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2016 North Korea and the "New Normal"

This is the age of “New Normal”. Following the 2008 global economic crisis, the term “New Normal” has become an inveterate representation of a low growth economic state. Nevertheless, the term is not only bound to an economic connotation but to social aspects as well. Hence, “New Normal” is a rather expansive keyword that extrapolates different facets of social changes within a society.

North Korea under the Kim Jong Un regime is about to face a “New Normal” as well. North Korea’s economic vulnerabilities have been disclosed at an international level, and irrespective of its attempts to initiate a socialist economic plan, there are signs of capitalist activities – all leading to the establishment of the “New Normal”. Although the purges and constant personnel transfers have indicated instability and abnormality, the longevity of such conditions for up to almost 5 years somewhat proves the “New Normal” of North Korea.

North Korea’s nuclear issues as well are subject to its “New Normal”. Despite the fact that the international community has no intentions to accept North Korea as a nuclear power state, North Korea considers itself as one. In addition, the uncertainties of the 6th Summit meeting, along with reluctance of associated states to discuss the issues, suggest a “New Normal” in East Asia’s international order.

This May, North Korea will take advantage of the 7th Labor Party annual conference to declare its “New Normal”. At a national level, the government will try to expand its market for the sake of new socioeconomic policy while trying to confirm its position as a nuclear power state at the international level. In the end, its priorities would be economic revival and self-establishment as a “normal state”. However, it should be also noted that the current goals of North Korea under Kim Jong Un are nothing new, and North Korea has its own reason for holding on to such ideologies for such a long time.

Regardless of North Korea’s efforts to justify its “New Normal”, there is no guarantee that its neighboring countries and the international society as a whole would be able to keep up. The term “New Normal” suggests that no state would be willing to accept a newly normalized autocratic state with the possession of nuclear weapons as a new standard. As a consequence, the international community would exhaust all available hard power and soft power options to prevent North Korea’s “New Normal” from being accepted as a standard.

In the midst of preparations for the 7th annual conference of the Labor Party, it is hard to ignore the possibilities that Kim Jong Un’s ideology can consolidate the “New Normal” internally. However, it is doubtful whether foreign agencies would be convinced as well. Furthermore, the expected and unexpected changes would be contingent upon the North Korean government’s awareness of the problem. For North Korea to be able to achieve its long aspired “utopia”, drastic changes would be vital. Only then, can we expect an upgraded “New Normal” of the Korean Peninsula.

***The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the opinions of NKR or Yonsei Institute for North Korean Studies.

Translated by Somang Kim

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