Military personnel symbolizing the branches of the Korean
People's Army Forces.
IN THE EARLY 1990s, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea,
(DPRK, or North Korea) was one of the most militarized countries
in the world. North Korea's confrontational relationship with the
Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) is one of the last
legacies of the Cold War, 1992, however, hinted at the beginning
of a new era of reconciliation. Nonetheless, the peninsula
remains divided, with two large armies tactically deployed
forward along the Demilitarized Zone
(DMZ--see Glossary) that is
demilitarized in name only.
The division of Korea originated as a consequence of a
territorial partition imposed at the end of World War II (1939-
45). When Japanese forces on the peninsula surrendered, the
United States and the Soviet Union agreed to divide the landmass
into dual occupation zones at the thirty-eighth parallel, the
Soviet Union occupying the north and the United States the south.
The arrangement was intended to be temporary, and the country was
to be unified after free elections. Instead, diametrically
different political systems were set up in the two areas, and all
ensuing diplomatic efforts to unify the country have failed.
A communist attempt at reunification by military action in
1950 brought on the Korean War (1950-53), known in North Korea as
the Fatherland Liberation War. The fighting was stopped with an
armistice in July 1953, but the hostile political and military
relationship between the two Koreas remained unsolved, and the
North-South military confrontation continues. There is no
convincing evidence that P'yongyang has ever given up the option
of reuniting the peninsula by force of arms. In fact, despite
growing economic difficulties, North Korea continues to devote
its scarce resources to maintaining a force structure that
appears unjustifiable on defensive considerations alone. Some
officials in the South Korean government believe that North Korea
has designated 1995 as the year for reunification and is
accelerating its preparations for war.
In 1992 some observers regarded the possibility of war on the
Korean Peninsula as low, a judgment based on the global political
changes that have ended the confrontation between East and West.
Despite the end in the early 1990s to the Cold War competition
that had created South Korea and North Korea, the confrontation
on the peninsula has not dissipated. Multiple areas of friction
between the two countries, including potential nuclear weapons
development by North Korea, continue to suggest the possibility
of conflict, either deliberate or as a result of miscalculation.
The North Korean leadership has created a Stalinist state
that perhaps even exceeds the model. P'yongyang subjects its
people to rigid controls: Individual rights are subordinate to
those of the state and party. The Ministry of Public Security is
charged with maintaining law and order and internal security, and
has sweeping powers over the lives of citizens.
The North Korean penal code is draconian and stipulates harsh
punishments, particularly for political crimes. Its legal and
criminal systems are patterned after Soviet models in force
during the occupation after World War II. Little information is
available on specific criminal justice procedures and practices.
Although the constitution (adopted in 1948, revised in 1972,
and again in 1992) states that courts are independent and that
judicial proceedings are carried out in strict accordance with
the law--and includes elaborate procedural guarantees to carry
out the law--there are strong indications that safeguards are
seldom followed in practice. The legal system reflects strong
authoritarian impulses and the subordination of the interests of
the individual to the state, or to the cause of revolution. Not
all details of the law are available to the citizens, and, as of
mid-1993, there were indications that liberally defined political
crimes were prosecuted with little regard for legal constraints.
Data as of June 1993