[an error occurred while processing this directive] >NORTH KOREA GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS

Government Overview: North Korea is a communist state under the one-man leadership of Kim Jong Il, chairman of the National Defense Commission—the nation’s “highest administrative authority”—supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), and general secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP). Kim was first appointed to the National Defense Commission by his father, President Kim Il Sung, in April 1993, and he was reelected to this position in 1998 and 2003. Despite the consolidation of party, state, and military structures under the leadership of one man, some analysts see these three power centers as rivals for power, with the military in the ascendant. In true dynastic fashion, Kim Jong Il appears to be grooming one or the other of his sons—Kim Jong-chol and Kim Jong-woon—as his successor. Signs of possible change in the leadership structure and succession scenario—or at least a reduction in Kim’s personality cult—emerged in the summer and fall of 2004, when reports were received that portraits of Kim Jong Il were being removed from public sites.

The position of president ceased to exist with the elder Kim’s death in 1994. The premier (currently Pak Pong-ju) is head of government (since September 2003) and is assisted by three vice premiers and a cabinet of 27 ministers, all of whom are appointed by the Supreme People’s Assembly (Ch’oego Inmin Hoeui—SPA). A twenty-eighth minister, the minister of the People’s Armed Forces (Kim Il-ch’ol), is not subordinate to the cabinet but answers directly to Kim Jong Il. However, observers believe that Cho Myong-rok, first vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, is North Korea’s most powerful military figure. The SPA is a unicameral legislative body with 687 members who are elected by popular vote for five-year terms. The president of the SPA Presidium (Kim Yong-nam) is North Korea’s titular head of state. The KWP approves a list of SPA candidates who are elected without opposition, but some seats are held by approved minor parties. The constitution was adopted in 1948, completely revised in December 1972, and revised again in April 1992 and September 1998.

Administrative Divisions: North Korea is divided into nine provinces (do)—Chagang, North Hamgy4ng, South Hamgy4ng, North Hwanghae, South Hwanghae, Kangw4n, North P’y4ngan, South P’y4ngan, and Yanggang Province; two province-level municipalities (chikalsi or jikhalsi)— P’y4ngyang and Najin (Rajin)-S4nbong; and one special city (t’ukpy4lsi)—Namp’o. Other cities are under provincial control.

Provincial and Local Government: North Korea has three levels of local government. The first level includes provinces (do) and province-level municipalities (chikalsi or jikhalsi). The second level includes ordinary cities (si or shi), urban districts (kuy4k), and counties (gun or kun). The third level is made up of traditional villages (ri or ni). Cities are subdivided into wards (gu), and some cities and wards are subdivided into neighborhoods (dong), the lowest level of urban government to have its own office and staff. Officials leading these various levels of government are elected by local Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) committees, local people’s assemblies, and local administrative committees. Local people’s assemblies at all levels perform the same symbolic legislative duties as the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA).

Judicial and Legal System: The three-level judicial system is patterned after the Soviet model. The Central Court is the highest court and has judges appointed by the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA). According to the constitution, the Central Court is accountable to the SPA, and the Criminal Code subjects judges to criminal liability for handing down “unjust judgments.” The legal system does not acknowledge individual rights. The Ministry of Public Security routinely dispenses with trials in political cases and refers prisoners to the Ministry of State Security for punishment. In addition to the Central Court, there are provincial courts at the intermediate level, and “people’s courts” at the lowest level. Prosecutors are grouped under separate, parallel chains of command subordinate to the Central Procurator’s Office, which supervises local procurators’ offices at provincial and county levels.

Based on defector and refugee reports, the U.S. Department of State has noted that the regime has executed political prisoners, opponents of the regime, some repatriated defectors, and others, including military officers suspected of espionage or of plotting against Kim Jong Il. The death penalty is mandatory for activities carried out “in collusion with imperialists” or those aimed at “suppressing the national liberation struggle.” Prisoners have been sentenced to death for such ill-defined “crimes” as “ideological divergence,” “opposing socialism,” and “counterrevolutionary crimes.” Defectors have claimed that individuals suspected of political crimes have been taken from their homes by state security officials and sent without trial directly to political prison camps. According to a report by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, torture “is routine and severe.” There are no practical restrictions on the ability of the government to detain and imprison persons at will and to hold them incommunicado. Prison conditions have been described as “harsh” and “starvation and executions were common.” A common punishment is “reeducation through labor.” This practice consists of forced labor, such as logging, mining, or tending crops under harsh conditions, and reeducation consisting of memorizing Kim Jong Il’s speeches and being forced to participate in self-criticism sessions. It was reported in 2003 that an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 persons were being held in detention camps in remote areas for political reasons.

Electoral System: Elections are held sporadically for Korean Workers’ Party (KWP)-approved delegates to the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) and provincial and local people’s assemblies. One hundred percent of the vote for a single candidate is not unusual. The assemblies meet only for a few days each year to give formal approval to state directives.

Politics and Political Parties: The Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) is the ruling party of North Korea. The secretary general of the KWP is Kim Jong Il, and he runs the party with few formal meetings. The KWP’s last full party congress was in 1980, and the Central Committee last met in 1994. To provide a semblance of multiparty politics and as a mechanism for unification of North and South, the Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland was founded in 1946. The component parties include the Chondoist Chongu Party, the Korean Social Democratic Party, and the KWP. An opposition party in exile, with branches in Tokyo, Beijing, and Moscow, is the Salvation Front for the Democratic Unification of Choson. It was established in the early 1990s.

Mass Media: The constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press; however, the government prohibits the exercise of these rights in practice. The communication systems that are active in North Korea include telephones (main lines in use totaled 1.1 million in 2001), international telephone systems with two satellite earth stations (one Intelsat and one Russian, all other international connections are through Moscow and Beijing), radio broadcast stations (AM 16, FM 14, and shortwave 11 as of 1999), and television broadcast stations (38 as of 1999). Although the majority of households contain radios and television sets, reception is restricted to government broadcasts. North Korea has 12 principal newspapers and 20 major periodicals, all of varying periodicity and all published in P’y4ngyang. Like electronic media, print media are all controlled by the state. The Korean Central News Agency (KNCA) is the sole news distributor in North Korea. KCNA broadcasts in Korean, English, Spanish, and Russian and offers an English-language Web site. The major newspaper is Nodong sinmun (Workers’ Daily).

Foreign Relations: North Korea’s foreign relations expanded significantly after its traditional close allies, the Soviet Union and China, established diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1990 and 1992, respectively. North Korea has diplomatic relations with 150 nations and maintains full embassies in 27 nations. In 2004 it was seeking to establish formal relations with all members of the European Union. North Korea does not have diplomatic relations with the United States. The Swedish Embassy in P’y4ngyang represents the United States as a consular protecting power.

The major issues shaping North Korea’s relations with its neighbors and the United States are nuclear weapons proliferation and missile sales. P’y4ngyang has twice withdrawn from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (in 1994 and 2003) in defiance of Washington’s refusal to hold bilateral talks and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s resolution calling on North Korea to comply with the non-proliferation treaty. While Washington insists on multilateral talks (including the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia) and the dismantling of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program prior to negotiations, P’y4ngyang demands bilateral negotiations with Washington and the negotiation of a non-aggression treaty. Three-party talks (North Korea, the United States, and China) also have failed to achieve agreement. When six-part talks were finally held in August 2003, no real progress was achieved, but consensus was reached on continued dialog, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, consideration of North Korea’s security concerns, and avoidance of future actions that might further impede progress. Despite this symbolic achievement, soon after the talks ended North Korea labeled them as futile. Then, in October 2003, North Korea announced its decision to continue its enriched uranium program and proceeded to launch another (the first was in 1998) short-range missile over the Sea of Japan (or East Sea). Although Washington declared that the United States and the other four nations would guarantee that there would be no attack on North Korea, P’y4ngyang first rejected the concession and then said it would consider the U.S. offer of a written assurance of non-aggression. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made an unprecedented visit to North Korea in October 2000, at a time when there was some improvement in relations. On February 10, 2005, North Korea’s minister of foreign affairs confirmed that his country had manufactured nuclear weapons as a “nuclear deterrent for self-defense under any circumstances” against the United States and announced the government’s determination to maintain the suspension of the six-party talks for an indefinite period of time. In May 2005, North Korea tested another missile over the Sea of Japan.

To court old allies, the reclusive Kim Jong Il made several trips to Russia and China in 2001 and 2002. In a sign of slightly improved relations with an old enemy, Japan’s prime minister, Koizumi Junichiro, visited P’y4ngyang in September 2002 and May 2004 to hold talks about abducted Japanese nationals, economic cooperation, and the North Korean nuclear program.

Inter-Korean Relations: An agreement on reconciliation, nonaggression, exchanges, and cooperation was signed in 1991 by officials from P’y4ngyang and Seoul. The agreement defined the basic relationship between the two Koreas as in a period of transition to peaceful unification. The two sides also agreed to a declaration on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula to take effect in 1992 under the North-South Joint Nuclear Control Committee. The agreement allowed for mutual inspection of nuclear facilities. The agreements were never implemented, and actions to do so have an on-again-off-again character, with delays caused by economic crises, nuclear proliferation issues, and bilateral political discord. The first-ever summit between North and South Korean leaders—Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung—was held in June 2000. South Korean officials are concerned that a sudden collapse of the North Korean state would cause an extreme economic burden on the South. The obsolescence of the North Korean economic infrastructure, low worker wages, chronic inflation, and the weakening w4n have made South Korean investors wary of imminent reunification. Observers have stated that a forced reunification could cost the South from US$330 billion to more than US$1 trillion over a five-year period. An agreed-upon reunification between the South and a post-Kim Jong Il regime willing to work for political and economic integration might cost around US$600 billion over 10 years. In a move that might foster this kind of integration, in 2003 North and South Korea enacted agreements reached in December 2000 on investment guarantees, tax issues, business dispute resolution, and account settlement. At the same time, inter-Korean trade increased. Not only South Korea is wary of the collapse of the North Korean regime. China would likely be faced with a massive flood of refugees seeking food across the border. And, should China crack down on such activities, international human rights advocates would turn their criticism on Beijing.

Membership in International Organizations: North Korea and South Korea both became members of the United Nations (UN) in 1991. P’y4ngyang maintains a permanent mission in New York and participates in many UN specialized agencies, including those under the UN General Assembly: the UN Conference on Trade and Development, UN Development Programme, UN Fund for Population Activities, UN Children’s Fund, and World Food Program. Under the UN Economic and Social Council, North Korea belongs to the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Among UN specialized organizations, North Korea belongs to the Food and Agriculture Organization, International Civil Aviation Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Maritime Organization, International Telecommunication Union, UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, UN Industrial Development Organization, Universal Postal Union, World Health Organization, World Intellectual Property Organization, and World Meteorological Organization. It also has observer status at the International Monetary Fund. Other international memberships include the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum, Group of 77, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Hydrographic Organization, International Olympic Committee, International Organization for Standardization, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Non-Aligned Movement, World Federation of Trade Unions, and World Tourism Organization.

Major International Treaties: North Korea has signed the Antarctic, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Environmental Modification, Ozone Layer Protection, and Ship Pollution conventions and has signed, but not ratified, the Law of the Sea Treaty. It also has acceded to other United Nations (UN) conventions, including the International Atomic Energy Agency Safeguards Agreement, Geneva Protocol, and Partial Test Ban Treaty. It is a state party to various antiterrorism conventions, including those Against the Taking of Hostages; on Offences and Certain Other Acts Committed Onboard Aircraft; Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Internationally Protected Persons, including Diplomatic Agents; Protocol on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation; Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation; and Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft. North Korea was a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons but suspended its membership in 1994 and withdrew in 2003.


Armed Forces Overview: The armed forces, known collectively as the Korean People’s Army (KPA), totaled about 1.2 million in 2005. The KPA is the fourth largest military force in the world. Components are the army (approximately 950,000 including 88,000 special operations troops), navy (46,000), and air force (86,000). There also are paramilitary security troops, including border guards and public safety personnel, who number around 189,000. The armed forces are under the direction and control of Kim Jong Il, who is supreme commander of the KPA with the title of grand marshal, general secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP), and chairman of the state National Defense Commission. The KWP Military Affairs Committee and the National Defense Commission hold coordinated authority over the armed forces. North Korea is a heavily militarized state with, after China, the United States, and India, the fourth largest population under arms. The active military structure is supported by a 4.7 million-strong reserve component, of which 600,000 army and 65,000 navy personnel are assigned to training units, and approximately 3.5 million are members of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards, Red Guard Youth, and college training units. An estimated 25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2002 went for defense expenditures.

Foreign Military Relations: North Korea has military advisers in 12 African nations.

External Threat: The major threat perceived by North Korea is from the United States, South Korea, and Japan. Despite its periodic assurances to the contrary, North Korea continues to take actions to further develop its nuclear weapons program as a counter to foreign nuclear weapons dominance. North Korea has refused to dismantle its nuclear weapons program despite repeated calls to do so from the United States, South Korea, Japan, and other nations and international organizations. In February 2005, North Korea confirmed that it had manufactured nuclear weapons to defend itself against the United States.

Defense Budget: The defense budget for fiscal year 2002 was estimated at US$3.2 billion. However, foreign experts believe that an estimated $4.7 billion (or even as high as US$5.2 billion)—approximately 25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), or US$214 per capita—actually went for defense expenditures that year.

Major Military Units: The army has 20 corps: 1 armored, 4 mechanized, 12 infantry, 2 artillery, and 1 capital defense corps. Among these 20 corps are 27 infantry divisions, 15 armored brigades, 9 multiple rocket launcher brigades, 14 infantry brigades, and 21 artillery brigades. The total army strength in 2003 was 950,000 troops. These included 88,000 organized into the Special Purpose Forces Command, which had 10 sniper brigades, 12 light infantry brigades, 17 reconnaissance brigades, 1 airborne battalion, and 8 battalions organized as the Bureau of Reconnaissance Special Forces. This is said to be the largest special operations force in the world. There were 40 infantry divisions in reserve status. The navy, primarily a coastal defense force, is headquartered in P’y4ngyang and has a strength of 46,000. It has two fleets, the East Sea Fleet, headquartered at T’oejo-dong, and the West or Sea Fleet, headquartered at Namp’o. The East Sea Fleet has nine naval bases, and the West Sea Fleet has 10 naval bases. The air force had a strength of 86,000 with 4 air divisions organized into 33 air regiments plus 3 independent air battalions. Three of the divisions are responsible for north, east, and south defense sectors; a fourth—a training division—is responsible for the northeast sector. The air force has 11 airbases located at strategic points—many aimed at lightning strikes against key South Korean targets—mostly in southern North Korea, with some in rear areas closer to the border with China. In 2005 some 70 percent of North Korea’s armed forces were deployed in offensive positions between P’y4ngyang and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). There has been an incremental increase in this deployment, from 40 percent in 1981 to 65 percent in 1998.

Major Military Equipment: The army’s major military equipment includes 3,500 main battle tanks, 560 light tanks, 2,500 armored personnel carriers, 3,500 pieces of towed artillery, 4,400 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 2,500 multiple rocket launchers, 7,500 mortars, 24 surface-to-surface rockets and missiles, antitank guided weapons, 1,700 recoilless launchers, and 11,000 air defense guns. The navy has 92 submarines (the largest fleet in the world), 3 frigates, 6 corvettes, 43 missile craft, 158 large patrol craft, 103 fast torpedo craft, more than 334 patrol force craft, 10 amphibious ships, 2 coastal defense missile batteries, 130 hovercraft, 23 minesweepers, 1 depot ship, 8 midget ships, and 4 survey vessels. The air force has 80 bombers, 541 fighters and ground attack fighters, an estimated 316 transports, 588 transport helicopters (supported by 24 armed helicopters), 228 training aircraft, at least 1 unmanned air vehicle, and a large inventory of air-to-air missiles and surface-to-air missiles. North Korea is believed to have one or two nuclear weapons and to have harvested enough plutonium for upward of nine weapons.

Military Service: Conscription ages are 20 to 25, with 5- to 8-year terms of service in the army, 5- to 10-year terms in the navy, and 3- to 4-year terms in the air force, all followed by part-time compulsory service in the Worker-Peasant Red Guards until age 60. Both men and women serve in the armed forces.

Paramilitary Forces: The Ministry of Public Security has an estimated 189,000 People’s Security Force troops, including border guards and public safety personnel. Approximately 3.5 million North Koreans also are members of the Red Guard Youth (ages 14 to 17) and Worker-Peasant Red Guards (ages 40 to 60). These militia-type forces are organized at the provincial, town, and village levels into brigades, battalions, companies, and platoons. Some militia units have small arms and mortars; others have no weapons. Together with college training units, Worker-Peasant Red Guards and Red Guard Youth make up the majority of the 4.7 million reserve forces of North Korea.

Foreign Military Forces: None.

Police and Internal Security: Internal security and maintenance of law and order are controlled by the paramilitary People’s Security Force, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Public Security. The Ministry of Public Security is responsible for internal security, social control, and basic police duties, including border control, employing some 189,000 security personnel in 2002. There are public security bureaus in each province, county, city, and some city substations; each village has a police force. The rest of the internal security apparatus includes the State Security Department, the National Security Agency, the National Security Police, and the Korean Workers’s Party (KWP). The entire conventional and secret police apparatus is tightly controlled by the KWP. Movement by citizens is strictly controlled.

Terrorism: No international terrorist attacks have been attributed to North Korea since 1987, when it conducted the mid-flight bombing of a Korean Air (KAL) airliner, killing all 115 persons aboard. Despite North Korean statements that it opposed terrorism and any assistance to it, political sanctuary was granted to members of the Japanese Red Army Faction hijackers of a Japanese Airlines (JAL) flight to North Korea in 1970. Because of these and other North Korean activities, North Korea has been on the United States list of countries supporting international terrorism since 1988. Although the United States has had many interventions to remove North Korea from the list, North Korea is viewed as uncooperative in agreeing to stop its missile threats and therefore has remained on the terrorism list. However, North Korea is indifferent to United States decisions and outlook.

Human Rights: According to the U.S. Department of State’s human rights report for 2004, citizens are denied all types of human rights including: respect for the integrity of the person, civil liberties, political rights, social status, and workers rights. Civilians are subject to pervasive programming and close surveillance. Political prisoners, opponents of the regime, repatriated defectors, and military officers suspected of espionage or plotting against Kim Jong Il have been executed, and others have been sentenced to death for ill-defined “crimes” against the state. Others, including foreigners, have disappeared into the harsh system of prison camps, where deprivation, torture, and other inhumane treatment are routine. Defectors have reported human experimentation using chemical and biological agents and lethal gases. Some 1,894 North Koreas arrived in South Korea during 2004, having escaped primarily through China. There also were widespread reports of trafficking of women and young girls into China, where they were forced to become wives or concubines.


May 2005


Formal Name: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

(DPRK; Chos4n Minjujuui Inmin Konghwaguk).

조선 민주주의 인민 공화국

Short Form: North Korea (Chos4n). 조선

Term for Citizen(s): North Korean(s) (Chos4n Inmin). 조선 인민

Capital: P’y4ngyang. 평양

Major Cities: The largest city is P’y4ngyang, with a reported 2.7 million in the 1993 census; others, according to size, are Namp’o, Hamhßng, Ch’4ngjin, Kaes4ng, Sinßiju, and W4nsan (all with populations of more than 300,000).

Independence: August 15, 1945, from Japan; Democratic People’s Republic of Korea founded September 9, 1948.

National Public Holidays: New Year’s Day (January 1), Kim Jong Il’s Birthday (February 16–17), International Women’s Day (March 8), Day of the Sun (Kim Il Sung’s Birthday, April 15–16), Army Day (April 25), International Workers’ Day (May 1), Fatherland Liberation War Victory Day (July 27), National Liberation Day (August 15), Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Founding Day (September 9), Korean Workers’ Party Founding Day (October 10), and Constitution Day (December 27). Also celebrated are Lunar New Year’s Day (variable date in January or February), Surinal (spring festival, variable date in April or May, formerly called Tano or Dano), and Han’gawi (autumn festival, September 28–30, formerly called Ch’us4k).


The North Korean flag has three horizontal bands of blue (top), red (triple

width), and blue; the red band is edged in white; on the hoist side of the red

band is a white disk with a red five-pointed star.


Prehistory: Paleolithic excavations show that humans inhabited the Korean Peninsula 500,000 years ago. From around 4000 B.C., neolithic-age humans also inhabited the area, leaving behind pottery and ground and polished stone tools. Around 2000 B.C., a new pottery culture spread into the peninsula from China.

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