Author: Bodie Robinson – Contributor
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) may face a calamitous year ahead due to prolonged drought, as well as the international community’s threats of further economic sanctions in response to recent developments in the DPRK’s nuclear arsenal program. In June 2015, the UN reported that the DPRK’s food supply would be especially insecure in 2016 due to a serious drought. DPRK state media reported on the drought as well, which is remarkable, since the state media has superlatively thick rose-colored glasses, describing it as the worst in over a century. The state media reported that about 40 per cent of the rice being grown for the year 2015 found itself in parched fields due to the catastrophic drought.
In addition to the drought of the century, the DPRK might be facing even more economic sanctions from the USA, Japan, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), and the People’s Republic of China. The consequences could be devastating for the DPRK, whose GDP averages about only $40 billion a year. The USA has pushed for harder sanctions on the DPRK after its fourth underground nuclear test in early January. The DPRK’s official statement asserted the government had successfully tested a miniature hydrogen bomb detonation. However, the White House stated that the DPRK’s reports were incongruent with the seismic readings the detonation produced, and that it is highly unlikely that the explosion was made by a hydrogen bomb. In response to the White House, the DPRK offered a compromise: the DPRK would cease further nuclear tests if the USA and South Korea ceased their military drills near the borders of the DPRK. As expected, only political and military grandstanding have followed in lieu of actual dialogue.
Ever since the great famine of the 1990s that left about 500,000 to one million people dead, food shortages in the DPRK have become the norm. In contrast to its earlier years (the DPRK was established in 1948), under the leadership of Kim Il-Sung, the DPRK functioned much differently. The DPRK was established as a revolutionary socialist state under Kim Il-Sung’s political ideology, Juche, which is considered an offshoot of Marxist-Leninist thought. Juche emphasizes self-sufficiency in all areas of the state and a large military to “combat American and South Korean imperialism.” In the mid-twentieth century, the DPRK achieved a greater industrial capacity and higher standard of living than their neighbours to the south. Today, obviously, the opposite is true. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the DPRK suffered a crippling blow to its economic and geopolitical stature. Since then, the country has quickly fallen deeper into abject poverty, corruption, and has racked up an astronomical human rights violations record.
More recently, however, the DPRK has taken measures to liberalize their economy: they have expanded trade with Russia, loosened their borders, and are in the process of establishing ski resorts to attract more tourists — these are just a few actions that have been taken to generate more revenue for the nation. And we hope that money is used to improve the lives of the citizens rather than building more nuclear deterrents. But considering recent events, the drought and more economic sanctions, these prospects might be doomed to failure before they can even begin to be realized. As per usual, though, the citizens of the DPRK must suffer for the constant muscle flexing that goes on between their government and the international imperialist forces on a yearly basis, at the very least.
When the DPRK is considered in Western media, the subject invariably leads to sensationalism. In other words, the DPRK becomes extremely useful on a slow news day. When it comes to the DPRK, many unsubstantiated and sensationalist rumours are flung from the presses of Western news outlets for ratings and click bait. Recall in recent memory that a grossly sensationalized news piece was being circulated that asserted all male citizens of the DPRK would be forced to wear a haircut similar to Kim Jong-Un’s. This is obviously untrue. But “news” articles like these show that news outlets have little energy to expend on providing sophisticated and nuanced analysis on the situation in the DPRK. We are prone to political posturing and shedding crocodile tears for the poor, strange Hermit Kingdom in East Asia. It is rarely mentioned that the people of the DPRK have only about 24,000 square kilometers of arable land to feed a population of 25 million. We barely ever hear about the new measures the state has taken to alleviate food shortages. For example, the Kim regime has recently reformed its agricultural policies. The former policy was one of forced collectivization: all food that farmers grew belonged to the state for redistribution. Recently the government of Kim Jong-Un has shifted to a new system that, instead of giving farmers a fixed ration of food and collectivizing their whole crop, they have incentivized farmers to grow food more efficiently by allowing them to keep a fixed percentage of all the food they grow.
There is no doubt that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a failing state, if it hasn’t already utterly failed in virtually every regard except in military prowess. We might witness the DPRK’s coup de grâce within our lifetimes. But we must remember that while we watch the death throes of the Juche state, much in the same way of the Gaddafi and Saddam regimes, removing a dictator from power doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the citizenry will be better off than they were before.