June 16, 2014:
North Korea is a police state, so you’d think there wouldn’t be a problem with crime. Such is not the case and the growing corruption within the government bureaucracy and security forces has led to an unprecedented crime wave. Thus the biggest peacekeeping problem North Korea faces is within its own borders and the government is losing.
While the state has a monopoly on weapons and police powers in North Korea, just about anyone with anything worth stealing finds themselves forced to spend additional money to protect what they have. The senior officials simply assign more police to deal with their personal security and that of their families and property. Those assigned to such security duties are well paid with government funds and property (food, housing, access to medical care and so on). Lower ranking officials increasingly steal in order to pay bribes for the security forces in order to obtain protection. The additional security you pay for often includes protection from being plundered by the police or military. For ordinary citizens getting anything done that involves an encounter with the police or military means paying a bribe. Thus civilians no longer want to live near military bases because hungry soldiers, who have seen their government supplied food and other supplies increasingly stolen by senior officers, frequently leave their bases to steal food and anything they can grab and resell to buy food.
Local and foreign companies operating in North Korea have found security expenses growing rapidly. It’s not that North Korean officials and security personnel are asking for bigger bribes but that more and more people in the north are demanding “protection” payments to keep company property from being plundered. For example, coal mines export most of their output to China for hard currency that can be used to buy foreign goods. Thus local and Chinese owned mining companies have plenty of equipment, and modern stuff at that, to keep the exports moving. Getting the coal to the ports for shipment abroad has become a lot more complicated because of corruption and theft. In the last decade the railroads, starved for cash to maintain and upgrade tracks, trains and cargo carrying rail cars have become unreliable that that led many mining companies to instead rely on trucks. The roads are bad but still safer and more secure than the crumbling railroads. The problem is providing security for the trucks and their drivers. Trucks carrying ores or coal will often have armed guards so that whenever the trucks stop to refuel or give the drivers a break the vehicles will always be protected from thieves. Some major truck stops demand a security fee, and those vehicles that don’t pay it are assigned to parking spots exposed to local thieves. Sometimes these gangs, who can quickly strip a truck of many items, will attack the armed guards. Mining companies have found it less costly to pay the security fees than risking the uncertainty of their vehicles having to fight their way from the mines to the ports and arrive missing many components.