Must read: Brian Myers on what North Korea really wants (hint: it’s South Korea)

Over the years, the soft-liners’ explanations for why Pyongyang sacrificed billions of dollars and millions of lives to build a nuclear program have shifted. First, they said it just wanted the electricity. Then, they said it wanted a bargaining chip to trade away for better relations with us. Now, they say it just wants to protect itself from us. Unlike them, Brian Myers has listened to what Pyongyang has been telling its own subjects — it wants reunification, on its own terms.

North Korea needs the capability to strike the U.S. with nuclear weapons in order to pressure both adversaries into signing peace treaties. This is the only grand bargain it has ever wanted. It has already made clear that a treaty with the South would require ending its ban on pro-North political agitation. The treaty with Washington would require the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the peninsula. The next step, as Pyongyang has often explained, would be some form of the North–South confederation it has advocated since 1960. One would have to be very naïve not to know what would happen next. As Kim Il-Sung told his Bulgarian counterpart Todor Zhivkov in 1973, “If they listen to us, and a confederation is established, South Korea will be done with.”

Western soft-liners keep saying the U.S. must finally negotiate a peace treaty with Pyongyang. That’s where their op-eds conveniently end. These people show no awareness of what such a treaty would have to entail. Are they in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops? If so they should come right out and say so, instead of pretending North Korea will content itself with the security guarantees it has rejected for decades. Many observers believe that the stronger the North Koreans get, the more reasonable they will become. Whenever I think I’ve seen the height of American wishful thinking, I find out it can get even sillier. [Slate]

The conventional wisdom is that North Korea, with half of the South’s population and a fraction of its economy, cannot hope to defeat the South. Myers thinks they’re much closer to winning the Korean War than most of us are willing to believe, and I think he’s right about that:

The stars are aligning very nicely for the strategy [Kim Jong-un] inherited from his father. Just as North Korea is perfecting its nuclear weaponry, China has acquired the economic power to punish South Korea for improving its missile defenses. Opinion polls in the South now strongly favor the left-wing presidential candidate Mun Jae-in, who in 2011 expressed hope for the speedy realization of a North–South confederation. If he or anyone else from the nationalist left takes over, years of South Korean accommodation of the North will ensue, complete with massive unconditional aid.

This went on under George W. Bush, and the alliance survived. Donald Trump, however, is much less likely to allow an ostensible ally to subvert UN sanctions while paying tributary visits to Pyongyang. And Kim Jong-un knows this. He knows that whatever security guarantees Trump gave to Seoul were made to the current conservative administration only. So Kim Jong-un has a better chance than his father did of pressuring the alliance to a breaking point. With China’s support he can pull a left-wing South Korean administration in one way while pushing the Americans in another.

Having lived in South Korea for the past 15 years, I don’t share most Americans’ confidence that it will always choose America over a North-supporting China. My own impression—bolstered by the ongoing controversy surrounding the stationing of the THAAD missile defense system—is that a growing number of South Koreans would rather see their state’s security compromised than risk their own prosperity. [Slate]

Read the whole thing.

Lately, I’ve often thought that the two Koreas are racing toward political collapse, and it’s anyone’s guess which one will lose first. In the North, Kim Jong-un’s brutality and incompetence are alienating the elites and pushing more of them to defect. Gradually — but too gradually — its financial lifelines and trade relationships are being cut one by one. Its people, though unorganized for now, are deeply alienated against the state, resentful of its corruption, and envious of the oligarchy’s ill-gotten wealth. Its system has never been more vulnerable to a well-orchestrated political and economic attack. Unfortunately, the only well-orchestrated attack underway today is being waged against the wrong Korea.

In the South, anarchy and mob rule will end as they always do. To an even greater extent than in the United States, the mobs are gullible, naive, and easily manipulated by spurious reporting and conspiracy theories. The people are so disunited and polarized into warring tribes that Diogenes would search in vain for a moderate voter. The political culture views mass protests, which should be the last resort of a free people, as a higher form of democratic expression than an independent judiciary or orderly self-government through the franchise. In the end, the minority will get what the majority deserves. It isn’t hard to see how a Korean “peace process” would proceed between a unilaterally disarmed South Korea and a nuclear-armed North Korea. Seoul, cut adrift by its allies, would make an overt agreement to end “slander” of the North’s system and a tacit agreement to say nothing as the North’s agents and proxies terrorize the last few noisy editors, defectors, and dissidents into silence or flight. Within five years, the incremental surrender of one of the world’s most prosperous nations to one of the world’s most wretched, repressive, and murderous regimes mankind has ever conceived could be irreversible. But at the time, they will call it peace.


  1. Not going to happen. A leader enriching, zombie-producing, life-sucking system – try being a salesman for that.

  2. Its very insulting to ROK voters to believe ROK travel retailers will stop their nation’s antimissile defence. Election uncertainty is something DPRK denies.

  3. While a confederation might be established, I would still doubt how successful it would be. Meaning, could it keep control of all of Korea over a long period of time. In the book “The Discourses” by Machiavelli, in order for a dictatorship to be successful you have to wipe out all of the institutions that you had when that nation was a republic. That would mean for the ROK, no assembly, no presidency, no supreme court, etc. I would hope that by the time this happened people put done their lattes and looked up from their new Samsung phones.

    I have done my fair share of complaining about Koreans while being an expat. However, at the end of the day, I would never bet against them. There has to be some limit to what they will not accept from the DPRK. Who knows what that is? Would they still be ok if artillery rained down on Jong Ro-Ku? Or a mushroom cloud over Seoul? They are a war-weary people even if they do not realize it. However, I still would like to believe that as human beings all of them, both north and south, do wish to be free, even if they might not know how to express that idea.

  4. Japan exists in the region, too. Their situation becomes wretched in the event of a unified-under-the-north Korean peninsula. They go nuclear the next day. It’s their only way to half-wipe the smile off China’s face, and China would be smiling.
    The astonishing fact of the matter is that the playbook is known to all, Kim il-sung even boasting about it in 1975. With that in mind, Moon jae-in and his ilk are flat out traitors or self deluded to the point of certifiable insanity. Or apocalyptic masochists. Effectively, they are all three.

  5. Breaking news: Use of a nerve agent in a foreign country’s international airport should put in perspective the laughable inadequacy of a limited ban on coal imports. Give NK what they want, complete isolation from the rest of the world. Ban them from all international organisations, economic, civil, and sporting. Triple down on sanctions, so that no one other than lunatic ideological bedfellows would see any point trading with them in finance or communications. Forget the feelings of all other countries when framing the sanctions. Bring it to a crux. The guy might not have died in vain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *