How Capitalism Conquered North Korea
Image Credit: Flickr/ Roman Harak

How Capitalism Conquered North Korea


In the wake of Kim Jong-un’s reappearance, North Korea expert Andrei Lankov has a three-part series over at Bloomberg View busting some myths about the Hermit Kingdom. In the first part, Lankov argues that, while far from an Asian tiger, North Korea’s economy has slowly but steadily improved since the famine years of the 1990s. While Pyongyang continues to enjoy far more luxuries than other parts of the country, conditions are even improving in the countryside as well.

In the third part, Lankov explores North Korea’s political prisoner camps, which the regime just publicly acknowledged. Specifically, he notes that “the number of political prisoners has roughly halved in the last 20 years.”

The second part of Lankov’s trilogy is perhaps the most interesting, however. In that article Lankov notes that, with the state unable to provide resources anymore, the DPRK elite have transformed into a bunch of entrepreneurs and corrupt officials living off kickbacks from genuine entrepreneurs. In other words, the North Korean regime now survives on capitalism. “Keeping this new elite of entrepreneurs and corrupt officials content has become a major preoccupation for the regime,” Lanov writes, adding: “State socialism ‘is as dead in North Korea as it is in China.’”

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

Speaking of three-part series, Robert “Jake” Bebber takes to CIMSEC’s Next War blog for a brilliant trilogy of his own on “American Strategy in the 21st Century: Maritime Power and China.” Only the first two parts (found here and here) are currently up on Next War, so let the suspense begin.

The Center for a New American Security’s Shawn Brimley talks “offset strategies” on War on the Rocks.

Over at the Atlantic Council, Robert Manning examines the future of U.S. extended deterrence in the Asia-Pacific.

And he’s not the only one. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made some waves recently for (among countless other things) writing in his recent memoirs that the U.S. plans to, “if necessary,” use nuclear weapons against North Korea if it invades South Korea. “If North Korea moved across the border, our war plans called for the senior American general on the peninsula to take command of all U.S. and South Korea forces and defend South Korea — including by the use of nuclear weapons, if necessary.” At the time of this writing, it’s unclear how this came as a surprise to anyone.

More wonkish readers may enjoy Matthew Fuhrmann and Todd S. Sechser’s new American Journal of Political Science article on extended deterrence, entitled “Signaling Alliance Commitments: Hand-Tying and Sunk Costs in Extended Nuclear Deterrence.”

The Lowy Institute’s Aaron L. Connelly published a report this week on the “likely direction of Indonesian foreign policy under President-elect Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo”

Finally, on The National Interest, Brad Glosserman and David C. Kang dissect the myth of Japanese  remilitarization.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief