restricted access Non-Traditional Security Issues in North Korea ed. by Kyung-Ae Park (review)
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Non-Traditional Security Issues in North Korea edited by Kyung-Ae Park. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2013. 265 pp.

When the international media discusses North Korea, the most common topic that is paid attention to is its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and its missile program. This is usually paired with reports on North Korea’s belligerent rhetoric and a reminder of its million men army that are a threat to Northeast Asian security, Seoul in particular. Scholars and policy makers with a focus on North Korea are also keen to focus almost exclusively on these topics and one can find many analytical papers on the North’s military, defense budget, fighting capability, the state of its weapons systems, military exercises, etc. These studies all focus on national security concerns and belong to the realm of traditional security.

This edited volume of works by North Korea experts is an attempt to shift the focus away from these traditional concerns. The book’s argument is that the theories and notions of national security have failed to offer an adequate explanation of the national security threats posed by North Korea. The contributors believe that the North’s national security concerns are to a high degree informed by human security and non-traditional security (NTS) issues, and, once the causes of the North’s national insecurity are known, we are better able to handle the threats posed by the North to our (inter-)national security.

The first chapter introduces the concept of NTS and examines in the context of North Korea how NTS and traditional security form complex and multifaceted connections. It describes how the indeterminate relationship between national and human security can be conceptualized by focusing on NTS issues. By using examples of the North’s insecurity issues in regards to food and energy security, this chapter explains how NTS issues can serve as an important variable in determining whether a state and its society can be deemed secure or unsafe.

The next chapters all deal with a specific non-traditional security issue. Chapter two gives a brief history of North Korea’s energy problems and discusses the impact the lack of energy security has on the North’s economy and society. The authors of this chapter regard energy shortages as one of the reasons why North Korea uses the threat of military action to try to induce the international community to meet its demands. Addressing these concerns will in their opinion help the overall security of the Northeast Asian region and they suggest several assistance approaches.

Chapter three examines the NTS issue of economic security in connection with women in North Korea. The author shows that the North Korean economic crisis has had different impacts on men and women in that it changed [End Page 147] the pattern of women’s economic participation, dragging women away from the formal labor market into the informal private economic sector. This has also forced a number of women to cross the North Korean border in their attempt to provide for both their own and their families’ livelihoods. On the one hand it seems that the new economic roles that women have assumed has given them a stronger voice in family decision-making matters and allowed them to develop, to some degree, a sense of self-consciousness and awareness of their own rights. On the other hand women’s economic insecurity has negatively affected other sectors of their NTS and human security resulting in new threats such as an increase in workloads, sex trafficking and sexual violence, and the stress of family breakdowns.

Chapter four deals with political bias in labeling North Korea a criminal state. By giving an overview of how transnational crime is securitized, the author shows that issues surrounding North Korea’s criminal behavior are more fiction than fact, and that even in cases where North Korea does indulge in such activities, their scope is small in comparison to other players in this arena.

Issues related to North Korea’s food insecurity are the focus of chapters five and six. The former looks at the internal dimensions of North Korean food security and...