Future of North Korea Economy: Politics over Economic Policy

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  • Topic: North Korea, Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung
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  • Published : April 23, 2013
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Future of North Korea Economy: Politics Over Economic Policy

The terms starvation, isolation, totalitarianism, and nuclear ambitions combined would remind most people the hermit kingdom in East Asia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and its Kim dynasty. After the demise of the aged dictator Kim Jong Il in December 2011, the country went through a period of mourning the death of their “beloved” Great General and, undergoing a power succession to his 29-year-old son, Kim Jong Un. He has been known to have attended a Swiss school in his childhood years, enjoying playing basketball and video games (Yan & Shubert, 2011). However, even though many outsiders have a hopeful outlook on this young dictator to be somewhat liberal in both economic and political perspectives, analyzing the situation through levels of analysis suggests that he is unlikely to be any different than his predecessors. In fact, because maintaining the nation’s authoritarian Kim dynasty and communist political system is the most important objective for North Korea, he will probably continue to put low priority on economy, defying international norms as a totalitarian nation of a closed, rigidly planned economy.

The Three Levels Explained
The levels-of-analysis is an approach conceptualized by Kenneth Waltz in his book Man, the State, and War to understand global politics through categorizing different factors shaping states’ behaviors (Ray, 2001). The approach can be categorized in to three levels: the individual level, which emphasizes the roles played by individual leaders, nation-state level, focusing on interaction between various actors under the nation’s political system and culture, and the system level, addressing distribution of power in the international system (Dorff, 2004). Although levels-of-analysis problem, regarding limitation and vagueness of integrating units, is an ongoing issue according to James Lee Ray (2001), the levels can be integrated more simply in to a more structured and comprehensive analysis when they are considered as different explanatory variables of different location as in this case.

Individual Level of Analysis
Kim’s past actions show that his main goal is consolidating and maintaining ultimate power through an authoritarian, inhumane method that closely resembles his father’s methods. His fondness for Michael Jordan and his chic, stylish wife may give the impression that he would adopt a more “open” leadership, but since succession, he has been ruthlessly eliminating anyone in his way of solidifying power within the ruling party, while also verbally and physically provoking South Korea. Not long after ascending to the “throne”, he executed Kim Chol, vice minister of the army, with a mortar round for “reportedly drinking and carousing during the official mourning period after Kim Jong Il’s death” (Ryall, 2012). Moreover Klug (2012) reported that Ri Yong Ho, the military chief who was Kim’s mentor during the power transition and one of the key figures that the former leader relied upon, had also been removed from his position, for health reasons, this July. Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis say that these replacements of influential military officers and purges of over a dozen senior officials are signs that the young dictator is reshuffling the cabinet to appoint people loyal to him, while also keeping check of any possible dissidents (Kim, 2012). In addition, Kim has clearly shown that he is not concerned with international norms when he reportedly played a major role in planning the shelling of South Korea’s territory, Yeonpyeong Island, a couple of years ago (Yang, 2012). Statements threatening to attack South Korea and its key figures have also escalated in a harsher, specific tone after the change of leadership, even out threatening to send revolutionary armed forces to "reduce all the ratlike groups and the bases for provocations to ashes in three or four minutes, in...
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