North Korea (DPRK) is abandoning restrictions on private markets for food as the country suffers through a severe famine. This is seen as a huge concession of defeat from the government, a tacit acknowledgment of the failures of communism. Its interesting that this came about due to a natural disaster and not because of the pressure that the international system has been placing on DPRK for ages now. And its not just North Korea that has had to change economic policies after the burden put on by extraordinary circumstances; take for example the current oil spill or the economic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (though, I guess that responses to natural disasters is much more crucial for democratic regimes than for dictatorships with the whole being able to vote out leaders thing).
I guess the question right now is whether internal concessions will turn into external ones. DPRK has been so closed off that understanding what goes on inside the country is speculative and spotty as best. An example to illustrate the sporadic interaction of North Korean citizens with the international community is seen clearly by the current World Cup, where North Korea is fielding a team for the first time in 44 years. And even though the players has been allowed to leave their homeland, they are still isolated. Without people in the DPRK knowing what they’re missing, it might be hard to fuel change. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take another famine for more reform to occur.