Korea: North Korea Has Much To Be Sad About


May 28, 2024: North Korea continues its economic decline and risk of political collapse. More North Koreans are malnourished and starvation deaths are increasing. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un faces multiple problems with his military forces. More than half North Korean military age men are avoiding conscription and most are getting away with it. Many potential recruits and their parents know that the situation for new recruits has gotten worse over the last few years with a growing number of new soldiers dying during their first year of service.

A major cause of the increased deaths is the adoption in the North Korean army of the Russian custom of Dedovshchina. This involves the beating of new soldiers by older soldiers with more time in service. Often described as hazing, it currently leaves some new soldiers severely injured or dead. Since Dedovshchina has been outlawed, victims are described as killed by accidents. Many parents know better because their son has written home about the bad treatment he was receiving. The growing problem with Dedovshchina is made worse when the new soldiers are older men in their mid-20s who delayed their military service until they completed their university studies. That means less educated but veteran younger soldiers have even more reason to use Dedovshchina on men who can look forward to a more prosperous post-military life. These younger but veteran soldiers also have a more difficult time training the older, better educated recruits.

These problems have led to a major increase in soldiers evading their mandatory military service. It wasn’t just Dedovshchina, there were also growing food shortages for soldiers and civilians alike. Several poor harvests and no money for food imports has led to less available food for most North Koreans. Families of senior officials, the secret police and military commanders get enough food but that’s not enough to halt the collapse of government control over the entire country. With fewer soldiers and low morale among troops that are in service, the government refuses to make needed changes. Currently about 30 percent of GDP is devoted to the military and other defense related matters, like the nuclear weapons program. More prosperous countries, like South Korea, spend 2.5 percent of GDP on defense while Japan spends one percent, China 1.6 percent, Russia 8.7 percent and the United States three percent. Russia and North Korea are spending too much on military matters and their economies are suffering as a result. The United States has the largest economy in the world and China is second. Russia and North Korea are near the bottom of the list when it comes to economic activity.

While North Korea is not officially at war, it has been preparing for an attack on South Korea since the 1960s. Russian subsidies helped, until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the subsidies ceased. In North Korea the 1990s were known as the decade of difficulties. Without the Soviet subsidies, there was widespread hunger and starvation. Over five percent of the population starved to death. Worse, it was in the 1990s that the more prosperous South Korea became a valuable trading partner with China. South Korea had become a world leader in the development and production of new technologies that China needed.

China regarded North Korea as a charity case, kept alive by Chinese aid because another ally, Russia, insisted on such support for the country Russia has been supporting since the Korean War of 1950-53. It was Russia that ordered North Korea to attack South Korea in 1950, telling the North Koreans that South Korea was weak and had no allies. The weakness was real, but the Russians misjudged the degree of foreign support South Korea would quickly receive from the United States and eventually most western nations. As a result, China sent three million soldiers and civilian workers to North Korea. This was to prevent North Korea from losing the war to the advancing South Korean and American troops, who were reinforced by soldiers from American allies. China lost nearly 200,000 soldiers during the war and the last Chinese soldiers did not leave North Korea until 1958. North Korea suffered heavier military and civilian losses and the North Korean economy was devastated. North Korea has never recovered from the damage suffered during the war.

South Korea has, largely due to its democratic form of government and market economy. North Korea long told its people that they were better off than the southerners, who were slaves to the Americans. It took several decades for North Koreans to realize that the South Koreans were much wealthier and not slaves to the Americans, but trading partners with the United States, Japan, China, and nations worldwide. On a per capita basis, South Koreans were twenty times wealthier than North Koreas. The discovery by North Korean civilians of South Korea’s higher standard of living seems to have been precipitated by the invasion of North Korea by South Korean soap operas via ultra-cheap imported surplus Chinese CD players, made obsolete by DVDs, featuring pirated CD versions of South Korean soap opera episodes.

While China is still communist, it adopted a free market economy in the 1980s and has prospered. North Korea refused Chinese suggestions that they do the same. North Korean leaders feared that more prosperous North Koreans would be more difficult to rule. North Korea remains an impoverished communist monarchy with leaders that refuse to change. North Korea did develop nuclear weapons, and that bothers the Chinese because they tried and were unable to persuade North Korea to drop the nuclear weapons program and devote those resources to the North Korean economy. The result has been a lot of hungry, angry, and nuclear armed North Koreans.




Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close