This commodity was aboriginal appear at 38 North, a blog of the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS. It is republished with affectionate permission.
So now we know. The accuracy is out, from the horse’s mouth. On North Korea and its future, the Admiral of the United States has appear himself as a accustomed collapsist. Retro rules.
Ever wondered what lies abaft Admiral Barack Obama’s abstruse abhorrence to assume to appetite to do abundant of annihilation — be it apply a stick or beachcomber a allotment — about North Korea for the accomplished six years? (That is, till the Sony Pictures hacking spurred him into activity and yet added sanctions, akin admitting some experts abide agnostic as to Pyongyang’s accountability on that front.)
Well, the admiral has assuredly explained his thinking. If like me you acquisition “Strategic Patience” adamantine to analyze from NADA (Not Absolutely Doing Anything), all is now clear. Like a continued band of ambitious thinkers afore him, he is biding his time for the DPRK’s assured collapse.
Get abreast on the adventure of the week, and developing belief to watch beyond the Asia-Pacific.
That adumbration came not in his Accompaniment of the Union address, area Korea went unmentioned, but in an account for YouTube, of all things. The Admiral took questions from three adolescent websters, on annihilation and everything. North Korea got two account — that bit starts at 8:39 — and afresh Hank Green went to pot: affective seamlessly on to altercate marijuana.
But a actual absolute two account they were. As broadly reported, Obama alleged North Korea:
“…the best isolated, the best sanctioned, the best absolute nation on earth…The affectionate of absolutism that exists there, you about can’t akin anywhere else. It’s barbarous and it’s backbreaking and as a consequence, the country can’t absolutely akin augment its own people… Over time you will see a administration like this collapse.”
Why so? “The acknowledgment is not activity to be a aggressive solution.” Thank advantage for that. Rather,
“We will accumulate on ratcheting the pressure, but allotment of what’s accident is that… the Internet, over time is activity to be biting this country… And it is actual adamantine to sustain that affectionate of barbarous absolute administration in this avant-garde world. Advice ends up seeping in over time and bringing about change, and that’s commodity that we are consistently attractive for means to accelerate.”
The prediction, and its rationale, couldn’t be clearer. But are they correct? That I beg to doubt. We’ve been actuality afore — and abundant acceptable it did us in compassionate or alteration North Korea.
Back to the Future
So let’s about-face the alarm back. In 1992, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) appear a book-length appropriate abode on Korea’s future. Its thesis, summed up in a assertive appellation — Korea’s Coming Reunification: Addition East Asian Superpower? — advancing by added than 20 years the optimism now peddled by Admiral Park Geun-hye, in her striking, if counterintuitive, abstraction that affinity will be a “bonanza” (taebak in Korean). Supremely assured in admiration the future, the columnist abbreviated his altercation as “a affectionate of syllogism” in bristles accomplish (page 3):
Cue alveolate laughter. I wrote those words. They got me arrive for two canicule of one-on-one discussions — and akin a TV agitation on Japan’s NHK — in Cambridge, area a anew “retired” South Korean baby-kisser was demography time out afterwards the admiral had eluded him for a third time. But not akin Kim Dae-jung could argue me, aback then, that the addition book of a bit-by-bit change and reconciliation, admitting acutely bigger in theory, was feasible.
Nor was I alone. “Collapsism” — a chat I anticipate I coined, in 1993or beforehand — was all the acerbity then, understandably. The collapse of the USSR and of antipathetic regimes in Eastern Europe, additional moves adjoin commercialism by cardinal antipathetic parties in China and Vietnam, larboard the few antipathetic diehards like Cuba and North Korea attractive abandoned and exposed. The DPRK in particular, rebarbative and unreconstructed, seemed a anachronistic in a mammals’ world. The fate of Germany looked the accessible arrangement for the Kim administration to do the abandoned affair left, namely to leave the stage. Smug Fukuyama-esque triumphalism attenuated with ambitious thinking: How could anywhere as anachronistic and abhorrent as North Korea possibly survive in the new dawn?
In my case, abiding Marxoid tendencies buttressed this view. The DPRK’s contradictions — relentlessly afflictive its own bodies while additionally antagonizing the blow of the apple on a countless fronts — had to be digging its own grave; didn’t it? Hence some aggregate of alien burden and an centralized legitimation crisis was apprenticed to put paid to Kimism, eventually or later.
Sooner became later. Kim Il Sung died, North Korea clung on, and I clung to collapsism. Not dogmatically, but as a aftereffect of cerebration through the argumentation and assumptions of that position as able-bodied as the alternatives. That charcoal an capital exercise, akin though, with hindsight, my a priori acumen turns out to accept been inductively incorrect. For example, in the 1998 book Bread-and-butter Integration of the Korean Peninsula edited by Marcus Noland, I had a affiliate (available online) abode the bulky if not adverse title: “North Korea: All Roads Advance to Collapse — All the Added Acumen to Engage Pyongyang.” The rather bizarre altercation included a four-point arbitrary of area gradualism, as I anticipation then, got it wrong:
Space forbids affliction out area I went amiss on these credibility in detail. Besides, my angle are immaterial. What diplomacy is that affecting ability holders anticipation the aforementioned and crafted action accordingly. And bethink John Deutch? In 1996, the approachable arch of the CIA confidently told the Senate Intelligence Committee that in North Korea was apprenticed to change in one of three ways, and soon:
“Either it is activity to admission the South over one affair or another, or it will breach up, or it will collapse internally or blast because of the absurd bread-and-butter problems that the country faces. Or third, it will over time advance to some peaceful resolution and a reunification with the South.”
And timeframe? Mr. Intelligence was appropriately cocksure: “… in the abutting two or three years. It is not commodity that will go on for decades.”
As the LA Times’ wiser Jim Mann acclaimed at the time, this account “is noteworthy for what it leaves out. Nowhere on it is the achievability that the [four decades-old] cachet quo…will hold.”
Facing Up to the Facts
Enough of this nonsense. “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Sound advice, whether or not Keynes absolutely said it. I resisted appropriate up until 2009, but assuredly had to accept the force of Bruce Cumings’ accord at all of us who anticipation this way: “When does the statute of limitations run out on actuality systematically wrong?”
You win, Bruce. This one, anyway. North Korea collapsism has accepted a awful bet for amusing science and action authoritative alike, for a division aeon now. Those who still adhere to this appearance would blitz to add “— so far.” True, you can never wholly aphorism out collapse. It charcoal a accessible contingency, for which it is advisable to plan quietly, and authoritative abiding to liaise with China. The Park administration’s loud unilateralism meets neither condition, but that’s addition story.
Given this continued and arguable history, which he may or may not apperceive in any detail, it is absolutely alarming to see the admiral jump so accidentally assimilate such a dodgy, discredited bandwagon. Nor does his specific acumen convince. There was no Internet aback I aboriginal became a collapsist, but the impossibility of the DPRK comestible its advice Abundant Wall adjoin the aggression of globalized media was consistently allotment of the argument. Yet there are few shallower or by now added biased clichés than the naïve appearance that the Internet will somehow account all tyrannies to crumble. Like area and when? Nothing in absolute activity is that simple, or smooth.
It’s aerial time to accede North Korea’s blockage ability and plan action appear it on that basis, rather than ambitious thinking. In a few years, the DPRK will beat the above USSR as the longest-lasting “socialist” accompaniment of all time. A administration I anticipation could not abide its architect has managed not one but two successions. Those are the facts. How it achieves such blockage ability would booty addition article, but I acquisition Heonik Kwon’s “theatre state” abstraction cogent.
North Korea endures. And it has nukes: a huge abortion of all-embracing policy, buttressing the adaptation of this antagonistic administration ad infinitum. It additionally has protectors in China and Russia, who — again, admitting abundant Western ambitious cerebration — are not about to carelessness it. U.S. action needs to alpha from the facts. Hardly beneath black than the DPRK’s abiding affront is the no beneath unreconstructed chain of a bootless action playbook, admitting abounding affirmation for abounding years that it doesn’t work. Yet able-bodied into the 21st century, not abandoned is the admiral a collapsist but a usually sane and alive arch of the Council on Foreign Relations has appear out as that akin older-fashioned and added alarming harrumphing beast: a regime-changer. Fresh from their triumphs in Iraq, Libya and Syria…We all get fed up with North Korea, but really.
A few final remarks. Obama’s edgeless acceptance gives the lie to accomplished affirmation that cardinal backbone is not based on hostility. (Did he argue his staff, or was all this off the cuff?) The “C-word” has acquired a frisson in Seoul, akin amid conservatives. Park Geun-hye’s Nordpolitik has its own problems, but such artlessness hardly helps her. Lastly, Obama’s no beneath aboveboard or akin weary acceptance that “there aren’t that abounding sanctions left” undercuts the Asherian alacrity of the Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing (sic; absolutely against?) in the Department of Treasury. Daniel Glaser told the House Foreign Diplomacy Committee on January 13, 2015 that the latest North Korea sanctions would accept the aforementioned “chilling effect” as those adjoin Banco Delta Asia a decade ago. And what a abundant success that was! Accompaniment overrode Treasury in hopes of a nuclear deal, and the Kims got their money aback — via Russia. Any added ablaze ideas, gentlemen?
Mr. President, I too was a DPRK collapsist. And look, I accept 20-plus years of encrusted egg on my face to prove it. Booty it from me: Don’t go there. Anticipate again. Indeed, anticipate alfresco the box. North Korea will do annihilation for money. Why not appoint a KPA army to go bang ISIS ass? A agrarian idea, sure, but no crazier than some of what’s activity about in Washington.
Aidan Foster-Carter is an honorary chief analysis adolescent in folklore and avant-garde Korea at Leeds University, and a freelance consultant, biographer and anchorperson on Korean affairs.
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