|General background: Following World War II,
Korea was split with the northern half coming under
Communist domination and the southern portion becoming
Western oriented. KIM Chong-il has ruled North Korea
since his father and the country's founder, president
KIM Il-song, died in 1994. After decades of mismanagement,
the North relies heavily on international food aid to
feed its population, while continuing to expend resources
to maintain an army of about 1 million. North Korea's
long-range missile development and research into nuclear,
chemical, and biological weapons and massive conventional
armed forces are of major concern to the international
Area comparative: Slightly
smaller than Mississippi.
with rainfall concentrated in summer.
Mostly hills and mountains separated by deep, narrow
valleys; coastal plains wide in west, discontinuous
Population: 22,224,195 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: Racially homogeneous; there
is a small Chinese community and a few ethnic Japanese.
Religions: Traditionally Buddhist and Confucianist,
some Christian and syncretic Chondogyo (Religion of
the Heavenly Way)
note: autonomous religious activities now almost nonexistent;
government-sponsored religious groups exist to provide
illusion of religious freedom.
Government type: Authoritarian socialist;
Legal system: Based on German civil law system
with Japanese influences and Communist legal theory;
no judicial review of legislative acts; has not accepted
compulsory ICJ jurisdiction.
Economic overview: North Korea, one of the
world's most centrally planned and isolated economies,
faces desperate economic conditions. Industrial capital
stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of years
of underinvestment and spare parts shortages. Industrial
and power output have declined in parallel. Despite
a good harvest in 2001, the nation faces its eighth
year of food shortages because of a lack of arable
land; collective farming; weather-related problems,
including major drought in 2000; and chronic shortages
of fertilizer and fuel. Massive international food
aid deliveries have allowed the regime to escape mass
starvation since 1995-96, but the population remains
vulnerable to prolonged malnutrition and deteriorating
living conditions. Large-scale military spending eats
up resources needed for investment and civilian consumption.
In 2001, the regime placed emphasis on earning hard
currency, developing information technology, addressing
power shortages, and attracting foreign aid, but in
no way at the expense of relinquishing central control
over key national assets or undergoing widespread
Communication/Telephone system: Satellite earth
stations - 1 Intelsat (Indian Ocean) and 1 Russian
(Indian Ocean region); other international connections
through Moscow and Beijing.
Places of interest: North Korea has some exquisite
Travel tips: There is a constant threat of
war in the region.