Why Does North Korea Isolate Itself?

Due to North Korea’s isolationism the world doesn’t know much about the country, however we do know a little about North Korea’s economy. The North Korean economy is rife with problems, such as the misallocation of resources and a reliance on”emergency” international relief. Many of the state’s citizens are also malnourished and the nation operates under total government control. Nearly every aspect of the North Korean economy is state owned, including property, domestically produced goods, imports, and exports.

North Korea’s government sets all production levels and nearly all of the state’s GDP comes from state owned businesses. The state’s resources are further drained by the country’s songun policy. Songun policy holds that the military is the first and most important part of the state. This policy leads to the issue of resources being drained by the military. North Koreans do not have any say in changing the government’s policies because there are only two groups in the state that hold any power, the Worker’s Party and the Korean People’s Army, while all being under the ultimate control and power of the totalitarian leader Kim Jong Un.

An examination of North Korea’s command and control economy easily reveals why the nation has difficulty feeding its own citizens. Setting production levels instead of using a free market that sets its own levels of production based on demand has led to the misallocation of resources. This missallocation of resources combined with North Korea’s songun policy has led to a decrease in the production of food and other goods and services that people in other states take for granted.

Many of North Korea’s problems also come from the state’s decision to isolate itself. For example, North Korea’s isolationism means that the nation can’t trade with most other states. As a result, North Korea can’t take advantage of the economic benefits that come with free trade, such as decreased prices of goods and services. This leads to the question of why would a state choose to shut itself off from the rest of the world during today’s time of increasing globalization. Much of this deals with Kim Jong Un and the state’s ruling Worker’s Party.

While members of the ruling Worker’s Party may have a privileged position in North Korean society, they are unlikely to promote change in North Korea due to fear of Kim Jong Un. Much like his father, Kim Jong Un keeps North Korea under tight control. In fact, during 2014 Kim Jong Un ordered the killing of 10 senior Worker’s Party officials. The Kim family’s historically tight control over the North Korean population shows that many of the state’s problems are largely a result of the Kim family’s leadership. That’s not to say that if Kim Jong Un came out of power that anyone better than him would take his place. Someone outside of the Kim family may be just as bad or worse than Kim Jong Un. However, the Kim family’s psychology is a great factor in the state’s poor performance.

When we look at Kim Jong Un and his fathers we can see that they all conducted similar activities and likely shared similar traits. They all conducted purges in order to kill anyone they suspected of being a potential rival or threat. Sometimes they even claimed that the victims of their purges were foreign spies. The Kim family also pushes a propagandistic ideology that peddles the narrative that the Kim family is divine. From looking at the purges and the North Korean ideology, one can see that historically the Kim family has been insecure and has felt a need to be worshiped. While in an average individual insecurity and the longing to be worshiped have a small impact on society, when manifested in individuals that have large amounts of power this can have a huge impact on a nation and can create terrible problems that are incredibly hard to solve.

Image Source: CNN