North Korea (NK) is among the world’s poorest nations, with widespread malnutrition. The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened their situation as borders were closed and foreign aid was refused in order to stave off sickness. In addition, NK faced a recent series of natural disasters, further straining internal economic resources. Reports are coming in that the economic situation is so dire, wealthy citizens are selling personal assets in exchange for basic goods. However, the true situation is unknown as NK has become increasingly isolated.
Kim Jong-Un (KJU) is again forced into a position where military and foreign policy is reduced to seasonal tactics. In order to avoid appearing desperate, KJU will use the threat of irrational military force throughout the summer in order to bribe enough foreign aid to survive winter. KJU also has an opportunity to further consolidate power away from factional military leaders. Wealthy North Koreans are often directly tied to the military industrial structure. Selling off personal assets shows a weakness and inability to lead independently from Pyongyang.