Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Big (un)Happy Birthday to Evil Weirdo Jr.

Although in Democratic People's Republic of Korea (aka DPRK or North Korea) Tuesday has already passed, we can still take a minute to contemplate the 68th birthday of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Il. The DPRK is the country that keeps lobbing nuclear missiles at weird intervals. After prolonged negotiations, they always agree to shut down their nuclear enrichment facilities. Yet somehow they just keep popping out the radioactive, and we go through it all over again.
Kim Jong-Il's fiefdom is a rock in cold Northern latitudes that grows nothing. Whatever commerce could come from it has been killed by communism and corruption. What little is known about it looks like a cross of Jocko's merry-go-round, a Dizney production, Orwell's 1984, and a Soviet gulag. His people are starving, apparently brainwashed by a personality cult, and deeply desperate. But the party for Dear Leader has never stopped.

China has a huge border control effort against the DPRK. If they didn't, there would be no one left inside. South Korea might let them in--many of its citizens long for unification--but there is the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ). No DPRK citizen is likely to make it across. The U.S. is still patrolling its side of the DMZ with troops of the Republic of Korea (aka ROK or South Korea). It's my understanding this is justifiably considered a dangerous assignment. There is no truce in the DMZ.

In US memory, that conflict was over fifty years ago. But it is not over.

We Can't Always Get Who We Want
1. We can learn from this man, primarily known for his immorality and his laughably transparent extortion schemes, how important the international community views the institution of the state. Despite the over-excited accusations of some anti-war protesters (of which I am occasionally one, depending, but rarely over-excited)  it remains a huge decision to enter another states' territory. Especially since DPRK does fulfill, at least in half-measure, the criteria of a state--

      --A failing state. We try not to invade too many of those. (Afghanistan, for instance, but not Somalia.) The people who usually invade failing states are brigands and/or neighbor states. When neighbor states invade in this enlightened era, it is generally for peacekeeping purposes.

Furthermore, Kim Jong-Il came into power under a peaceful transfer from his father--not democracy, not transparent, but no civil war ensued. Therefore, we are still trying to reason with him, bribe him, contain him. The effort has been a drawn-out, careful, considered labor for some of our best diplomats--primarily those of the U.S., China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea--in what is called the "Six-Party Talks" or "Six-Nation Talks."  This makes all states at the table sound equal: three hegemonic states, five powerful economies, and the DPRK. And all states are indeed equal in the international system. They get the same privileges of sovereignty.

2. We can also learn from this man, who always seems to have nuclear material, how incredibly easy it is to get plutonium. There are no indigenous plutonium deposits in the DPRK. Nor is there much technological basis for the development of these weapons. We do know that A.Q. Khan of Pakistan sold information and equipment to the DPRK, among others. If we know the Dear Leaders' other suppliers, we're not telling. Every time we close one door, somebody else climbs through the window, bearing dangerous gifts.

3. We can also learn from this leader that extortion payments are sometimes necessary to make. He's got the radioactive trump card, so that makes him someone to listen to. It does not augur well for nuclear non-proliferation.

The Wham Bam Option
The biggest reason we stall with Dear Leader is that three major powers find it necessary to avoid the expansion of any one of the others. We don't want China on the ROK border. China has enough border with Russia already. It doesn't want any with us. And so forth.

The second reason is that all five major economies are under some risk of nuclear damage--fallout, bombing, reactor meltdown. Flattery and promises help keep Kim Jong-Il from destroying those economies in a tantrum. Likewise, a setback or a partial dismantlement creates delay and confusion for development of fissile weapons. So we use anything that interferes--if not a sword, then a stick. If not a stick, then a twig, or a carrot, or a shipment of wheat.

The third reason to persevere is that this failing state is a huge mystery. We have no idea who will control it when the Dear Leader dies, or who will control its fissile material.  A huge politico-military class will either solidify into another dictatorship or fight between themselves. This latter would be a huge heaping mess. It would create clandestine, amateur nuclear sales, not a good development for the fight against terrorism or international crime.

It's said that Dear Leader has pancreatic cancer. I am sure he has enough opium to get by. I find that a great pity. But in other ways, I wish him a long life. We do not sufficiently focus on this man and his state. We are not ready for him to depart his own barren rock and enter the great beyond.

1. The Center for Defense Information (2003) on the restart of the DPRK uranium program and its plutonium program.
2. BBC Timeline (2002-2007)  that shows DPRK accession to, abdication of non-proliferation--and a record of agreements, aid given, and agreements reneged. 
3. Wikipedia Timeline (1989--2009)--a longer timeline and different references.
4. The DPRK Space Program at FAS.  The Federation of American Scientists is not a pretty site--but very functional. And it is a GREAT site for U.S. security matters.
5. The New Yorker magazine (e-subscription only). For gossip on Dear Leader's Wonderland, try 'Kimworld' by Ian Buruma. For a look at its persistent famine, try 'The Good Cook', about a woman trying to feed her family of 6. The New Yorker also has articles on some U.S. agency work, and (Bill) Clintonian ambassadorship in the DPRK.
Images; University of Texas Perry Castaneda Library for the map; East Asia Forum for the pageant. Both are also good sites to know.


Bob G. said...

Hey, I'm all for giving this guy a TWENTY-ONE GUN salute...right BETWEEN his beady little eyes.

But, you know me...I just love a GOOD celebration...


Ann T. said...

Dear Bob G.,
Now really, sir, I don't think 21 are necessary. That's what we use to salute the honorable.

Seriously, though--what will we do when he's gone? I guess whatever we must.

Ann T.

Edith Bunker said...

He is also rumored to have a penchant for Swedish prostitutes, kinky porn, and heel lifts.
It is very disturbing to know that he has the ability to launch a nuke.

Christopher said...

Via CNN, I recently found this quasi-news, quasi-investigative reporting, quasi-guerilla journalism site at vbs.tv. What caught my attention was their series on North Korea, reported from the inside (as you know, journalists don't typically get entry to North Korea). I'll link it here http://www.vbs.tv/newsroom/vice-guide-to-north-korea-1-of-14 , with the caveat that I don't normally post links in comments. It's part one of a 14 part series, and I found it fascinating, as I did your analysis of the present situation (and future dillema).

Ann T. said...

Dear Mrs. Bunker,
The rumors are also a penchant for children in his own country. Since he is all-powerful, and the cult of personality is also used to keep people in line, this apparently causes not a whimper. He is extremely scary to me too.

Dear Christopher,
Thank you for this series. I will definitely check it out!

Any picture of that place will be somewhat misleading--since we don't get regular access--and the culture shock I think is always particularly bad.

But I have a folder on DPRK and it definitely needs some updates!

Thanks to both of you,
Ann T.

The Observer said...

Ann T

Terrifying little police state run by a kook. Thanks for the information!

The Observer