How Far From Us To North Korea

Geographical and Cultural Distance

North Korea is an isolated and reclusive nation, bordered by both China and South Korea. Located on the Korean Peninsula in East Asia, the nation is 900 miles away from the U.S. West Coast and 5,000 miles away from the East Coast. Even within Asia, North Korea is separated from its neighbouring countries by the Yalu and Tumen Rivers. Unfavorable political conditions and differences in regime structure further serve to separate North Korea from the world.
The cultural gap is also wide. North Korea uses an extreme form of DPRK-style Juche ideology, based on heavily-sanctioned self-reliance. As such, it is difficult for non-North Koreans to comprehend the depth of the country’s isolation and its citizens’ lack of knowledge about the outside world. Additionally, North Koreans view the United States with suspicion, which has only been extended further by recent political events and US economic sanctions. As a result, even when North Koreans are occasionally able to gain access to news sources, they remain largely exposed only to their government’s own propagandized narratives and to limited information from other sources.


The current state of affairs is highly limiting when it comes to interaction between North Korea and the United States. All diplomatic ties between the two nations were severing in 2019, following the collapse of a two-year diplomatic dialogue. Since then, North Korea has retained its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs despite UN sanctions, and all communication between Washington and Pyongyang has been conducted via intermediaries.
To further emphasize their stark differences in terms of communication, North Korean citizens are only allowed to access the Internet through a government intranet and must obtain direct permission from the government to access any international websites. North Korea has strict laws and regulations on assembly, and until recently, it was essentially impossible for average citizens to access foreign information. Due to these restrictions, gaining a true understanding of North Korea’s politics, economy, practices, and culture is an incredibly difficult task.

Tactical & Military Distance

The United States has reserved their strongest military presence in the region, which further heightens the divide between the two countries. Both nations currently reside under a nuclear umbrella, with the United States declaring its military willingness to employ its own “tactical nuclear weapons” against North Korea if necessary. Both states have provided huge military budgets to support their respective defense strategies, potentially creating a more tense situation and heightening the chances of a large-scale war.
The United States and its allies have also maintained U.S. bases on the peninsula, notably in South Korea and Guam. North Korea views these as forms of aggression and has sought to increase distance between them and these key U.S. outposts. Recently, North Korea has even proposed a symbolic bundling of ships non-permitted to enter north Korean waters into one huge armada, including the U.S. carriers USS Harry S. Truman and USS Ronald Reagan. This is seen as a strong message from North Korea to the United States, signalling both its mistrust and unfavourable stance towards the American Government.

Economic Distance

Economically, the boundaries between North Korea and the United States remain vast. With its tight control over the nation’s notable resources such as the Chongchon River, the Government of North Korea manages the Economic Development Zones (EDZs) to attract foreign investment for the underdeveloped nation. Examples of potential investors include Russia and China – though neither of these countries has the same attitude of investing in North Korean corporations as the United States does.
Due to the economic sanctions imposed by the United States, North Korean companies are struggling to connect with other entities. Companies such as its Orascom, a metallurgical conglomerate, have had to grapple with the limited economic activity available to them. Additionally, in the rare instances that new investments do arise, it is likely that financing or project implementations come with considerable legal and political risks.

Societal Distance

The societal gulf between North Korea and America is significant. There are significant differences between the two countries when it comes to language, religion, culture and economic capabilities. North Koreans experience heavily censored media, while Americans have access to nearly unrestricted news sources and entertainment.
Moreover, the North Korean government has consistently enforced strict control over its citizens, by means of a legal system that punishes suspicion of any sort of anti-government behavior with a wide range of punishments, from hard labor to life imprisonment. Meanwhile in the United States, citizens have the right to free speech, to protest and to vote. This systemic difference has created a great deal of tension between both nations, further demonstrating their political and social distance.

Political Distance

Both nations are starkly different in terms of their political ideologies and structure. In North Korea, the Communist Part of Korea is the one and only ruling political party, while the United States relies on Liberal democracy as its main form of governance. Additionally, North Korea is a one-man dictatorship and is considered one of the most corrupt countries in the world due to its autocratic rule. In contrast, the United States is a pluralistic society with a multiparty system and clear checks and balances on power that promote accountable government.
Besides, the United States has long maintained an international policy of democracy promotion, and has been a vocal advocate of human rights in countries such as North Korea. The United States has also been an active member of the UN Security Council for decades, exercising their leverage as a permanent member in pursuit of international security, peace, and justice.

Infiltration Requirement

Due to the deep mistrust between North Korea and the United States and the stringent regulations North Korea puts in place, one would need an extraordinary level of preparation and resources to gain entrance into the country. Businesspeople or travelling academics must submit to a thorough vetting process that includes requiring the assistance and recommendations of local authorities or governments. Additionally, those wishing to visit North Korea must apply for a travel visa and provide a valid passport. For some businesspeople, such as senior executives or entrepreneurs, invitation letters from a senior North Korean official may be required.

Technology Usage

Despite the digitalization of many countries, North Korea remains one of the least digitized regions in the world. As reported by a 2019 World Economic Forum study, only half a percent of North Korean households have access to a reliable internet connection and no more than 4.2 percent of people own a computer. Access to modern technology is strictly controlled, and even when locals do have access to devices such as televisions, the content is heavily censored.
Due to the tight control on information dissemination, North Koreans must rely on the state-run media and news sources, as well as traditional word-of-mouth journalism as their primary sources of information. Some North Korean tech startups are attempting to develop technology to bypass these restrictions, but most of these startups have been shut down by authorities. Given the persistent nature of the North Korean government’s attitudes towards technology, it is unlikely that North Koreans will have unrestricted access to information anytime soon.

Financial Distance

Due to economic sanctions put in place by the United States and other countries, North Korea is one of the most sanctioned countries in the world, resulting in both political and financial distance from the United States. Consequently, bilateral trade between North Korea and the United States has been almost nonexistent for decades. Further, several entities and persons are specifically denoted by the United States to be prohibited from doing business with North Korea, including several state-owned companies.
Moreover, few international financial institutions are willing to lend to North Korean oligarchs or businesses, obliging them to rely on lump deposits from authoritarian rulers from Middle Eastern Gulf states and illegal activities such as money laundering and counterfeiting. This further deepens North Korea’s economic repressions and its distance from international markets, as well as the US.

Transportation Distance

Air and land travel between the United States and North Korea is restricted. Travelers from the U.S. to North Korea must apply for permission from the United States for a special use passport, and a license from the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) before being allowed to travel. North Korea also maintains tight cruise ship regulations, and it is difficult to find direct flights into the country.
Also, North Koreans are not allowed to leave the country without the express permission of their respective government. Those who do choose to leave the country are often subjected to intense questioning and inspection at the Chinese border. Even if one is able to pass the strict inspection of the Chinese authorities, they still face the challenge of obtaining travel visas as well as insurance policies to travel to other countries, making it difficult for North Koreans to even consider travelling abroad.

Educational Distance

When it comes to educational development, North Koreans are unable to access international academic opportunities at the same level as people from other countries. Reports from advocacy groups such as Human Rights Watch indicate the North Korean government’s prohibition of international academic exchanges, leading to blurred intellectual boundaries between North Korean citizens and those from other countries.
For example, secular private universities such as Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), which was established in 2010 by foreign business leaders and academics, cannot offer students the same quality of education, resources, and access to knowledge that other countries around the world provide. Even for those students who are able to gain admission, their studies are all monitored and tracked with surveillance cameras, further damaging the student’s learning experience.


The geographical, political, economic, and cultural distance separating the United States and North Korea has made it all but impossible for the two countries to engage in meaningful and constructive dialogue. Despite the establishment of a set of nuclear agreements by the two nations, relations between them heavily remain strained, due to the US economic sanctions, the violation of international laws, and restrictions on individuals’ rights.
The aforementioned topics have demonstrated the considerable divide that separates North Korea and the United States, making it difficult for the two to foster understanding or cooperation and even for citizens of the two countries to communicate or mingle with each other.

Cassie Grissom is an American journalist and author living in Seoul, South Korea. She has been studying the Korean peninsula since 2011, and her work focuses on understanding human rights issues in North Korea. In addition to her work as an author, Cassie is an active advocate for human rights in North Korea. She regularly shares stories about life in North Korea with international audiences to raise awareness of the plight of its citizens.

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