Despite its nuclear capability, in certain respects North Korea resembles a failed state sitting uneasily atop a shifting internal foundation. This instability is due in part to the devastating famine of the 1990s and the state's inability to fulfill the economic obligations that it had assumed, forcing institutions, enterprises, and households to cope with the ensuing challenges of maintaining stability with limited cooperation between the Korean government and the international community. The ineffective response to the humanitarian crisis triggered by the famine resulted in the outflow of perhaps tens of thousands of refugees whose narratives are largely overlooked in evaluating the efficacy of the humanitarian aid program. Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea uses extensive surveys with refugees who now reside in China or South Korea to provide extraordinary insight into the changing pathways to power, wealth, and status within North Korea.
These refugee testimonies provide an invaluable interpretation of the regime, its motivations, and its capabilities and assess the situation on the ground with the rise of inequality, corruption, and disaffection in the decade since the famine. Through the lens of these surveys, preeminent North Korean experts Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland carefully document the country's transition from a centrally planned economy to a highly distorted market economy, characterized by endemic corruption and widening inequality. The authors chart refugees' reactions to the current conditions and consider the disparity between the perceived and real benefit of the international humanitarian aid program experienced by this displaced population. Finally, the book examines these refugees' future prospects for integration into a new society.
Marcus Noland, executive vice president and director of studies, has been associated with the Institute since 1985. From 2009 through 2012, he served as the Institute's deputy director. His research addresses a wide range of topics at the interstice of economics, political science, and international relations. His areas of geographical knowledge and interest include Asia and Africa where he has lived and worked, and the Middle East. In the past he has written extensively on the economies of Japan, Korea, and China, and is unique among American economists in having devoted serious scholarly effort to the problems of North Korea and the prospects for Korean unification. He won the 2000-01 Ohira Memorial Award for his book Avoiding the Apocalypse: The Future of the Two Koreas. Stephan Haggard, visiting fellow, is the Lawrence and Sallye Krause Distinguished Professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California, San Diego. He has been a consultant to AID, the World Bank, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, and the OECD and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of The Political Economy of the Asian Financial Crisis (2000) and coauthor of Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform (Columbia University Press, 2007).