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Mad Kim the Nuclear Magician

There are reports of a mushroom-cloud explosion in North Korea. Apparently it happened on Thursday, the anniversay of the foundation of the State. Other reports, like this one from the New York Times, describe activity that looks a lot like preparations for a nuclear test.

Looks probable that the madness that is the hermit kingdom has officially become member number 9 in the Nuclear Club.

Kim Jong-il, his father, and the central core of the DPRK's military leadership have proved that total totalitarianism can overcome almost any deficiencies in money and resources. I am reminded strongly of the Egyptian pharoahs whose total domination of a slave population allowed the creation of such monoliths as the great pyramids. Perhaps the regime's most impressive feat has been its ability to insulate its population from the influences of the outside world. The US, South Korea, Japan and all of their western allies, along with Russia, China and their various satelites, have bombarded North Korea with radio, TV and other messages for 40 years. And it has all been deflected in a massive and successful effort at absolute mind control. I doubt that there are jungles still deep enough to have populations less familiar wih the outside world than today live in North Korea.

Add to this a potent brand of internal propaganda that swamps even rumour in its ubiquity and you develop an entire nation with the inner cohesion of a cult, where identification with the nation and the party rather than with the individual is considered the biological norm. From this comes a particular type of strength. My guess based on reading various academic studies is that North Korea is militarily undefeatable, in the sense that its defences are so strong -- entire city infrastructures hundreds of feet below ground in nuclear-proof bunkers, a million man army, extensive stocks of missiles, a dedicated population -- that any attack would involve casualties too high for the attacking nation to sustain politically.

What then to do with North Korea? Beats me, but I'm thinking that the capitalist option should be to bribe North Korea in a massive way. If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em. Kim and his people have already proved themselves to be excellent poker players and so the cost is going to be very high. But is the alternative any cheaper?

September 11, 2004 in North Korea | Permalink


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I don't understand this line of reasoning one bit. The US has been bribing them, again and again and again.

The problem is, they dont stay bribed !

Posted by: Jimmy | Sep 14, 2004 6:25:30 AM

The line of reasoning is simple -- what choice do you have when a military strike is unworkable (a) because North Korea has built their sdociety to survive nuiclear strikes from the aitr and (b) a land assault will not be supported in the Styates because of the immense casualties to US troops that will be required?

Posted by: Jak King | Sep 14, 2004 12:34:23 PM

Whatever choices exist do not involve the North Korean government as a political or bargaining agent at all. Perhaps they should involve China.

Assigning blame to Bush or Clinton is silly (although the agreed framework was a flop, it's not a terrible idea in principle.) Fact remains the Norks had blown that agreement in the very early going as detailed in one IAEA report after the other. So attributing "sudden changes" in Nork policy is totally afactual. Their policy is to act psychotic and extract concessions.

Something better is required, and I don't think it involves further diplomacy with NK at all.

And, as noted, they don't stay bribed! 'Buying' cooperation doesnt work if they dont cooperate!

Posted by: Jimmy | Sep 15, 2004 7:40:45 AM

Washington has doggedly and stupidly refused to guarantee no first strike. Maybe that kind of bribe WOULD work.

As for your other remarks, they are wishes not plans. There is no getting around dealing with the regime. "Acting psychotic and demanding concessions" sounds pretty much like US foreign policy to me, by the way.

Posted by: Jak King | Sep 15, 2004 2:37:11 PM

You seem fairly well-informed, but this thread befuddled me. Most importantly, you're wrong about N. Korea being militarily invulnerable. They have a kick ass military that they pay dearly for, but the general academic consensus is that in fact N. Korea would lose to the combined American-S. Korean militaries. Check a book co-written by Mike Mochizuke and Michael O´Hanlon, the latter of whom is the formost military authority on N. Korea. As for negotiating with N. Korea, try "Going Critical" about the negotiations that led up to the Agreed Framework, or for a more theoretical treatment, check out "Nuclear North Korea--A Debate on Engagment Strategies." Not to sound like too much of a know-it-all, but I've been researching this topic for a while, and happened upon your page.

Posted by: Justin | Dec 28, 2004 5:13:51 PM

Justin, you missed my point about NK being militarily "invulnerable". The point I made was not that NK cannot be beaten militarily, but that such a victory would entail such US casualties that it is politically invulnerable to such an attack unless they do something really stupid like fire a missile at the USA.

Posted by: Jak King | Dec 30, 2004 10:11:42 AM