Socio-Economic Change in the DPRK and Korean Security Dilemmas

North Korean Review, 2015

15 Pages Posted: 25 Nov 2016

Date Written: 2015


Having observed in 2014 how quickly public opinion and political attitudes towards Russia have shifted back to the standards of the Cold War days – despite the implosion of the Soviet Union and the end of the bipolar world roughly a quarter of a century ago – it comes as no surprise that many in the West find it so hard to rid themselves of old images of North Korea. Compared to Russia and the former socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, even to China, North Korea has indeed remained relatively static. But this is not to say that there has been no development at all; on the contrary. The first point I thus want to make is that media and politics in the West have so far either neglected or failed to fully grasp the changes that have been taking place in North Korea since around 1990. This concerns the state, the economy, and the leadership. Secondly, I argue that this failure negatively impacts our ability to develop appropriate concepts to deal with the numerous challenges that are connected to North Korea. These include the human rights issue, humanitarian questions, and very prominently also security implications thanks to the North Korean claims to nuclear weapons, and the fact that North Korea is positioned in a geopolitically very sensitive part of the world and thus holds at least the region, if not the world as hostage. Thirdly, most of the involved players are facing security challenges and dilemmas of varying nature and type. South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the USA find themselves in a complicated setting of conflicting policies. Such differences do not just exist among these players, but also internally among their own interests. Fourth, the changing domestic situation in North Korea has the potential to impact the above said challenges. Taking the perspective of a neutral observer who is normatively interested in the maintaining of peace and the promotion of economic and societal development on and around the Korean peninsula, I will highlight a few important trends in North Korea in the past two decades and discuss how these could be exploited to defuse some of the risks as briefly outlined above – under certain circumstances and provided that the necessary political will exists on all sides.

Keywords: North Korea

Suggested Citation

Frank, Ruediger, Socio-Economic Change in the DPRK and Korean Security Dilemmas (2015). North Korean Review, 2015, Available at SSRN: or

Ruediger Frank (Contact Author)

University of Vienna ( email )

Spitalgasse 2, 2.3
Vienna, Vienna 1090

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