Assignment On Korea Stock Exchange
Notice: Although some time has passed since version 18 was published, the project grows each day. In due time this information will be made public by 38 North at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University. See also the DPRK Digital Atlas.
Version 18: Released June 25, 2009
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This Google Earth project offers an extensive mapping of North Korea’s economic, cultural, political, and military infrastructures. Through the topic menu, users of this program have easy access to geographical information on North Korea’s agriculture projects, aviation facilities, communications, hospitals, hotels, energy infrastructure, financial services, leisure destinations, manufacturing facilities, markets, mines, religious locations, restaurants, schools, and transportation infrastructure. In addition to locations of economic interest, this map also displays anti-aircraft locations, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and Northern Line Limit Line (NLL), incarceration facilities, political monuments, political residencies, military bases, and nuclear facilities.
In addition to the geographical information displayed on the map, many location tabs provide links to internet resources which offer more information on the specific location. Many people have contributed to this project (see project history below), and further contributions are welcome.
Since launching in April 2007, this project has been downloaded over 250,000 times and has been featured in numerous media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Times of London, Telegraph, Independent, Der Spiegel, Choson Ilbo, NPR, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Washington Post, BBC, Yonhap, China People’s Daily, China CCTV, Joong Ang Daily, and the Rachel Maddow Show.
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If you do not have Google Earth installed on your computer, you must download it here first.
Version 18: June 25, 2009 – Additions include: New image overlays in Nampo (infrastructure update), Haeju (infrastructure update, apricot trees), Kanggye (infrastructure update, wood processing factory), Kimchaek (infrastructure update). Also, river dredges (h/t Christopher Del Riesgo), the Handure Plain, Musudan update, Nuclear Test Site revamp (h/t Ogle Earth), The International School of Berne (Kim Jong un school), Ongjin Shallow Sea Farms, Monument to “Horizon of the Handure Plain”, Unhung Youth Power Station, Hwangnyong Fortress Wall, Kim Ung so House, Tomb of Kim Ung so, Chungnyol Shrine, Onchon Public Library, Onchon Public bathhouse, Anbyon Youth Power Stations.
Version 17: May 14, 2009 – Additions include: Hamhung City (h/t to former resident Kim Young il – PSCORE): Youth Park, Horyong Stream, Yongdae Bridge, Hamhung City Hospital, Mansu Bridge, Wonhyung Apartment Building, rumored spy training location, public execution site. Pyongyang: Italian Food Restaurant, April 25 Film Studio, Pyongyang Chewing Gum Factory. Wonsan: Museum of President Kim Il Sung’s Revolutionary Activities, Wonsan Youth Power Station No. 1. Other: Electricity grid expansion, Thaechon Youth Power Stations 1-5, Unha-2 Rocket launch image overlay, North Korean restaurants in Beijing Phom Penh, North Korean Embassies in Bangladesh, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Sweden, Switzerland, Cuba, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Austrialia, Singapore, Russia, Austria, China, Malaysia, Britain, Iran, Uganda, Brazil, UN (New York and Geneva), North Korea’s Lighthouses (h/t Martyn Williams), Sungri Motor Plant, aviation waypoints, Kim Jong il statue (alleged), Ministry of Peoples (Public) Security, National Security Agency, Monuments in Africa by the Mansudae Overseas Development Group: Statue of Samora Machel (Mozmabique), Place d’arme (Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso).
Version 16:March 6, 2009-Additions include: Rakwon Machine Complex, Sinuiju Cosmetics Factory, Manpo Restaurant, Worker’s Party No. 3 Building (including Central Committee and Guidance Dept.), Pukchang Aluminum Factory, Pusan-ri Aluminum Factory, Pukchung Machine Complex, Mirim Block Factory, Pyongyang General Textile Factory, Chonnae Cement Factory, Pyongsu Rx Joint Venture, Tongbong Cooperative Farm, Chusang Cooperative Farm, Hoeryong Essential Foodstuff Factory, Kim Ki-song Hoeryong First Middle School , Mirim War University, electricity grid expansion, Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground (TSLG)” is also known as the “Musudan-ri Launching Station,” Laurent Kabila Monument built by the Mansudae Overseas Project Group of Companies in Kinshasa, DR Congo. Again, thanks to those who have contributed.
Version 15:February 12, 2009-Additions include: REBUILT electricity grid, Kumchang-ri suspected underground nuclear site, Wangjaesan Grand Monument, Phothae Revolutionary Site, Naedong Revolutionary Site, Kunja Revolutionary Site, Junggang Revolutionary Site, Phophyong Revolutionary Site, Samdung Revolutionary Site, Phyongsan Granite Mine, Songjin Iron and Steel Complex (Kimchaek), Swedish, German and British embassy building, Taehongdan Potato Processing Factory, Pyongyang Muyseum of Film and Theatrical Arts, Overseas Monuments built by DPRK: Rice Museum (Muzium Padi) in Malaysia, Statue de Patrice Lumumba (Kinshasa, DR Congo), National Heroes Acre (Windhoek, Namibia), Derg Monument (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia), National Heroes Acre (Harare, Zimbabwe), New State House (Windhoek, Namibia), Three Dikgosi (Chiefs) Monument (Gaborone, Botswana), 1st of May Square Statue of Agostinho Neto (Luanda, Angola), Momunment Heroinas Angolas (Luanda, Angola), Monument to the Martyrs of Kifangondo Battle (Luanda, Angola), Place de l’étoile rouge, (Porto Novo, Benin), Statue of King Béhanzin (Abomey, Benin), Monument to the African Renaissance (Dakar, Senegal). Thanks again to the anonymous readers and fans of this project for your helpful advice and location information. This project would not be successful without your contributions.
Version 14:December 20, 2008-Additions include: Myohyangsan: Sangwon Hermitage, Pohyun Temple—Mt. Kumgang: Stele for Sosan Taesa in the cemetery of Pyohunsa, Samburam, Myogilsang, P’yohunsa Temple, Manp’ok Valley, Podogam hermitage—Mt. Ryongak: Pobun Hermitage, Juche Academy, Man’gyŏngdae Children’s Union Camp—Samjiyon: Paekdu Secret Camp, School Children’s Palace, hospital, vacation camp—Mt. Chilbo: Kaesim Temple, Hadok Falls, Soryangwa Falls, Pochong Beach Resort, Chilbo Hotel—Kaesong: Songgyungwan map, Sungyang Lecture Hall, Tongil Restaurant—Chongjin: West Harbor, East Harbor, Universities of Education, University of Medicine, People’s Theatre, KPA Martyr’s Cemetary, Provincial Theatre, Chonmasan Hotel, Chonmasan Park—Railway stations: Munjong station, Pyoksong station, Jongdo station, Haeju Central station,Songpyong station, Jongkang station, Tumangang station, Sinanju station, Yomthan station, Kaephung station—Pyongyang: Kamsusan Vineyard, Taedong guest house, British Emabassy, Taedonggang Brewery, Changdok Primary School, Moranbong Hotel (new location) and Kaeson Sanitarium (Thanks for the tip!), Kum Sung Tractor Complex—Other: Hamhung University of Nursing, wind power turbines (x2), old city walls, Second Economic Committee Offices, electricity grid additions, Bronze Age Dolmen (Kangdong), Wonsan Agricultural University Main Building (former German Benedictine abbey-Togwon), Kyongsong Palace of Culture, Myongch’on food processing plant, Tongnim Mechanical Engneering Works, Nampo Salt Farm, Monument commemorating the construction of the West Sea Barrage, Rimyongsu Falls, Chonsan Cooperative Farm, Ulim Falls Teahouse, Ulim Falls, Yŏmbunjin pavilion by the East Sea, Kuwol Radside Pavilion, Suan Gold Mine, Madong Fertilizer and Cement Plant, Wonsan Sanitarium, UNESCO: Tokhwa-ri Tombs 1,2,3., Hagap Underground Facility (Overlay), Musan Mine – Ore dressing plant No. 2., Nyongwon Dam and Power Station, Sokdam Reservoir, Singwang Reservoir, Sokdam Rest Home, Sohyonso Temple, Kaephung Ginseng Farm, Yokton Hotel (Kaesong), Kum Sung Tractor Complex, Nampo University of Marine Studies, Sup’ung Hydroelectric Plant. Kernbeisser photos: Sungni (“Victory”) Bridge, Grave of Comrade Kang Sung Hyon. Handydandy81 finds: June 13 Coal Field, Aojiri Chemical Complex, 10 May Coal Machine Factory Complex, Anju Coal Field, National Defence Commission compound. State Security Department, Nyongwon Dam and Power Station, Sokdam Reservoir, Singwang Reservoir, Sokdam Rest Home, Sohyonso Temple, Kaephung Ginseng Farm, Yokton Hotel (Kaesong), Nampo University of Marine Studies, Sup’ung Hydroelectric Plant. I would like to thank the anonymous contribtors to this version of the project, “HandyDandy61” (who is doing a great job on wikimapia), and Eckart Dege who posted many of these locations on Panorimio. Without all of their help, this project would not be where it is today.
Version 13: October 15, 2008-Additions include: Adjustment of content to new image overlays (west coast, and around Pyongyang), Cholima Steel Works, Jang Chol Gu University of Commerce, Central Bank, Changwang Kindergarden, Chongryun Housing, and Maekjon Ferry Relics. Addtionally the electricity grid and railway network have been marginally imporved. Thanks to “HandyDandy61”.
Version 12:October 3, 2008-Additions include: Tongch’ang-dong launch facility overlay (thanks to Mr. Bermudez), Yongbyon overlay with destroyed cooling tower (thanks to Jung Min Noh), “The Barn” (where the Pueblo crew were kept), Kim Chaek Taehung Fishing Enterprise, Hamhung University of education, Haeju Zoo, Pyongyang: Kim il Sung Institute of Politics, Polish Embassy, Munsu Diplomatic Store, Munsu Gas Station, Munsu Friendship Restaurant, Mongolian Embassy, Nigerian Embassy, UN World Food Program Building, CONCERN House, Czech Republic Embassy, Rungnang Cinema, Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, Pyongyang Number 3 Hospital, Electric Machines Facotry, Bonghuajinlyoso, Second National Academy of Sciences, Central Committee Building, Party Administration Building, Central Statistics Bureau, Willow Capital Food House, Thongounjong Pleasure Ground, Onpho spa, Phipa Resort Hotel, Sunoni Chemical Complex (east coast refinery), Ponghwa Chemical complex (west coast refinery), Songbon Port Revolutionary Monument, Hoeryong People’s Library, Pyongyang Monument to the anti Japanese martyrs, tideland reclamation project on Taegye Island. Additionally the electricity grid was expanded and the thermal power plants have been better organized. Additional thanks to Ryan for his pointers.
Version 11:August 5, 2008-Additions include: Mt. Paegun’s Ryonghung Temple and resort homes, Pyongyang’s Chongryu Restaurant, Swiss Development Agency (former UNDP office), Iranian Embassy, White Tiger Art Studio, KITC Store, Kumgangsan Store, Pyongyang Fried Chicken Restaurant, Kilju’s Pulp Factory (Paper), Kim Chaek Steel Mill, Chongjin Munitions Factory, Poogin Coal Mine, Ryongwun-ri cooperative farm, Thonggun Pavilion (Uiju), Chinju Temple (Yongbyon), Kim il Sung Revolutionary Museum (Pyongsong), Hamhung Zoo, Raijin electrified perimeter fence, Pyongsong market (North Korea’s largest), Sakju Recreation Center, Hoeryong Maternity Hospital, Sariwon Suwon reservoir (alleged site of US massacre), Sinpyong Resting Place, 700 Ridges Pavilion, Academy of science, Hamhung Museum of the Revolutionary Activities of Comrade Kim Il Sung, South Hamgyong House of Culture, Hamhung Royal Villa, Pork Chop Hill, and Pyongyang’s Olympic torch route. Additional thanks go to Martyn Williams for expanding the electricity grid, particularly in Samjiyon, and various others who have contributed time improving this project since its launch.
Version 10:May 26, 2008-Additions include: Expansion of infrastructure (railroads, electricity grid, elite areas, political monuments, burial mounds, dams, military facilities, and factories) in Hamhung, Chongjin, Sariwon, Raijin-Songbon (Rason) and other cities. Updates in Pyongyang: Pothonggang Exhibition Hall, Ssuk Island, Patriotic Martyrs Cemetary, Ostrich Farm, Kang Pan Sok Revolutionary School, Kumsong School, Manyongdae 1,000 Seat Restaurant. Specific manufacturing facilities and companies: Wonsan Rolling Stock Factory (RR manufacturer), Songnim-Hwanghae Iron and Steel Complex, Bukchang Thermal Power Plant, Sunchon Cement Factory, Namhung Youth Chemical Complex, Feb 8 Vinalon Complex, Hamhung Wood Carving Factory, Chongjin Chemical Fiber Complex, Unjong-ri Cooperative Farm, Sariwon Chicken Farm, Kanggye Chicken and Duck Farm, Hungju Youth Power Station, Korea Rason Taehung Trading Corporation. Updated Cultural Locations: Paeksang Pavilion (Anju), Site of the DPRK’s first Cricket game (2008), Sariwon Folk Village, Sinpha Revolutionary Site, International Friendship Exhibition, Paeksang Pavilion, Lake Sijung. Other locations: air force test bombing range, Kyo hwa so 1: Kaechon (overlay). Most canals were eliminated from this version except the major projects on the west coast.
Version 9:March 13, 2008-Additions include: updated Yongbyong nuclear facilities, Songchon Barrage, Ponghwa Barrage, Sunchon Barrage, Mirim Barrage, Uiju Nam Gate, Chongju old fort wall, Pyongsan old fort wall, Kwaksan old fort wall, the original Pueblo location in Wonsan, and lots of markets in places such as Pyongyang, Wonsan, Nampo, Sinuiju, Haeju, and Sunchon.
Version 8:January 23, 2008-Additions include: Mangyongdae Chicken Farm, Pochonbo Revolutionary Site, Raknang Health Recuperation Centre, Paek Son Haeng Memorial Hall , Sosan Shooting Range, Sangwon Cement Factory (low resolution), Kwangbop Temple, Mt. Teasong Fort Walls, Ryongnam Ship Repair Dock 2 (Nampo), Pyongyang zoo building for animals gifted to KJI, NLL island video, Pyongyang Catfish farm, Kaesong Market, Pyongyang Building Materials Factory, the Unryul Mine, and corrected technical errors in version 7.)
Version 7:December 13, 2007-Additions Changes include: A Korean War folder featuring overlays of US attacks on the Sui Ho Dam, Yalu Bridge, and Nakwon Munitians Plant (before/after), plus other locations such as the Hoeryong Revolutionary Site, Ponghwa Revolutionary Site, Taechon reactor (overlay), Pyongyang Railway Museum, Kwangmyong Salt Works, Woljong Temple, Sansong Revolutionary Site, Jongbansan Fort and park, Jangsan Cape, Yongbyon House of Culture, Chongsokjong, Lake Yonpung, Nortern Limit Line (NLL), Sinuiju Old Fort Walls, Pyongyang open air market, and confirmed Pyongyang Intranet nodes.
Version 6:November 7, 2007-Changes include: Alleged Syrian nuclear site, Majon beach resort, electricity grid expansion, Runga Island in Pyongyang, Mt. Ryongak, Yongbyon historical fort walls, Suyang Fort walls and waterfall in Haeju, Kaechon-Lake Taesong water project, Paekma-Cholsan waterway, Yachts (3), and Hyesan Youth Copper Mine.
Version 5:October 6, 2007-Changes inlcude: Sinchon addition, UNESCO, DMZ, RR update, Kim Jong Suk college of education (Hyesan), Martin Williams contributed to expanding the power grid, Korea Computer Center, Kim Jong Suk Nursery, sports facilities.
Version 4:August 29, 2007-Changes include: KEDO expansion, Kumgang expansion, Kaesong expansion, RR expansion, Manpo area, burial mounds, AA, Monuments, expand canals.
Version 3:July 29, 2007-Changes include: UNESCO sites, Kim Jong Il’s Yacht, Pyongyang’s golf course, and the Chinese-Built Taen Friendship Glass Factory.
Version 2: July 5, 2007-Changes include: highway addition, railroad expansion, monuments, burial mounds, AA sites, new temple, corrections, and canals.
Version 1: April 4: 2007-Project Launch. Thanks to “Wonders (member 166393)” for starting me on this project.
Search terms:, North Korea Google Earth, Google Earth North Korea, DPRK Google Earth, Google Earth DPRK, North Korea Map, Map of North Korea.
After months of the two leaders threatening each other with nuclear weapons, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he wanted to meet with President Donald Trump — and Trump accepted.
If a meeting happens, it would be the first time a sitting US president had a face-to-face with the head of the North Korean regime. However, there’s of course still a chance that Trump and Kim don’t meet, or that they fail to reach an agreement even if they do.
Still, it’s quite the turnaround. Earlier this year, the US and North Korea were in the middle of a heated war of words. Trump tweeted on January 2 that he has a “Nuclear Button” on his desk that is “much bigger & more powerful” than North Korea’s — even though that button doesn’t exist. Trump’s tweet was in response to Kim’s New Year’s Day speech in which he said the US should know “a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office, and this is just a reality, not a threat.”
Buttons or no buttons, talks or no talks, the North Korean threat is real. Pyongyang has an intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially hit all of the United States, including major cities like Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC. And the US military believes North Korea has the capability to “miniaturize” a nuclear weapon to fit on a missile. (It’s unclear, though, if Pyongyang is capable of mounting the bomb atop a missile and hitting the US with it.)
So the stakes for a possible Trump-Kim summit are quite high. But wait: Why is all of this happening? Why are we talking about historic negotiations to avoid a possible war with a tiny, desperately poor country on the other side of the world? It’s a long, complicated story that goes back decades — all the way to the Korean War in the early 1950s. It’s a story of diplomatic failures, madcap dictators, and tricky geopolitical maneuvering.
So for those of you who are confused, don’t sweat it — we’ve got you covered. Here are answers to some of the most basic questions about North Korea that will help you get up to speed on where we are in the conflict, how we got here, and where we’re likely headed.
1) What is North Korea?
North Korea, known officially as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), is a small country sandwiched between China and South Korea in Northeast Asia. It is home to an estimated 25 million people, nearly 3 million of whom live in the capital city of Pyongyang.
Since 1948, it has been run by the Kim family. The first leader was Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, who was in power from 1948 to 1994. He was treated like a god in both life and death. He is still known today as the “Great Leader” and the “Eternal President,” and monuments glorifying his reign are everywhere in the country.
Kim Il Sung’s cult of personality really began to take root in 1950, when he led the Soviet-backed invasion of South Korea, kicking off the Korean War. The United States intervened in the war on behalf of South Korea, and China later intervened on behalf of the communist North. It was a bloody war that ultimately killed some 5 million soldiers and civilians.
At the war’s end in 1953, the two countries became separated by a demilitarized zone, or DMZ, and remain so to this day. Technically, both sides are still at war, since an armistice (truce) was signed, not a peace treaty.
After the deal was signed, South Korea — with heavy US financial and security support — began to slowly transform itself into what is now one of the world’s wealthiest, best-educated, and most technologically advanced societies.
The North also briefly flourished because of support from the Soviet Union and China, but those good times didn’t last. Mismanagement, crippling debt, and a series of devastating droughts and floods demolished the North Korean economy and set off what would eventually become lingering food shortages in the country.
At the same time, the Soviet Union was suffering its own economic troubles, causing its leaders to pull back on aid to North Korea. When the Soviet Union finally collapsed in the early 1990s, the North Korean economy went into a dramatic downward spiral, culminating in a horrendous famine that killed between 600,000 and 1 million people.
Yet through all of this, Kim Il Sung cultivated a powerful cult of personality. North Koreans were inundated with propaganda branding Kim as the country’s benevolent father figure who was transforming the country into a glorious socialist utopia through his unique brand of ideology, known as “juche.” Translated as “self-reliance,” juche stresses total independence in all facets of national life, from foreign policy to economics to national defense.
When Kim died at the age of 82, the Korean Central News Agency, the country’s official news organization, published a glowing seven-page announcement that said "he turned our country, where age-old backwardness and poverty had prevailed, into a powerful Socialist country, independent, self-supporting and self-reliant.” He was, as the news agency concluded, the “sun of the nation.”
Since Kim’s death in 1994, his son and grandson, Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un, respectively, have carried on his legacy, aiming to run the country exactly like he did. They purposefully demonstrate in their own propaganda how closely they hew to Kim Il Sung’s style of governance. Kim Jong Un even goes out of his way to look as much like his grandfather as he possibly can.
Despite some modest reforms to the economy under the two younger Kims, the country is still far, far behind the rest of the world. The CIA ranks North Korea as the 215th-poorest country out of the 230 it tracks, and its people live on about $1,700 a year.
North Korea is almost solely reliant on China as a trading partner, with most of its money coming from the millions of tons of coal it exports to China every year. It also sends iron ore, seafood, and clothing to the Chinese. This is why the news that China had suspended its coal imports from North Korea back in February was such a big deal, even though China’s overall trade with North Korea has increased.
2) Is life for the average North Korean as bad as they say?
Yeah, it is.
As Human Rights Watch notes in gruesome detail:
North Korea remains one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world. …Kim Jong-un continued to generate fearful obedience by using public executions, arbitrary detention, and forced labor; tightening travel restrictions to prevent North Koreans from escaping and seeking refuge overseas; and systematically persecuting those with religious contacts inside and outside the country…
[G]ross human rights violations committed by the government included murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortion, and other sexual violence, and constituted crimes against humanity.
Nothing exemplifies these violations like the gulags, or forced labor camps, run by the state. Usually, detentions there end in death — and not just for the imprisoned person. North Korea abides by the “three generations of punishment” rule. Basically, if the government thinks you committed a crime, you, your children, and your grandchildren have to suffer the consequences too. A 2017 report by the International Bar Association War Crimes Committee noted that some of the prisons are “as terrible [as] Nazi camps.”
Some North Koreans still find ways to live dignified and relatable lives despite the horrid conditions. In fact, in many ways, life in North Korea can be normal. Subway trains fill with people during rush hour in the capital city, Pyongyang. The city also now suffers from traffic jams, as more people have cars and want to get around on their own. Fashionable Western clothes are available in North Korean stores, and some North Koreans are even getting plastic surgery, despite the procedure’s illegality.
North Koreans also enjoy surfing the country’s intranet, but their choices are very limited with fewer than 30 sites on offer. There, citizens can find a selection of North Korean recipes and films. Of course, there is also a big section that allows Kim Jong Un to show off what he is doing throughout the day.
The few superrich North Koreans — who usually work in the government, the military, or state-run businesses — aren’t too dissimilar from superrich people anywhere else. They lead fairly cosmopolitan lives, frequenting an elite area of the capital nicknamed “Pyonghattan.” They wear designer clothes, eat at fancy restaurants, and go on vacations.
But of course, that is not the norm. Out in the rural areas, “life is little more than a daily struggle to find enough food to stay alive,” Alf Evans, a British aid worker who spent time in rural North Korea in 2013, told the Telegraph. “Every scrap of earth that can be used to grow something is being used,” he said.
3) Why is the US-North Korea relationship so fraught?
North Korea and the US have been at odds ever since the US backed South Korea in the Korean War. Today, the US has 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea. That country is also America’s sixth-largest trading partner (about $112.2 billion total in two-way trade during 2016), underscored by the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement that went into effect on March 15, 2012 (something Trump may to “terminate”).
For these reasons, North Korea is not a fan of the United States. North Korean propaganda portrays America as an evil imperialist aggressor hell-bent on subjugating the Korean people. There is an entire museum dedicated to alleged American atrocities during the Korean War.
America isn’t exactly thrilled with North Korea either. There are many reasons why, but the main one is that North Korea won’t stop developing its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities.
For years, North Korea has tried to develop a nuclear weapon that it can put on a missile and hit its enemies. Most experts believe the country wants nukes as a deterrent so that no foreign country (like, say, the United States) would dare attempt to remove the Kim regime from power.
While some think Kim Jong Un is an irrational, “crazy fat kid” — as Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain labeled the North Korean leader in 2017 — experts see his actions to ensure the survival of his family’s rule as rational.
The theory is that the Kims have seen what happened to leaders who don’t have nuclear weapons. Iraq’s Saddam Hussein persuaded much of the world that he had restarted his country’s nuclear weapons program; he hadn’t, but the boasts helped spark the 2003 invasion that drove him from power. In Libya, Muammar Qaddafi gave up his program to build closer ties to the West, but was eventually ousted from power and killed by a mob.
The Kim family wants to survive, and having a credible nuclear weapons program is one way to ensure that it does.
North Korea has accelerated its nuclear program to the point where it can now produce a new bomb every “six or seven weeks.” And it now has an intercontinental ballistic missile that is theoretically capable of hitting every part of the United States. It’s still unclear, though, if North Korea can reliably place a nuclear weapon atop the missile and have it survive reentry into the atmosphere and detonate at its target.
4) How come China hasn't dealt with North Korea yet?
Trump has repeatedly pushed the idea that China, because of its economic influence, has the ability to rein in North Korea if it wants to. Specifically, the US wants China to cut off oil shipments to North Korea and either sharply limit or entirely halt broader trade with the country. However, after Chinese President Xi Jinping spent ten minutesexplaining the complexity of the issueto Trump during a meeting in April, Trump said he “realized it’s not so easy.”
So what are the things that make it “not so easy” for China to control North Korea?
First, China uses North Korea as a buffer. If the Koreas were to unify, which remains an extremely thin possibility right now, then for at least some period, American troops would be stationed in a country that borders China. For Beijing, that’s a no-no.
Second, should the Kim regime fall, the whole country could descend into chaos. Having that kind of instability, with millions of refugees flocking to the border, would not make the Chinese government happy. After all, China prides itself on stability in all its forms.
Finally, having America, Japan, and South Korea worried about North Korea takes the focus off China. China has many objectives in the region, and having its adversaries’ heads turned as it makes moves in the South China Sea and elsewhere is helpful to its cause.
All of these are reasons why China chooses not to be too hard on the Kim regime. China’s leaders may not like the Kim regime or want it to keep developing nuclear weapons, but they prefer that to the alternative scenario of a failed state on their Southern border or, perhaps even worse, an American-controlled state on their Southern border.
Even if China did more, of course, there’s no guarantee that North Korea — a proudly nationalist, nuclear-armed nation — would listen.
5) Is there any way to solve this?
The best outcome would be for North Korea to just decide to give up its nuclear weapons program. But that’s probably never going to happen. On the other side, the US could just accept that North Korea is going to have nuclear weapons capable of hitting the US homeland. That probably won’t happen either.
So what to do?
There are no easy answers, and this situation has confounded presidents and skilled national security officials from both parties. The Trump administration’s current approach, according to a joint statement issued in late April 2017 by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, is “to pressure North Korea into dismantling its nuclear, ballistic missile, and proliferation programs by tightening economic sanctions and pursuing diplomatic measures with our Allies and regional partners.”
In a 2017 interview with NPR, Tillerson put it more bluntly, stating that the goal is “a denuclearized North Korea” by way of a negotiated agreement.
But here’s the thing: We’ve tried this before, and it hasn’t worked yet. This is essentially the same policy the Obama administration pursued for the past eight years, to no avail.
Indeed, America and others have been trying to come to some sort of negotiated agreement with North Korea since 1985. And we’ve gotten really close twice. In 1994, the US and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework, in which the North agreed to freeze its plutonium weapons program in exchange for aid. However, the agreement collapsed in 2002, and by January 2003 the North had resumed its nuclear program.
Then in August 2003, the international community launched the so-called “Six Party Talks,” which were designed to get North Korea to halt its nuclear program through negotiations with five other countries: China, the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Russia.
In September 2005, it looked like the talks might work — North Korea formally agreed to abandon “all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs” in exchange for energy assistance from the other countries. But in 2009, amid disagreements over technical details related to verification, North Korea walked out on the talks. It says it will never return to the talks and maintains that it is no longer bound by their agreements. And it has been ramping up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs ever since.
The hope is that the administration’s “maximum pressure and engagement” strategy will lead to a diplomatic solution. Perhaps the Trump-Kim meeting might lead to a settled, peaceful outcome.
But if it doesn’t — and the Trump administration still refuses to allow North Korea to have a nuclear weapon that can hit the US mainland — then the only other option that seems to be on the table is a military strike targeting the North’s nuclear facilities. In other words, war.
6) What kind of relationships do other countries have with North Korea?
North Korea doesn’t have many friends.
It has China and, to a lesser degree, Russia, both of which oppose unilateral American military strikes on sovereign countries. The two countries believe that any US move would destabilize the region and harm their own interests. North Korea borders China and Russia, and any crisis on the peninsula would add extra strain to those borders.
(Fun fact: Did you know that if you want to drive from Finland to North Korea, you could drive only through one country? Yeah, Russia is that large.)
On its own, Russia also helps North Korea with its economic woes. Russian Railways is in discussion with the government in Pyongyang to expand the rail connections between the two countries. Moscow also invests heavily in North Korea’s energy sector and gives Kim’s regime hard currency, which it needs to purchase foreign goods. There are also around 10,000 North Koreans in Russia as part of a guest worker program providing cheap labor to Russia.
But North Korea’s cordial relations with other countries basically stop there. It understandably has a bad relationship with South Korea. It’s also hostile toward Japan, which Pyongyang has threatened to nuke many times. The most recent animosity stems from Japan’s harsh colonial rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945.
“Japan pushed Koreans to assimilate, requiring them to speak Japanese, take Japanese names, and worship at Shinto shrines,” writes Robert S. Boynton in the New Yorker. “Men were forced to labor in Japanese factories and mines, and some women were dragooned into sexual slavery.” The period of Japanese colonialism understandably left many Koreans with a deep animosity toward Japan, and the Kim family has continued to perpetuate this hostility in its official propaganda.
In addition, Japan, like South Korea, has been backed by the United States since the end of World War II, where America wanted to make its relationship with Tokyo a centerpiece of its postwar strategy in Asia.
Essentially, North Korea is alone in the world, with very few exceptions. But so far, it doesn’t seem to care all that much — at least, not enough to change its ways.
7) This is starting to get pretty bleak. Can we pause for a musical break?
Sure thing, especially since you made it this far. Here’s your North Korean jam, “Footsteps”:
Catchy, right? By the way, the version here has subtitles — you’re welcome — but it’s worth your time to watch a North Korean chorus sing it live with an orchestra at a big national concert.
There’s no doubt this song is propagandistic. It’s not a complicated song to understand: The Kim family’s message is “stepping with vigorous energy throughout this land.” In other words, the Stalinist ideology championed by the Kims in the 1950s is now the operating system of the whole country and may spread further and further.
North Korea, it’s fair to say, is a world-class innovator when it comes to propaganda. This country continues to roll out new messages and slogans, including 300 to mark the 70th anniversary of its founding in 2015. Here’s a shortened list the BBC provided:
- "Let us turn the whole country into a socialist fairyland by the joint operation of the army and people!"
- "Serve the country and people! Aid the people! Let the wives of officers become dependable assistants to their husbands!"
- "Let this socialist country resound with Song of Big Fish Haul and be permeated with the fragrant smell of fish and other seafoods!"
- "Scientists and technicians, stand in the vanguard of the struggle to build a thriving country that is developing, civilizing and advancing at a fast pace! Build 'gold mountains' and 'treasure mountains' with brilliant scientific and technological achievements!"
- "More stylish school uniforms and quality school things for our dear children!"
- "Let us raise the status of our country to that of a sports power at an earliest date possible! Play sports games in an offensive way, the way the anti-Japanese guerrillas did!"
A lot of North Korean propaganda comes in musical form, as we’ve seen. It’s a tool the state uses and blasts over the loudspeakers throughout the day, including the song “We are the Happiest in the World,” which I’m going to guess is untrue.
But as you can see, a lot of these slogans are about the Kim family, the improvement of mundane things like school uniforms, and the desire for scientific improvement. They are meant to cover nearly every aspect of North Korean life. But …
8) How much do the North Korean people believe the propaganda?
Given how little access outside journalists and academics have to North Korea, it’s really hard to know with any certainty how many North Koreans truly believe the regime’s propaganda and how many just pretend to believe it in order to survive. But North Korean defectors estimate that only about 20 to 50 percent of North Koreans today buy what the regime is selling.
This steady loss of support has been going on since the Great Famine of the 1990s that starved around 23 million North Koreans and killed around 10 percent of the population. The country was and remains an agricultural society. The problem is North Korea’s climate is tough: It’s a mountainous region with harsh winters. Plus, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and with it the help it provided North Korean farmers.
As a result, farm yields dwindled, and the government asked its citizens to “eat only two meals a day!” (Yes, with an exclamation mark.) It also didn’t help that in 1995, a big flood took out about 15 percent of North Korea’s arable land. As the food went away, so did a lot of the support for the government’s propaganda.
New technologies have also begun to play a role. As NK News reports:
[A]s new media technologies have emerged over the past decade or so – simultaneous to increasing numbers of defectors leaving North Korea – the effectiveness of the Pyongyang propaganda is increasingly coming into question. A combination of foreign DVDs, USB drives and defector-run radio stations are all slowly chipping away at the propaganda that Pyongyang monopolized for so long.
So while the propaganda is still prominent, there are clear signs that the Kim family’s grip on information is starting to slip. That’s a big development, and one that needs to be watched in the years to come.
9) How big of a threat is North Korea, actually?
We now know that North Korea appears capable, based on tests it has carried out,of firing a long-range missile that could hit all of the United States. And the US military believes North Korea has the capability to “miniaturize” a nuclear weapon and fit it onto that missile, though questions remain about how accurate their targeting is and whether a nuclear bomb would be able to survive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere using their current ICBM design.
Experts are more confident that if North Korea wanted to strike South Korea and Japan with a nuclear weapon, it could very likely do so. And any nuclear strike on those countries would put American troops stationed there directly in harm’s way.
This is partially why the United States has decided to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea to defend against certain missile strikes and why America is conducting missile interception tests with Japan.
But while the nuclear and missile programs get all the attention, a seriously underappreciated threat comes from North Korea’s arsenal of conventional weapons, including the world’s largest artillery force. And a third danger comes from the country’s elite special operations forces that could magnify the impact of a North Korean strike on South Korea.
South Korea’s capital city, Seoul, is a so-called “megacity” with a whopping 25.6 million residents living in the greater metropolitan area. It also happens to be within direct firing range of thousands of pieces of North Korean artillery already lined up along the border, also known as the demilitarized zone. Around 70 percent of North Korea’s ground forces are within 90 miles of the DMZ, presumably ready to move south at a moment’s notice.
Simulations of a large-scale artillery fight between the North and South produce pretty bleak results. One war game convened by the Atlantic back in 2005 predicted that a North Korean attack would kill 100,000 people in Seoul in the first few days alone. Others put the estimate even higher. A war game mentioned by the National Interest predicted Seoul could “be hit by over half-a-million shells in under an hour.”
My colleague Yochi Dreazen, who reported on what a war with North Korea might look like, came up with this depressing conclusion: “A full-blown war with North Korea wouldn’t be as bad as you think. It would be much, much worse.”
That leads to the most important question of all: What happens next? That, unfortunately, is the question we don’t have an answer for — but we might after Trump and Kim meet.