Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nothing can be done about North Korea

Though I really don't care much for much of Jonah Goldberg's facile arguments about stuff in general, one can read through this piece on how saying "never again" about places like North Korea is meaningless and get a profound sense that nothing will change North Korea except North Korea itself.

Invading them and using military might to push out their leadership didn't work (China intervened), undermining them politically and economically didn't work (the Soviet Union and China intervened), smothering them with kindness didn't work, nudging them toward a market economy hasn't worked (China intervened), and so far a return to a hard-line stance hasn't done anything. 

The regime is still in power. They still thumb their nose at what Washington, Seoul, Tokyo, Europe, and even Beijing want, and this will go on for some time. 

Let's say "never again" to theories about how to topple or change North Korea. Nothing will work until the current regime is gone or fundamentally changed from within. Maybe that change will come with a regime shake-up when Kim Jong-il dies, if not sooner, but maybe it won't. 

And that means we can do little more than contain their toxicity to within their borders. 

Kushibo officially throws up his hands. 

This doesn't mean that every effort shouldn't be made with Beijing to get humane treatment for North Korean refugees outside North Korea, but I fear that there is, for now, nothing that can be done for those inside. 

I hate this feeling. It makes me sick.


  1. As I see it, China wants to keep the peninsula divided. Some Chinese historians are building a case that Korea is just a part of China & one of China's many regional ethnicity.

    While the near impact of a unification would be very costly to S. Korea, in the longer run I believe that unification will be advantageous.

    The fact that S. Korea's population is 45 million (1/3 that of Japan) is a huge disadvantage & limits the country in many ways. For example, not many books are published in Korea because there are not many people who can buy & read them. The academia is not very active because there are not enough scholars & not enough present dialogues and past materials; too many important subjects are untouched. Again due to its small population size, S. Korea is of 2ndary concern to many global companies (i.e. Xbox 360 & Playstation 3 were introduced much later in S. Korea than per se the US or Japan).

  2. What's more, S. Korea's web sphere is very small. There are a ton of cafe's & blogs & forums sponsored by the portal companies, but outside of that there are very few websites.

    Whereas the English-speaking netizens have been building up permanent online contents & a diversity of references & databases for various interests, S. Korea's web sphere is still limited to government, museum, & school websites, company home pages, and little else.

  3. I agree with you that China may be eyeing the turning of North Korea into the Inner Chaoxian Autonomous Region, mostly as a buffer against the West. And an offshoot of that might be that they would prefer Korea to remain divided.

    You make an interesting point about how a lack of a larger economy of scale may keep Korea down in some ways. With North Korea's 22.6 million people, South Korea goes from 3/8 of the population of Japan to 56% of Japan's, on a piece of land around the size of Japan's main island of Honshu. That might provide more consumers to get a more robust and diverse economy going.

  4. Joshua at One Free Korea has a good post on the looming prospect of a future Inner Chaoxian Autonomous Region.

  5. This is an excellent post, and your inversion of the "never again" motif is really intriguing. I am also skeptical of a rollback strategy simply because it was so disastrous in the Korean War.

    Commentators crawl on the U.Chicago historian Bruce Cumings for what they see as his sympathy for North Korea, but his abundant work on the US/UN occupation of North Korea in autumn 1950 is essential validation of the arguments you're making here.

    It's not to say there would be some absolute rerun, but not drawing lessons from the past is completely self-defeating, particularly in this case.

  6. There's nothing to be done. No matter how harsh, the right plan was to occupy as much of North Korea as possible in the Korean War. The failure to occupy the country and forcibly unite it has now resulted in this. History has made this tragically clear, even if it was unclear at the time.


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