Last Updated 22 Jun 2020

Future of North Korea Economy: Politics over Economic Policy

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Future of North Korea Economy: Politics Over Economic Policy The terms starvation, isolation, totalitarianism, and nuclear ambitions combined would remind most people the hermit kingdom in East Asia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and its Kim dynasty. After the demise of the aged dictator Kim Jong Il in December 2011, the country went through a period of mourning the death of their “beloved” Great General and, undergoing a power succession to his 29-year-old son, Kim Jong Un. He has been known to have attended a Swiss school in his childhood years, enjoying playing basketball and video games (Yan & Shubert, 2011).

However, even though many outsiders have a hopeful outlook on this young dictator to be somewhat liberal in both economic and political perspectives, analyzing the situation through levels of analysis suggests that he is unlikely to be any different than his predecessors. In fact, because maintaining the nation’s authoritarian Kim dynasty and communist political system is the most important objective for North Korea, he will probably continue to put low priority on economy, defying international norms as a totalitarian nation of a closed, rigidly planned economy.

The Three Levels Explained The levels-of-analysis is an approach conceptualized by Kenneth Waltz in his book Man, the State, and War to understand global politics through categorizing different factors shaping states’ behaviors (Ray, 2001). The approach can be categorized in to three levels: the individual level, which emphasizes the roles played by individual leaders, nation-state level, focusing on interaction between various actors under the nation’s political system and culture, and the system level, addressing distribution of power in the international system (Dorff, 2004).

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Although levels-of-analysis problem, regarding limitation and vagueness of integrating units, is an ongoing issue according to James Lee Ray (2001), the levels can be integrated more simply in to a more structured and comprehensive analysis when they are considered as different explanatory variables of different location as in this case. Individual Level of Analysis

Kim’s past actions show that his main goal is consolidating and maintaining ultimate power through an authoritarian, inhumane method that closely resembles his father’s methods. His fondness for Michael Jordan and his chic, stylish wife may give the impression that he would adopt a more “open” leadership, but since succession, he has been ruthlessly eliminating anyone in his way of solidifying power within the ruling party, while also verbally and physically provoking South Korea.

Not long after ascending to the “throne”, he executed Kim Chol, vice minister of the army, with a mortar round for “reportedly drinking and carousing during the official mourning period after Kim Jong Il’s death” (Ryall, 2012). Moreover Klug (2012) reported that Ri Yong Ho, the military chief who was Kim’s mentor during the power transition and one of the key figures that the former leader relied upon, had also been removed from his position, for health reasons, this July.

Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis say that these replacements of influential military officers and purges of over a dozen senior officials are signs that the young dictator is reshuffling the cabinet to appoint people loyal to him, while also keeping check of any possible dissidents (Kim, 2012). In addition, Kim has clearly shown that he is not concerned with international norms when he reportedly played a major role in planning the shelling of South Korea’s territory, Yeonpyeong Island, a couple of years ago (Yang, 2012).

Statements threatening to attack South Korea and its key figures have also escalated in a harsher, specific tone after the change of leadership, even out threatening to send revolutionary armed forces to "reduce all the ratlike groups and the bases for provocations to ashes in three or four minutes, in much shorter time, by unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style” in April (Choe, 2012). Byman and Lind (2010) claim that these provocations help Kim to stoke popular nationalism, while strengthening his position within the military.

It has been only a few years since Kim entered politics, but these series of eliminating potentially threatening figures, including even those who have helped in smoothing the transition, and continuous provocation to the international society suggest that consolidating power through provocation and purging is the main focus of Kim on the individual level. Even if Kim Jong Un succeeds in gaining stable power, it is unlikely that he would be enthusiastic in bringing forth major economic reforms as expected by some analysts because such extensive reforms could undermine his authority as they would risk loyalty of the military and the party.

As Ben Ascione (2012) argues, unless the military becomes a major stake holder in economic reforms through generating profit instead of depleting huge amounts of North Korea’s budget, economic reforms will have to be pursued at the cost of the military first policy, which is a guideline his father, prioritizing the military in allocating resources to foster loyalty from the army by strengthening its position. Therefore, Kim would have to face dissatisfied military elites if he were to start expensive economic reforms.

He may have vowed to develop the economy, and rumors have spread that he will push through reforms allowing farmers to keep 30% of their yield, eventually replacing the state rationing system, but these reforms have been postponed numerous times, while the state has even officially denied any intent to reform and called the expectation “a foolish and silly dream” (“Where the Sun”, 2012). Nuclear aspiration is another major characteristic of Kim Jong Un that makes economic reforms unlikely in the near future as this deters the possibility of the army profiting from economy growth.

Pouring billions of national money into developing nuclear program can be traced back to more than half a century ago, when his grandfather had allegedly became intimidated by the United States placing nuclear-tipped Matador missiles in South Korea (Pincus, 2006). Kim Jong Un shares the same goal for developing nuclear weapons, showed by launching North Korea’s forth rocket, criticized by the international community as a disguise for developing long distance missile, while also declaring to launch once more this December (Ramstad, 2012).

North Korea’s drive for nuclearization has been condemned by the international society and resulted in a UN Security sanction that aim to deter North Korea from acquiring goods for its nuclear programs (Albright & Walrond, 2012). Therefore, since profiting from the military sector is nearly impossible without trade, which is difficult under current international sanctions unless Kim gives up nuclearization, heavy economic reform is a dangerous option for Kim if he wishes to heighten loyalty from the military to maintain power.

Nation-state Level of Analysis The unique culture and political system of North Korea combined with the military first policy create an environment where opposing the leader is almost impossible, resulting in an ideal political system for sustaining totalitarianism regime. After decades of propaganda, the juche ideology, emphasizing autarky, or self- sufficiency, and suryong ideology, which means “leader” and which idolizes the Kim family, have now become almost a religion for the North Korean people (Byman & Lind, 2010).

These ideologies have permeated every aspects of the closed society to an extent that many North Koreans are xenophobic, feeling strong hatred and disgust toward the United States and South Korea (Byman & Lind, 2010). According to Brian Myers (2010), North Korean math textbooks ask questions of ‘Three People's Army soldiers rubbed out thirty American bastards. What was the ratio of the soldiers who fought? ’, while dictionaries and schoolbooks endorse students to call foreigners “muzzles” and “snouts”.

Myers continues on to say that these kinds of propaganda leads to form a culture of ethno-centric nationalism, where the North Korean people sincerely believe in their blood’s pureness and superiority over other races, while honoring their ‘great father’. South Koreans were shocked when they heard the news of the modernized looking North Korean cheering squad turning furious with tears when they saw a portrait of their ‘beloved father’ soaked in rain, running out of the bus to protect his face on the banner ad (Kum, 2003).

Even if the effects of propaganda might have weakened through the influx of South Korean movies and drama series, Ken E. Gause (2012) found that the state constantly conducts surveillance and investigation on ordinary citizens through various overlapping security organizations, which can even lead to execution of those who have been found to violate law and order, thereby effectively blocking the civilian sector from forming any opposition groups.

Government and military officials are no exceptions but are rather even more spied upon through organizations such as the Political Bureau and Military Security Command (Gause, 2012). On the other hand, the military first policy favoring the military serves to encourage loyalty from the group most needed to enforce power and stability. These conditions of propaganda, surveillance, and favoritism form a somewhat stable domestic politics, consisting of only the supreme leader and his favored military officials, that has lasted for three generations of dictatorship and seen by some, including Albright and Walrond, to last for ore. Moreover, these dimensions shaping the domestic cultural and political nature of North Korea act as countervail to economic reform, which cannot be successful if the state does not give up its military first policy and rigid rules. The ethno-centric nationalism promoted by the two ideologies deters many North Koreans from accepting their system to be a failure in comparison with democratic countries such as the United States and South Korea (Myers, 2010).

Thus, North Koreans would have greater utility from any minor improvements in standard in living through weak reforms. This would incentivize Kim to focus more on propaganda and security, while maximizing the use of propaganda to indoctrinate people of how successful the economic reforms, if any, were, thanks to the regime. This could be the reason why Kim Jong Un continuously emphasize that he will improve economy, but drags on doing much change.

Also, Un-Chul Yang found that momentum of economic reform diminishes because economics is strictly considered to be subordinate to politics, which leads to rejection of economic policies, no matter how rational they may be, if they challenge the authority of the supreme leader (2012). The two largest and only players in domestic politics, Kim and the military, due to the unique structure of the society, will thereby choose to continue the military first policy to conserve their power and maintain the totalitarian regime. System Level of Analysis

It is highly unlikely for North Korea to give up its only mean of leverage in international relations – nuclear weapons. Not only are they significant in building support from the military internally, they bolster North Korea’s stance more than any other weapon in the power and legitimacy struggle with its South Korea (Byman ; Lind, 2010). Moreover, the weapons allow North Korea to have an upper hand in negotiations for food, energy, and other economic assistance with other major powers. They even incentivized its only ally, China, to bribe the country with cash and energy aids to just sit them down at the negotiating table (Kim, 2006).

Because of these power incentives, North Korea will be more unwilling to give its nuclear ambitions up, leading to further economic sanctions from the international society, while North Korea would try to maximize its gains from utilizing the leverage to compensate for the loss from sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council. David Albright and Christina Walrond (2012) says that China continues to be a major loop hole of this international sanction, giving North Korea plenty of opportunities to secure resources for developing its nuclear program.

Albright and Walrond (2012) also predicts in their ISIS report that North Korea's nuclear program and uranium enrichment efforts will continue, and succeed in building at least 28 nuclear weapons by 2016. Therefore, as North Korea’s nuclear programs continue rather successfully regardless of international condemn, it is ironically rational for North Korea to keep its economy closed and planned to strengthen its power, stability, and leverage in international relations. Conclusion and Future Perspectives

In conclusion, Kim Jong Un’s own motivations to hold power, the unique political system and culture of North Korea, and rational choices that the country should make to win the power struggle would all act in favor for a closed, planned economy. Unlike South Korea and other democratic nations where the economic situation greatly influences politics, North Korea have been steered by the regime for so long that everything including economy now depends only on the government.

Hence, despite recently being named as the ‘sexiest man’ of the year 2012 by The Onion, Kim Jong Un would also remain an unappealing Kim for his democratic counterparts. The major stakeholders including the Unites States, South Korea, and China should continue to negotiate with North Korea to convince them that their gain from opening up is greater than following their traditional acts of provocation. Also, China should not allow North Korea to exploit its weak implementation of export controls and should bind to the U. N.

Security Council’s sanction to put greater pressure on North Korea. Even though future prospective is still dark in the current situation, more intimate negotiation and actions of responsibility from Beijing could result in positive news in the future. References Albright, D. , & Walrond, C. (2012, August 16). North Korea’s estimated stocks of plutonium and weapon-grade uranium. Institute for Science and International Studies. Retrieved from http://isis-online. org/uploads/isis-reports/documents/dprk_fissile_material_p

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