North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power, U.S. intelligence officials have concluded in a confidential assessment.
The analysis, completed last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency, comes on the heels of another intelligence assessment that sharply raises the official estimate for the total number of bombs in the communist country’s atomic arsenal. The United States calculated last month that up to 60 nuclear weapons are now controlled by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Some independent experts think the number is much smaller.
The findings are likely to deepen concerns about an evolving North Korean military threat that appears to be advancing far more rapidly than many experts had predicted. U.S. officials concluded last month that Pyongyang is also outpacing expectations in its effort to build an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the American mainland.
President Trump, speaking Tuesday at an event at his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., said North Korea will face a devastating response if its threats continue. “They will be met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before,” he said.
Earlier Tuesday, North Korea described a new round of U.N. sanctions as an attempt “to strangle a nation” and warned that in response, “physical action will be taken mercilessly with the mobilization of all its national strength.”
Although more than a decade has passed since North Korea’s first nuclear detonation, many analysts thought it would be years before the country’s weapons scientists could design a compact warhead that could be delivered by missile to distant targets. But the new assessment, a summary document dated July 28, concludes that this critical milestone has been reached.
“The IC [intelligence community] assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles,” the assessment states, in an excerpt read to The Washington Post. Two U.S. officials familiar with the assessment verified its broad conclusions. It is not known whether the reclusive regime has successfully tested the smaller design, although North Korea officially claimed last year that it had done so.
The DIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.
An assessment this week by the Japanese Ministry of Defense also concludes that there is evidence to suggest that North Korea has achieved miniaturization.
Kim is becoming increasingly confident in the reliability of his nuclear arsenal, analysts have concluded, explaining perhaps the dictator’s willingness to engage in defiant behavior, including missile tests that have drawn criticism even from North Korea’s closest ally, China. On Saturday, China and Russia joined other members of the U.N. Security Council in approving punishing new economic sanctions, including a ban on exports that supply up to a third of North Korea’s annual $3 billion in earnings.
The nuclear progress further raises the stakes for Trump, who has vowed that North Korea will never be allowed to threaten the United States with nuclear weapons. In an interview broadcast Saturday on MSNBC’s “Hugh Hewitt Show,” national security adviser H.R. McMaster said the prospect of a North Korea armed with nuclear-tipped ICBMs would be “intolerable, from the president’s perspective.”
“We have to provide all options . . . and that includes a military option,” he said. But McMaster said the administration would do everything short of war to “pressure Kim Jong Un and those around him, such that they conclude it is in their interest, to denuclearize.” The options said to be under discussion range from new multilateral negotiations to reintroducing U.S. battlefield nuclear weapons to the Korean Peninsula, officials familiar with internal discussions said.
At the same time, the administration has been attempting to push North Korea toward talks, but Pyongyang has shown no interest in dialogue.
Determining the precise makeup of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal has long been a difficult challenge for intelligence officials because of the regime’s culture of extreme secrecy and insularity. The country’s weapons scientists have conducted five nuclear tests since 2006, the latest being a 20- to 30-kiloton detonation on Sept. 9, 2016, that produced a blast estimated to be up to twice that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.
But producing a compact nuclear warhead that can fit inside a missile is a technically demanding feat, one that many analysts thought was still beyond North Korea’s grasp. Last year, state-run media in Pyongyang displayed a spherical device that government spokesmen described as a miniaturized nuclear warhead, but whether it was a real bomb remained unclear. North Korean officials described the September detonation as a successful test of a small warhead designed to fit on a missile, although many experts were skeptical of the claim.
Kim has repeatedly proclaimed his intention to field a fleet of nuclear-tipped ICBMs as a guarantor of his regime’s survival. His regime took a major step toward that goal last month with the first successful tests of a missile with intercontinental range. Video analysis of the latest test led some analysts to conclude that the missile caught fire and disintegrated as it plunged back toward Earth’s surface, suggesting that North Korea’s engineers might not be capable yet of building a reentry vehicle that can carry the warhead safely through the upper atmosphere. But U.S. analysts and many independent experts think this hurdle will be overcome by late next year.
“What initially looked like a slow-motion Cuban missile crisis is now looking more like the Manhattan Project, just barreling along,” said Robert Litwak, a nonproliferation expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the author of “Preventing North Korea’s Nuclear Breakout,” published by the center this year. “There’s a sense of urgency behind the program that is new to the Kim Jong Un era.”
Although few discount North Korea’s progress, some prominent U.S. experts warned against the danger of overestimating the threat. Siegfried Hecker, director emeritus of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the last known U.S. official to inspect North Korea’s nuclear facilities, has calculated the size of North Korea’s arsenal at no more than 20 to 25 bombs. He warned of potential risks that can come from making Kim into a bigger menace than he actually is.
“Overselling is particularly dangerous,” said Hecker, who visited North Korea seven times between 2004 and 2010, and met with key leaders of the country’s weapons programs. “Some like to depict Kim as being crazy — a madman — and that makes the public believe that the guy is undeterrable. He’s not crazy and he’s not suicidal. And he’s not even unpredictable.”
Military, defense and security at home and abroad.
“The real threat,” Hecker said, “is we’re going to stumble into a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula.”
In the past, U.S. intelligence agencies have occasionally overestimated the North Korean threat. In the early 2000s, the George W. Bush administration assessed that Pyongyang was close to developing an ICBM that could strike the U.S. mainland — a prediction that missed the mark by more than a decade. More recently, however, analysts and policymakers have been surprised repeatedly as North Korea achieved key milestones months or years ahead of schedule, said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies. There was similar skepticism about China’s capabilities in the early 1960s, said Lewis, who has studied that country’s pathway to a successful nuclear test in 1964.
“There is no reason to think that the North Koreans aren’t making the same progress after so many successful nuclear explosions,” Lewis said. “The big question is: Why do we hold the North Koreans to a different standard than we held [Joseph] Stalin’s Soviet Union or Mao Zedong’s China? North Korea is testing underground, so we’re always going to lack a lot of details. But it seems to me a lot of people are insisting on impossible levels of proof because they simply don’t want to accept what should be pretty obvious.”
Joby Warrick joined the Post’s national staff in 1996. He has covered national security, the environment and the Middle East and currently writes about terrorism. He is the author of two books, including 2015’s “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS,” which was awarded a 2016 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.
Anna Fifield is The Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, focusing on Japan and the Koreas. She previously reported for the Financial Times from Washington DC, Seoul, Sydney, London and from across the Middle East.
The name Korea derives from the name Goryeo (also spelled Koryŏ). The name Goryeo itself was first used by the ancient kingdom of Goguryeo (Koguryŏ) in the 5th century as a shortened form of its name. The 10th-century kingdom of Goryeo succeeded Goguryeo, and thus inherited its name, which was pronounced by visiting Persian merchants as “Korea”. The modern spelling of Korea first appeared in the late 17th century in the travel writings of the Dutch East India Company‘s Hendrick Hamel.
After the division of the country into North and South Korea, the two sides used different terms to refer to Korea: Chosun or Joseon (조선) in North Korea, and Hanguk (한국) in South Korea. In 1948, North Korea adopted Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (조선민주주의인민공화국/朝鮮民主主義人民共和國Chosŏn Minjujuŭi Inmin Konghwaguk) as its new legal name. In the wider world, because the government controlled the northern part of the Korean Peninsula, it is commonly called North Korea to distinguish it from South Korea, which is officially called the Republic of Korea.
Japan tried to suppress Korean traditions and culture and ran the economy primarily for its own benefit. Korean resistance groups known as Dongnipgun (Liberation Army) operated along the Sino-Korean border, fighting guerrilla warfare against Japanese forces. Some of them took part in allied action in China and parts of South East Asia. One of the guerrilla leaders was the communist Kim Il-sung, who later became the first leader of North Korea.
Soviet occupation and division of Korea (1945–1950)
Suspected communist sympathizers awaiting execution in May 1948 after the Jeju Uprising
At the end of World War II in 1945, the Korean Peninsula was divided into two zones along the 38th parallel, with the northern half of the peninsula occupied by the Soviet Union and the southern half by the United States. The drawing of the division was assigned to two American officers, Dean Rusk and Charles Bonesteel, who chose it because it divided the country approximately in half but would place the capital Seoul under American control. No experts on Korea were consulted. Nevertheless, the division was immediately accepted by the Soviet Union. The agreement was incorporated into the U.S.’s General Order No. 1 for the surrender of Japan. Initial hopes for a unified, independent Korea had evaporated as the politics of the Cold War resulted in the establishment of two separate states with diametrically opposed political, economic, and social systems.
Soviet general Terentii Shtykov recommended the establishment of the Soviet Civil Authority in October 1945, and supported Kim Il-sung as chairman of the Provisional People’s Committee for North Korea, established in February 1946. During the provisional government, Shtykov’s chief accomplishment was a sweeping land reform program that broke North Korea’s stratified class system. Landlords and Japanese collaborators fled to the South, where there was no land reform and sporadic unrest. Shtykov nationalized key industries and led the Soviet delegation to talks on the future of Korea in Moscow and Seoul. In September 1946, South Korean citizens rose up against the Allied Military Government. In April 1948, an uprising of the Jeju islanders was violently crushed. The South declared its statehood in May 1948 and two months later the ardent anti-communist Syngman Rhee became its ruler. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was established in the North on 9 September 1948. Shtykov served as the first Soviet ambassador, while Kim Il-sung became premier.
Soviet forces withdrew from the North in 1948 and most American forces withdrew from the South in 1949. Ambassador Shtykov suspected Rhee was planning to invade the North, and was sympathetic to Kim’s goal of Korean unification under socialism. The two successfully lobbied Joseph Stalin to support a short blitzkrieg of the South, which culminated in the outbreak of the Korean War.
The military of North Korea invaded the South on 25 June 1950, and swiftly overran most of the country. A United Nations force, led by the United States, intervened to defend the South, and rapidly advanced into North Korea. As they neared the border with China, Chinese forces intervened on behalf of North Korea, shifting the balance of the war again. Fighting ended on 27 July 1953, with an armistice that approximately restored the original boundaries between North and South Korea. More than one million civilians and soldiers were killed in the war. As a result of the war, almost every substantial building in North Korea was destroyed.
Some have referred to the conflict as a civil war, with other factors involved. The Korean War was the first armed confrontation of the Cold War and set the standard for many later conflicts. It is often viewed as an example of the proxy war, where the two superpowers would fight in another country, forcing the people in that country to suffer most of the destruction and death involved in a war between such large nations. The superpowers avoided descending into an all-out war against one another, as well as the mutual use of nuclear weapons. It expanded the Cold War, which to that point had mostly been concerned with Europe.
A heavily guarded demilitarized zone (DMZ) still divides the peninsula, and an anti-communist and anti-North Korea sentiment remains in South Korea. Since the war, the United States has maintained a strong military presence in the South which is depicted by the North Korean government as an imperialist occupation force. And they claimed that the Korean War was caused by the United States and South Korea.
The relative peace between the South and the North following the armistice was interrupted by border skirmishes, celebrity abductions, and assassination attempts. The North failed in several assassination attempts on South Korean leaders, such as in 1968, 1974 and the Rangoon bombing in 1983; tunnels were found under the DMZ and war nearly broke out over the axe murder incident at Panmunjom in 1976. For almost two decades after the war, the two states did not seek to negotiate with one another. In 1971, secret, high-level contacts began to be conducted culminating in the 1972 July 4th North-South Joint Statement that established principles of working toward peaceful reunification. The talks ultimately failed because in 1973, South Korea declared its preference that the two Koreas should seek separate memberships in international organizations.
During the 1956 August Faction Incident, Kim Il-sung successfully resisted efforts by the Soviet Union and China to depose him in favor of Soviet Koreans or the pro-Chinese Yan’an faction. The last Chinese troops withdrew from the country in October 1958, which is the consensus as the latest date when North Korea became effectively independent. Some scholars believe that the 1956 August incident demonstrated independence. North Korea remained closely aligned with China and the Soviet Union, and the Sino-Soviet split allowed Kim to play the powers off each other. North Korea sought to become a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, and emphasized the ideology of Juche to distinguish it from both the Soviet Union and China.
Recovery from the war was quick — by 1957 industrial production reached 1949 levels. In 1959, relations with Japan had improved somewhat, and North Korea began allowing the repatriation of Japanese citizens in the country. The same year, North Korea revalued the North Korean won, which held greater value than its South Korean counterpart. Until the 1960s, economic growth was higher than in South Korea, and North Korean GDP per capita was equal to that of its southern neighbor as late as 1976.
In the early 1970s, China began normalizing its relations with the West, particularly the U.S., and reevaluating its relations with North Korea. The diplomatic problems came to a head in 1976 when Mao Zedong died. In response, Kim Il-sung began severing ties with China and reemphasizing national and economic self-reliance enshrined in his Juche Idea, which promoted producing everything within the country. By the 1980s the economy had begun to stagnate; it started its long decline in 1987 and almost completely collapsed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, when all Russian aid was suddenly halted. The North began reestablishing trade relations with China shortly thereafter, but the Chinese could not afford to provide enough food aid to meet demand.
Kim Jong-il instituted a policy called Songun, or “military first”. There is much speculation about this policy being used as a strategy to strengthen the military while discouraging coup attempts. Restrictions on travel were tightened and the state security apparatus was strengthened.
Flooding in the mid-1990s exacerbated the economic crisis, severely damaging crops and infrastructure and led to widespread famine which the government proved incapable of curtailing. In 1996, the government accepted UN food aid. Since the outbreak of the famine, the government has reluctantly tolerated illegal black markets while officially maintaining a state socialist economy. Corruption flourished and disillusionment with the regime spread.
The international environment changed with the election of U.S. president George W. Bush in 2001. His administration rejected South Korea’s Sunshine Policy and the Agreed Framework. The U.S. government treated North Korea as a rogue state, while they subsequently redoubled their efforts to acquire nuclear weapons in order to avoid the fate of Iraq. On 9 October 2006, North Korea announced it had conducted its first nuclear weapons test.
On 17 December 2011, the supreme leader of North Korea Kim Jong-il died from a heart attack. His youngest son Kim Jong-un was announced as his successor. Over the following years, North Korea continued to develop its nuclear arsenal despite international condemnation. Notable tests were performed in 2013 and 2016. On 4 July 2017, North Korea successfully conducted its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), named Hwasong-14.
Early European visitors to Korea remarked that the country resembled “a sea in a heavy gale” because of the many successive mountain ranges that crisscross the peninsula. Some 80 percent of North Korea is composed of mountains and uplands, separated by deep and narrow valleys. All of the Korean Peninsula’s mountains with elevations of 2,000 meters (6,600 ft) or more are located in North Korea. The highest point in North Korea is Paektu Mountain, a volcanic mountain with an elevation of 2,744 meters (9,003 ft) above sea level. Paektu is very significant in Korean culture, in which it is considered a sacred place by the Korean people and is thus incorporated in the elaborate folklore around the Kim dynasty. Other prominent ranges are the Hamgyong Range in the extreme northeast and the Rangrim Mountains, which are located in the north-central part of North Korea. Mount Kumgang in the Taebaek Range, which extends into South Korea, is famous for its scenic beauty.
The coastal plains are wide in the west and discontinuous in the east. A great majority of the population lives in the plains and lowlands. According to a United Nations Environmental Programme report in 2003, forest covers over 70 percent of the country, mostly on steep slopes. The longest river is the Amnok (Yalu) River which flows for 790 kilometres (491 mi).
North Korea experiences a combination of continental climate and an oceanic climate, but most of the country experiences a humid continental climate within the Köppen climate classification scheme. Winters bring clear weather interspersed with snow storms as a result of northern and northwestern winds that blow from Siberia. Summer tends to be by far the hottest, most humid, and rainiest time of year because of the southern and southeastern monsoon winds that carry moist air from the Pacific Ocean. Approximately 60 percent of all precipitation occurs from June to September. Spring and autumn are transitional seasons between summer and winter. The daily average high and low temperatures for Pyongyang are −3 and −13 °C (27 and 9 °F) in January and 29 and 20 °C (84 and 68 °F) in August.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (July 2017)
The Constitution of the Republic of Korea considers the DPRK as part of its territory. In other words, the South does not view going to and from the North as breaking the continuity of a citizens visit, as long as the traveler does not land on a third territory. Because of the political situation between the South and North, it is almost impossible to enter the North from the South across the Korean DMZ (exiting South Korea via the northern border). Tourists wishing to enter North Korea have to pass through another country, and most enter from China, because most flights to/from Pyongyang serve Beijing.
Initially, North Korea had diplomatic ties with only other communist countries. In the 1960s and 1970s, it pursued an independent foreign policy, established relations with many developing countries, and joined the Non-Aligned Movement. In the late 1980s and the 1990s its foreign policy was thrown into turmoil with the collapse of the Soviet bloc. Suffering an economic crisis, it closed a number of its embassies. At the same time, North Korea sought to build relations with developed free market countries. As a result of its isolation, it is sometimes known as the “hermit kingdom“, a term that was originally referred to the isolationism in the latter part of the Joseon Dynasty.
As of 2015, North Korea had diplomatic relations with 166 countries and embassies in 47 countries. North Korea continues to have strong ties with its socialist southeast Asian allies in Vietnam and Laos, as well as with Cambodia.Most of the foreign embassies accredited to North Korea are located in Beijing rather than in Pyongyang. The Korean Demilitarized Zone with South Korea is the most heavily fortified border in the world.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il meeting with Russian President Putin, 19 July 2000
U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, left, meets with Jo Myong Rok, second from right, first vice-chairman of North Korea’s National Defense Commission, 11 October 2000
North Korea’s policy is to seek reunification without what it sees as outside interference, through a federal structure retaining each side’s leadership and systems. In 2000, both North and South Korea signed the June 15th North–South Joint Declaration in which both sides made promises to seek out a peaceful reunification. The Democratic Federal Republic of Korea is a proposed state first mentioned by then North Korean president Kim Il-sung on 10 October 1980, proposing a federation between North and South Korea in which the respective political systems would initially remain.
South Korean aid convoy entering North Korea through the Demilitarized Zone, 1998
Inter-Korean relations are at the core of North Korean diplomacy and have seen numerous shifts in the last few decades. In 1972, the two Koreas agreed in principle to achieve reunification through peaceful means and without foreign interference.Relations remained cool well until the early 1990s, with a brief period in the early 1980s when North Korea offered to provide flood relief to its southern neighbor. Although the offer was initially welcomed, talks over how to deliver the relief goods broke down and none of the promised aid ever crossed the border. The two countries also organized a reunion of 92 separated families.
The Sunshine Policy instituted by South Korean president Kim Dae-jung in 1998 was a watershed in inter-Korean relations. It encouraged other countries to engage with the North, which allowed Pyongyang to normalize relations with a number of European Union states and contributed to the establishment of joint North-South economic projects. The culmination of the Sunshine Policy was the 2000 Inter-Korean Summit, when Kim Dae-jung visited Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang. On 4 October 2007, South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun and Kim Jong-il signed an eight-point peace agreement.
Relations worsened in the late 2000s and early 2010s when South Korean president Lee Myung-bak adopted a more hard-line approach and suspended aid deliveries pending the de-nuclearization of the North. North Korea responded by ending all of its previous agreements with the South. It deployed additional ballistic missiles and placed its military on full combat alert after South Korea, Japan and the United States threatened to intercept a Unha-2 space launch vehicle. The next few years witnessed a string of hostilities, including the alleged North Korean involvement in the sinking of South Korean warship Cheonan, mutual ending of diplomatic ties, a North Korean artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, and growing international concern over North Korea’s nuclear program.
A map of political prison camps in North Korea. An estimated 40% of prisoners die of malnutrition.
North Korea is widely accused of having one of the worst human rights records in the world. North Koreans have been referred to as “some of the world’s most brutalized people” by Human Rights Watch, because of the severe restrictions placed on their political and economic freedoms. The North Korean population is strictly managed by the state and all aspects of daily life are subordinated to party and state planning. Employment is managed by the party on the basis of political reliability, and travel is tightly controlled by the Ministry of People’s Security.
Amnesty International reports of severe restrictions on the freedom of association, expression and movement, arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment resulting in death, and executions.
The State Security Department extrajudicially apprehends and imprisons those accused of political crimes without due process. People perceived as hostile to the government, such as Christians or critics of the leadership, are deported to labor camps without trial, often with their whole family and mostly without any chance of being released.
Based on satellite images and defector testimonies, Amnesty International estimates that around 200,000 prisoners are held in six large political prison camps, where they are forced to work in conditions approaching slavery. Supporters of the government who deviate from the government line are subject to reeducation in sections of labor camps set aside for that purpose. Those who are deemed politically rehabilitated may reassume responsible government positions on their release.
The North Korean government rejects the human rights abuses claims, calling them “a smear campaign” and a “human rights racket” aimed at regime change. In a report to the UN, North Korea dismissed accusations of atrocities as “wild rumors”. The government admitted some human rights issues related to living conditions and stated that it is working to improve them.
The unicameral Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) is the highest organ of state authority and holds the legislative power. Its 687 members are elected every five years by universal suffrage. Supreme People’s Assembly sessions are convened by the SPA Presidium, whose president (Kim Yong-nam since 1998) represents the state in relations with foreign countries. Deputies formally elect the President, the vice-presidents and members of the Presidium and take part in the constitutionally appointed activities of the legislature: pass laws, establish domestic and foreign policies, appoint members of the cabinet, review and approve the state economic plan, among others. The SPA itself cannot initiate any legislation independently of party or state organs. It is unknown whether it has ever criticized or amended bills placed before it, and the elections are based around a single list of WPK-approved candidates who stand without opposition.
The Juche ideology is the cornerstone of party works and government operations. It is viewed by the official North Korean line as an embodiment of Kim Il-sung’s wisdom, an expression of his leadership, and an idea which provides “a complete answer to any question that arises in the struggle for national liberation”.Juche was pronounced in December 1955 in order to emphasize a Korea-centered revolution. Its core tenets are economic self-sufficiency, military self-reliance and an independent foreign policy. The roots of Juche were made up of a complex mixture of factors, including the cult of personality centered on Kim Il-sung, the conflict with pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese dissenters, and Korea’s centuries-long struggle for independence.
It was initially promoted as a “creative application” of Marxism–Leninism, but in the mid-1970s, it was described by state propaganda as “the only scientific thought… and most effective revolutionary theoretical structure that leads to the future of communist society”. Juche eventually replaced Marxism–Leninism entirely by the 1980s, and in 1992 references to the latter were omitted from the constitution. The 2009 constitution dropped references to communism, but retained references to socialism.Juche‘s concepts of self-reliance have evolved with time and circumstances, but still provide the groundwork for the spartan austerity, sacrifice and discipline demanded by the party.
The North Korean government exercises control over many aspects of the nation’s culture, and this control is used to perpetuate a cult of personality surrounding Kim Il-sung, and Kim Jong-il. While visiting North Korea in 1979, journalist Bradley Martin wrote that nearly all music, art, and sculpture that he observed glorified “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung, whose personality cult was then being extended to his son, “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il. Martin reported that there is even widespread belief that Kim Il-sung “created the world”, and Kim Jong-il could “control the weather”.[page needed]
Such reports are contested by North Korea researcher B. R. Myers: “Divine powers have never been attributed to either of the two Kims. In fact, the propaganda apparatus in Pyongyang has generally been careful not to make claims that run directly counter to citizens’ experience or common sense.” He further explains that the state propaganda painted Kim Jong-il as someone whose expertise lay in military matters and that the famine of the 1990s was partially caused by natural disasters out of Kim Jong-il’s control.
Critics maintain this Kim Jong-il personality cult was inherited from his father. Kim Jong-il was often the center of attention throughout ordinary life. His birthday is one of the most important public holidays in the country. On his 60th birthday (based on his official date of birth), mass celebrations occurred throughout the country. Kim Jong-il’s personality cult, although significant, was not as extensive as his father’s. One point of view is that Kim Jong-il’s cult of personality was solely out of respect for Kim Il-sung or out of fear of punishment for failure to pay homage, while North Korean government sources consider it genuine hero worship.
The extent of the cult of personality surrounding Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung was illustrated on 11 June 2012 when a 14-year-old North Korean schoolgirl drowned while attempting to rescue portraits of the two from a flood.
North Korea has a civil law system based on the Prussian model and influenced by Japanese traditions and communist legal theory.Judiciary procedures are handled by the Supreme Court (the highest court of appeal), provincial or special city-level courts, people’s courts and special courts. People’s courts are at the lowest level of the system and operate in cities, counties and urban districts, while different kinds of special courts handle cases related to military, railroad or maritime matters.
Judges are theoretically elected by their respective local people’s assemblies, but in practice they are appointed by the Workers’ Party of Korea. The penal code is based on the principle of nullum crimen sine lege (no crime without a law), but remains a tool for political control despite several amendments reducing ideological influence. Courts carry out legal procedures related to not only criminal and civil matters, but also political cases as well. Political prisoners are sent to labor camps, while criminal offenders are incarcerated in a separate system.
The Ministry of People’s Security (MPS) maintains most law enforcement activities. It is one of the most powerful state institutions in North Korea and oversees the national police force, investigates criminal cases and manages non-political correctional facilities. It handles other aspects of domestic security like civil registration, traffic control, fire departments and railroad security. The State Security Department was separated from the MPS in 1973 to conduct domestic and foreign intelligence, counterintelligence and manage the political prison system. Political camps can be short-term reeducation zones or “kwalliso” (total control zones) for lifetime detention.Camp 14 in Kaechon,Camp 15 in Yodok and Camp 18 in Bukchang are described in detailed testimonies.
The security apparatus is very extensive, exerting strict control over residence, travel, employment, clothing, food and family life. Security establishments employ mass surveillance, tightly monitoring cellular and digital communications. The MPS, State Security and the police allegedly conduct real-time monitoring of text messages, online data transfer, monitor phone calls and automatically transcribe recorded conversations. They reportedly have the capacity to triangulatea subscriber’s exact location, while military intelligence monitors phone and radio traffic as far as 140 kilometers (87 miles) south of the Demilitarized zone.
North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, but its arsenal remains limited. Various estimates put its stockpile at less than 10 plutonium warheads and 12–27 nuclear weapon equivalents if uranium warheads are considered.Delivery capabilities are provided by the Rocket Force, which has some 1,000 ballistic missiles with a range of up to 3,000 kilometres.