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State structure

North Korea has a constitution dating back to 1972 (revised in 1992 and 1998) which in many ways is typical of communist countries. It explicitly recognises the leadership of the Korean Workers' Party (KWP). The Party controls executive power, which since 1992 has been vested in the National Defence Commission (NDC). The position of the NDC was further strengthened by the amendment to the constitution in September 1998. Leader Kim Jong-il is commander-in-chief of the army, general secretary of the KWP and chairman of the NDC, while his father Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994, was declared the country's eternal president in September 1998. Constitutionally, the executive branch is subordinate to the parliament, the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA), which, however, has no actual power. Elections to the SPA, which is always elected with 100% of the votes, must take place every five years (the 11th SPA was elected in August 2003). The judiciary is not independent. North Korea is divided into nine provinces and three urban municipalities directly under the central government (Pyongyang, Nampo and Kaesong).


The regime justifies its dictatorship on the basis of the "juche" ideology, which rejects any outside interference. The quasi-mystical component of this ideology is that the collective will of the people is distilled into the leader ("suryong"), whose every act reflects the needs of the state and society. As with his late father, a highly developed personality cult also exists around the current leader Kim Jong-un. In addition, the attitude of the United States, which North Korea perceives as threatening, is used to implement a "military-first" policy, according to which the military always has absolute priority. The economic reforms that were cautiously introduced in 2002 (see heading "Economic situation") have not yet been reflected in the political system. The ruling party and army top seem to be primarily interested in maintaining their own position. For the time being, they are succeeding in this by means of repression and disinformation of the population, whose human rights are being violated on a large scale.

The current political situation is described in the history section.


In the post-war decades, the communist regime carried out rapid industrialization, with the emphasis on heavy industry. After the Cold War, however, the North Korean economy collapsed. In 1993, it was admitted for the first time that the goals of the seven-year plan had not been achieved. The economy shrank by an estimated 3 to 10 percent a year from 1990 to 1998. From 1999 onwards, there is again some economic growth (1.3% in 2012). However, harvests are not sufficient to feed the population and mines and factories are at a standstill or function at a fraction of their capacity due to a lack of raw materials and components, and above all, the great scarcity of energy. A significant part of what is still being produced goes to the huge army.

After some cautious economic reforms, factories are more able to set their own targets and are less centrally controlled. There are also more street markets, where farmers sell the produce of their private gardens. However, there does not yet seem to be a comprehensive and coherent reform programme of the entire economic system. The impression is that the reforms have been, at least partly, reversed.

North Korea is short of foreign currency to pay off state debts, to finance essential food and energy imports and to buy luxury consumer goods for the elite surrounding the leader. In an attempt to catch up with the international economy without exposing the population to foreign influences, a number of special economic zones have been established: Rajin-Sonbong in the far north-east and Sinuiju in the north-west are zones where foreign companies are allowed to invest. The Mount Kumgang complex in the southeast is sometimes visited by South Korean tourists, and reunions of families separated by the Korean War also occasionally take place here.

Some key figures on the North Korean economy are ( as of 2017):

GDP per capita is $1,700. GDP 22.5% comes from agriculture, 47.6% from industry and 29.9% from services. Imports $43.7 billion and exports $45.8 billion are mainly through China.


Elmar Landeninformatie

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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