Rogue States, International Edition

In addition to his comments on gun control, Jack Wakeland also sent me a comment on a rather more dangerous “rogue state,” North Korea, which has been outdoing its usual exaggerated and erratic threats of war.

Jack brought my attention to a report that potentially sheds light on North Korea’s behavior.

“Incomprehensible aggression from dictatorships usually means something is going on inside the regime that we don’t see.

“Last week, Kim Jong-un announced that the 1953 cease fire is over and disconnected the military hotline between the north and the south. He closed a joint South Korean-North Korean industrial park and sent the international workers and businessmen, who were a major source of hard currency, back south of the DMZ.

“This week Kim Jong-un announced that he was going to attack the United States with nuclear weapons, he issued an order to protect all statues and murals and other public monuments to the Kim family dictators, he advised all foreign legations to leave the country, he surrounded himself with 100 armored fighting vehicles and more substantial infantry forces, his ‘news’papers decried laxity and lack of discipline amongst some units of the military, and information leaked out that someone tried to assassinate him in November.

“Now we know what is going on.

“Four or five months ago, a cabal of wily and well-placed officers probably tried to assassinate the pasty-faced, drunken dictator and take over the country. Furthermore, we can deduce, over the past four or five months Kim Jong-un has not been able to identify the plotters or get to the root of the attempted military coup.”

A friend who was copied on Jack’s observations picked up on that part about protecting the Kim family statues and speculates that some of them may have been defaced by Kim’s internal opponents.

“In an attempt to terrify the North Korean military leadership, Kim Jong-un is throwing a general temper tantrum. If the military won’t reveal who the traitors are amongst its ranks, he’ll push the military into a conflict which will destroy it. If he can’t have undisputed control of North Korea, he’ll get South Korea and the US to level the country.”

Or, in my speculation, driving the country to the brink of war is the normal mechanism of internal jockeying for power within the North Korean regime.

There are some indications that even the Chinese are getting fed up with the Norks, and that American diplomats are approaching the Chinese for help in controlling the Kim regime.

Good luck with that. Another report lists the reasons why China isn’t interested, and never has been interested, in having a more stable and prosperous neighbor on its border.

China really, really doesn’t want North Korea to collapse. For one thing, the trickle of North Koreans currently crossing the border would turn into a flood, leaving China with a messy humanitarian situation on its hands. Secondly, a North Korean collapse would no doubt foster the creation of a unified, pro-US Korea on China’s northeastern flank, depriving Beijing of a valuable buffer against American interest. For these reasons, China needs North Korea to stay alive—and North Korea knows it.

I don’t buy the part about the Chinese being worried about a flood of North Korean refugees. Why not just let the refugees go across the border to the South, or—if the North’s regime really does collapse—let the South Koreans come north? Why not let the South Koreans and the Americans provide a massive airlift of aid—which we would be glad to do if it meant seeing the end of that regime.

No, the real problem is precisely that we would do this and that the Chinese would have to deal with a unified Korea allied with America. Or worse, they would have to deal with something they don’t really have now: a nation on their border that is relatively large, free, prosperous, and connected to the world. China now shares borders with Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Burma, Laos, and Vietnam. The only one of those that is politically similar to South Korea is India, but the border is a particularly rugged and impassable section of the Himalayas. So a border with a free and united Korea would be a new and uncomfortable thing for the Chinese to deal with.

So on the one hand, the conflict with North Korea is not really about North Korea about the sponsor without which Kim’s regime couldn’t survive: China. On the other hand, that still means this is a story about a dictatorship whose opaque internal power struggles make it so insecure that it fears friendly relationships with free nations, even if that means endangering the substantial benefits of peaceful commerce.


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