Discuss and explain the following argument below: The current regime in North Korea is a much greater threat to its own people than to the wider world due to its economic, political, and social...

Discuss and explain the following argument below:

The current regime in North Korea is a much greater threat to its own people than to the wider world due to its economic, political, and social isolationist policies.

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When the regime of the late North Korean dictator Kim il-Jung, with the support of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, launched its invasion of its southern neighbor on June 25, 1950, it started a war that would last for three years, draw in both the United States and China, and result in a level of destruction commensurate with that caused by the atomic bombings of Japan a mere five years before.  Since then, North Korea has been ruled with an iron fist by Kim, his son, Kim Jong-il, and, presently, his grandson, Kim Jong-un.  What this has meant for much of the population of North Korea has been continuous repression, mass starvation, and a near-constant state of heightened tensions as its government attempts (often successfully) to justify its harsh rule on the basis of a perceived threat from the United States and South Korea.  Efforts at normalizing relations between the two Koreas have repeatedly floundered, as the north invariably conducts yet another highly-provocative series of acts against the south, including assassinations, commando raids, artillery fire directed against South Korean civilians, terrorist acts including bombings [see, for instance, the October 9, 1983 bombing of a site in Rangoon, Burma (now called Myanmar) targeting high-ranking South Korean officials visiting that country, http://www.businessinsider.com/photos-of-north-koreas-1983-bombing-2012-10], the March 2010 sinking of a South Korean Navy ship, killing 46 sailors [see http://www.bbc.com/news/10129703], and the repeated instances of missile tests intended to intimidate South Korea and Japan.  The determined efforts by North Korea to perfect its nuclear weaponry have proven both threatening to its neighbors and a source of pride for the regime in Pyongyang, which is ever-eager to showcase its technological sophistication while keeping itself the center of attention.

Against all of this, it could still be argued that North Korea poses a greater danger to its own population than it does to South Korea, Japan and/or the United States.  North Korea’s policy of self-reliance (known in its native language as “juche”) is both a response to the sanctions maintained against it by the West and, with some notable exceptions, by Seoul, and a guiding principle of the cult surrounding the Kim family (the exceedingly rare example of a hereditary communist dictatorship).  Nature, severely flawed economic policies, and sanctions, however, have conspired to keep North Korea a seriously poor country.  The regime’s economic policies have failed badly – its experiment with limited free market economic activities was remarkably successful, but such policies invariably risk loss of control, so it was discontinued [see “North Korea’s Capitalist Experiment,” Council on Foreign Relations, http://www.cfr.org/world/north-koreas-capitalist-experiment/p10858; and, “Capitalism Thrives in North Korea,” Newsweek, November 26, 2009, http://www.newsweek.com/capitalism-thrives-north-korea-76979]. This, combined with a series of alternating droughts and floods, has devastated the nation’s agricultural industry.  The resulting famines have killed an estimated 2.7 million people, on top of which are millions more malnourished North Korean children whose physical and mental growth is badly impeded by the lack of a proper caloric intake. 

The political repression, chronic food shortages, and constant saber-rattling directed against the south and the United States have condemned North Korea’s population to a dismal fate.  The likely death toll that would result from another war on the Korean Peninsula, especially if Pyongyang resorted to the use of nuclear weapons, would be astronomical.  Tens of millions would suffer on both sides of the demilitarized zone spanning the 38th Parallel.  In that respect, the threat North Korea poses to its neighbors is more serious than the consequences of its policies for its own people.  Short of such a catastrophic war, however, the suffering endured by the north’s population – and no mention has been made of the country’s notoriously brutal system of gulags, to which it sentences entire families for a minor transgression on the part of one individual – dwarfs that endured by the prosperous south.  On a routine day-to-day basis, the current regime is a greater threat to its own people than to the outside world.