A failed stateToday is the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the socialist regime, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, on the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.
Celebratory events are being held across North Korea.
But we only feel a sense of despondency when we look to the North.
North Korea doesn’t seem to be able to escape from extreme economic crisis or international isolation.
In the mid-1990s, hundreds of thousands of people died from hunger, but the country hasn’t resolved its food problems. Hundreds of thousands of starving residents have left North Korea.
But presumably, the all-powerful politicians and military figures are well off.
The regime wants to end international isolation by improving its ties with the United States using nuclear threats as leverage. But it is uncertain when that can be achieved.
Recently the communist regime began to play its nuclear card again, like playing the same old song.
The keyword that permeates the six decades of North Korea is juche, or self-reliance.
Since the mid-1950s, as the conflict between China and the former Soviet Union grew worse, North Korea decided to pursue revolution in the South and revive its economy on its own. To do so, it refused to worship the powerful on the global stage and it adopted a doctrinaire attitude.
Combined with Kim Il Sung’s charisma, this approach enhanced the North’s national pride.
As a result, labor productivity increased significantly. During the first round of a five-year plan, which started in 1957, to develop industry and the economy, industrial production was 3.5 times more than the earlier target.
In 1970, the North declared that it had become an industrialized socialist country. It was better than the South in terms of economic power until 1974.
However, the success of the North Korean socialist regime ended there.
Since the mid-1970s, North Korea’s national power, including its economic capacity, has weakened.
The first reason was the inefficiency of the centralized socialist regime.
Unfeasible plans were drawn up and reports were fabricated. It was hard to expect managers to lead and workers to be creative in such conditions.
This was a stark contrast with the South, which achieved economic growth based on voluntary ideas from the private sector and support from the government.
As North Korea shouted for self-reliance, it had problems getting aid from China and the former Soviet Union.
An even more serious problem was that its leader assumed power for life and passed power to his son.
While ignorant of economic plans, the top leader of the country made arbitrary orders, distorting the already inefficient economy.
In the 1980s, the economic situation kept worsening but huge civil engineering projects that cost enormous amounts of money were carried out.
These acts were aimed at smoothing the transfer of power to Kim Jong-il.
As the process of decision making is so rigid, North Korea has missed chances to enter the international community.
For example, Pyongyang blew an opportunity to normalize ties with the United States in 2000.
Last year, North Korea’s Gross National Income was 24.8 trillion won ($22 billion), 1/36th of South Korea’s.
The ideological competition between the South and the North is technically over.
North Korea is striving merely for survival by playing its nuclear weapons card, a tactic that might have some impact. However, this tactic alone can’t guarantee that the North Korean regime will be able to dig itself out of its hole.
In order to overcome the current crisis, North Korea should remember its slogan to abandon a doctrinaire attitude.
The North should realize that clinging to self-reliance is another type of doctrinaire stubbornness.
We hope that the leadership in Pyongyang will bear this in mind as a lesson to be learned on the 60th anniversary of its creation and make more of an effort to join international society.