A lot of mystery surrounds North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-Il. Many countries especially the United States have a lot of interest in North Korea because of the security threat it poses. This is because it armed forces are the fourth largest in the world, they have a sizeable arsenal of ballistic missiles and a nuclear program that is of great concern to the rest of the world. Despite the fact that North Korea seems to be a very powerful country, its economy is nothing to write home about. Its agricultural output, foreign trade exports and industrial production are virtually non-existent.
This essay will seek to highlight the history of North Korea and its political system. The essay will also cover the country’s leader Kim Jong-Il and the mystery that seems to surround him.
An overview of North Korea
North Korea is one of the states found in East Asia. Its capital city is called Pyongyang. The republic is found on the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. Its immediate neighbors are the People’s Republic of China, Russia and South Korea (Caraway, 2007).There are many mountain ranges in the state and the climate is moderately temperate with very cold winters. It has a population of about 23 million (Federal Research Division of the US Library of Congress, 2007).
North Korea refers to itself as a self-reliant state. The founder of the state, Kim ll-sung is also who was also the first president has a cult following in the country. When he died in 1994, his son Kim Jong-Il took over but Kim ll-Sung was given the title “Eternal President”. The position of president was abolished in his memory.
This country is a single-party state and has a governing party, a coalition party and some two other small parties which have the mandate to nominate members of office and have seats in the country’s Assembly (Scobell, 2006).
Relations between North Korea and some of the countries in South East Asia like Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are strong. China and Russia also have amicable ties with the state unlike the United States which once considered it as one of the countries that sponsored terrorism. North Korea is believed to enlist 1 soldier for every 25 citizens. Its army is among the largest in the world and operates with a large variety of equipment which counts for more than 15% of the country’s GDP. Its active ballistic missile and active nuclear weapons programs that carry out regular tests have been of great concern for various countries across the world. This has resulted in a number of United Nations Security Council resolutions against North Korea. A large number of its military equipment and missiles are sold overseas (Pervis, 2007).
Other than Cuba, North Korea is the only country in the world whose economy is government planned and state owned. International trade is very restricted and this reduces its chances of economic growth. Despite this, the country has a skilled, cheap and young labor which coupled with its strategic location near four of the world’s major economies which means it has great potential for growth. The citizens get free food rations, healthcare, education and housing from the state. There is no payment of taxes in the country since it was abolished in 1974.
The county’s constitution provides for freedom of speech and that of the press but in reality, the media in North Korea is among the most strictly controlled in the world. Only positive news about the government is allowed and there are daily reports about the county’s leader. All the periodicals and newspapers in the country are published in Pyongyang since private press does not exist in North Korea (Scobell, 2006).
Kim Jong-Il and North Korea
The political regime in North Korea and especially its leader Kim Jong-Il is of interest to many who think that it is shrouded in a lot of secrecy. Kim Jong-Il took over the country’s leadership after his father’s death in 1994. The fact that he is reclusive makes him more of a mystery compared to any other leader in the world. According to analysts, North Korea has a political system that is very unique. It is a bureaucracy that is highly militarized and centralized around its leader who is considered to be all powerful. This totalitarian regime is constantly weakened but it remains surprisingly resilient. Its strength is largely drawn from Kim-Jong-Il and it is for this reason why most critics feel that his death would bring an end to the totalitarian system (Scobell, 2006).
Kim Jong-Il’s regime has even been compared to an organized crime family by some. This is because of the way the country engages itself in criminal activities in a manner that is both calculated and systematic just like the mafia. These activities include the sale of drugs and the supply of counterfeit currencies, pharmaceuticals and cigarettes. It is these activities that provide the country with hundreds of millions of dollars each year. David Asher an analyst, states that “……North Korea has become a ‘soprano state’—a government guided by a……leadership whose actions, attitudes, and affiliations increasingly resemble those of an organized crime family more than a normal nation.” Asher asserts that, as a result: “North Korea is the only government in the world today that can be identified as being actively involved in directing crime as a central part of its national economic strategy and foreign policy.”
Kim holds some key offices in the country and does not go through any election for any of them. After every five years, he is unanimously elected to represent a military constituency in the Supreme People’s Assembly. He is a serious leader and most people do not recognize this. He has been running the country for decades since his father picked him as the successor in the 1970s even before his death and prefers working behind the scenes (Scobell, 2006).
Kim Jong-Il is pays attention to everything and keeps track of every detail. He is said to be temperamental and has been accused of being behind the 1983 bombing of the Cabinet in South Korea. The 1987 bombing South Karen passenger plane that killed 115 people was his way of keeping people away from the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. The North Korean population constantly faces starvation as Kim Jong-Il spends nearly $ 900 million on maintaining the mausoleum that houses his late father (Scobell, 2006).
The control and the repression that North Korea faced when his father was in power has weakened under Kim Jong-Il but he still controls what the people do and think. The weakened power is exhibited by the fact that the country can no longer restrict the movement of a starving population to the neighboring China for food and temporary refuge (Scobell, 2006).
There have been numerous assumptions that he is losing grip on the country especially after some of his public portraits were removed in 2004 but those who have dealt with him assert that he still has a great deal of control over the country. In June 2000, Kim Jong-Il hosted the inter-Korea Summit and displayed to the world that he can be a confident, amicable and rational person. This shattered his image as a manic eccentric and recluse (Scobell, 2006).
The North Korean leader constantly makes phone calls to give directives on how things are supposed to run in the country.
This micromanagement predisposition is believed to have been adopted from his father. His advisors are not reliable and the leader uses a number of informal informers in various parts of the country who give him direct reports. He even conducts impromptu visits to the various villages to get information for himself (Scobell, 2006).
Kim Jong –Il has only made a handful of visits to other countries and therefore his perception of reality and the decisions he makes are limited by the experiences he has had and the degree of exposure he has had to the outside world. His visits outside the country are usually very secretive (Scobell, 2006).
The mystery surrounding North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-Il may never be solved mainly due to the limited amount of information that is available about the two to the rest of the world.
While many people may doubt the power that he has in the country, it is worth noting that Kim Jong-Il has directed his country through many disasters and even though the economy is not doing too well, it is still growing. He has even managed to thaw relations with the United States which is something his father never achieved.
Under his rule, North Korea has managed to build a nuclear weapon program that is causing a lot of fears in the world. Kim Jong-Il believes that he personifies the country its people, their aspirations and dreams. This shows how egoistic he is and this may be the reason why he tries to run everything in the country (Pervis, 2007).
The many setbacks the country has faced over the years do not seem to disturb Kim Jong-Il and he remains ruthless to his people who face starvation and malnutrition while he spends millions of dollars on the country’s nuclear program. North Korea’s fate seems to be held by the leader who is still has a tight grip on the country and is even grooming his son as a successor.