The logic and lunacy of Kim Jong-il


1:40 pm - May 29th 2009

by Guest    


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Article by Left Outside

kjiAfter weeks of duck houses, moats, fork handles and so on some people are actually rather excited that something has happened.

Some blogs have concentrated on the fact that this is actually a big deal and not a debate on PR vs. STV; others have focused on the militarisation of the Korean Peninsula; others have seen fit to question the moral authority of Gordon Brown to criticise Kim Jong-il.

I have decided to focus on just why such an impoverished nation is so interested in the Bomb, what it means for regional security and what is to be done.

The Logic of Nuclear Weapons

Kim Jong-Il is a well known lunatic[1] who now has the bomb, so everyone is fairly confident that the world is now a more dangerous place. However, before we jump to that conclusion we have to ask ourselves if Nuclear Weapons are guaranteed to provoke more aggression than they will deter.

Korean_peninsula_at_nightNorth Korea spends fully $5,500,000,000 of its $40,000,000,000 GDP on its Military. Around 10%, possibly closer to 15% of total spending, the figures are always imprecise. This is from a country which is regularly struck by famines and looks like this at night. North Korea has such a large military despite its impoverishment for three reasons.

Firstly, there is a healthy paranoia about the rest of the world. I say healthy because North Korea had good reason to fear the West. After the Korean War Northern Korea had been left a sort of barren moonscape, scarred by Napalm and a genuinely popular Socialist Government was forced to retreat into the North. So in a historical context a larger Military begins to look less of an abomination.

However, the army is still an abomination, and a plague on the Korean people. The second reason for the army’s prominence is to threaten neighbouring states and from this the Korean People gain nothing. The North Korean State has regularly blackmailed neighbouring states with the threat of belligerence into helping it. Its vile threats against South Korea are made credible by its large military, thus bringing more weight to the diplomatic table in the interest of the elite which run North Korea.

The third use of the army is the subjugation of its own citizenry. The citizens of North Korea are forced to work and are stopped from escaping. The repression of the Korean people allows for a larger surplus to be extracted to enrich the elite running Korea and their hostage status allows the same elite to extract the maximum aid from the rest of the world.

A Nuclear Peace?

As I have argued elsewhere, although Nuclear Weapons are expensive they are not extraordinarily expensive when compared to maintaining one of the largest armies in the world. Moreover, a Nuclear Weapon is better than an army because it offers a more total, threatening and terrifying deterrent than any conventional military.

By gaining Nuclear Weapons a state like North Korea can reduce the army required for the first and second purpose mentioned, threatening outsiders and paranoia, while both increasing its ability to fulfil these two purposes and increasing the ability of the Military to suppress the domestic population.

Gaining Nuclear Weapons is without doubt a terrible thing for the people of Korea. However, there may be a positive side to this: a Nuclear Peace. This refers to a situation formulated by Kenneth Waltz whereby the existence of Nuclear Weapons and the possibility of the damage they will do deter all actors from engaging in behaviour which could lead to war, similar to the Cold War though on a smaller scale. North Korea gaining a Nuclear Weapon may make North-East Asia more peaceful.

This may be what Kim Jong-il is hoping for. His aim may be to scare everyone enough to leave him alone to torture his own people. This may be the logic that is drawing Kim Jong-il down such an apparently dangerous path.

What if?

However, more worryingly, it may be more accurate to describe the situation on the Korean Peninsula as a Security Dilemma. In this situation Kim Jong-il’s lunacy may play the defining role. In a Security Dilemma two or more actors unintentionally provoke one another into a conflict by misinterpreting one another’s defensive security measures.

Each action designed to make the state more secure appears as an act preparing for an aggressive act. Any attempt by a state to increase its own security will cause the other to act in kind. Thus both are drawn towards war, despite neither really wanting it.

This can be avoided if one of the actors realises they are in a Security Dilemma and acts in a way which reduces the threat they pose to the other. If this were a Security Dilemma this action would then be reciprocated by the other actor, as they would no longer need as large a defensive capability. [2]

In the Korean Peninsula the North Korean state clearly views every American move as a possible precursor to an attack. The same is true of the South Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese Governments and their ally, the US. Given the history of the Korean War this is hardly surprising; a popular Socialist interim-Government was attacked by an American backed anti-Soviet force and much of the Peninsula was laid waste. After this a psychotic North Korean regime has intimidated and bullied its neighbours.

However, it is entirely possible that North Korea could be coaxed back from Nuclear Statehood if the US reduced its military presence and Nuclear stockpile. I am not calling for the demilitarisation of the area, I do not trust the North Korean Government. However, the US could maintain a deterrent to attack on its allies while reducing its forces and offering a way out to the North Koreans.

Capitulation or Civil War

I have not considered the option that the North Korean state genuinely expects to wage a suicidal war against any of its neighbours. It may be possible that Kim Jong-il is that insane, however, it is unlikely that all those around him wish to end in the same atomic dust cloud as him.

Ultimately, whether North Korea collapses in capitulation or Civil War I am certain that the Korean Peninsula will not continue in its present state indefinitely. However, neither will the collapse of the North Korean state be a blessing for those involved. The two states splitting the Korean nation have been isolated from one another for nearly 6 decades and it has been reported that the Korean Language spoken in each part are beginning to become less and less mutually intelligible.

The obvious example for comparison is East and West Germeny. However, on top of this linguistic difference Korean incomes are far more unequal than Germany’s ever were. Moreover the North Korean state’s population is far larger in proportion than East Germany was to West.

Despite the little optimism shown above I would like to echo Neil Robertson at the Bleeding Heart Show and conclude that things are going to get worse before they get better.

[1] I know Britain has dreadful libel laws, but I think I will get away with that one

[2] Of course, if this is not Security Dilemma, and one state is clearly wants to be the aggressor, they can strike while their opponent’s defences are weak. That’s why it’s a dilemma folks.

——
Cross-posted from Left Outside’s blog

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Reader comments


1. Tony Woolf

Could now be the window of opportunity for states to develop WMD. Dubya demonstrated that the US was willing to strike against a state that posed a threat and did not have fully functioning WMD but was possibly developing them. (It is not credible that the US administrration believed that Iraq had fully functioning WMD.) However there is now an understandable backlash, so the threat of a US strike on a state developing WMD is much reduced.
The backlash could be due more to the disastrous mismanagement of the Iraq invasion than to the invasion itself. If this leads to more states developing WMD, those who are responsible for this mismanagement will bear even heavier responsibility than they seem to at the moment.

2. rwendland

To see where North Korea’s nuclear paranoia started we may have to look back to about 1964 when the US had deployed over 600 tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea even before China had any nuclear weapons. To North Korea this would look like US plans for a massive nuclear first strike aginst them. In reality this ridiculous number was probably because the US had 31,000 nuclear weapons by this time, and it must have been a real struggle deciding where to put them all! But you can see why North Korea would not see it this way.

http://www.nukestrat.com/korea/Koreanukes.pdf

One note:

“The second reason for the army’s prominence is to threaten neighbouring states and from this the Korean People gain nothing.”

Quite obviously, if the North Koreans had a weaker military the South Koreans would have invaded & taken over. It’s a mutual thing. That’s been a long standing aim of each party, indeed the pair of Koreas are still formally at war. Not that I’m any fan of the tyrannical maniac KJI, mind. But I find that sort of spending understandable for a state which has an immediate neighbour with over twice its population & an intent to invade pretty understandable. Think Pakistan.

Otherwise this was a fantastic article, exactly the sort of well informed and considered article I want to see appear on Liberal Conspiracy & am still amazed I can receive for free (I canceled my subscription to the New Internationalist today due to it being cack). Thanks a lot. 🙂

Agree with James – found this an excellent article. I love analysis.

I hope there is some better evidence than that Wikipedia link that the South started the Korean War. Your link says:

“The period immediately before the war was marked by escalating border conflicts at the 38th Parallel and attempts to negotiate elections for the entirety of Korea.[25] These negotiations ended when the North Korean Army invaded the South on June 25, 1950. Under the aegis of the United Nations, nations allied with the United States intervened on behalf of South Korea.”

The link given also says about the strategic situation at the time:

“At the outbreak of war, the North Korean Army was equipped with 274 Type 58 tanks, about 150 YAK fighters, 110 attack bombers, 200 artillery pieces, 78 YAK trainers and 35 reconnaissance planes. Around 231,000 North Korean soldiers invaded South Korea.[34] These forces were assigned to the invasion while 114 more fighters, 78 bombers, 105 Type 58 tanks, and 30,000 were stationed in North Korea. Their navy had several small warships, and launched attacks on the South Korean Navy. North Korea’s logistics system was able to quickly move supplies south as the army advanced. Thousands of Korean civilians running south were forced to hand-carry supplies, many of whom later died in North Korean air attacks.[citation needed]
According to Roy E. Appleman in “South to the Naktong – North to the Yalu”, the South Korean Army had 98,000 soldiers of whom only 65,000 were combat troops. Unlike their northern opponents the South Korean military had no tanks at all, and the South Korean air force consisted of a mere 12 liaison-type aircraft and 10 advance trainers (AT6). There were no large foreign combat units in the country when the war began, but there were large American forces stationed in nearby Japan.[34]”

The South provoked a war when they where outnumbered more than 2 to 1? That is not logical. Better evidence please.

6. just visiting

I love analysis too!

James – you sound very certain of yourself: “Quite obviously, if the North Koreans had a weaker military the South Koreans would have invaded & taken over.”

Is that really true? If the armies were roughly equal, would they have attacked? What about public opinion in SK, would it really support an attack? Many SK folks have relatives still in NK.

Why hasn;t America attacked it over the lat 50 years, when it has obviously had military ability to do so?

It’s not so simple.

I do think the NK generals know now, that after 60 years of having less military might, that the uS et al don’t want to attack, because it’s not swallowable by a democratic USA or SK.

The NK generals spend their ill-gotten gains on importing western goods, exporting NK products on the quiet and on secret trips outside NK (one imagines), and so that they have a chance of understanding that they are not really under attack.

Maybe, like the Soviets before them, the leadership cynically needs to pitch the story of constant threat from without (1984 style).

Like you say, they may not be stupid enough to start a nuclear war- but they calculate that every dollar spent on the bomb, gives them 10 dolllars of leverage/money from the neighbours, and higher ratings at home.

Thinking…sitting here in the UK it is hard to imagine that a country as dysfunctional as NK can exist, let alone to imagine what it may be like to live in it.

Are there really not enough good guys within the country, able to bring about change?

7. Shatterface

I don’t think it’s a lack of good guys there, just how powerful the bad guys are.

Look how difficult it can be to do the right thing in the UK – and we have it (relatively) easy.

Just to agree that this is an excellent article.

rwendland wrote:
” 1964 when the US had deployed over 600 tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea even before China had any nuclear weapons.”

I thought that China’s 596 test was in 1964?

Why hasn;t America attacked it over the lat 50 years, when it has obviously had military ability to do so?

Do you have any idea how good the North Korean intelligence force is at assassinations?

I hope there is some better evidence than that Wikipedia link that the South started the Korean War.

Yeah, this was written fairly quickly, hence the links to Wikipedia. I think I have slightly misrepresented the situation, so thanks for calling me out on it.

To clarify, the North Korean stated the Korean war (with a nod and a wink from Stalin) expecting an easy victory. However, the UN backed, US led invasion which followed was equally gruelling.

The devastation and paranoia which sprang from this conflict infected the whole peninsula and continues to this day. It’s incredibly difficult to discern whether North Korea attacked first out of callousness or because they thought the skirmishes on the border were inevitably going to lead to war anyway. In any case the scars from this conflict are felt acutely in North and South Korea.

Are there really not enough good guys within the country, able to bring about change?

Unfortunately, it seems incredibly difficult to get any information about what popular movements are occurring in North Korea. It does appear that the state is relatively stable despite its poverty and that there is no sign of the Korean Monarchy giving in. However, looking at stable authoritarian states in the past they can collapse almost without warning. I think all we can say is “wait and see.”

11. rwendland

“I thought that China’s 596 test was in 1964?”

Edmund, yes, that’s why I chose that as the comparison date. Obviously China did not deploy weapons until some time after first test.

If you prefer use 1963 when the US still had over 600 tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea, or 1960 when they had about 400.

The point is deploying this large number of nuclear weapons where the US could only intend first nuclear use inevitably spurred both North Korea (and China) to want nuclear weapons themselves.

North Korea got its first research reactor from the Soviet Union in 1963 starting knowledge acquisition, quite possibly as a reaction to this US deployment. Though it took them until 1980 to start building their own nuclear reactor for plutonium production – incidentally based on the declassified UK Calder Hall Magnox reactor design, the UK’s small involvement in this story.

“Healthy paranoia about the rest of the world?”

And those who pose as left-wing intellectuals on this site think this a well-informed article?

Since the 1953 ceasefire it is the North which had continued to attack the South – particularly through repeated assassination attempts on the members of the government including commando attacks on the Blue House. And then of course there are the kidnappings? Has anything been done in retaliation?

This article has ignored these facts or the author was not aware of them. If he has ignored them them his motivation must be questioned. If the author was not aware of them then how was he qualified to write the article? And that people think such an article in some way informed is surely quite an indictment of the failed intellectual pretensions of the left.

This article has ignored these facts or the author was not aware of them. If he has ignored them them his motivation must be questioned. If the author was not aware of them then how was he qualified to write the article? And that people think such an article in some way informed is surely quite an indictment of the failed intellectual pretensions of the left.

Shorter ‘James’:

“I’m going to take eight of the 1,228 words in this post and use them to cast doubt on the intellect, integrity & humanity of the author and anyone who appreciated his/her contribution. By using 0.7% of this post, I’m able to prove that people of a left-wing persuasion are unfit to call themselves intelligent. Victory is mine!”

I miss Newmania.

“Healthy paranoia about the rest of the world?”

I am sorry you dislike this phrase. There is of course an unhealthy Stalinist paranoia in the NK regime, and they themselves spread paranoia and disaster in the region too.

However, I wasn’t attempting to excuse the regime. I was attempting to describe why a Military Industrial Complex (an American phrase but somewhat relevant) developed and took hold in NK.

This article has ignored these facts or the author was not aware of them

In the end, I think here is where you really let yourself down James. This is already a fairly long piece, and you will notice by the lack of paper and pages numbers that it not a book, so I have had to leave out some important material. I am sorry if you feel I have biased this piece in an unacceptable way, however I feel the points I made above are still pertinent; and tellingly you have not engaged with the main arguments of the piece.

I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.

Guest it would be interesting if you spoke to those whom served in the Korean war, especially those who served in the Goucesters at Imjun River and those who survived the poW camps.

I would love the opportunity to talk about the Korean War with those that are there, it’s the forgotten war of the 20th Century. I am not entirely sure what you are implying, that I don’t care?

This is a post on Realpolitik and I didn’t really want to get too emotionally involved Screaming “bastards!” at the NK regime is definitely not going to lead to a constructive or informative article, as much as they deserve it or I might enjoy it.

Kim Jong-il isn’t going to do a damn thing, and here’s why: http://www.inebriateddiscourse.com/2009/05/how-small-is-this-mans-penis.html


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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: The logic and lunacy of Kim Jong-il http://bit.ly/1a413r





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