27 October 2009

The Economist on North Korea

The Economist this week points out once again the utter horror that is living in North Korea. Those reading this blog know that this is an issue dear to my heart. No one should be shocked to learn about work camps, forced starvation, or mass executions. The state is collecting most of its revenues from giant extortion rackets, threatening people with any of the above unless they pay for protection.

Unfortunately, the recommendations of the Economist are laughable. The article suggests that the West should beam "radio broadcasts that offer another reality to the state-manufactured one". This neglects the fact that the US is already beaming in VOA and Radio Free North Korea. It also neglects the fact that North Korea jams most stations, and also fixes all radios to only pick up state approved stations. Owning a radio that could even pick up these illicit radio broadcasts would be a massive risk for anyone willing to do so.

The second option given was to offer "apparatchiks and the elite education abroad". However, that is already happening, if only illicitly or in China. Kim's youngest son went to school in Switzerland; most of the rest of the high officials went to school in China. There is no love lost for the DPRK system within the Chinese university system (especially by the real Communists who dislike the monarchical style of the North Koreans). Moreover, those let out of the country will only be those with the utmost loyalty to the regime. While there may be some overall softening and socializing of leaders, I am unsure how much it would do to change the regime. On top of that, I can't imagine it would do anything to help the people on the ground. (Never mind all the work that would have to be done first, including restoring diplomatic relations.)

My heart bleeds as much as anyone's for those trapped in the evils of the North Korean regime. However, there needs to be some recognition that there is a strong limit on what the outside world can do. North Korea is not a country that's likely to change just because the outside world engages in a little propaganda or tries to push it.

Beyond that...there is a little worry in the back of my mind. I am still worried about the possible aftereffects of the utter collapse of the North Korean state. I'm not saying that American/Western pressure will bring the state down, but I think it may be more likely right now than the kinds of reforms we would like.

UPDATE: Ha! Looks like at least one actual important pundit (Michael Crowley) has come to the same conclusion, if only a few days later.

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