North Korea: Dangerous, isolated & ready for war? The reality behind the caricature

North Korea is portrayed in the media as a dangerous and irrational military power that represents the greatest current threat to world peace, with its arsenal of nuclear weapons and a stated intention to use them against the United States.  In addition the North Korean state is seen as uniquely repressive driving its population to untold levels of poverty and deprivation, and heavily involved in international criminal activity. North Korea is, allegedly, a criminal state because state representatives systematically abuse diplomatic immunity to smuggle counterfeit currency, narcotics, counterfeit cigarettes, endangered species and other illicit goods across borders and state companies are manufacturing counterfeit currency, goods and narcotics in a system which is designed to enhance the personal fortunes of the leadership.

This picture obscures the fact that the North Korean state is, sadly, hardly unique and its 25 million population, whose priorities are economic survival in one of the world’s poorest countries, face complex and diverse challenges shaped, importantly, by generation, gender, occupation, social class and geographical location.

Professor Smith discusses the complex realities behind the conventional caricatures of North Korean society; identifying what we can say we know, because we have the evidence to support our knowledge claims, and what we can only guess at.  Guardian article 2015Guardian panel discussion 2017.

Professor Hazel Smith is a leading authority on North Korea and Professorial Research Associate in the Centre for Korean Studies at SOAS. She has written extensively about North Korea over many years, including her most recent book ‘North Korea: Markets and military rule’ (2015). She is regularly called on to advise governments, including the UK and the US and is a frequent broadcaster for the global media on North Korea, where she lived and worked for United Nations humanitarian organisations for two years and from where she earned a (still valid!) North Korean driving license.

Monday 30th April 2018