North Korea



Join Active Minds for a discussion of the history of North Korea and the development of the North Korean nuclear program. We will cover the successes and shortcomings of diplomatic efforts between North Korea, the United States and other countries. North Korea’s place in the world relative to global issues such as international trade and human rights issues will also be addressed as well as their current leadership issues.

Key Lecture Points

  • North Korea is the world’s most secretive country. It is also the world’s only communist hereditary dictatorship and is considered a threat to the rest of the world because of its massive military, the 4th largest in the world, and its defiant development of nuclear weapons and the long-range missiles needed to deliver them.
  • North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006 and a second in 2009, drawing repeated protests from the US, China and Russia. Kim Jong-Il built up the nuclear program at the expense of his impoverished nation.
  • North Korea’s nuclear weapon program has been a frustrating challenge to the US and the international community for decades. Years of “stop and go” negotiations that have included China, North Korea’s closest ally, and escalating international sanctions have been ineffective in stopping the country’s nuclear reality. Both the Bush and Obama Administrations have struggled with how to dissuade a sovereign nation from pursing an unwanted course.
  • The Kim dynasty began with Kim Il-Sung who fought the Japanese as a guerilla during the Japanese colonial period and continued with his son, Kim Jong-Il who died in December 2011. His youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, the “Great Successor,” replaced him. The world is watching to see if Kim Jong-Un will follow his father’s policies or if he will exert his own plan. Although Kim Jong-Un has a more affable leadership style than his father, Korea-watchers expect him to maintain his father’s “Military First” policy and nuclear weapons program. This was re-enforced in December 2012 with the successful test of a three-stage rocket, a precursor to a intercontinental ballistic missile.
  • Food shortages are expected to continue in North Korea because of the small percentage of arable land, annual floods exacerbated by deforestation and collective farming practices. International food aid has helped the North Korean people avoid the widespread famine of the 1990s even though this help was frequently refused during the Kim Jong-Il years.

Exploration Questions

  • How has Korea’s proximity to Japan and China influenced North Korea’s current political situation?
  • What do you feel are the driving factors that underlie North Korea’s Nuclear Program? What are the best ways to confront North Korea?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you think Kim Jong-un can continue the political dynasty created by his grandfather? Why? Why Not?
  • Can you think of a time when you felt threatened and reacted to that threat? Does North Korea’s behavior seem similar or different to this?
  • Have you ever been to Korea? What do you remember the most?

More to Explore

  • Overview of North Korea's nuclear program Click here
  • Korea Institute for National Unification's web site Click here
  • North Korea official website Click here

Books For Further Reading

  • Harden, Blaine. Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West. Viking Adult, 2012. 224 pages. Tells the story of Shin Donghyuk who was born in a North Korean prison camp and what his life was like until he was able to escape from the camp.
    Click here to order
  • Demick, Barbara. Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. Speigel & Grau, 2010. 336 pages. Follows the lives of 6 North Korean citizens and describes what it is like to live in North Korea.
    Click here to order
  • Cha, Victor. The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future. Ecco Press, 2012. 530 pages. Examines North Korea’s past, its culture and its uncertain future.
    Click here to order