SEOUL – Korea is a unique country. The Cold War ended when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and is now remembered only as history to most people around the world. The Korean Peninsula, however, remains divided along ideological lines, and the two Koreas co-exist as living remnants of the Cold War. A total of almost 1.5 million young soldiers from both North and South Korea face off against each across the heavily armed Demilitarized Zone.
Events and structural forces, however, have affected and changed the nature of the North Korean system since 1991. The sudden discontinuation of the supply of petroleum and natural resources from Russia in the early 1990’s, the failure of the centrally-planned economy, and the subsequent massive famine in the mid-1990’s left North Korea’s leaders no alternative but to tolerate informal market activities. Nowadays, every North Korean seems to like money and know its value.
The engagement policy pursued by the South Korean government in recent years also contributed to changes in North Koreans’ perceptions of the outside world and of their own abject economic situation. In these desperate circumstances, North Korea’s leaders clung to their strategy of developing nuclear weapons as a last resort to defend the security of their regime.
But, regardless of whether the nuclear issue is resolved, the spread of market forces in North Korea will continue to change every aspect of life there in the coming years. Nobody yet knows what the political consequences of these economic changes will be.