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North Korea Today - Kim Versus Predecessors

The current period in Northeast Asia is marked by nuclearisation and military defence preparedness by North Korea. Disparities in the social and economic conditions mark the country. The recent regime has attempted to build nuclear weapons to ward off foreign escalations and make economic measures in a country that has long stagnated in wealth and prosperity since the end of the Cold War.

An Illustration on North Korea Today

Illustration by The Geostrata

The article intends to argue how the recent regime of Kim Jong Un is markedly different from his predecessors by emphasising both military and economic ends to guarantee his regime’s survival. 


The reform measures in North Korea during the early period of Kim Jong Un’s regime attempted to promote decentralisation and marketisation in various areas, including enterprises, agriculture and foreign trade. The ascent to power involved increasing the incentives for the farmers and workers by maintaining state and party control.

However, the regime replicates the elements and ideals of socialist economic management to improve the economic condition of state-run enterprises with reforms. The core elements of North Korea’s economy involve manufacturing, mining, electric supply and enterprises. The majority of these companies are run by the state. 

Therefore, the improvement of the performance of these economic sectors became the state’s top priority. Conflicting trends with ambiguousness and inconsistencies mark the current era in North Korea. The popular North Korean publications reflected varied viewpoints and opinions. 

In both cases, it stressed the importance of defence and economic reforms undertaken during the era of Kim Jong Un. The importance of reforms became important when Pyongyang increasingly depended on growing trade. Trade amounted to more than U.S. $ 7 billion in 2013. Therefore, economic reforms and increased defence infrastructure became important for the regime’s survival. 


The country’s economic reforms involved providing material incentives and upgrading the country’s managerial economy with characteristics of decentralisation. This involved transferring the authority of the central government to individual enterprises.

Such sentiments are visible in the case of the policy under ‘Byungjin’, aiming to increase emphasis on people’s living standards is evident in the regime’s emphasis on local development, which has attempted to build industrial plants in more than 20 counties for over ten years. 

Such conditions suggest newer objectives for the current leadership under Kim Jong Un. The tendencies also involved including the nuclear accomplishments of its predecessors in the constitution. Therefore, domestic market-driven economic reforms along with the nuclear program have become one of the central pillars of the regime in Pyongyang. 


The current period, marked by increased missile tests and posturing by North Korea, signifies a break from the previous leadership. The confrontational external posturing in the past was backed up by the deteriorating economic situation with the state’s declining ability and its operations to guarantee its survival.

The economic stagnation since the end of the Cold War and the growing emphasis on defence and nuclearisation resulted in the militarisation of the society. The current period marked by nuclearisation is not symbolic of a dire economy with the declined ability of the state to guarantee its survival.

The present period has provided assurances of meeting the basic needs of the public through greater utilisation of resources and raw materials. To accomplish such goals, the party in power, the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK), has already promised to guarantee funds, labour and materials for industrialisation. Therefore, the current period is marked by development initiatives emphasising industrialisation. 

The current regime’s actions under Kim Jong Un are not only a break from the previous regime but are also distinct owing to their varied importance on industrialisation. During the era of previous regimes, industrial developments and investments were strongly equated with developments in the defence industrial set-up. 

During the reign of Kim Il Sung, heavy industries were supported only due to their advantages to the defence industry. Such policies resulted in country’s heavy industries concentrating on defence and industrial goods associated with machines and resources.

Such machines and resources were also used to support the light industries and consumer goods. Therefore, such policies resulted in an overemphasis on the defence industries in North Korea’s industrial policies. Over the years, such policies have significant people’s livelihoods as North Korea’s economy struggled to produce consumer goods to sustain self-sufficiency.

The departure from such policies can be seen in Kim Jong Un’s declaration at the Eighth Party Congress in January 2021, which emphasised economic and defence industry reforms. Such policies can also be reflected by the latest ‘plot-based management system’ that involved reforming its ever-stagnant economy’s industrial and agricultural sectors. 


The recent examples of pursuing nuclear plans have been evident. The attempts to invest in defence and nuclearisation plans have resulted in the collapse of any hopes for foreign direct investments owing to immediate international consequences. The unwavering support for nuclear arsenal and defence parity has resulted only in economic deterioration.

The evidence of the closure of provincial industries and markets due to the pandemic is evident. The added economic burdens came when the regime in Pyongyang declared housing projects in Songsin, Songhwa and Hwasong.

The lavish terraced housing projects built on the banks of the Potong River were funded by the provinces, making cases for financial exploitation. It stands in contrast to calls by Kim, who enabled the Organisation and Guidance Department of the Worker’s Party of Korea to direct economic development in the provinces and escape from being turned to a mere formality. 


In conclusion, the current regime in North Korea has attempted to place dual importance on both nuclear and economic matters. Therefore, the central leadership will pursue its economic ends and plans to bolster its conventional military and defence capabilities. Such characteristics have demarcated a significant break from the previous regimes, prioritising defence over economic and industrial development. The current leadership will demarcate its security from economic means compared to earlier regimes that drew its legitimacy from national security and their individual legacies.




1 Comment

Well written

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