Facts about North Korea

World Facts Index

Kim Jong-il, leader of North KoreaAn independent kingdom for much of its long history, Korea was occupied by Japan in 1905 following the Russo-Japanese War. Five years later, Japan formally annexed the entire peninsula. Following World War II, Korea was split with the northern half coming under Soviet-sponsored Communist domination. After failing in the Korean War (1950-53) to conquer the US-backed Republic of Korea (ROK) in the southern portion by force, North Korea (DPRK), under its founder President KIM Il Sung, adopted a policy of ostensible diplomatic and economic "self-reliance" as a check against excessive Soviet or Communist Chinese influence. The DPRK demonized the US as the ultimate threat to its social system through state-funded propaganda, and molded political, economic, and military policies around the core ideological objective of eventual unification of Korea under Pyongyang's control. KIM's son, the current ruler KIM Jong Il, was officially designated as his father's successor in 1980, assuming a growing political and managerial role until the elder KIM's death in 1994. After decades of economic mismanagement and resource misallocation, the DPRK since the mid-1990s has relied heavily on international aid to feed its population while continuing to expend resources to maintain an army of approximately 1 million. North Korea's history of regional military provocations, proliferation of military-related items, and long-range missile development - as well as its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and massive conventional armed forces - are of major concern to the international community. In December 2002, following revelations that the DPRK was pursuing a nuclear weapons program based on enriched uranium in violation of a 1994 agreement with the US to freeze and ultimately dismantle its existing plutonium-based program, North Korea expelled monitors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In January 2003, it declared its withdrawal from the international Non-Proliferation Treaty. In mid-2003 Pyongyang announced it had completed the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods (to extract weapons-grade plutonium) and was developing a "nuclear deterrent." Beginning in August 2003, North Korea, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the US have participated in the Six-Party Talks aimed at resolving the stalemate over the DPRK's nuclear programs. North Korea pulled out of the talks in November 2005. It test-fired ballistic missiles in July 2006 and conducted a nuclear test in October 2006. North Korea returned to the Six-Party Talks in December 2006 and subsequently signed two agreements on denuclearization. The 13 February 2007 Initial Actions Agreement shut down the North's nuclear facilities at Yongbyon in July 2007. In the 3 October 2007 Second Phase Actions Agreement, Pyongyang pledged to disable those facilities and provide a correct and complete declaration of its nuclear programs. Under the supervision of US nuclear experts, North Korean personnel completed a number of agreed-upon disablement actions at the three core facilities at the Yongbyon nuclear complex by the end of 2007. North Korea also began the discharge of spent fuel rods in December 2007, but it did not provide a declaration of its nuclear programs by the end of the year.

Geography of North Korea

Eastern Asia, northern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Korea Bay and the Sea of Japan, between China and South Korea
40 00 N, 127 00 E
total: 120,540 sq km
water: 130 sq km
land: 120,410 sq km
Area comparative:
slightly smaller than Mississippi
Land boundaries:
total: 1,673 km
border countries: China 1,416 km, South Korea 238 km, Russia 19 km
2,495 km
Maritime claims:
territorial sea: 12 NM
exclusive economic zone: 200 NM
note: military boundary line 50 NM in the Sea of Japan and the exclusive economic zone limit in the Yellow Sea where all foreign vessels and aircraft without permission are banned
temperate with rainfall concentrated in summer
mostly hills and mountains separated by deep, narrow valleys; coastal plains wide in west, discontinuous in east
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Sea of Japan 0 m
highest point: Paektu-san 2,744 m
Natural resources:
coal, lead, tungsten, zinc, graphite, magnesite, iron ore, copper, gold, pyrites, salt, fluorspar, hydropower
Natural hazards:
late spring droughts often followed by severe flooding; occasional typhoons during the early fall
Environment current issues:
water pollution; inadequate supplies of potable water; water-borne disease; deforestation; soil erosion and degradation
Geography - note:
strategic location bordering China, South Korea, and Russia; mountainous interior is isolated and sparsely populated

Population of North Korea

23,479,088 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 23.8% (male 2,788,944/female 2,708,331)
15-64 years: 68% (male 7,762,442/female 7,955,522)
65 years and over: 8.2% (male 667,792/female 1,229,988)
Median age:
32 years
Growth rate:
Infant mortality:
23.29 deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 71.65 years
male: 68.92 years
female: 74.51 years
Fertility rate:
2.1 children born/woman
noun: Korean(s)
adjective: Korean
Ethnic groups:
racially homogeneous; there is a small Chinese community and a few ethnic Japanese
traditionally Buddhist and Confucianist, some Christian and syncretic Chondogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way)
note: autonomous religious activities now almost nonexistent; government-sponsored religious groups exist to provide illusion of religious freedom
definition: age 15 and over can read and write Korean
total population: 99%


Country name:
conventional long form: Democratic People's Republic of Korea
local long form: Choson-minjujuui-inmin-konghwaguk
note: the North Koreans generally use the term "Choson" to refer to their country
abbreviation: DPRK
Government type:
Communist state one-man dictatorship
Administrative divisions:
9 provinces (do, singular and plural) and 4 special cities* (si, singular and plural); Chagang-do (Chagang Province), Hamgyong-bukto (North Hamgyong Province), Hamgyong-namdo (South Hamgyong Province), Hwanghae-bukto (North Hwanghae Province), Hwanghae-namdo (South Hwanghae Province), Kaesong-si* (Kaesong City), Kangwon-do (Kangwon Province), Najin Sonbong-si*, Namp'o-si* (Namp'o City), P'yongan-bukto (North P'yongan Province), P'yongan-namdo (South P'yongan Province), P'yongyang-si* (Pyongyang City), Yanggang-do (Yanggang Province)
15 August 1945 (from Japan)
National holiday:
Founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), 9 September (1948)
adopted 1948, completely revised 27 December 1972, revised again in April 1992 and September 1998
Legal system:
based on German civil law system with Japanese influences and Communist legal theory; no judicial review of legislative acts; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
17 years of age; universal
Executive branch:
chief of state: KIM Jong Il (since July 1994); note - on 3 September 2003, rubberstamp Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) reelected KIM Jong Il chairman of the National Defense Commission, a position accorded nation's "highest administrative authority"; SPA reelected KIM Yong Nam president of its Presidium also with responsibility of representing state and receiving diplomatic credentials
head of government: Premier KIM Yong Il (since 11 April 2007); Vice Premiers KWAK Pom Gi (since 5 September 1998), JON Sung Hun (since 3 September 2003), RO Tu Chol (since 3 September 2003), THAE Jong Su (since 16 October 2007)
cabinet: Naegak (cabinet) members, except for Minister of People's Armed Forces, are appointed by SPA.
Legislative branch:
unicameral Supreme People's Assembly or Ch'oego Inmin Hoeui (687 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms);
ruling party approves a list of candidates who are elected without opposition; some seats are held by minor parties.
Judicial branch:
Central Court (judges are elected by the Supreme People's Assembly)
Political parties and leaders:
major party - Korean Workers' Party or KWP [KIM Jong Il]; minor parties - Chondoist Chongu Party [RYU Mi Yong] (under KWP control), Social Democratic Party [KIM Yong Dae] (under KWP control)


North Korea, one of the world's most centrally directed and least open economies, faces chronic economic problems. Industrial capital stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of years of underinvestment and shortages of spare parts. Industrial and power output have declined in parallel from pre-1990 levels. Due in part to severe summer flooding followed by dry weather conditions in the fall of 2006, the nation suffered its 13th year of food shortages because of on-going systemic problems including a lack of arable land, collective farming practices, and persistent shortages of tractors and fuel. During the summer of 2007, severe flooding again occurred. Large-scale international food aid deliveries have allowed the people of North Korea to escape widespread starvation since famine threatened in 1995, but the population continues to suffer from prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions. Large-scale military spending draws off resources needed for investment and civilian consumption. Since 2002, the government has formalized an arrangement whereby private "farmers' markets" were allowed to begin selling a wider range of goods. It also permitted some private farming on an experimental basis in an effort to boost agricultural output. In October 2005, the government tried to reverse some of these policies by forbidding private sales of grains and reinstituting a centralized food rationing system. By December 2005, the government terminated most international humanitarian assistance operations in North Korea (calling instead for developmental assistance only) and restricted the activities of remaining international and non-governmental aid organizations such as the World Food Program. External food aid now comes primarily from China and South Korea in the form of grants and long-term concessional loans. During the October 2007 summit, South Korea also agreed to develop some of North Korea's infrastructure and natural resources and light industry. Firm political control remains the Communist government's overriding concern, which will likely inhibit the loosening of economic regulations.

$40 billion
note: North Korea does not publish any reliable National Income Accounts data; the datum shown here is derived from purchasing power parity (PPP) GDP estimates for North Korea that were made by Angus MADDISON in a study conducted for the OECD; his figure for 1999 was extrapolated to 2006 using estimated real growth rates for North Korea's GDP and an inflation factor based on the US GDP deflator; the result was rounded to the nearest $10 billion (2007 est.)
GDP growth rate:
GDP per capita:
GDP composition by sector:
agriculture: 30.2%
industry: 33.8%
services: 36%
Labor force:
9.6 million
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture: 36%
industry and services: 64%
Electricity production by source:
fossil fuel: 29%
hydro: 71%
other: 0% 
nuclear: 0%
military products; machine building, electric power, chemicals; mining (coal, iron ore, magnesite, graphite, copper, zinc, lead, and precious metals), metallurgy; textiles, food processing; tourism
rice, corn, potatoes, soybeans, pulses; cattle, pigs, pork, eggs
minerals, metallurgical products, manufactures (including armaments); textiles and fishery products
Export partners:
China 45.6%, South Korea 20.2%, Japan 12.9%
petroleum, coking coal, machinery and equipment; textiles, grain
Import partners:
China 32.9%, Thailand 10.7%, Japan 4.8% 
North Korean won (KPW)

SOURCES: The CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State, Area Handbook of the US Library of Congress

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