Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 12/2012

A Double-Edged Sword: Information Technology in North Korea

Scott Thomas Bruce

October 2012

East-West Center


With North Korea's tightly controlled and isolated population, the rise of information technology—specifically cell phones and an intranet—is an unprecedented development. In the last decade, a domestic intranet was launched and a cell phone network was created. Both of these form a closed, domestic system, which the regime hopes will allow for productivity gains from increased coordination and the sharing of state-approved information, while keeping out foreign influences. North Korea is now confronted with the challenge of how to reap the economic benefits of an IT system, while avoiding the social instability that may accompany it. The country has made a fundamental shift from a state that limits access to information technology to ensure the security of the regime, to one that is willing to use it as a tool, at least among a certain privileged class, to support the development of the nation. Although North Korea is stable for now, over the next decade, information technology has the potential to transform the state and it also creates a strong incentive to integrate North Korea into the dynamic economies of Northeast Asia.