North Korea: A Strange Socialist Fortress

By Hy-Sang Lee | Go to book overview

7
1990s: Ruination, Survival, and
Weapons of Mass Destruction

OVERVIEW

Decades of Juche socialism finally brought ruination of the economy and a great famine in the 1990s. The economic disintegration and the famine were rendered more calamitous than otherwise would have been the case by the collapse of world socialism, the death of the founding dictator, and the weather. A measure of the calamity has been shown in the state revenue data. Revenue had grown at an average annual rate of 4.7 percent from 1985 through 1994—low yet positive. With the famine beginning in 1995, budget data were withheld until April 1999 when figures were again made public for that year as well as for the previous two years retroactively. The revealed revenue for 1997 indicated an average annual plunge of 17.5 percent in the three years beginning in 1995. Then only a 0.4 percent growth was recorded for 1998, with a 3 percent increase projected for 1999. As noted earlier, however, the anticipated growth in 1999 failed to materialize (see Table 4.4).

In the midst of this tragedy, North Korea started to use the crown jewels of the four-point militarization program—fissionable material and strategic missilery—to engage the United States in brinkmanship negotiations, aimed ultimately at effecting a pullout of U.S. troops in South Korea, to fulfill the central prerequisite for its strategy for unification.

Some peripheral moves by Pyongyang contributed to its survival through the famine. On the one hand, the rigid ideology was bent. Externally, the exclusionist stance was relaxed to open the country a little wider to draw in foreign food donations; also, a free trade zone was established. Internally, the traditional peasant market was allowed a little

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