Photos of Korea, North

Introduction

Background

An independent kingdom for much of its long history, Korea was occupied by Japan beginning in 1905 following the Russo-Japanese War. Five years later, Japan formally annexed the entire peninsula. Following World War II, Korea was split with the northern half coming under Soviet-sponsored communist control. After failing in the Korean War (1950-53) to conquer the US-backed Republic of Korea (ROK) in the southern portion by force, North Korea (DPRK), under its founder President KIM Il Sung, adopted a policy of ostensible diplomatic and economic "self-reliance" as a check against outside influence. The DPRK 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 rein, the DPRK 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 DPRK 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. The DPRK 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. North Korea's history of provocative regional military; 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 are of major concern to the international community and have limited the DPRK's international engagement, particularly economically. In 2013, the DPRK 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 ROK 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.

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

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)

Total renewable water resources

77.15 billion cubic meters (2017 est.)

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

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

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

Religions

traditionally Buddhist and Confucianist, 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.)

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 rate

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)

Hospital bed density

13.2 beds/1,000 population (2012)

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.)

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.)

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, economic downturn, and floods - 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; floods, caused by several typhoons in August and early September 2020, affected large numbers of people in southern parts of the country (2021)

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)

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 3 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: Nampo, P'yongyang, Rason



note: Nampo is sometimes designated as a metropolitan city, P'yongyang as a directly controlled city, and Rason as a city

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: 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

head of government: State Affairs Commission Chairman KIM Jong Un (since 17 December 2011); note - functions as the commander-in-chief and chief executive

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 In 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)
minor parties:
Chondoist Chongu Party (under KWP control)
Social Democratic Party or KSDP [KIM Yong Dae] (under KWP control)

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 growth rate

-1.1% (2015 est.)

1% (2014 est.)

1.1% (2013 est.)

country comparison to the world: 201

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: 123

GDP (official exchange rate)

$28 billion (2013 est.)

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 - 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: 189

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: 166

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: nationwide fiber-optic network; mobile-cellular service expanded beyond Pyongyang; infrastructure underdeveloped yet growing mobile penetration by means of foreign investment; Chinese services being increasingly favored and FaceBook and Instagram actions dropped and now absent; low broadband penetration; mobile penetration in North Korea believed to stay well below other Asian nations due to government restrictions; 3G network deployed among universal population (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 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 outbreak is negatively impacting telecommunications production and supply chains globally; consumer spending on telecom devices and services has also slowed due to the pandemic's effect on economies worldwide; overall progress towards improvements in all facets of the telecom industry - mobile, fixed-line, broadband, submarine cable and satellite - has moderated

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 (2017)

over 3,047 m: 3 (2017)

2,438 to 3,047 m: 22 (2017)

1,524 to 2,437 m: 8 (2017)

914 to 1,523 m: 2 (2017)

under 914 m: 4 (2017)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 43 (2013)

2,438 to 3,047 m: 3 (2013)

1,524 to 2,437 m: 17 (2013)

914 to 1,523 m: 15 (2013)

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: 261

by type: bulk carrier 8, container ship 5, general cargo 187, oil tanker 32, other 29 (2020)

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 (includes air defense), KPA Strategic Forces (missile forces); Security Guard Command (protects the Kim family, other senior leadership figures, and government facilities); Ministry of Public Security: Border Guards, civil security forces (2020)

Military expenditures

in 2019, it was assessed that North Korea spent between 22% and 24% of GDP (between US$3.7 billion and US$4.2bn in 2017 dollars) annually on the military between 2007 and 2017

Military and security service personnel strengths

assessments of the size of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) vary widely; approximately 1.1-1.2 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 Public Security forces (2020)

Military equipment inventories and acquisitions

the KPA is equipped mostly with older weapon systems originally acquired from the former Soviet Union, Russia, and China; North Korea manufactures copies and provides some upgrades to these weapon systems; it also has a robust domestic ballistic missile program based largely on missiles acquired from the former Soviet Union; 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 (2020)

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 8 years for men and 5 years for women) (2021)

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)

Refugees and internally displaced persons

IDPs: undetermined (periodic flooding and famine during mid-1990s) (2019)

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 the Democratic People's Republic of (North) Korea (DPRK), many of them diplomatic employees of the government, were apprehended abroad while trafficking in narcotics; police investigations in Taiwan and Japan in recent years have linked North Korea to large illicit shipments of heroin and methamphetamine