Posted by: bklunk | December 14, 2006

I Just Love It When They Quote Bob Dylan

jkdavis captures a lot about why IR is so interesting to study.  Sometimes appeasement makes sense, other times it would be disastrous.  It’s as if Newton had a fourth law that said that sometimes a force brings an equal force in the same direction>

Good Ol’ Fashioned Reform?

North Korea’s neighbors aren’t looking for a revolution. Much to the contrary, South Korea and China have been content to shower North Korea with aid and to make unilateral concessions in hopes of a slow transformation of the North. South Korea alone, according to a Seoul newspaper, shows target amounts of aid for the next year  at a record breaking 910 million dollars. The generosity of a technically still-at-war enemy is easy to explain. Bordering China and South Korea would face difficult consequences if Kim Jong-il’s dictatorship were to rapidly deteriorate, and neither wants to provoke further confrontation to add to regional history.  The same aid meant to prevent collapse of the system, meant as a potential incentive for market oriented reforms, may in fact be fueling what appears to be the efforts of current North Korean leaders to reestablish what is being called a re-Stalinization of the country- basically, a return to the system of Kim Il- sung, which collapsed in the early nineties under pressures of famine and social disruption.  A Stalinist society in the 21st century, and a turn to the improvement of their economy seems to be the goal of North Korean leaders, now more confident about their ability to resist foreign pressures, thanks to an internationally condemend nuclear program.  But can the ideal of Kim Jong-il, a system that begins with the cornerstone of a food distribution system and then “a system where all able-bodied Koreans go to a statemanaged job and spend the entire day there, being constantly watched and indoctrinated by a small army of propogandists, police informers, party officials, security officers and the like”, be realized in the globalizing world?  Dr Andrei Lankov of the Australian National University raises some interesting points about the changes in North Korea since the death of the current leader’s father twelve years ago.  North Korean leaders’ fight to preserve their time and security are no match for the infiltration of the prosperous world beyond the DPRK’s borders, and new social forces and perceptions have developed. Three major obstacles face neo-Stalinists. These include: grassroots capitalism,  born out of private trade which became a survival strategy for a majority of North Koreans in the 90’s when rations stopped coming and continued to grow into a merchant class with greater access to the ouside world; the penetration of “modern” technology, particulalrly in the form of radios and VCRs, across Chinese borders, facilitating the spread of information and resulting among other things in the disintegration of the myth of South Korean destitution;  and finally a growing skepticism among low-level officials and resulting corruption as they cease to keep faith in the regime’s doctrine. In the year 2005, two instances of “riots”- one by a group of merchants cheated out of money by the government and another by rioting soccer fans that turned on police, show an inclination to rebeliousness of the North Korean people not seen in decades, conjuring up images of Eastern Germany for author Lankov. But since the October detonation of the nuclear weapon, reports from North Korean sources such as the NGO Good Friends indicate that regime leaders may be picking up with other elements of the past- such as required signing of written pledges not to particpate in “non-socialist activities” and  forming of “people’s groups” to tighten up residence control.  Apart from the winners of the new economy that have arisen, it is not to say that like in any society there are those who long for the “old days,” and, as Lankov mentioned, there are significant human rights reports to indicate that there exists in North Korea some people who would be more than willing to sit through extra hours of indoctrination for a few hundred extra grams of barley-rice mixture.  Leaders in the six-party talks (or five party, depending on Japan) would do well to keep these many considerations in mind while negotiating with North Korea.  The times they are a’changin’.

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  1. This is a rather interesting perspective on how regional actors are dealing with Mr. Il, and what North Korea’s leaders plan to do in the future. Personally, I think adding another ‘L’ to the end of the name of North Korea’s leader sums up his mentality. I believe that North Korea has two choices that face its future path: internal disintegration or a bellicose foreign policy that, with their acquisition of nukes, could make outside intervention pretty ugly.

  2. It appears to me that there is a large wall already built in the way of peaceful international forces having a chance in the near future to change the Stalinistic progression of Kim Jong-Il’s power over North Korea. I understand the position that South Korea and China are taking in dealing with their neighbor. However, the consequences of providing such extensive aid, however unintended they are, appear to be fueling and coincidentally supporting the ideas of North Korea’s leader. With such focus on maintaining a fear society, it was quite shocking reading of the two riots held by different groups as the people began to be subtly exposed to outside influences. It would be most endearing to hear more of these stories. Once citizens of a society so oppressed and controlled by government intervention get a glimpse of how the world is operating around them this empowerment is a step toward changing the future. However, with many still filled with nationalism and confidence in their government, it is hard to say what may come of this.

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