September 21, 2023

Iron Curtain 2.0: How North Korea has embraced Soviet-style border security

Kim Jong Un appears determined to stop cross-border movement, and history suggests the DPRK is capable of doing so

One of the most striking changes around North Korea during the pandemic has been the dramatic decrease in the number of escapees arriving in the South. This number had already dropped from a peak of nearly 3,000 per year to around 1,100 in 2019, but this number nose-dived to a record low of just 63 in 2021.

Many perceive this dramatic decline as a transitional phase, expecting the number of defectors to bounce back once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. But both recent developments and historical precedent provide abundant reasons to question this assumption.