Satellite image shows North and South Korea (upper left) as well as the Japanese island of Shikoku, nestled between Kyushu to the southwest and Honshu to the north. Photo courtesy of NASA.
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Introduction

Background

The first recorded kingdom (Choson) on the Korean Peninsula dates from approximately 2300 B.C.  Over the subsequent centuries, three main kingdoms - Kogoryo, Paekche, and Silla - were established on the Peninsula. By the 5th century A.D, Kogoryo emerged as the most powerful, with control over much of the Peninsula, as well as part of Manchuria (modern-day northeast China). However, Silla allied with the Chinese to create the first unified Korean state in the late 7th century (688). Following the collapse of Silla in the 9th century, Korea was unified under the Koryo (Goryeo; 918-1392) and the Chosen (Joseon; 1392-1910) dynasties.

Korea became the object of intense imperialistic rivalry between the Chinese (its traditional benefactor), Japanese, and Russian empires in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Following the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Korea was occupied by Imperial Japan. In 1910, Japan formally annexed the entire peninsula. After World War II, Korea was split with the northern half coming under Soviet-sponsored communist control. After the Korean War (1950-53), during which North Korea failed to conquer UN-backed South Korea (Republic of Korea, ROK), North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK), under its founder President KIM Il Sung, adopted a policy of juche ("self-reliance") as a check against outside influence. North Korea demonized the US as the ultimate threat to its social system through state-funded propaganda, and molded political, economic, and military policies around the core ideological objective of eventual unification of Korea under Pyongyang's control. KIM Il Sung's son, KIM Jong Il, was officially designated as his father's successor in 1980, assuming a growing political and managerial role until the elder KIM's death in 1994. Under KIM Jong Il's reign, North Korea continued developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. KIM Jong Un was publicly unveiled as his father's successor in 2010. Following KIM Jong Il's death in 2011, KIM Jong Un quickly assumed power and has since occupied the regime's highest political and military posts. 

After decades of economic mismanagement and resource misallocation, the North since the mid-1990s has faced chronic food shortages and economic stagnation. In recent years, the North's domestic agricultural production has increased, but still falls far short of producing sufficient food to provide for its entire population. North Korea began to ease restrictions to allow semi-private markets, starting in 2002, but has made few other efforts to meet its goal of improving the overall standard of living. New economic development plans in the 2010s failed to meet government-mandated goals for key industrial sectors, food production, or overall economic performance. In response, the North Korean leader in early 2021 admitted these failures, but vowed to continue "self-reliant" policies.

North Korea has a history of provocative regional military actions and posturing that are of major concern to the international community and have limited North Korea’s international engagement, particularly economically. These include proliferation of military-related items; long-range missile development; WMD programs including tests of nuclear devices in 2006, 2009, 2013, 2016, and 2017; and large conventional armed forces. In 2013, North Korea declared a policy of simultaneous development of its nuclear weapons program and economy. In late 2017, KIM Jong Un declared the North's nuclear weapons development complete. In 2018, KIM announced a pivot towards diplomacy, including a re-prioritization of economic development, a pause in missile testing beginning in late 2017, and a refrain from anti-US rhetoric starting in June 2018. Since 2018, KIM has participated in four meetings with Chinese President XI Jinping, three with South Korean President MOON Jae-in, and three with US President TRUMP. Since 2019, North Korea has continued developing its ballistic missile program and issued statements condemning the US, and vowing to further strengthen its military capabilities, including long range missiles and nuclear weapons. North Korea remains one of the world’s most isolated and one of Asia’s poorest countries. 

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.

Geography

Location

Eastern Asia, northern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Korea Bay and the Sea of Japan, between China and South Korea

Geographic coordinates

40 00 N, 127 00 E

Area

total: 120,538 sq km

land: 120,408 sq km

water: 130 sq km

country comparison to the world: 99

Area - comparative

slightly larger than Virginia; slightly smaller than Mississippi

<p>slightly larger than Virginia; slightly smaller than Mississippi</p>

Land boundaries

total: 1,607 km

border countries (3): China 1352 km, South Korea 237 km, Russia 18 km

Coastline

2,495 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

note: military boundary line 50 nm in the Sea of Japan and the exclusive economic zone limit in the Yellow Sea where all foreign vessels and aircraft without permission are banned

Climate

temperate, with rainfall concentrated in summer; long, bitter winters

Terrain

mostly hills and mountains separated by deep, narrow valleys; wide coastal plains in west, discontinuous in east

Elevation

highest point: Paektu-san 2,744 m

lowest point: Sea of Japan 0 m

mean elevation: 600 m

Natural resources

coal, iron ore, limestone, magnesite, graphite, copper, zinc, lead, precious metals, hydropower

Land use

agricultural land: 21.8% (2018 est.)

arable land: 19.5% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 1.9% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 0.4% (2018 est.)

forest: 46% (2018 est.)

other: 32.2% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

14,600 sq km (2012)

Population distribution

population concentrated in the plains and lowlands; least populated regions are the mountainous provinces adjacent to the Chinese border; largest concentrations are in the western provinces, particularly the municipal district of Pyongyang, and around Hungnam and Wonsan in the east

Natural hazards

late spring droughts often followed by severe flooding; occasional typhoons during the early fall

volcanism: Changbaishan (2,744 m) (also known as Baitoushan, Baegdu or P'aektu-san), on the Chinese border, is considered historically active

Geography - note

strategic location bordering China, South Korea, and Russia; mountainous interior is isolated and sparsely populated

People and Society

Nationality

noun: Korean(s)

adjective: Korean

Ethnic groups

racially homogeneous; there is a small Chinese community and a few ethnic Japanese

Languages

Korean

major-language sample(s):
월드 팩트북, 필수적인 기본 정보 제공처 (Korean)

The World Factbook, the indispensable source for basic information.

Korean audio sample:

Religions

traditionally Buddhist and Confucian, some Christian and syncretic Chondogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way)

note: autonomous religious activities now almost nonexistent; government-sponsored religious groups exist to provide illusion of religious freedom

Age structure

0-14 years: 20.33% (male 2,680,145/female 2,571,334)

15-24 years: 14.39% (male 1,873,814/female 1,842,269)

25-54 years: 43.77% (male 5,671,900/female 5,633,861)

55-64 years: 11.77% (male 1,454,000/female 1,585,830)

65 years and over: 9.75% (male 878,176/female 1,640,031) (2021 est.)

This is the population pyramid for Korea, North. A population pyramid illustrates the age and sex structure of a country's population and may provide insights about political and social stability, as well as economic development. The population is distributed along the horizontal axis, with males shown on the left and females on the right. The male and female populations are broken down into 5-year age groups represented as horizontal bars along the vertical axis, with the youngest age groups at the bottom and the oldest at the top. The shape of the population pyramid gradually evolves over time based on fertility, mortality, and international migration trends. <br/><br/>For additional information, please see the entry for Population pyramid on the Definitions and Notes page.

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 41.2

youth dependency ratio: 28

elderly dependency ratio: 13.2

potential support ratio: 7.6 (2020 est.)

Median age

total: 34.6 years

male: 33.2 years

female: 36.2 years (2020 est.)

country comparison to the world: 89

Birth rate

14.35 births/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 125

Death rate

9.39 deaths/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 48

Net migration rate

-0.04 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 96

Population distribution

population concentrated in the plains and lowlands; least populated regions are the mountainous provinces adjacent to the Chinese border; largest concentrations are in the western provinces, particularly the municipal district of Pyongyang, and around Hungnam and Wonsan in the east

Urbanization

urban population: 62.6% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: 0.85% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Major urban areas - population

3.108 million PYONGYANG (capital) (2021)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.04 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 1.01 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 1.01 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 0.91 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.53 male(s)/female

total population: 0.95 male(s)/female (2020 est.)

Maternal mortality ratio

89 deaths/100,000 live births (2017 est.)

country comparison to the world: 74

Infant mortality rate

total: 22.42 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 25.2 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 19.47 deaths/1,000 live births (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 76

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 71.65 years

male: 67.79 years

female: 75.74 years (2021 est.)

country comparison to the world: 162

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 97.2% of population

rural: 90.2% of population

total: 94.5% of population

unimproved: urban: 2.8% of population

rural: 9.8% of population

total: 5.5% of population (2017 est.)

Physicians density

3.68 physicians/1,000 population (2017)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 91.9% of population

rural: 72.3% of population

total: 84.5% of population

unimproved: urban: 8.1% of population

rural: 27.7% of population

total: 15.5% of population (2017 est.)

Literacy

definition: age 15 and over can read and write

total population: 100%

male: 100%

female: 100% (2015)

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education)

total: 11 years

male: 11 years

female: 11 years (2015)

Environment

Environment - current issues

water pollution; inadequate supplies of potable water; waterborne disease; deforestation; soil erosion and degradation

Environment - international agreements

party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Climate Change-Paris Agreement, Desertification, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands

signed, but not ratified: Antarctic-Environmental Protection, Law of the Sea

Air pollutants

particulate matter emissions: 30.4 micrograms per cubic meter (2016 est.)

carbon dioxide emissions: 28.28 megatons (2016 est.)

methane emissions: 18.68 megatons (2020 est.)

Climate

temperate, with rainfall concentrated in summer; long, bitter winters

Land use

agricultural land: 21.8% (2018 est.)

arable land: 19.5% (2018 est.)

permanent crops: 1.9% (2018 est.)

permanent pasture: 0.4% (2018 est.)

forest: 46% (2018 est.)

other: 32.2% (2018 est.)

Urbanization

urban population: 62.6% of total population (2021)

rate of urbanization: 0.85% annual rate of change (2020-25 est.)

Food insecurity

widespread lack of access: due to low food consumption levels, poor dietary diversity, and economic downturn - a large portion of the population suffers from low levels of food consumption and very poor dietary diversity; the economic constraints, particularly resulting from the global impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic, have increased the population’s vulnerability to food insecurity; the food gap is estimated at about 860,000 mt in the 2020/21 marketing year (November/October); if this gap is not adequately covered through commercial imports and/or food aid, households could experience a harsh lean period, particularly from August until October, when the 2021 main season grain crops are expected to be available for consumption (2021)

Total water withdrawal

municipal: 902.8 million cubic meters (2017 est.)

industrial: 1.145 billion cubic meters (2017 est.)

agricultural: 6.61 billion cubic meters (2017 est.)

Total renewable water resources

77.15 billion cubic meters (2017 est.)

Government

Country name

conventional long form: Democratic People's Republic of Korea

conventional short form: North Korea

local long form: Choson-minjujuui-inmin-konghwaguk

local short form: Choson

abbreviation: DPRK

etymology: derived from the Chinese name for Goryeo, which was the Korean dynasty that united the peninsula in the 10th century A.D.; the North Korean name "Choson" means "[Land of the] Morning Calm"

Government type

dictatorship, single-party state; official state ideology of "Juche" or "national self-reliance"

Capital

name: Pyongyang

geographic coordinates: 39 01 N, 125 45 E

time difference: UTC+9 (14 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

time zone note: on 5 May 2018, North Korea reverted to UTC+9, the same time zone as South Korea

etymology: the name translates as "flat land" in Korean

Administrative divisions

9 provinces (do, singular and plural) and 4 cities (si, singular and plural)

provinces: Chagang, Hambuk (North Hamgyong), Hamnam (South Hamgyong), Hwangbuk (North Hwanghae), Hwangnam (South Hwanghae), Kangwon, P'yongbuk (North Pyongan), P'yongnam (South Pyongan), Ryanggang

major cities: Kaesong, Nampo, P'yongyang, Rason



note: P'yongyang is identified as a directly controlled city, while Kaesong, Nampo, and Rason are designated as special cities

Independence

15 August 1945 (from Japan)

National holiday

Founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), 9 September (1948)

Constitution

history: previous 1948, 1972; latest adopted 1998 (during KIM Jong Il era)

amendments: proposed by the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA); passage requires more than two-thirds majority vote of the total SPA membership; revised several times, last in 2019

Legal system

civil law system based on the Prussian model; system influenced by Japanese traditions and Communist legal theory

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICC

Citizenship

citizenship by birth: no

citizenship by descent only: at least one parent must be a citizen of North Korea

dual citizenship recognized: no

residency requirement for naturalization: unknown

Suffrage

17 years of age; universal and compulsory

Executive branch

chief of state: State Affairs Commission President KIM Jong Un (since 17 December 2011); note(s) - North Korea revised its constitution in 2019 to define "the Chairman of the State Affairs Commission" as "the supreme leader who represents the state"; functions as the commander-in-chief and chief executive; the specific titles associated with this office have changed multiple times under KIM's tenure, however, KIM Jong Un has been supreme leader since his father's death in 2011 (2021)

head of government: Supreme People's Assembly President CHOE Ryong Hae (since 11 April 2019); note - functions as the technical head of state and performs related duties, such as receiving ambassadors' credentials (2021)

cabinet: Cabinet or Naegak members appointed by the Supreme People's Assembly except the Minister of People's Armed Forces

elections/appointments: chief of state and premier indirectly elected by the Supreme People's Assembly; election last held on 10 March 2019 (next election March 2024)

election results: KIM Jong Un reelected unopposed

note: the Korean Workers' Party continues to list deceased leaders KIM Il Sung and KIM Jong Il as Eternal President and Eternal General Secretary respectively

Legislative branch

description: unicameral Supreme People's Assembly or Ch'oego Inmin Hoeui (687 seats; members directly elected by majority vote in 2 rounds if needed to serve 5-year terms); note - the Korean Workers' Party selects all candidates

elections: last held on 10 March 2019 (next to be held March 2024)

election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - KWP 607, KSDP 50, Chondoist Chongu Party 22, General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) 5, religious associations 3; ruling party approves a list of candidates who are elected without opposition; composition - men 575, women 112, percent of women 16.3%

note: KWP, KSDP, Chondoist Chongu Party, and Chongryon are under the KWP's control; a token number of seats reserved for minor parties

Judicial branch

highest courts: Supreme Court or Central Court (consists of one judge and 2 "People's Assessors" or, for some cases, 3 judges)

judge selection and term of office: judges elected by the Supreme People's Assembly for 5-year terms

subordinate courts: lower provincial courts as determined by the Supreme People's Assembly

Political parties and leaders

major parties:
Korean Workers' Party or KWP [KIM Jong Un, general secretary]
General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) [HO Chong Man]
minor parties:
Chondoist Chongu Party [RI Myong Chol] (under KWP control)
Social Democratic Party or KSDP [PAK Yong Il] (under KWP control) (2021)

International organization participation

ARF, FAO, G-77, ICAO, ICRM, IFAD, IFRCS, IHO, IMO, IMSO, IOC, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, NAM, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNIDO, UNWTO, UPU, WFTU (NGOs), WHO, WIPO, WMO

Diplomatic representation in the US

chief of mission: none; North Korea has a Permanent Mission to the UN in New York

Diplomatic representation from the US

embassy: none; the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang represents the US as consular protecting power

Flag description

three horizontal bands of blue (top), red (triple width), and blue; the red band is edged in white; on the hoist side of the red band is a white disk with a red five-pointed star; the broad red band symbolizes revolutionary traditions; the narrow white bands stand for purity, strength, and dignity; the blue bands signify sovereignty, peace, and friendship; the red star represents socialism

National symbol(s)

red star, chollima (winged horse); national colors: red, white, blue

National anthem

name: "Aegukka" (Patriotic Song)

lyrics/music: PAK Se Yong/KIM Won Gyun

note: adopted 1947; both North Korea's and South Korea's anthems share the same name and have a vaguely similar melody but have different lyrics; the North Korean anthem is also known as "Ach'imun pinnara" (Let Morning Shine)

Economy

Economic overview

North Korea, one of the world's most centrally directed and least open economies, faces chronic economic problems. Industrial capital stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of decades of mismanagement, underinvestment, shortages of spare parts, and poor maintenance. Corruption and resource misallocation, including show projects, large-scale military spending, and development of its ballistic missile and nuclear programs, severely draws off resources needed for investment and civilian consumption. Industrial and power outputs have stagnated for years at a fraction of pre-1990 levels. Frequent weather-related crop failures aggravated chronic food shortages caused by on-going systemic problems, including a lack of arable land, collective farming practices, poor soil quality, insufficient fertilization, and persistent shortages of tractors and fuel.

 

The mid 1990s through mid-2000s were marked by severe famine and widespread starvation. Significant food aid was provided by the international community through 2009. Since that time, food assistance has declined significantly. In the last few years, domestic corn and rice production has improved, although domestic production does not fully satisfy demand. A large portion of the population continues to suffer from prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions. Since 2002, the government has allowed semi-private markets to begin selling a wider range of goods, allowing North Koreans to partially make up for diminished public distribution system rations. It also implemented changes in the management process of communal farms in an effort to boost agricultural output.

 

In December 2009, North Korea carried out a redenomination of its currency, capping the amount of North Korean won that could be exchanged for the new notes, and limiting the exchange to a one-week window. A concurrent crackdown on markets and foreign currency use yielded severe shortages and inflation, forcing Pyongyang to ease the restrictions by February 2010. In response to the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, South Korea’s government cut off most aid, trade, and bilateral cooperation activities. In February 2016, South Korea ceased its remaining bilateral economic activity by closing the Kaesong Industrial Complex in response to North Korea’s fourth nuclear test a month earlier. This nuclear test and another in September 2016 resulted in two United Nations Security Council Resolutions that targeted North Korea’s foreign currency earnings, particularly coal and other mineral exports. Throughout 2017, North Korea’s continued nuclear and missile tests led to a tightening of UN sanctions, resulting in full sectoral bans on DPRK exports and drastically limited key imports. Over the last decade, China has been North Korea’s primary trading partner.

 

The North Korean Government continues to stress its goal of improving the overall standard of living, but has taken few steps to make that goal a reality for its populace. In 2016, the regime used two mass mobilizations — one totaling 70 days and another 200 days — to spur the population to increase production and complete construction projects quickly. The regime released a five-year economic development strategy in May 2016 that outlined plans for promoting growth across sectors. Firm political control remains the government’s overriding concern, which likely will inhibit formal changes to North Korea’s current economic system.

Real GDP (purchasing power parity)

$40 billion (2015 est.)

$40 billion (2014 est.)

$40 billion (2013 est.)

note: data are in 2015 US dollars
North Korea does not publish reliable National Income Accounts data; the data shown are derived from purchasing power parity (PPP) GDP estimates that were made by Angus MADDISON in a study conducted for the OECD; his figure for 1999 was extrapolated to 2015 using estimated real growth rates for North Korea's GDP and an inflation factor based on the US GDP deflator; the results were rounded to the nearest $10 billion.

country comparison to the world: 120

Real GDP growth rate

-1.1% (2015 est.)

1% (2014 est.)

1.1% (2013 est.)

country comparison to the world: 200

Real GDP per capita

$1,700 (2015 est.)

$1,800 (2014 est.)

$1,800 (2013 est.)

note: data are in 2015 US dollars

country comparison to the world: 216

GDP (official exchange rate)

$28 billion (2013 est.)

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 22.5% (2017 est.)

industry: 47.6% (2017 est.)

services: 29.9% (2017 est.)

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: NA (2014 est.)

government consumption: NA (2014 est.)

investment in fixed capital: NA (2014 est.)

investment in inventories: NA (2014 est.)

exports of goods and services: 5.9% (2016 est.)

imports of goods and services: -11.1% (2016 est.)

Agricultural products

rice, maize, vegetables, apples, potatoes, cabbages, fruit, sweet potatoes, beans, soybeans

Industries

military products; machine building, electric power, chemicals; mining (coal, iron ore, limestone, magnesite, graphite, copper, zinc, lead, and precious metals), metallurgy; textiles, food processing; tourism

Labor force

14 million (2014 est.)

note: estimates vary widely

country comparison to the world: 38

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 37%

industry: 63% (2008 est.)

Budget

revenues: 3.2 billion (2007 est.)

expenditures: 3.3 billion (2007 est.)

Taxes and other revenues

11.4% (of GDP) (2007 est.)

note: excludes earnings from state-operated enterprises

country comparison to the world: 209

Fiscal year

calendar year

Exports

$222 million (2018)

$4.582 billion (2017 est.)

$2.908 billion (2015 est.)

country comparison to the world: 204

Exports - partners

China 67%, Suriname 6% (2019)

Exports - commodities

watch components, fake hair, iron alloys, instructional models, tungsten (2019)

Imports

$2.32 billion (2018 est.)

$3.86 billion (2016 est.)

country comparison to the world: 169

Imports - partners

China 96% (2019)

Imports - commodities

clothing and apparel, soybean oil, rice, wheat products, clocks/watches (2019)

Exchange rates

North Korean won (KPW) per US dollar (average market rate)

135 (2017 est.)

130 (2016 est.)

130 (2015 est.)

98.5 (2013 est.)

155.5 (2012 est.)

Energy

Electricity access

electrification - total population: 26% (2019)

electrification - urban areas: 36% (2019)

electrification - rural areas: 11% (2019)

Communications

Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 1,183,806

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 4.64 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 70

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 3,821,857

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 14.98 (2019 est.)

country comparison to the world: 132

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: underdeveloped yet growing market dependent on 3G; nationwide fiber-optic network; some mobile-cellular service beyond Pyongyang; remote areas on manual switchboards; though currently under sanction, dependent on foreign investment (primarily Chinese) for equipment and infrastructure; low broadband penetration; international communication restricted and domestic use monitored by state (2020)

domestic: fiber-optic links installed down to the county level; telephone directories unavailable; mobile service launched in late 2008 for the Pyongyang area and considerable progress in expanding to other parts of the country since; fixed-lines are approximately 5 per 100 and mobile-cellular 15 per 100 persons (2019)

international: country code - 850; satellite earth stations - 2 (1 Intelsat - Indian Ocean, 1 Russian - Indian Ocean region); other international connections through Moscow and Beijing

note: the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a significant impact on production and supply chains globally; since 2020, some aspects of the telecom sector have experienced downturn, particularly in mobile device production; many network operators delayed upgrades to infrastructure; progress towards 5G implementation was postponed or slowed in some countries; consumer spending on telecom services and devices was affected by large-scale job losses and the consequent restriction on disposable incomes; the crucial nature of telecom services as a tool for work and school from home became evident, and received some support from governments

Broadcast media

no independent media; radios and TVs are pre-tuned to government stations; 4 government-owned TV stations; the Korean Workers' Party owns and operates the Korean Central Broadcasting Station, and the state-run Voice of Korea operates an external broadcast service; the government prohibits listening to and jams foreign broadcasts (2019)

Transportation

National air transport system

number of registered air carriers: 1 (2020)

inventory of registered aircraft operated by air carriers: 4

annual passenger traffic on registered air carriers: 103,560 (2018)

annual freight traffic on registered air carriers: 250,000 mt-km (2018)

Airports - with paved runways

total: 39

over 3,047 m: 3

2,438 to 3,047 m: 22

1,524 to 2,437 m: 8

914 to 1,523 m: 2

under 914 m: 4 (2017)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 43

2,438 to 3,047 m: 3

1,524 to 2,437 m: 17

914 to 1,523 m: 15

under 914 m: 8 (2013)

Heliports

23 (2013)

Pipelines

6 km oil (2013)

Railways

total: 7,435 km (2014)

standard gauge: 7,435 km 1.435-m gauge (5,400 km electrified) (2014)

note: figures are approximate; some narrow-gauge railway also exists

country comparison to the world: 29

Roadways

total: 25,554 km (2006)

paved: 724 km (2006)

unpaved: 24,830 km (2006)

country comparison to the world: 104

Waterways

2,250 km (most navigable only by small craft) (2011)

country comparison to the world: 37

Merchant marine

total: 264

by type: bulk carrier 8, container ship 5, general cargo 189, oil tanker 33, other 29 (2021)

country comparison to the world: 58

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Ch'ongjin, Haeju, Hungnam, Namp'o, Songnim, Sonbong (formerly Unggi), Wonsan

Military and Security

Military and security forces

Korean People's Army (KPA): KPA Ground Forces, KPA Navy, KPA Air Force and Air Defense Forces, KPA Strategic Forces (missile forces); KPA Special Forces (special operations forces)

Security Guard Command (aka Bodyguard Command; protects the Kim family, other senior leadership figures, and government facilities); Ministry of Public Security: Border Guards, civil security forces (2021)

note - the North also has a large paramilitary force organized into the Worker Peasant Red Guard and Red Youth Guard; these organizations are present at all levels of government (province, county, ward) and are under the control of the Korean Workers' Party in peacetime, but revert to KPA control in crisis or war; they are often mobilized for domestic projects, such as road building and agricultural support

Military expenditures

an estimated 20-30% of North Korea's GDP is allocated to the military

Military and security service personnel strengths

assessments of the size of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) vary widely; approximately 1.1-1.3 million active troops (950,000-1.0 million Army; 110-120,000 Air Force; 60,000 Navy; 10,000 Strategic Missile Forces); est. 200,000 internal security forces (2021)

note -

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the KPA is equipped with older weapon systems originally acquired from the former Soviet Union, Russia, and China, as well as some domestically-produced equipment; North Korea manufactures copies and provides some upgrades to the older foreign weapon systems; it also produces a diverse array of military hardware, including small arms, munitions, light armored vehicles, tanks, naval vessels and submarines, and advanced weapons systems; since 2010, there were no publicly-reported transfers of weapons to North Korea; between 2000 and 2010, Russia was the only recorded provider of arms (2021)

Military service age and obligation

17 years of age for compulsory male and female military service; service obligation 10 years for men, to age 23 for women (reportedly reduced in 2021 to 7-8 years for men and 5 years for women) (2021)

note(s) - the bulk of the KPA is made up of conscripts; as many as 20 percent of North Korean males between the ages of 16 and 54 are in the military at a given time and possibly up to 30 percent of males between the ages of 18 and 27, not counting the reserves or paramilitary units

Military - note

in addition to the invasion of South Korea and the subsequent Korean War (1950-53), North Korea from the 1960s to the 1980s launched a considerable number of limited military and subversive actions against South Korea using special forces and terrorist tactics; including aggressive skirmishes along the DMZ, overt attempts to assassinate South Korean leaders, kidnappings, the bombing of an airliner, and a failed effort in 1968 to foment an insurrection and conduct a guerrilla war in the South with more than 100 seaborne commandos; from the 1990s until 2010, the North lost two submarines and a semi-submersible boat attempting to insert infiltrators into the South (1996, 1998) and provoked several engagements in the Northwest Islands area along the disputed Northern Limit Line, including naval skirmishes between patrol boats in 1999 and 2002, the torpedoing and sinking of a South Korean corvette, the Cheonan, in 2010, and the bombardment a South Korean Marine Corps installation on Yeonpyeong Island, also in 2010; since 2010, further minor incidents continue to occur periodically along the DMZ, where both the KPA and the South Korean military maintain large numbers of troops

the KPA was founded in 1948; Kim Jong Un is the KPA supreme commander, while operational control of the armed forces resides in the General Staff Department (GSD), which reports directly to Kim; the GSD maintains overall control of all military forces and is charged with turning Kim’s directives into operational military orders; the Ministry of National Defense (MND) is responsible for administrative control of the military and external relations with foreign militaries

as of 2021, North Korea’s growing ballistic missile program included close- (CRBM), short- (SRBM), medium- (MRBM), intermediate- (IRBM), and intercontinental- (ICBM) range ballistic missiles; the North received its first ballistic missiles, short-range FROGs (free rocket over ground), from the Soviet Union in the 1960s, but its modern ballistic missile program is generally thought to date back to the mid-1970s when it received a Soviet Scud-class missile, likely from Egypt; the North reverse-engineered the missile and developed an indigenously built version in 1984; it flight-tested its first Scud-based medium-range Nodong missile in 1990, and probably began development of the multi-stage Taepodong missiles around this time as well; the North revealed its first road-mobile ICBM in 2012 and conducted the first test of an ICBM-class system in 2017

 

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

risking arrest, imprisonment, and deportation, tens of thousands of North Koreans cross into China to escape famine, economic privation, and political oppression; North Korea and China dispute the sovereignty of certain islands in Yalu and Tumen Rivers; Military Demarcation Line within the 4-km-wide Demilitarized Zone has separated North from South Korea since 1953; periodic incidents in the Yellow Sea with South Korea which claims the Northern Limiting Line as a maritime boundary; North Korea supports South Korea in rejecting Japan's claim to Liancourt Rocks (Tok-do/Take-shima)

Trafficking in persons

current situation: North Korea is a source country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor, forced marriage, and sex trafficking; in the recent past, many North Korean women and girls lured by promises of food, jobs, and freedom migrated to China illegally to escape poor social and economic conditions only to be forced into prostitution, marriage, or exploitative labor arrangements; North Koreans do not have a choice in the work the government assigns them and are not free to change jobs at will; many North Korean workers recruited to work abroad under bilateral contracts with foreign governments are subjected to forced labor and reportedly face government reprisals if they try to escape or complain to outsiders; thousands of North Koreans, including children, are subjected to forced labor in prison camps

tier rating: Tier 3 — the government of North Korea does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; during this reporting period there was a government policy or pattern of forced labor of adults and children in prison camps, labor training centers, and through its imposition of forced labor conditions on North Korean overseas contract workers;  proceeds from state-sponsored forced labor fund government functions and illicit activities; the government has made no effort to address human trafficking (2020)

Illicit drugs

at present there is insufficient information to determine the current level of involvement of government officials in the production or trafficking of illicit drugs, but for years, from the 1970s into the 2000s, citizens of North Korea , many of them diplomatic employees of the government, were apprehended abroad while trafficking in narcotics; police investigations in Taiwan, Japan and Australia during that period have linked North Korea to large illicit shipments of heroin and methamphetamine