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How Stable Is North Korea Right Now?

Abigail Bard writes that the United States should support average North Koreans in the event of a public health or food crisis, while recognizing that responsibility ultimately belongs with the Kim regime.

News more troubling than usual is coming out of North Korea. In the summer of 2020, the country was hit by a series of natural disasters in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. In January 2021, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that the country’s five-year economic plan had failed. In June, he admitted that the country’s food situation is “getting tense.” While the government maintains that there have been zero cases of coronavirus within its borders, reports suggest the country has been at least somewhat affected. Though the picture of what is going on in North Korea is far from clear, these pieces of information suggest that the North Korean people may very well be facing their most dire living conditions in decades. However, the U.S. government should not assume that North Korea is on the verge of collapse.

The collapse of North Korea has been predicted on and off since the end of the Cold War, but North Korea persists despite these predictions. North Korea lost substantial financial support with the fall of the Soviet Union and the strengthening of South Korea-Russia ties in the early 1990s. Flooding and famine in the mid-1990s supported forecasts that the North Korean state was near its end. Predictions of regime failure also gained traction as Kim Jong-un took over leadership of the country in 2011 in his late twenties. These days, Kim’s occasional disappearances from public life trigger intense speculation over the state of the regime and the potential for instability.

The above excerpt was originally published in The National Interest. Click here to view the full article.

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Abigail Bard

Former Policy Analyst, Asia