Abstract

A wave of recent scholarship, built on rich empirical research, provides new perspectives on enduring questions about North Korea. Three books, in particular—Patrick McEachern's Inside the Red Box, Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland's Famine in North Korea, and Suk-Young Kim's Illusive Utopia—present a comprehensive and panoramic vision of North Korea today. This essay reviews these books and makes two overarching arguments. First, North Korea is more “normal” than is often thought, and its domestic politics, economy, and society function in ways familiar to other countries around the world. When viewed from the inside out, North Korea's institutions, economic life, and its people act in ways that are not only similar to those of others around the world, but that differ only in their level of intensity. Second, North Korea's continuing nuclear and military challenge is only one aspect of its overall relations with the world, and policies designed to minimize its threatening military behavior may work at cross-purposes with policies designed to improve its economy and the lives of its people. The complexities that arise in dealing with North Korea create a number of contradictory policy choices, and making progress on one issue has often meant overlooking another, or even allowing it to become worse.

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