All The More Reason

No Easy Choices
January 23, 2007, 12:39 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

There’s an article by Robert D. Kaplan in Atlantic Monthly which describes the potential fallout of the inevitable collapse of North Korea. There are passages that are so surreal that when read in isolation one risks mild migraines due to the weight of contemplation. For example:

On the Korean peninsula, the Cold War has never ended. On the somber, seaweed-toned border dividing the two Koreas, amid the cries of egrets and Manchurian cranes, I observed South Korean soldiers standing frozen in tae kwon do ready positions, their fists clenched and forearms tightened, staring into the faces of their North Korean counterparts. Each side picks its tallest, most intimidating soldiers for the task (they are still short by American standards).

Quite a lot of impotence in this gesture, I’d say. Here’s another one in a similar vain.

The two sides once held a meeting in Panmunjom that went on for eleven hours. Because there was no formal agreement about when to take a bathroom break, neither side budged. The meeting became known as the “Battle of the Bladders.”

I’m very thankful not to have assisted at that meeting. It’s also worth noting how when dealing with the mad, one goes a little mad too. I’m sure South Korea holds very little bladder busting meetings on their own, but I can’t be so sure about the North. Clearly, the main purpose of Kaplan’s article is not to illustrate the insanity of the regime, but to outline what some of the consequences of its insanity will be. This includes the possible mass migration out of North Korea to both China and South Korea. And that, as opposed to full out war, is one of the better scenarios to hope for.

Naturally, the United States will be expected to do something in this situation. Whatever it does do, it will inevitably be condemned by a certain portion of its population and by the world (and naturally it will be thanked by others). I’m surprised that more noise hasn’t been made by those against the war in Iraq as to what they wish the United States do in this situation. I’ve seen very few editorials on the subject from the “left”, and certainly very little action in terms of bloggers. The only exception to this is the fatuous argument that Bush didn’t invade N. Korea but did invade Iraq. Wouldn’t now be a better time to clamour for something instead of waiting until the regime collapses, when it might be too late for their voices to be heard?

At least for me, the only things that one could humanely argue for in this situation ring remarkably similar to what was argued for in the situation in Iraq. I honestly have no idea what people who argued against the war in Iraq will say when the regime in N. Korea collapses. I’m not holding my whizz waiting to find out.

Jonathan Smith


2 Comments so far
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Thanks- it’s an interesting and thoughtful article on a subject to which, as you say, very little thought seems to have been dedicated.

Although these sort of ‘What If…?’ pieces can offer a tremendous analysis of the main issues, they often end up telling you everything and nothing at the same time. I presume American intelligence must have some inkling as to what is going on within North Korea, but it is the very nature of kleptocratic regimes that their next moves – let alone their endgames- are very difficult to predict.

The nearest any pundit gets to predicting the unpredictable is to offer the same pathology of rogue regimes: ‘X, sensing the end, will act in an irrational, aggressive fashion’. This is dangerous pseudo-psychology. As you point out, it is important to distinguish the insanity of the regime from the mentality of those people at its head. Some of the most insane systems of government have been led – and supported – by the most coldly rational of people. And, dare I say it, vice-versa…

Comment by Michael P

…although I should say that the screening process is a lot better.

Comment by Michael P

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