SEOUL -- North Korea has made remarkable progress with its nuclear and missile programs in recent years, an achievement believed to owe partly to an economy that has come a long way from the famines of the 1990s.
Pyongyang has sought to pursue both economic and nuclear development under leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea's central bank estimates that real gross domestic product grew 3.9% last year -- the fastest in 17 years and a sharp turnaround from 2015's 1.1% contraction.
This expansion stems partly from infrastructure investment and mining of such resources as coal and lead. A thriving black market, built on a steady influx of goods from China, also plays a major role.
South Korean experts on the country agree that hunger is no longer a problem. This communist nation has even developed an affluent class, something the regime tacitly tolerates.
This economic growth fuels a costly weapons development program. Pyongyang has launched 13 missiles so far this year, and intercontinental ballistic missiles carry a price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Seoul-based Korea Institute for Defense Analyses estimates that North Korea spent roughly $9 billion on defense in 2013, with just over 10% going to its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. By comparison, the U.S. is believed to spend just under 20% of its defense budget on all equipment. Pyongyang is believed to be keeping its spending on such weaponry as fighter jets and tanks within reason, in the knowledge that it could not beat Washington and Seoul in a conventional war.
Human resources are crucial as well. The government offers free housing in Pyongyang high-rises to scientists and other personnel involved in nuclear and missile development. And it is tolerant of failure, seeking to create an environment conducive to success.