North Korea

Amid famine in 2000, North Korean dictator for life Kim Jong-Il bought a brewery in England, had it dismantled it and shipped it to Pyongyang so the North Korean elite could drink better beer. Kim bragged at the time that he was a “better drinker” that South Korean leader Kim Dae-Jung (BBC, 2000). This situation, which occurred in the midst of famine and the complete collapse of North Korea’s command economy, exemplifies the disconnect between Kim Jong-Il and the people of his nation.

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North Korea, famously branded a member of the “Axis of Evil,” is one of the world’s most enigmatic states. The nation nominally adheres to Communism, but might be more aptly described as a theocratic dictatorship. Kim Jong-Il is ruler for life, and head of the Juche religion that his father began. The power of Kim is tied to his standing within this religion as a godlike figure. With this power, however, comes paranoia. Kim has built North Korea into one of the world’s strongest military powers. North Korea has one of the largest armies in the world at 1.2 million soldiers, and spends nearly a quarter of its GDP on the military (U.S. State Department, 2009). The country is widely believed to be a nuclear power, having declared itself as such in 2005 (Faiola, 2005). Kim’s eccentricities make him the butt of jokes around the world, but he is unpredictable, paranoid, and possesses substantial military might. Because of that, North Korea is one of the greatest threats to stability in the world today.

This essay will analyze the North Korean situation, and discern what North Korea means for the United States military today. I will examine the history and capabilities of the nation. Then, I will analyze the military implications of North Korea for the U.S. Finally, the paper will draw some conclusions about the ways in which the U.S. can react to North Korea to minimize the threat.


Located in northeastern Asia, North Korea occupies the northern half of the Korea peninsula. To the north it is bordered by China and Russia, to the south by South Korea, with whom it is technically still at war. The demilitarized zone – actually the world’s most heavily militarized area – sits between the two Koreas. North Korea operates a command economy in which military products are the most significant component of the GDP. North Korea also relies on subsistence farming (though food is allocated primarily through a central agency), electric power and mining for income. International aid is frequently needed to meet the food needs of North Korea’s 23 million people.

North Korea’s people do not have the freedom to voice their level of content or discontent. They are commanded under strict punishment to follow Juche and swear allegiance to Kim Jong-Il. The nation has largely abandoned its pre-Juche traditions, but has not embraced many elements of modern life as well. The cult of personality that Kim has cultivated is the driving social force in North Korea. Progress is other spheres seldom occurs. The economy saw tiny openings in the past decade, including private farmer’s markets, in an attempt to boost food production, but the government still exerts significant control over the economic, social, and technological lives of the people.

Nominally, this makes the form of government Communist, but the model is not based around ownership by the people. Rather, the central government owns everything, and the definition of “central government” is Kim Jong-Il. On paper, the people support this form of government, but dissent and free speech are not allowed, so the true support is unknown. There is also no access to information from the outside world in North Korea, so the populous is essentially brainwashed. The government, sadly, is stable as long as Kim remains in power. This runs against U.S. interest, because North Korea does not support U.S. national strategy. It does not support anybody’s national strategy, making it one of the world’s most isolated nations.

If North Korea were to simply be isolated, it would not be of much interest to the U.S. However, the nation’s powerful military and unpredictable nature make it a significant threat to world peace. North Korea’s military strength belies its weakness in all other areas. The economy is essentially non-functional, the people struggle to survive and non-military accomplishments are few and far between. Yet, North Korea is a nuclear power, which gives it great strength and makes it a nation of acute interest for the United States. Containing the North Korean threat is one of the most significant foreign policy challenges in the world today for the U.S. And its allies.

North Korea represents a significant threat to U.S. allies in South Korea and Japan. The country is technically still at war with South Korea and has no diplomatic relations with the United States. The current strategy with respect to the Korean War is to keep the situation from once again becoming an open conflict. The U.S., China and other interested parties engage in sporadic dialogue with North Korea in an attempt to keep the situation contained. Open conflict is not in the best interests of any nation.

It is also believed that North Korea represents a direct threat to the United States. Although early North Korean nuclear and missile tests have yielded underwhelming results, it is feared that the country will one day develop missiles with the capability of striking U.S. territory on the Pacific coast. The current strategy is one of negotiation and containment – the U.S. wishes to reduce North Korea’s nuclear capacity, slow its pace of technological development and place focus on otherwise containing the threat (Kirk, 2009). Long-range objectives, albeit unstated, must be the overthrow of the current regime and bringing the country into the modern era.


North Korea, a theological dictatorship in northeast Asia, has one of the world’s largest militaries, has nuclear capabilities and spends a quarter of its GDP on military spending. This, combined with an erratic, paranoid leader, makes the country one of the greatest threats to global security. The people are brainwashed by their government to give absolute loyalty.

As such, North Korea is a significant threat to the U.S. And her allies in South Korea (with whom the North is still at war) and Japan. The present U.S. strategy is diplomatic in nature, focusing on containment of the threat. Open conflict is, at present, not a viable option. Yet in the long run, regime change will be necessary to eliminate the threat current presented by North Korea.

If the North Korean nation is not contained, hostilities could erupt that would have grave consequences for world peace. It is amazing that an otherwise bankrupt country can represent such a threat. But the military in North Korea is Kim Jong-Il’s number one vanity project. Kim is the driving force behind North Korea. If he doesn’t want to feed his people, he doesn’t. If he wants better brew, he buys a brewery. If he wants nuclear weapons, he develops them. If he wants to use nuclear weapons, he will. That is the crux of the threat that North Korea represents. For now, containment is the best option, but other options cannot be ruled out simply because of the gravity of the threat.

Works Cited

No author. (2000). North Korea buys English Brewery. BBC. Retrieved March 6, 2009 at

No author. (2009). North Korea. CIA World Factbook. Retrieved March 6, 2009 from

No author. (2009). North Korea. United States Department of State. Retrieved March 6, 2009 at

Faiola, Anthony. (2005). N. Korea Declares Itself a Nuclear Power. Washington Post. Retrieved March 6, 2009 at

Kirk, Donald. (2009). North Korea Fills the Air with Threats. Asia Times. Retrieved March 6, 2009 at

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