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Country Reports

North Korea Country Report

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Risk Level

Low
Moderate
Elevated
High
Very High
Severe
Extreme

Overview

Executive Summary

In line with IHS Markit's forecast for 2019, the failure of the Hanoi summit between North Korea and the US to conclude in any agreement indicates a breakdown in diplomacy. Without progress in US talks, this is likely to continue constraining North Korea-South Korea efforts at rapprochement and trigger renewal of the exchange of military threats and open weapons testing by North Korea. Importantly, high-level summits between North Korea and China, South Korea, or the United States, while positive indicators of reduced near-term risk of interstate war, do not, indicate a shift in the states' underlying motivations or strategic interests. North Korea is almost certain to remain unwilling to "denuclearise" unilaterally. Although all-out conflict remains unlikely, ambiguity around North Korea's – and importantly the United States' – redlines drives the very high risk of interstate war. North Korea's authoritarian structure, repression through its extensive security forces, and purges of opponents impose stability to its political system. Since Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un succeeded his father in December 2011, the ruling Korean Workers' Party has consolidated its power relative to the military. Kim's core policy points to continued weapon development and acceptance of limited use of market mechanisms. The domestic economy remains weak. During recent years, North Korea managed a 1% growth rate because of increased trade with China. Trade with South Korea, which had been growing until 2014, remains negligible. Trade and labour exports to China remain the key source of hard currency earnings under sanctions. However, a qualitative and quantitative expansion of UN sanctions in 2016 and 2017 caused GDP to fall by 3.5% in 2017. Real GDP contracted a further 1.2% in 2018. Assuming North Korea further develops its ability to evade sanctions, marginal growth in 2019 appears probable.
Last update: June 18, 2019

Operational Outlook

North Korea is among the countries with the highest operational risk scores. Government efforts to introduce more market-oriented policies have consistently stalled, or been suspended or reversed. Despite ongoing construction, mainly in the capital Pyongyang, physical infrastructure is poor and substantial improvement is unlikely, including in special economic zones. International sanctions because of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes will likely continue to hinder foreign investment or operations beyond the one-year outlook. All labour is controlled by the government, posing the risk of withdrawal of workers in addition to the arbitrary seizure of assets, as happened in the Kaesong Industrial Zone in April 2013 and February 2016.

Last update: May 25, 2019

Terrorism

Low

There are no known domestic or transnational terrorist groups in North Korea. The government has sponsored or carried out terrorist-style attacks on South Korean targets and (most recently) the assassination of the North Korean supreme leader’s half-brother in Malaysia in February 2017. The North Korean government and military also support international terrorism by selling technology, training, and weapons to state and non-state actors, including chemical weapons to the Syrian government and small-arms and anti-tank weapons to militant groups, such as Hamas.

Last update: December 29, 2018

Crime

There is little petty crime in North Korea's tightly controlled state. Closely monitored foreign visitors are highly unlikely to be affected by criminal activity. The primary state authorities responsible for overseeing law and order are the People's Safety Agency (PSA) and National Security Agency (NSA). North Korean government involvement in international criminal activity, however, has been evidenced in multiple, well-sourced investigations. This includes allegations of cyber attacks and methamphetamine trafficking, which reportedly generate millions of dollars for the government. Increasingly, the state and its overseas organisations are also involved in for-profit cyber crime.

Last update: May 25, 2019

War Risks

The risk of interstate war on the Korean Peninsula is largely dependent on ongoing diplomacy between North Korea and the US, as well as other regional actors. The failure of the North Korea-US summit in February and subsequent weapons tests by North Korea in April and May indicate a return to the relatively risky exchange of threats and violent incidents of 2017, which increased the risk of miscalculation and escalation towards conflict. This is likely to culminate in an intercontinental ballistic missile test unless the US alters its negotiating position by North Korea's deadline of end-2019.

Last update: May 18, 2019

Social Stability

Low

North Korea’s ubiquitous and strict domestic security and intelligence services minimise the risk of social unrest. Most people with strong anti-government leanings are more likely to attempt to defect from North Korea rather than to rebel. Food or fuel shortages would be the most probable trigger for protests, but these would probably be sparsely attended because of repressive security forces. They will probably use force and mass detention, if not public execution, to disperse and end any protests. In the long term, increasing information about foreign countries, particularly South Korea, will probably foment political dissatisfaction, although not enough to instigate an uprising.

Last update: May 25, 2019

Health Risk

Severe

Vaccinations required to enter the country

Proof of vaccination against yellow fever is required if traveling from a country with risk of yellow fever transmission and over one year of age.

Routine Vaccinations

Hepatitis A: A vaccine is available for anyone over one year of age. The vaccine may not be effective for certain people, e.g. those born before 1945 and who lived as a child in a developing country and/or have a past history of jaundice (icterus). These people can instead get a shot of immune globulin (IG) to boost their immunity against the disease.

Hepatitis B: A vaccine is available for children at least two months old.

Diphtheria-Tetanus-Polio: A booster shot should be administered if necessary (once every ten years).

Other Vaccinations

Typhoid Fever: If your travels take you to regions with poor sanitary conditions (for children two years old and up).

Rabies: For prolonged stays in an isolated region (for children from when they can walk).

Japanese Encephalitis: For stays of longer than one month in a rural zone during the rainy season (for children over the age of one). The vaccine is administered in a local medical facility.

For Children: All standard childhood immunizations should be up-to-date. In the case of a long stay, the BCG vaccine is recommended for children over one month and the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine for children over nine months.

Last update: April 5, 2019

Practical Information

Climate

Autumn is sunny and dry. Winters are quite harsh but still sunny and dry. Spring is often foggy and rivers remain frozen until mid-April. Summer, monsoon season, is hot (30°C) and very rainy.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +850

There are no emergency services in North Korea.

Electricity

Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

Last update: April 5, 2019