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North Korea

Background

Map of North KoreaA Guide To North Korea

With an historic summit planned between North and South Korea this Fall (only the second ever for the two countries), we've compiled a selection of links that offers insight into the history, politics and personalities that have defined the totalitarian state for the last 60 years.

BBC News Country Profile: North Korea
The BBC’s broad coverage of the region includes in-depth reports about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, a profile of the country's unpredictable leader Kim Jong-il and reports on the thawing of relations between the North and South in recent years.

Human Rights Watch: North Korea
In a series of reports, Human Rights Watch pieces together a chilling profile of a country with no organized political opposition and widespread malnutrition -- a situation made worse by this summer’s mass flooding. The group also looks into a long and disturbing record on human rights, as well as a lack of the most basic freedoms for citizens.

The World Food Program (WFP)
Although accurate information is scarce about the extent of North Korea’s food shortages, the WFP reports that the crisis has lessened since the late 1990s. But continuing economic problems mean that the country cannot reliably supply enough food for its 23 million citizens. Dependent on rice and maize harvests for the bulk of their nutritional needs, North Koreans lack basic, important proteins and fats in their diet.

The New York Times: World – North Korea
Ongoing coverage from The New York Times shows why North Korea is often in the world spotlight. Many of these issues revolve around the complex relationship between the two countries on the divided peninsula; and how to contain North Korea’s nuclear program. The testing of nuclear missiles has kept the international community in a continuous cat-and-mouse game with Kim Jong-il, with hopes of bringing the bellicose leader to the negotiating table.

Revealed: The Gas Chamber Horror of North Korea's Gulag
This 2004 report published in the Guardian revealed a network of concentration camps in a remote part of North Korea, near the borders with Russia and China. Details of a brutal and secretive penal system began to surface through testimonies from defectors and former guards. An estimated 200,000 people were held in the gulag -- many of them for their religious and political beliefs -- and eyewitnesses recall torture, gassing and other chemical experiments on adults and children.

Worse Than 1984: North Korea, Slave State
Writing in Slate, Christopher Hitchens offers a withering assessment of North Korea, which he describes in Orwellian terms. “It is a famine state as well as a slave state,” he writes, and attributes this, in part, to the end of subsidies and favorable trade relations with the former Soviet Union, but even more so to “the lunacy of the country’s command economy.” On a visit to the “terrifying” country in 2000, Hitchens recalls, “Even my robotic guides couldn't prevent me from seeing people drinking from sewers and picking up individual grains of food from barren fields. (I was reduced to eating a dog, and I was a privileged ‘guest.’)”

North Korea: Suspicious Minds
Unfortunately, this is the one broadcast we don’t have the rights to stream online, but when BBC reporter Ben Anderson entered North Korea in 2003 to film for FRONTLINE/World, he provided a fascinating portrait of a well-oiled propaganda machine with plenty of quizzical exchanges, as he searched for some measure of reality inside this relic of the Cold War. In the absence of the video, you can read his reporter interview and a synopsis of the story.

FRONTLINE: Kim’s Nuclear Gamble
This FRONTLINE report from 2003 examines the fraught relationship between North Korea and the United States and the build up of threats, deception and eventual diplomatic efforts to avert a nuclear crisis.

The Koreas: Mr. Kim Has the Neighbors In
The Economist assesses what’s at stake and what is the likely outcome of the forthcoming summit between the two Koreas. Referring to the only other time the two countries have met (back in 2000), The Economist explains: “As before, the outside world has nothing to lose and much to gain from hearing what Mr. Kim has to say -- even more so since in the interim he has acquired a few nuclear weapons.”

The Atlantic Monthly: When North Korea Falls
In the October 2006 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Robert D. Kaplan writes about how “the playboy and canny operator” Kim Jong-il is using nuclear brinksmanship as a diversion from the “catastrophic collapse” awaiting his country. Here, the writer examines who in Asia will benefit most should  -- or, as Kaplan insists, when -- North Korea falls.

-- Jackie Bennion