A Most Enterprising Country: North Korea in the Global Economy
Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2016
North Korea has survived the end of the Cold War, massive famine, numerous regional crises, punishing sanctions, and international stigma. In A Most Enterprising Country, Justin V. Hastings explores the puzzle of how the most politically isolated state in the world nonetheless sustains itself in large part by international trade and integration into the global economy. The world’s last Stalinist state is also one of the most enterprising, as Hastings shows through in-depth examinations of North Korea’s import and export efforts, with a particular focus on restaurants, the weapons trade, and drug trafficking. Tracing the development of trade networks inside and outside North Korea through the famine of the 1990s and the onset of sanctions in the mid-2000s, Hastings argues that the North Korean state and North Korean citizens have proved pragmatic and adaptable, exploiting market niches and making creative use of brokers and commercial methods to access the global economy.
North Korean trade networks—which include private citizens as well as the Kim family and high-ranking elites—accept high levels of risk and have become experts at operating in the blurred zones between licit and illicit, state and nonstate, and formal and informal trade. This entrepreneurialism has allowed North Korea to survive; but it has also caused problems for foreign firms investing in the country, emboldens the North Korean state in its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and may continue to shape the economy in the future.
“A Most Enterprising Country is an engaging study of North Korean trading networks and an important addition to the growing body of work on contemporary North Korean society and economy. Challenging the stereotype of North Korea as a closed and isolated regime cut off from the world economy, Justin V. Hastings convincingly argues that North Korea is in fact deeply involved in a variety of trade networks ranging from large-scale state-sponsored exports to small-scale individual merchants. Amid an environment of hyperbole and sensationalism regarding North Korea in the mass media and much of the scholarly literature, the balanced, measured tone of this book is one of its greatest strengths.”—Charles K. Armstrong, Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies in the Social Sciences, Columbia University, author of Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World, 1950–1992