Photos of Korea, North



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 (1904-05), Korea was occupied by Imperial Japan. In 1910, Japan formally annexed the entire peninsula. After World War II, Korea was split along the 38th parallel with the northern half coming under Soviet-sponsored communist control.

In 1948, North Korea (formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or DPRK) was founded under President KIM Il Sung, who consolidated power and cemented autocratic one-party rule under the Korean Worker's Party (KWP). After the Korean War (1950-53), during which North Korea failed to conquer UN-backed South Korea (formally the Republic of Korea or ROK), 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. North Korea also declared a central ideology of juche ("self-reliance") as an internal check against outside influence while continuing to rely heavily on China and the Soviet Union for economic support. Establishing a policy of hereditary succession in North Korea, 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 the end of Soviet aid in 1991, North Korea faced serious economic setbacks that exacerbated decades of economic mismanagement and resource misallocation. Since the mid-1990s, North Korea has faced chronic food shortages and economic stagnation. In recent years, the North's domestic agricultural production has improved, but still falls far short of producing sufficient food to provide for its entire population. Starting in 2002, North Korea began to tolerate semi-private markets 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. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, North Korea instituted a nationwide lockdown that has severely restricted its economy and international engagement. Since then, leader KIM Jong Un has repeatedly expressed concerns with the regime's economic failures and food problems, but in 2021 vowed to continue "self-reliant" policies and has reinvigorated his pursuit of greater regime control of the economy. As of 2023, despite slowly renewing cross-border trade, North Korea remains one of the World's most isolated and one of Asia's poorest countries.

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; ballistic and cruise missile development and testing; WMD programs including tests of nuclear devices in 2006, 2009, 2013, 2016, and 2017; and large conventional armed forces. Following a period of heightened tensions between North Korea and the US in 2017, KIM in 2018 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. However, despite high-level efforts to ease tensions during the 2018-19 timeframe, including summits with the leaders of China, South Korea, and the US, North Korea continued developing its WMD programs and, in recent years, issued statements condemning the US and vowing to further strengthen its military capabilities, including long range missiles and nuclear weapons. 

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



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


total: 120,538 sq km

land: 120,408 sq km

water: 130 sq km

comparison ranking: total 99

Area - comparative

slightly larger than Virginia; slightly smaller than Mississippi

Area comparison map:
Area comparison map

Land boundaries

total: 1,607 km

border countries (3): China 1,352 km; South Korea 237 km; Russia 18 km


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


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


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


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: P'aektu-san (2,744 m) (also known as Baitoushan, Baegdu, or Changbaishan), 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


26,072,217 (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 55


noun: Korean(s)

adjective: Korean

Ethnic groups

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



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

The World Factbook, the indispensable source for basic information.

Korean audio sample:


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: 20.24% (male 2,696,287/female 2,580,346)

15-64 years: 69.16% (male 8,992,254/female 9,040,025)

65 years and over: 10.6% (2023 est.) (male 992,424/female 1,770,881)

2023 population pyramid:
2023 population pyramid

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 43.5

youth dependency ratio: 27.2

elderly dependency ratio: 16.3

potential support ratio: 6.1 (2021 est.)

Median age

total: 34.6 years

male: 33.2 years

female: 36.2 years (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: total 89

Population growth rate

0.44% (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 158

Birth rate

14.06 births/1,000 population (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 120

Death rate

9.66 deaths/1,000 population (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 39

Net migration rate

-0.04 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 100

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


urban population: 63.2% of total population (2023)

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

total population growth rate v. urban population growth rate, 2000-2030

Major urban areas - population

3.158 million PYONGYANG (capital) (2023)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female

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

15-64 years: 0.99 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.56 male(s)/female

total population: 0.95 male(s)/female (2023 est.)

Maternal mortality ratio

107 deaths/100,000 live births (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: 66

Infant mortality rate

total: 22 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 24.85 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 18.99 deaths/1,000 live births (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: total 74

Life expectancy at birth

total population: 71.88 years

male: 67.97 years

female: 76.02 years (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: total population 165

Total fertility rate

1.89 children born/woman (2023 est.)

comparison ranking: 127

Gross reproduction rate

0.92 (2023 est.)

Drinking water source

improved: urban: 97.8% of population

rural: 89.1% of population

total: 94.5% of population

unimproved: urban: 2.2% of population

rural: 10.9% of population

total: 5.5% of population (2020 est.)

Physicians density

3.68 physicians/1,000 population (2017)

Sanitation facility access

improved: urban: 92.7% of population

rural: 73.1% of population

total: 85.3% of population

unimproved: urban: 7.3% of population

rural: 26.9% of population

total: 14.7% of population (2020 est.)

Obesity - adult prevalence rate

6.8% (2016)

comparison ranking: 163

Alcohol consumption per capita

total: 3.61 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

beer: 0.12 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

wine: 0 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

spirits: 3.48 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

other alcohols: 0 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: total 102

Tobacco use

total: 17.4% (2020 est.)

male: 34.8% (2020 est.)

female: 0% (2020 est.)

comparison ranking: total 98


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)

Youth unemployment rate (ages 15-24)

total: 6.1%

male: 5.4%

female: 6.9% (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total 182


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


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.)


urban population: 63.2% of total population (2023)

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

total population growth rate v. urban population growth rate, 2000-2030

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, equivalent to approximately 2-3 months of food use, if this gap is not adequately covered through commercial imports and/or food aid, households could experience a harsh lean period (2022)

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.)

Total water withdrawal

municipal: 900 million cubic meters (2020 est.)

industrial: 1.15 billion cubic meters (2020 est.)

agricultural: 6.61 billion cubic meters (2020 est.)

Total renewable water resources

77.15 billion cubic meters (2020 est.)


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"


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 special administration 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

special administration 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


15 August 1945 (from Japan)

National holiday

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


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 ICCt


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


17 years of age; universal and compulsory

Executive branch

chief of state: State Affairs Commission President KIM Jong Un (since 17 December 2011); note - within the North Korean system, KIM Jong Un's role as chief of state is secondary to his role as general secretary of the Korean Workers' Party; chief of state is used to engage with non-communist countries such as the US; 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

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

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 to be held in March 2024)

election results: KIM Jong Un reelected unopposed

note 1: KIM Jong Un's titles include general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea (KWP), chairman of the KWP Central Military Commission, president of the State Affairs Commission, and supreme commander of the Korean People's Army

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 - functions as a rubberstamp legislature; 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 as of March 2022 - men 566, women 121, percent of women 17.6%

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 court(s): 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 (formally known as Workers' Party of Korea) [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)

International organization participation


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; note - temporarily closed since 2020

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)

National heritage

total World Heritage Sites: 2 (both cultural)

selected World Heritage Site locales: Koguryo Tombs Complex; Historic Monuments and Sites in Kaesong


Economic overview

one of the last centrally planned economies; hard hit by COVID-19, crop failures, international sanctions, and isolationist policies; declining growth and trade, and heavily reliant on China; poor exchange rate stability; economic data integrity issues

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.

comparison ranking: 121

Real GDP growth rate

-1.1% (2015 est.)
1% (2014 est.)
1.1% (2013 est.)

comparison ranking: 199

Real GDP per capita

$1,700 (2015 est.)
$1,800 (2014 est.)
$1,800 (2013 est.)

note: data are in 2015 US dollars

comparison ranking: 215

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.)

comparison rankings: services 224; industry 15; agriculture 38

GDP - composition, by end use

household consumption: (2014 est.) NA

government consumption: (2014 est.) NA

investment in fixed capital: (2014 est.) NA

investment in inventories: (2014 est.) NA

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


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

Industrial production growth rate

1% (2017 est.)

comparison ranking: 151

Labor force

17.16 million (2021 est.)

note: estimates vary widely

comparison ranking: 36

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 37%

industry: 63% (2008 est.)

Unemployment rate

2.59% (2021 est.)
2.92% (2020 est.)
2.59% (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: 204

Youth unemployment rate (ages 15-24)

total: 6.1%

male: 5.4%

female: 6.9% (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total 182


revenues: $3.2 billion (2007 est.)

expenditures: $3.3 billion (2007 est.)

Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-)

-0.4% (of GDP) (2007 est.)

comparison ranking: 58

Taxes and other revenues

11.4% (of GDP) (2007 est.)

note: excludes earnings from state-operated enterprises

comparison ranking: 182

Fiscal year

calendar year


$222 million (2018)
$4.582 billion (2017 est.)
$2.908 billion (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 200

Exports - partners

China 67%, Suriname 6% (2019)

Exports - commodities

refined petroleum, iron alloys, electricity, cars, vaccines and cultures (2021)


$2.32 billion (2018 est.)
$3.86 billion (2016 est.)

comparison ranking: 167

Imports - partners

China 96% (2019)

Imports - commodities

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

Debt - external

$5 billion (2013 est.)

comparison ranking: 132

Exchange rates

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

Exchange rates:
135 (2017 est.)
130 (2016 est.)
130 (2015 est.)
98.5 (2013 est.)
155.5 (2012 est.)


Electricity access

population without electricity: 19 million (2020)

electrification - total population: 52.6% (2021)

electrification - urban areas: 36% (2020)

electrification - rural areas: 11% (2020)


installed generating capacity: 8.413 million kW (2020 est.)

consumption: 13,930,320,000 kWh (2019 est.)

exports: 0 kWh (2020 est.)

imports: 0 kWh (2020 est.)

transmission/distribution losses: 2.146 billion kWh (2019 est.)

comparison rankings: imports 191; exports 186; installed generating capacity 72; transmission/distribution losses 86; consumption 84

Electricity generation sources

fossil fuels: 15.8% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

nuclear: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

solar: 0.1% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

wind: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

hydroelectricity: 84.1% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

tide and wave: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

geothermal: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)

biomass and waste: 0% of total installed capacity (2020 est.)


production: 16.376 million metric tons (2020 est.)

consumption: 6.698 million metric tons (2020 est.)

exports: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

imports: 22,000 metric tons (2020 est.)

proven reserves: 600 million metric tons (2019 est.)


total petroleum production: 0 bbl/day (2021 est.)

refined petroleum consumption: 20,300 bbl/day (2019 est.)

crude oil and lease condensate exports: 0 bbl/day (2018 est.)

crude oil and lease condensate imports: 10,600 bbl/day (2018 est.)

crude oil estimated reserves: 0 barrels (2021 est.)

Refined petroleum products - production

11,270 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 99

Refined petroleum products - exports

0 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 156

Refined petroleum products - imports

8,260 bbl/day (2015 est.)

comparison ranking: 151

Natural gas

production: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

consumption: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

exports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

imports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

proven reserves: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

Carbon dioxide emissions

18.465 million metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from coal and metallurgical coke: 15.252 million metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from petroleum and other liquids: 3.213 million metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from consumed natural gas: 0 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: total emissions 87

Energy consumption per capita

12.61 million Btu/person (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: 146


Telephones - fixed lines

total subscriptions: 1.2 million (2021 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 5 (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 67

Telephones - mobile cellular

total subscriptions: 6 million (2021 est.)

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 23 (2021 est.)

comparison ranking: total subscriptions 118

Telecommunication systems

general assessment: despite years of isolationism, economic under-achievement, and international sanctions, North Korea has improved its telecommunications infrastructure in the last decade; Inconsistent electric power supply and likely difficulties procuring new hardware, however, present enduring obstacles to building reliable high-speed telecom networks; mobile phone use is estimated to have increased to nearly 25% of the polulation as of 2018, yet the high cost of ownership makes mobile communications inaccessible to North Koreans of lower socioeconomic status; strict regime censorship and monitoring of telecom systems in North Korea restricts users from legally contacting anyone outside the country or accessing the global Internet; for those citizens living close to China, it has been possible to illegally obtain Chinese handsets and SIM cards, and to connect to towers located just across the border; while this offers access to the outside world and at much lower prices than the state-controlled offerings, the risks are high including steep fines and the possibility of jail time; North Korea has been effective in building an IT sector and a nascent digital economy on the back of a concerted effort to grow a sizeable, well-trained IT workforce; but even here, its capabilities have been directed more towards nefarious activities such as cyber crime and hacking into foreign countries’ computer and financial systems; North Korea’s determination to maintain ideological control of its populace by isolating itself from the rest of the world will probably lead to tighter controls on communications inside and outside of the country (2023)

domestic: fixed-lines are approximately 5 per 100 and mobile-cellular 23 per 100 persons (2021)

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

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)


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 (2018) mt-km


82 (2021)

comparison ranking: total 67

Airports - with paved runways


note: paved runways have a concrete or asphalt surface but not all have facilities for refueling, maintenance, or air traffic control; the length of a runway required for aircraft to safely operate depends on a number of factors including the type of aircraft, the takeoff weight (including passengers, cargo, and fuel), engine types, flap settings, landing speed, elevation of the airport, and average maximum daily air temperature; paved runways can reach a length of 5,000 m (16,000 ft.), but the “typical” length of a commercial airline runway is between 2,500-4,000 m (8,000-13,000 ft.)

Airports - with unpaved runways


note: unpaved runways have a surface composition such as grass or packed earth and are most suited to the operation of light aircraft; unpaved runways are usually short, often less than 1,000 m (3,280 ft.) in length; airports with unpaved runways often lack facilities for refueling, maintenance, or air traffic control


23 (2021)


6 km oil (2013)


total: 7,435 km (2014)

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

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

comparison ranking: total 29


total: 25,554 km (2006)

paved: 724 km (2006)

unpaved: 24,830 km (2006)

comparison ranking: total 103


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

comparison ranking: 40

Merchant marine

total: 270

by type: bulk carrier 9, container ship 5, general cargo 193, oil tanker 33, other 30 (2022)

comparison ranking: total 59

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); Military Security Command

Ministry of Social Security (formerly Ministry of Public Security): Border Guard General Bureau, civil security forces; Ministry of State Security: internal security, investigations (2023)

note 1: North Korea employs a systematic and intentional overlap of powers and responsibilities among its multiple internal security organizations to prevent any potential subordinate consolidation of power and assure that each unit provided a check and balance on the other

note 2:
the Security Guard Command protects the Kim family, other senior leadership figures, and government facilities

note 3:
the North also has a large paramilitary/militia 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

between 2010 and 2019, military expenditures accounted for an estimated 20-25% of North Korea's GDP annually; North Korea in the 2010s and 2020s has increasingly relied on illicit activities — including cybercrime — to generate revenue for its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs to evade US and UN sanctions

Military and security service personnel strengths

information varies; estimated 1-1.2 million active-duty troops; estimated 200,000 internal security forces (2023)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the KPA is equipped with older weapon systems originally acquired from the former Soviet Union, Russia, and China, and some domestically produced equipment; North Korea produces a diverse array of military hardware, including small arms, munitions, light armored vehicles, tanks, naval vessels and submarines, and some advanced weapons systems, such as cruise and ballistic missiles; most are copies or upgrades of older foreign supplied equipment (2023)

note: since 2006, the UN Security Council has passed nearly a dozen resolutions sanctioning North Korea for developing nuclear weapons and related activities, starting with Resolution 1718, which condemned the North's first nuclear test and placed sanctions on the supply of heavy weaponry (including tanks, armored combat vehicles, large calibre artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers), missile technology and material, and select luxury goods; additional resolutions have expanded to include all arms, including small arms and light weapons; the US and other countries have also imposed unilateral sanctions

Military service age and obligation

17 years of age for compulsory military service for men and women; service obligation varies from 5-13 years; reportedly up to 10 years (7 for women) for those serving in combat units and 13 years (7 for women) for specialized combat units, such as missile forces (2023)

note: the bulk of the KPA is made up of conscripts; as many as 20% 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; women comprise about 20% of the military by some estimates

Military - note

North Korea is one of the most militarized countries in the World, and the Korean People's Army (KPA) is one of the World’s largest military forces; the KPA’s primary responsibilities are national defense and protection of the Kim regime; it also provides considerable support to domestic economic projects such as agriculture production and infrastructure construction; North Korea views the US as its primary external security threat while South Korea and Japan are treated as extensions of perceived US aggression; the North also sees South Korea’s different economic and political systems as a threat to the regime’s legitimacy; the Kim regime is driven by fears of threats to its power from internal sources as well 

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 (NLL), including naval skirmishes between patrol boats in 1999 and 2002, the torpedoing and sinking of a South Korean Navy corvette in 2010, and the bombardment of 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

in 2018, North Korea and South Korea signed a tension reduction agreement known as the Comprehensive Military Agreement (CMA), which established land, sea, and air buffer zones along the DMZ and the NLL; implementation of the CMA required the removal of some land mines and guard posts; the efforts led to a reduction of tension in the DMZ, but North Korea has failed to uphold much of its side of the agreement

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

North Korea’s growing ballistic missile program includes 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; it conducted additional ICBM tests in 2022 and 2023 (2023)


Space agency/agencies

National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA; established 2013); predecessor organization, Korean Committee of Space Technology (KCST; established 1980s); State Space Development Bureau; Academy of Defense Science; Ministry of People’s Armed Forces (2023)

Space launch site(s)

Sohae Satellite Launching Station (aka Tongch'ang-dong Space Launch Center; North Pyongan province); Tonghae Satellite Launching Ground (North Hamgyong province) (2023)

Space program overview

North Korea’s leader has emphasized the development of space capabilities, particularly space launch vehicles (SLVs) and remote sensing (RS) satellites; manufactures small satellites; manufactures and launches rockets/SLVs; note – the SLV program is closely related to North Korea’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles (2023)

note: further details about the key activities, programs, and milestones of the country’s space program, as well as government spending estimates on the space sector, appear in Appendix S

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

North Korea-China: 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

North Korea-Japan: North Korea supports South Korea in rejecting Japan's claim to Liancourt Rocks (Tok-do/Take-shima)

North Korea-South Korea: 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

Trafficking in persons

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; the government did not demonstrate any efforts to address human trafficking; during this reporting period there was a government policy or pattern of human trafficking in prison camps, in labor training centers, in massed mobilizations of adults and children, and through forced labor by North Korean overseas workers; proceeds from state-sponsored forced labor funded government functions and illicit activities (2022)

trafficking profile: human traffickers—including government officials—exploit North Koreans at home and abroad; women and children are exploited in sex trafficking within North Korea; forced labor is part of an established system of political repression and a pillar of the economic system; children in prison camps are subject to forced labor for up to 12 hours per day; officials forcibly mobilize adults and school children to work in factories, agriculture, logging, mining, infrastructure work, information technology, and construction sectors; North Koreans sent to work abroad, including through bilateral agreements with foreign businesses or governments, face forced labor conditions; NGOs report overseas workers are managed as a matter of state policy; the government often appropriates and deposits worker salaries into government-controlled accounts; in 2017, the UN Security Council prohibited members from issuing or renewing work authorizations for North Koreans and, with limited exceptions, required repatriation; nonetheless, an estimated 20,000-100,000 North Koreans are working in China, primarily in restaurants and factories; North Korean women and girls lured by promises of jobs in China are forced into prostitution, marriage, or exploitative labor arrangements; many North Koreans continue to work or enter Russia, and some workers are reportedly working in African, Middle Eastern, an Southeast Asian countries (2022)

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