8 Reasons Why North Korea Is Important

North Korea is one of the most talked about countries in the world. The tiny isolated communist state gets much more global attention than many much larger, more influential and better-connected nations. But why is this? Why is North Korea considered so significant, and what makes the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) so important on the world stage? Well, let us explain…

1. North Korea Is A Totalitarian Regime

A first reason why North Korea is important is because it is a totalitarian dictatorship.

North Korea was founded in 1948 by Kim Il-sung. At the end of World War Two, the Korean peninsula was divided between the American controlled south and Soviet controlled north. The Soviets installed Kim Il-sung as the leader of communist North Korea. The country was founded as a one-party dictatorship with almost all power lying in the hands of one man.

When Kim Il-sung died in 1994, his son, Kim Jong-il, became the ruler of North Korea. This established the world’s only hereditary communist country. Kim Jong-il died in 2011, upon which his son, Kim Jong-un became leader. The Kim family has ruled North Korea as a totalitarian state for the last 75 years. This fact makes North Korea important.

All power in North Korea is retained by the ruling Korean Workers Party, with almost all decisions taken by its leader, Kim Jong-un. There are few true totalitarian dictatorships left in the world, and North Korea is one of the longest-standing. This adds to the country’s significance.

2. There Are Horrific Human Rights Abuses In North Korea

A second reason why North Korea is important is because of the country’s awful human rights record.

North Korea is one of the most oppressive regimes in the world, if not the most. The regime uses brutality to ensure total control. It is estimated that as many as 200,000 people in North Korea are in detention camps, many for political crimes – where the state locks someone away for their perceived disloyalty to the regime. People in North Korean prisons are subject to torture, beatings, rapes, arbitrary executions, forced labor, unsanitary conditions, and denial of medical treatment. Those that are not executed often die of torture or disease.

In 2014, the UN Commission on Human Rights described North Korea as being as bad as Nazi Germany – this horrific human rights comparison makes North Korea important to understand.

Even those not detained in North Korean prisons lack basic human rights. There is no freedom of speech, the press, association or assembly in North Korea. There are also no fair trails or the rule of law. The fact that North Korea is probably the worst country in the world for human rights makes it significant.

3. North Korea Has Nuclear Weapons

A third reason why North Korea is important is because it has nuclear weapons.

North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon in 2006. Today, it is estimated the country has between 30 and 40 nuclear warheads. The country is working hard on rocket technology in order to deliver a nuclear pay-load. So far it is estimated North Korea probably has a rocket able to launch a nuclear strike on South Korea or Japan. It may soon be able to attack the west coast of the United States with a nuclear weapon… some believe it already can.

The fact that North Korea is a dictatorial regime with a horrific human rights record, that also has nuclear weapons, makes it an important country – although for all the wrong reasons.

There have been many diplomatic efforts aimed at ending, or reducing, North Koreas nuclear programmes. The Singapore and Vietnam summits held by US President Donald Trump ended in failure however, and it seems today that North Korea is ramping up its nuclear weapons development.

The terrify fact that North Korea could launch a nuclear strike against democratic nations in Asia, or against the US, makes it a significant country.

4. North Korea Has A Huge Army

Another reason why North Korea is important is because it has a huge army.

North Korea has the fourth largest army in the world. With 1.2 million active-duty personnel and 600,000 reservists, the North Korean army is truly enormous. North Korea can also field 3,500 battle tanks, 950 combat aircraft and has a navy of over 300 warships. Although much of North Korea’s military equipment is out-dated, the sheer size of the DPRK’s armed forces makes the country significant.

The DPRK often undertakes large scale military drills. It also invests in developing new military technology, especially medium and long-range ballistic missiles. These they test fire over the waters of the Sea of Japan, or even fire them over Japan itself.

The fact that North Korea has such as a large and powerful army, combined with its focus on developing military technology to strike its neighbors, makes the DPRK an important nation to watch.

5. North Korea Experiences Frequent Humanitarian Crises

One reason why North Korea is so significant is because the country experiences frequent humanitarian crises.

North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world. The limited wealth the country does have, is mostly directed towards the military. North Korea has frequent disasters. As many as 3.5 million people are estimated to have died in famines throughout the DPRKs history. The country is often unable to feed itself. Floods and other extreme weather events exacerbate the poor condition of North Korean agriculture, further increasing the country’s food insecurity.

As major issue with North Korea is access for humanitarian actors. The country’s totalitarian regime strictly controls aid flows into the country. Few international aid organisations are able to work in North Korea, and those that do are tightly controlled. This further increases the disastrous impacts of humanitarian crises on the people of North Korea.

The extensive human suffering in North Korea caused by humanitarian crises is a sad reason why the country is so important.

6. It is In Close Proximity To American Allies

North Korea is important partly because it is in such close proximity to key US allies.

In 1945, the Korean peninsula became divided between the Soviet Union and the United States. The USSR installed a communist regime in the North and the Americans installed a capitalist regime in the North. The Republic of Korea, or South Korea, has grown into a fully developed democratic nation that is now the world’s 13th largest economy. South Korea is also a vital American ally and there are nearly 25,000 US troops stationed in the country. The simple fact that the DPRK shares a 250-kilometre border with South Korea, and that South Korea is a key US ally, makes North Korea important.

Japan is also an important American ally. Since the end of World War Two, Japan has also grown into a prosperous and democratic nation. It is now the third largest economy in the world. Japan and the US have close pollical, diplomatic, economic and military ties. North Korea has rockets that can reach Japan!

The DPRK is hostile to Japan after Japan’s colonization of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Throughout this period many horrific human rights abuses were committed by the Japanese against Koreans. North Koreas resistance to the Japanese is one way the regime gets its legitimacy. However, as Japan is now a strong US ally, is also means that North Korean actions can have a significant impact on US foreign policy in North East Asia. This makes North Korea significant.

7. North Korea Receives Support From China

A further reason why North Korea is important is because of its close relationship with China.

North Korea and China are both communist countries. Kim Il-sung was installed as North Korean dictator in 1948. Only two years later, the communists won the Chinese civil war and Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. Since then, China and North Korea have had a close relationship. The DPRKs close ties with the second largest economy in the world and the most powerful country in East Asia makes it an important nation.

During the Korean War, when North Korean forces were almost defeated, China sent nearly 1.5 million troops to support Kim Il-sung. This turned the tide of the war and allowed communist forces to push South Korean and Western troops back to the 38th Parallel – where the border between North and South Korea remains today. Since then, China has provided vital economic support, as well as at times miliary aid, to North Korea. This vital life-line has allowed the Kim regime to stay in power. As a result, China holds significant influence over North Korea. The relationship between China and the DPRK is highly significant.

8. There Is A History of Conflict With North Korea

A final reason why the DPRK is important is because of the history of conflict on the Korean peninsula.

Only three years after North Korea was founded, it invaded South Korea. The three-year war that followed – known as the Korean War, killed an estimated 5.5 million people. America and other Western allies entered the conflict to support South Korea, and later, in October 1950, Chinese troops crossed the border to reinforce North Korea. The legacy of the Korean War can still be felt to this day, and it’s one reason why North Korea is so important.

The Korean War has never officially ended. Although an armistice was signed ending active combat, still North and South Korea remain technically at war. There are regular violent clashes along the Korean border. The risk of the Korean peninsula returning to conflict is high and for this reason North Korea remains a very important country.

Global Affairs Explained

Global Affairs Explained is an ongoing project aiming to provide concise guides to world events. Focusing on international relations, history, and geo-politics, Global Affairs Explained uses original research and data to answer questions often not covered by traditional media.

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