Yes, the recent past is littered with unrealized predictions of upheaval in North Korea, but if it’s possible to know anything about the North Korean Street, then things are clearly changing faster now than they have in the past. Reading updates from the Daily NK and Open News sounds more like the first chapters of “A Tale of Two Cities” every week. In 2009, the North Korean people pushed their country into the margins of Phase V. This year, 2010, could be the year North Korea enters Phase V in earnest. I’m not saying this is the year — the timing of even likely events is impossible to predict — but I am saying that this year is much more likely to be a year of unrest than any of the years leading up to this one.
If there is unrest, I predict that it will, initially, fail to overthrow the regime. It takes a disciplined, cohesive, armed opposition to overthrow a determined dictatorship, but hatred of the regime itself is enough to galvanize opposition. There is much that we can do to help North Koreans cohere around a set of principles, and that’s something I’ll be writing more about later.
WHOOP DE DOO. NORTH KOREA HAS RELEASED ITS MUCH-ANTICIPATED and analytically worthless New Year’s speech. Every year, they promise to improve the lives of the people; every year, foreigners read this as a harbinger of reform; and every year, things in North Korea only get worse. But nevertheless, let the over-analysis begin! It’s hard to say which is the single worst example among so much weedy, perennial regrowth, but this one probably wins the honor, at least until we see the Hankyoreh’s entry.
WHICH IS, I SUPPOSED, MUCH LIKE NORTH KOREA’S CALL FOR PEACE with the United States. People will naturally see what they choose to see in this, no matter how much past experience contradicts it. Reuters, on the other hand, has seen it all before, and even talks to someone insightful:
“North has absolutely no interest in normalizing relations with the United States. As soon as the North does that, it loses all reason to exist,” said B.R. Myers, an expert on the North’s ideology at Dongseo University. “As soon as people think it is possible to get along with America, they will ask themselves why they need a ‘military first’ policy,” Myers said in a recent interview.
This year, “peace” on North Korea’s terms means recognition as a nuclear state, the dropping of U.N. sanctions, a license to proliferate and counterfeit at will, and non-interference of any foreign power as it commits mass murder against its own people. This is the peace of the (mass) grave, although I’m sure those terms are acceptable to plenty of people in our State Department. Of course, it’s anyone’s guess what “peace” will mean next year.
LEE MYUNG BAK’S MESSAGE IS NO LESS CRYPTIC or manipulative, if we’re to be objective about this. The art of politics — and no one has mastered this more than Barack Obama — is to promise them just enough so that their hopes can fill in the rest of what you didn’t say. Yonhap’s picture of Lee delivering it is one for the ages:
While the hot young thing on his left — I presume she isn’t the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but who’s complaining? — hangs on his every word, the fellow on the right appears to have entered a trance-like state. No doubt, this is an intense form of concentration.
THE DAILY NK’S CHRIS GREEN, who has become a great asset to its English language edition and everyone who reads it, has the best commentary on the Robert Park situation I’ve read anywhere so far. I’m not even going to quote it. Just read the whole thing yourself. I will say that what Park says about the beef protests explains why I’m ready to write off South Korea as a total loss until unification, when I expect North Korean voters will restore some perspective for a while.
CAPTAIN JON STAFFORD, author of this much-discussed paper on finding America’s role in a post-Kim North Korea, offers another contribution — this time, in the Australian Defense Force Journal. Stafford’s ideas manage to be both subversive and achingly sensible. I wish they had more currency in our government. I also found the article on pashtunwali interesting.
MORE NORTH KOREAN REFUGEES THAN EVER are arriving in Thailand: “Thai immigration authorities say they took more than 1,000 North Koreans into custody this year, compared with less than 400 in 2008 when Beijing tightened security for the Olympics.”
SO FAR, I’M NOT READING REPORTS OF CHAOS IN IRAN, but I’m glad to see that the Iranian opposition doesn’t seem to be backing down from the death threats of the regime’s thug squads.
JULES CRITTENDEN has written a wonderful, bitter, must-read diary of his last decade.