North Korea / Places We Go

What Happens In Heavily Militarized North Korea After The Fall?

This is the English version of our short article that recently appeared in Italy’s LiberoReporter:

North Korean soldiers salute statues of the country’s two previous dictators from the Kim family, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il

North Korean soldiers salute statues of the country’s two previous dictators from the Kim family, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il

North Korea has been busy recently… Early in September North Korea conducted its fifth (and most powerful to date) test of a nuclear weapon. Then, just days ago, North Korea tested a high-powered rocket engine that could be used on ballistic missiles.

This recent activity by North Korea is consistent with its policy of intentionally maintaining the country on a permanent war footing. The ruling Kim family has long used the imminent threat of war as a mechanism by which to control the population of North Korea. However, the more recent acquisition of nuclear weapons can be viewed as something of an insurance policy – insurance that an outside power like the United States will not seek regime change in North Korea. North Korea watched the United States overthrow Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and then help to overthrow Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi after he voluntarily abandoned his country’s nuclear weapons program and does not intend for the same to happen to them. Thus, to shelter their dynasty from both perceived internal and external threats, the complete militarization of North Korean society suits the Kim family quite well.

However, history has shown that every dictatorship eventually gets toppled. How will North Korea’s many soldiers react then? Will they embrace the outside world or lash out against it? Or even against each other in a civil war?

A female soldier walks past a militaristic statue in downtown Pyongyang

A female soldier walks past a militaristic statue in downtown Pyongyang

Propaganda celebrating militarization is a very common theme in North Korea

Propaganda celebrating militarization is a very common theme in North Korea

A group of soldiers prepare themselves for a group picture in front of the mausoleum housing Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il

A group of soldiers prepare themselves for a group picture in front of the mausoleum housing Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il

The American ship USS Pueblo, seized by North Korea in controversial circumstances, helps keep tensions with the United States at a high level

The American ship USS Pueblo, seized by North Korea in controversial circumstances, helps keep tensions with the United States at a high level

Despite the tremendous cost, North Korea has one of the largest militaries in the world when measured by the number of active-duty soldiers (and the largest paramilitary force in the world, representing 25% of the population).  As such, one frequently sees more soldiers than civilians when traveling through North Korea.

Despite the tremendous cost, North Korea has one of the largest militaries in the world when measured by the number of active-duty soldiers (and the largest paramilitary force in the world, representing 25% of the population). As such, one frequently sees more soldiers than civilians when traveling through North Korea.

North Korea’s highways periodically feature very wide sections that are intended to serve as aircraft landing strips in order to assist with defending the country in the event of an invasion

North Korea’s highways periodically feature very wide sections that are intended to serve as aircraft landing strips in order to assist with defending the country in the event of an invasion

Complete militarization of a largely rural country where most people still need to use bicycles for transportation may seem odd, but it benefits the Kim family

Complete militarization of a largely rural country where most people still need to use bicycles for transportation may seem odd, but it benefits the Kim family

A military-themed statue

A military-themed statue

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