North Korean instability provides reminder of the need for duty of care planning

Posted on Oct 24, 2014

North Korea has long stood as a potential problem in Asia. Although the country hasn't participated in any sort of substantial military activity since the truce that ended the Korean War more than 50 years ago, it makes threats to other counties on a somewhat regular basis. For North and South Korea, limited exchanges of fire is simply something that happens on occasion, even as the two countries have small-scale collaborative working programs and other efforts geared toward a peaceful resolution of the ongoing conflict.

Travel in Asia may become more complicated as a result of potential instability in North Korea

A change in regime?

The recent political changes in North Korea mean businesses with corporate travelers headed to the region need to pay close attention to the progress of the situation. The most recent exchange of fire was based on cross-border distribution of anti-North Korean government pamphlets in that country by citizens of South Korea, according to the Independent. This latest limited military action between the two Koreas comes shortly after international media noted the lack of dictator Kim Jong-Un's public presence in North Korea for a month or more. The New Zealand Herald reported that theories about Kim's absence range from broken bones, diabetes or gout to a military coup by senior leadership mainly installed by his father, Kim Jong-Il.

This kind of instability is a new one for the state, as founder of the country Kim Il-Sung and his son, Kim Jong-Il, both reigned without interruption for decades. The lack of the public face of the county has led to speculation that Kim Jong-Un has been deposed - new territory for a country that, despite its many serious problems, had a continuous lineage leading it for almost 70 years. Current events have thrown this into question and turned North Korea into more of a wildcard than before.

Potential risks

Businesses sending employees to high-risk countries need to be extra vigilant when it comes to fulfilling their duty of care obligations. Many of the potential resolutions of the current situation, from a more hawkish government being installed to the country changing course and entering the international community, will have economic and travel implications. With the ongoing situation in North Korea and surrounding countries in Asia, businesses have to be aware of the potential implications of Kim Jong-Un's absence, especially if it proves to be a leadership coup. The situation is still volatile and it's entirely possible that it could reach a point where businesses need to restrict employee travel to the area.

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