[Pic unrelated: On sale at Jusco. They have no idea how this appears to a Westerner.]
I’m writing because I’m a little upset about the shallowness of the Left’s current stance on the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile issues. Even more broadly, I’m disappointed in the way the media flashes past complex issues like this without ever explaining anything while trying to engender a sense of understanding in their audience. It makes issues such as DPRK “crisis” situations an easy tool for politicians who are ready to lie while rendering them useless for politicians who prefer to talk straight about international issues*
[*Granted, the only politicians who talk straight about such things are the minority of American politicians who understand that it is an effective style of rhetoric only because it is a shocking style of rhetoric. That is only possible because the US controls its own hemisphere. If the truth comes into vogue again then shocking lies will become the winning strategy, so any victory for Truth will be inevitably short-lived. It just so happens that politics everywhere is so deeply invested in lies that the truth is an effective, and winning, shocker.]
The DPRK is not going to bend to anyone because the DPRK is not a manifestation of pro-national governance, it is a manifestation of pro-elite governance. Come to think of it, that’s what the Left is all about as well: taking power from the average person under the cover of saying that they must make everyone’s decisions for them for the “greater good”. The DPRK is one of the few remaining functional dictatorships. Or it is a cult*.
I prefer the cult characterization because it carries an accurate sense of what I have observed there. The State is inseparable from Kim Jong Il, the people must venerate the State and therefore Kim Jong Il, and they do everything but use the words “Lord and Master” or “The Holy Father and Son” to refer to them. It distinguishes the idea of Hitlerite dictatorship which seeks to become a cult from a power elite which actually manages to manifest the Mayan political dream.
[*2015 post-military retrospective edit: I believe it is a cult. It is far more religiously zealous than any of the Christian or Islamic places I’ve worked. Insanely so. I can’t even begin to count the ways in which it is profoundly cultish. With Kim Jong Il now moved into the position of “Eternal Secretary” they now have a proper Holy Trinity: father, son and ghost.]
Here are some quick points:
- The DPRK is a dictatorship run by a strict egoist. This may not have been the initial goal, but its the only way to run a
tight communist country in Asia in a post-Cold War world totalitarian regime effectively.
- The DPRK is obligated to generate crises on a schedule. It doesn’t really matter if the outside world throws (useless) sanctions at them or not, throws a few rounds of actual hot death at them from time to time, or throws a few baskets of gift-wrapped chocolates instead (or more often barges full of rice or cash). So long as KJI is going to stay in power he must play a brinkmanship game on the outside and internally stir a sense that “We are embattled by the whole world! Its Us against Them!”
- The world thinks China can magically change the way the DPRK works. It can’t. Only KJI can do that, and he’s not going to because it would put him out of a job, and that’s equivalent to the destruction of the DPRK. Besides, without him holding the country together famine and lawlessness would ensue. Consider other necessary dictatorships, like Libya — Koreans are far more socially advanced, but their already dire survival situation would immediately become critical without KJI. There wouldn’t be an overnight smooth, non-violent transition to unity with South Korea, not by a long shot — that’s purely a daydream of peaceniks who have lost touch with reality. Even the West doesn’t want a unified Korea just now. A united Korea (whatever way that happens) would ultimately not be an ally of the West (or Japan). When Seoul talks about “unity” what they mean is under their leadership. When Pyongyang speaks of “unification” they mean under their control. There is no middle ground on that, and therefore there will be no unity until internal disintegration grips one or the other. (Sorry ideologues, it actually appears to be a fair toss between which one will disintegrate first — South Korea has a profoundly weird list of internal problems the DPRK lacks thanks to its nearly universal state religion. Religion really is a near-perfect way to enslave masses of people.)
- The US is wise in avoiding direct dialogue with the DPRK. The game has a pulse to it which usually begins with the DPRK deliberately provoking “the global community”, whatever that means. This week they announce nuclear research, next week they launch a test missile over Japan, another time they send a boatload of missile parts to Iran, another time they sink a South Korean ship, etc. The details of the incident are irrelevant, the whole point is to stir shit so the “world” must “do something about it”. This is code for “the U.S. must do something about it”. Why the U.S.? Because, frankly, the combined might of Europe is utterly incapable of fielding a military force that can influence East Europe, much less East Asia. Beijing and Moscow are interested in seeing what they can get out of the U.S. in return for deliberate avoidance on other issues, making the cost for genuine engagement in the issue unacceptably high. The Japanese are afraid of their own latent might (they might “become evil” through strength, as if “good” and “evil” have a place in geopolitics). The U.S. list of international heavyweights capable of keeping South Korea calm is short. Any dialogue with the DPRK runs immediately and necessarily to military brinkmanship. There really isn’t any place left to go after you fire “test missiles” over a country like Japan or sink a South Korean vessel.
- Neither Pyongyang nor Washington would benefit from an actual war. The DPRK, being controlled ultimately by a tiny power elite, is flexible in its interpretation of political consistency and can therefore grandstand with “We will destroy the South unless ___!” The US, on the other hand, has a policy against making idle threats and so can’t match the DPRK’s rhetorical “We kill you all!” talk without actually doing it. Either way, the US will look like diplomatic assholes because any American action can be perceived by any given public as the wrong one. “Oh, world policing again, are we?” on the one hand and “You’re so powerful that its your responsibility to do something, you selfish bastards” on the other. The reactions to brinkmanship are even more severe, and the stakes higher. So its best to just sit things out until the DPRK’s provocations have run their course and the issue has faded from the public consciousness — a process that takes all of a week depending on how many family feuds get started on reality TV in the same span of time.