Ranked last out of 180 countries in The Heritage Foundation’s 2019 Index of Economic Freedom and with a GDP per capita of a meager $2000, North Korea has one of the world’s poorest economies. Still, North Korea has captured international attention for decades and especially in the last 5 years as erratic steps towards nuclear operationalization have been taken. With a denuclearization summit between the United States and North Korea cut short in Hanoi last February, and a South Korea- United States summit planned to take place in DC in April, the future of the Korean Peninsula is at a critical turning-point. A review of the economic situation in the North will shed light on current moves and potential next steps of the Kim regime.
Prospects for continued peace talks in the near future are not promising given the abrupt ending and confusing aftermath of the February 27-28 Hanoi Summit. U.S. and DPRK blame each other for the premature conclusion but tell the same story: The U.S. walked out rather than accept a deal that gave sweeping sanctions relief for the dismantlement of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor but, in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words, “still leaves missiles, still leaves warheads and weapons systems.” While it’s not the outcome world leaders were hoping for, it didn’t come as a surprise to US Intelligence officials who have dealt with North Korea’s unwillingness to give up their nuclear program in the past.