAC). The SAC is headed by a premier and is the dominant administrative and executive agency.
Officially, the legislature, the Supreme People's Assembly, is the highest organ of state power. Its members are elected every 4 years. Usually only two meetings are held annually, each lasting a few days. A standing committee elected by the SPA performs legislative functions when the Assembly is not in session. In reality, the Assembly serves only to ratify decisions made by the ruling KWP.
North Korea's judiciary is "accountable" to the SPA and the president. The SPA's standing committee also appoints judges to the highest court for 4-year terms that are concurrent with those of the Assembly.
Administratively, North Korea is divided into nine provinces and four provincial-level municipalities--Pyongyang, Chongjin, Nampo, and Kaesong. It also appears to be divided into nine military districts.
Principal Party and Government Officials
Kim Jong Il--General Secretary of the KWP; Supreme Commander of the People's Armed Forces; Chairman of the National Defense Commission; son of Kim Il Sung and de facto heir. Kim Yong Nam--President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly; titular head of state. Paek Nam Sun--Foreign Minister. Li Hyong Chul--Ambassador to the UN.
DEFENSE AND MILITARY ISSUES
North Korea now has the fourth-largest army in the world. The North has an estimated 1.2 million armed personnel, compared to about 650,000 in the South. Military spending equals 20%-25% of GNP, with about 20% of men ages 17-54 in the regular armed forces. North Korean forces have a substantial numerical advantage over the South (approximately 2 or 3 to 1) in several key categories of offensive weapons--tanks, long-range artillery, and armored personnel carriers.
The North has perhaps the world's second-largest special operations force (55,000), designed for insertion behind the lines in wartime. While the North has a relatively impressive fleet of submarines, its surface fleet has a very limited capability. Its air force has twice the number of aircraft as the South, but, except for a few advanced fighters, the North's air force is obsolete. The North--like the South--deploys the bulk of its forces well forward, along the DMZ. Several North Korean military tunnels under the DMZ were discovered in the 1970s.
In 1953, the Military Armistice Commission (MAC) was created to oversee and enforce the terms of the armistice. The Neutral Nation Supervisory Committee (NNSC)--originally made up of delegations from Poland and Czechoslovakia on the D.P.R.K.-Chinese People's Volunteers side and Sweden and Switzerland on the UN side--monitors the activities of the MAC. In recent years, North Korea has sought to dismantle the MAC in a push for a new "peace mechanism" on the peninsula. In April 1994, it declared the MAC void and withdrew its representatives. Prior to this, it had effectively ended the functions of the NNSC.
Also over the last several years, North Korea has moved even more of its rear-echelon troops to hardened bunkers closer to the DMZ. Given the proximity of Seoul to the DMZ (some 25 miles), South Korean and U.S. forces are likely to have little warning of any attack. The United States and South Korea continue to believe that the U.S. troop presence remains an effective deterrent.
North Korea's relationship with the South has informed much of its post-World War II history and still drives much of its foreign policy. North and South Korea have had a difficult and acrimonious relationship in the five decades since the Korean war.
North Korea occupies the northern portion of a mountainous peninsula projecting southeast from China, between the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. Japan lies east of the peninsula across the Sea of Japan. North Korea shares borders with the People's Republic of China along the Yalu River and with China and Russia along the Tumen River.
The military demarcation line (MDL) of separation between the belligerent sides at the close of the Korean war forms North Korea's boundary with South Korea. A demilitarized zone (DMZ) extends for 2,000 meters (just over 1 mile) on either side of the MDL. Both the North and South Korean Governments hold that the MDL is only a temporary administrative line, not a permanent border.
During the postwar period, both Korean Governments have repeatedly affirmed their desire to reunify the Korean Peninsula, but until 1971, the two governments had no direct, official communications or other contact. During former U.S. President Carter's 1994 visit, Kim Il Sung agreed to a first-ever North-South summit. The two sides went ahead with plans for a meeting in July but had to shelve it because of Kim's death.
Korean War of 1950-53
As noted, differences developed after World War II over the issue of establishing a Korean national government. The Soviet Union and Korean authorities in the North refused to comply with the UN General Assembly's November 1947 resolution on elections and blocked entry of the United Nations Temporary Commission on Korea into the North. Despite this refusal, elections were held in the South under UN observation, and on August 15, 1948, the Republic of Korea was established in the South. Syngman Rhee, a Korean nationalist leader, became the Republic's first president.
On September 9, 1948, the North established the Democratic People's Republic of Korea headed by then-Premier Kim Il Sung, known for his anti-Japanese guerrilla activities in Manchuria during the 1930s. Both administrations claimed to be the only legitimate government on the peninsula.
After the establishment of the two states, South Korea experienced several violent uprisings by indigenous, pro-North Korean leftist guerrillas. As Soviet troops left in late 1948 and U.S. troops in the spring of 1949, border clashes along the 38th parallel intensified.
North Korean forces invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. The United Nations, in accordance with the terms of its Charter, engaged in its first collective action and established the UN Command (UNC), to which 16 member nations sent troops and assistance. Next to South Korea, the United States contributed the largest contingent of forces to this international effort. The battle line fluctuated north and south, and after large numbers of Chinese "People's Volunteers" intervened to assist the North, the battle line stabilized north of Seoul near the 38th parallel.
Armistice negotiations began in July 1951, but hostilities continued until July 27, 1953. On that date, at Panmunjom, the military commanders of the North Korean People's Army, the Chinese People's Volunteers, and the UNC signed an armistice agreement. Neither the United States nor South Korea is a signatory to the armistice per se, although both adhere to it through the UNC.
The armistice called for an international conference to find a political solution to the problem of Korea's division. This conference met at Geneva in April 1954 but, after 7 weeks of futile debate, ended without agreement or progress. No comprehensive peace agreement has replaced the 1953 armistice pact; thus, a condition of belligerency still exists on the peninsula.
Reunification Efforts Since 1971
In August 1971, North and South Korea agreed to hold talks through their respective Red Cross societies with the aim of reuniting the many Korean families separated following the division of Korea and the Korean war. After a series of secret meetings, both sides announced on July 4, 1972, an agreement to work toward peaceful reunification and an end to the hostile atmosphere prevailing on the peninsula. Officials exchanged visits, and regular communications were established through a North-South coordinating committee and the Red Cross.
However, these initial contacts broke down and ended in 1973 following South Korean President Park Chung Hee's announcement that the South would seek separate entry into the United Nations and after the kidnapping from Tokyo of South Korean opposition leader Kim Dae-Jung by the South Korean intelligence service. There was no other significant contact between North and South Korea until 1984.
Dialogue was renewed on several fronts in September 1984, when South Korea accepted the North's offer to provide relief goods to victims of severe flooding in South Korea. Red Cross talks to address the plight of separated families resumed, as did talks on economic and trade issues and parliamentary-level discussions. However, the North then unilaterally suspended all talks in January 1986, arguing that the annual U.S.-South Korea "Team Spirit" military exercise was inconsistent with dialogue. There was a brief flurry of negotiations on co-hosting the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which ended in failure and was followed by the 1987 KAL flight 858 bombing.
In a major initiative in July 1988, South Korean President Roh Tae Woo called for new efforts to promote North-South exchanges, family reunification, inter-Korean trade, and contact in international forums. Roh followed up this initiative in a UN General Assembly speech in which South Korea offered for the first time to discuss security matters with the North.
Initial meetings that grew out of Roh's proposals started in September 1989. In September 1990, the first of eight prime minister-level meetings between North Korean and South Korean officials took place in Seoul, beginning an especially fruitful period of dialogue. The prime ministerial talks resulted in two major agreements: the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchanges, and Cooperation (the "Basic Agreement") and the Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula (the "Joint Declaration").
The Basic Agreement, signed on December 13, 1991, and calling for reconciliation and nonaggression established four joint commissions. These commissions--on South-North reconciliation, South-North military affairs, South-North economic exchanges and cooperation, and South-North social and cultural exchange--were to work out the specifics for implementing the general terms of the basic agreement. Subcommittees to examine specific issues were created, and liaison offices were established in Panmunjom, but in the fall of 1992, the process came to a halt because of rising tension over the nuclear issue.
The Joint Declaration on denuclearization was initialed on December 31, 1991. It forbade both sides to test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy, or use nuclear weapons and forbade the possession of nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities. A procedure for inter-Korean inspection was to be organized and a North-South Joint Nuclear Control Commission (JNCC) was mandated with verification of the denuclearization of the peninsula.
On January 30, 1992, the D.P.R.K. also signed a nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA, as it had pledged to do in 1985 when acceding to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This safeguards agreement allowed IAEA inspections to begin in June 1992. In March 1992, the JNCC was established in accordance with the joint declaration, but subsequent meetings failed to reach agreement on the main issue of establishing a bilateral inspection regime.
As the 1990s progressed, concern over the North's nuclear program became a major issue in North-South relations and between North Korea and the U.S. The lack of progress on implementation of the joint nuclear declaration's provision for an inter-Korean nuclear inspection regime led to reinstatement of the U.S.-South Korea Team Spirit military exercise for 1993. The situation worsened rapidly when North Korea, in January 1993, refused IAEA access to two suspected nuclear waste sites and then announced in March 1993 its intent to withdraw from the NPT. During the next 2 years, the U.S. held direct talks with the D.P.R.K. that resulted in a series of agreements on nuclear matters (see, under U.S. Policy Toward North Korea, U.S. Efforts on Denuclearization).
Relations Outside the Peninsula
After 1945, the Soviet Union supplied the economic and military aid that enabled North Korea to mount its invasion of the South in 1950. Soviet aid and influence continued at a high level during the Korean war; as mentioned, the Soviet Union was largely responsible for rebuilding North Korea's economy after the cessation of hostilities. In addition, the assistance of Chinese "volunteers" during the war and the presence of these troops until 1958 gave China some degree of influence in North Korea. In 1961, North Korea concluded formal mutual security treaties with the Soviet Union (inherited by Russia) and China, which have not been formally ended.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, the Soviet-backed Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan created strains between China and the Soviet Union and, in turn, in North Korea's relations with its two major communist allies. North Korea tried to avoid becoming embroiled in the Sino-Soviet split, obtaining aid from both the Soviet Union and China and trying to avoid dependence on either. Following Kim Il Sung's 1984 visit to Moscow, there was a dramatic improvement in Soviet-D.P.R.K. relations, resulting in renewed deliveries of advanced Soviet weaponry to North Korea and increases in economic aid.
The establishment of diplomatic relations by South Korea with the Soviet Union in 1990 and with the P.R.C. in 1992 put a serious strain on relations between North Korea and its traditional allies. Moreover, the fall of communism in eastern Europe in 1989 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in a significant drop in communist aid to North Korea. Despite these changes and its past reliance on this military and economic assistance, North Korea proclaims a militantly independent stance in its foreign policy in accordance with its official ideology of juche, or self-reliance.
At the same time, North Korea maintains membership in a variety of multilateral organizations. It became a member of the UN in September 1991. North Korea also belongs to the Food and Agriculture Organization; the International Civil Aviation Organization; the International Postal Union; the UN Conference on Trade and Development; the International Telecommunications Union; the UN Development Program; the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization; the World Health Organization; the World Intellectual Property Organization; the World Meteorological Organization; the International Maritime Organization; the International Committee of the Red Cross; and the Nonaligned Movement.
In July 2000, North Korea began participating in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), as Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun attended the ARF ministerial meeting in Bangkok July 26-27. The D.P.R.K. also expanded its bilateral diplomatic ties in that year, establishing diplomatic relations with Italy, Australia, and the Philippines. The U.K. and Germany also have announced their intentions to establish diplomatic relations.
The D.P.R.K. is not known to have sponsored any terrorist acts since 1987, when KAL 858 was bombed in flight. The D.P.R.K. has made several statements condemning terrorism. Most recently, on October 6, 2000, the U.S. and the D.P.R.K. issued a Joint Statement in which "the two sides agreed that international terrorism poses an unacceptable threat to global security and peace, and that terrorism should be opposed in all its forms." The U.S. and D.P.R.K. agreed to support the international legal regime combating international terrorism and to cooperate with each other to fight terrorism. Pyongyang continues to provide sanctuary to members of the Japanese Communist League-Red Army Faction who participated in the hijacking of a Japan Airlines flight to North Korea in 1970.