Though there have been attempts to curtail human rights violations, securing stability and peace for the North Korean people remains a nebulous task.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) stands as one of the most repressive autocratic states today, headed by President Kim-Jong Un since 2011. A 2014 report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights in North Korea found a number of human rights violations executed by Kim-Jong Un’s regime in all forms including, but not limited to, the restriction of freedom of expression, freedom of the press, free trade unions, and organized political opposition. Though there have been attempts to curtail these violations, securing stability and peace for the North Korean people remains a nebulous task.
In working towards building Positive Peace in the region, it is crucial to understand the complexities behind the country’s instability. The DPRK faces chronic food shortages, lacks basic amenities, and relies on external aid from countries such as China to satisfy citizens’ basic needs. This insecurity incited by the North Korean regime has impelled increased emphasis on military expenditure and nuclear capability. With amplified military capacity, the DPRK regime aims to gain prestige in the international arena, while at the same time guaranteeing the security of the state. Specifically, increased nuclear capacity acts as a form of defence from hostility displayed by adversaries such as the United States and the neighbouring South Korea.
According to the Global Peace Index, North Korea scored 10th of 163 countries as having the highest economic costs of violence by country, spending approximately 32.4% of the country’s GDP on violence-related costs. This is largely due to the extensive resources devoted to nuclear capacity, thus earning the country an automatic maximum ranking of 5 on the scoring criteria. This high expenditure on military capacity can be directly applied to the Multiplier Effect and the cost of violence discussed in the Global Peace Index. Namely, if DPRK were to redirect time and resources towards more productive areas such as health, business investment, education, and infrastructure, these investments would work towards decreasing poverty and augmenting socioeconomic equality, thus leading to an overall higher quality of life for the North Korean people.
Global nuclear weapon stores have declined significantly between 1987 and 2014, from 62,725 active nuclear warheads in 1987 to 10,145 in 2014—an 84 percent decrease. This significant decrease has been primarily driven by the international treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), whose purpose is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapon technology, to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament, and to promote cooperation of the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Post-1986, the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and Israel, were believed to be the only countries with nuclear capabilities. However, over the past three decades, India, Pakistan and North Korea have also obtained nuclear weapons. While 191 States have joined the NPT, including five States with nuclear capability, the DPRK has not. Over the past several decades, North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests, in 2006, 2009, 2013, twice in 2016 and 2017. While there have been global attempts to curtail the government through sanctions and treatises, instability and opaqueness persist.
When evaluating the DPRK regime within the Institute for Economics and Peace’s eight-part Pillars of Peace, the country’s rank of 150 out of 163 on the Global Peace Index in 2017 comes as little surprise. The country does not score highly for any of the individual pillars, experiencing both unequitable distribution of resources and low levels of human capital. Moreover, they maintain hostile relationships with neighbouring South Korea, the United States, Japan, and other U.N. partners imposing economic sanctions on them. Thus, while political motivations behind having credible nuclear capacity appear legitimate for the regime, chances of peace will remain fraught and human rights abuses will pervade without measures taken towards positive peace.
North Korea is just one example of a country that could benefit from increased implementation of Positive Peace measures. As displayed through the Positive Peace Index, High Positive Peace countries are more likely to maintain stability, adapt, and recover from shocks as they overcome their challenges. Take, for example, the recent initiative in Tunis, Libya spearheaded by UNCIEF Libya and IEP in 2017, which brought together 180 Libyan youth in efforts to foster a culture of peace and reconciliation amidst a conflict-torn and violence ridden region. By engaging in the implementation of Positive Peace measures, countries like Libya aim to not only increase their tenacity and stability as a nation, but to ensure a more peaceful future overall. Thus, by investing in improved performance in each of the eight pillars, countries like North Korea are more likely to reduce violence and attain peace.
Global Peace Index, 2017. Institute for Economics and Peace.