Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Let North Korea Collapse?

I seldom read the New York Times and today’s op-ed about North Korea, that was titled “Let North Korea Collapse, is precisely one of those reasons.

In this article, Sue Mi Terry said that the soft containment of North Korea, as being practiced by its immediate neighbors as well as the United States, is a “blinkered view because the long-term benefits of North Korea’s collapse, both strategic and economic, far outweigh the short-term costs.” She says that North Korea ought to be made to collapse so that the Korean peninsula can be reunified.

After a quick Google search, I found out that Sue Mi Terry was a senior analyst at the CIA during the Bush years as well as worked in the National Security Council, the National Intelligence Council, and the Council of Foreign Relations. She also holds an MA degree in International Relations and a Doctor of Philosophy in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University.

All of this just goes to prove that being well educated does nothing to shield oneself from sheer stupidity and further cements the notion that “Central Intelligence Agency” has got to be one of the most obnoxious oxymorons is existence.

I don't usually quote Bertrand Russell but he was certainly right about this one.
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Though she herself admits that the collapse of the regime would lead to a host of problems, she claims that “the advantages would emerge very soon.”

It’s amusing that Terry never bothers to mention just how long “short term” is or how soon is soon.

Now, one of the benefits she mentions is although the cost of integrating North Korea into South Korea would cost about US$2 trillion, some of the cost could be offset by immediate savings on South Korea’s defense budget, which amounted to approximately US$33.9 billion in 2013.

Firstly, let’s assume for the sake of argument that US$2 trillion is all that it takes. Let’s forget for a moment that whenever government officials say something will cost so much, it usually costs A LOT MORE than that. If we do a little simple arithmetic, assuming that Korea decides to scrap its military altogether and no longer spends that much money each year on its defense, it would take approximately SIXTY years to pay for the US$2 trillion bill.

And that is a conservative estimate.

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But of course, even after reunification, Korea will not dismantle its entire military. Though Korea could possibly make some cuts to its defense budget if North Korea no longer existed, it will not dismantle its military.

Furthermore, the military is not even the most expensive thing on Korea’s budget. The most expensive items are welfare (₩97.4 trillion), public administration (₩55.8 trillion), education (₩49.8 trillion), and the military (₩34.3 trillion). The information can be found here.

If anything, incorporating twenty-five million North Koreans would require Korea to increase its government spending even more, which would bankrupt the entire economy.

She also assumes that if the two countries reunite, it could slow down Korea’s aging population because, as she said, “the population of North Korea is younger and more fertile.”

There will certainly be an increase in marriages between North and South Koreans after reunification. But will it be as easy as she makes it sound? The country has been split for more than sixty years and new cultures have developed on both sides of the DMZ. The language has changed, ideas have changed, and so has the culture. For all intents and purposes, North and South Koreans are foreigners to each other.

Terry also assumes that the technological know-how that South Korea possesses will be able to unlock North Korea’s vast, and relatively untapped, mineral resources.

That sounds eerily familiar. It’s most likely because that was a similar argument that people made before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Before the invasion began, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz famously said this about how the cost of the Iraq War was going to be mitigated by Iraqi oil:

The oil revenue of that country could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We’re dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon.”

"These guys were right about everything!" - Said by no one with a brain
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Well, that was a cock up, wasn’t it? The argument that Iraqi oil will help to pay to reconstruct Iraq was ridiculous then, and it is just as ridiculous now to claim that North Korea’s mineral deposits will boost Korea’s economy.

Another thing that Terry never bothers to discuss is the North Koreans themselves – specifically, the military.

The so-called Korean People’s Army, or at least the most senior officers, have gotten fat over the years since the establishment of the songun (military first) policy in 1994. The military holds immense power and is able to dictate domestic and international policies. They are the ones who will be the first to assassinate Kim Jong-un if they even suspect that he is even considering scrapping North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

If Korea reunifies, presumably under South Korean terms, the Korean People’s Army will ether be disbanded entirely or at the very least face significant layoffs.  It’s also a safe bet to assume that a significant number of them might also face trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.  Why on earth would those generals, who have been living high on the hog, voluntarily relinquish their power and their wealth to return to become a bunch of nobodies or face life imprisonment and/or execution?

North Korea may not have much but what they do have plenty of is guns. Although their weaponry is not enough for them to win a war against the combined might of the United States and the Republic of Korea, they certainly have enough of it to make the Korean peninsula look a lot like present-day Syria.

Any assumption that the North Korean military will not fight tooth and nail to protect its own interests is the epitome of stupidity.

Yes, it's another Einstein quote.  What can I say?  The man was REALLY smart.
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I will concede that I may be suffering from a case of pessimistic-bias, meaning that I am projecting today’s problems into the future without taking into consideration possible future solutions. However, if we take a look at what is going on in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Egypt these days, countries with political systems that are similar, though not the same, to North Korea’s, I am just not very hopeful.

Don’t get me wrong. I despise North Korea just as much as the next person and I have written about my utter contempt for them here, here, here, here, and here. North Korea is truly a deplorable country and a stain on humanity.

But what would be the true cost of a North Korean collapse?

Sue Mi Terry certainly doesn’t know. She’s far too busy reading from the neo-conservatives’ old script.


  1. And it could only get worse, long before it gets better.

  2. My comment was lost.

    South Korean society would be devastated.

    - There would be an attempt to keep N Koreans in N Korea. it would fail, the first time a few refugees flooded Panmunjom and tens of thousands of cheering S Koreans forced the soldiers to step down.

    No bi-national citizenship will work for any length of time. No North Korean would tolerate it - and rightly so.

    So expect mass floods of people moving south.

    - Crime. S Korea will go from relatively crime-free cities to either professional, police-state like cops cracking down on people or crime will explode. Expect theft to be the norm, and break-ins, and fraud on all sides.

    - Already a low-trust society, Korea will get nasty. Everywhere.

    - Slums. Lots and lots of slums, everywhere. Homeless people.

    - gang warfare. It'll explode and the Korean mafia will rival the HK and Vietnamese triads in extensive operations and street warfare.

    - Intense, overwhelming government corruption. The worst aspects of NK will survive the fall; already fragile, the honesty and decency of the SK political regime will collapse. Bribery will be not just an unspoken reality, but the norm.

    - Concentration of power: Someone will have to take charge. That should scare everyone. Given the Korean cultural tendency to accede to brutal authority or to leader-worship (N Korea; every cult in South Korea, all of them scary; cults of political leaders here), that's not going to be pretty.

  3. - Regression in democracy rather than evolution; it'll be like stepping backwards for at least a whole generation

    - Democracy may not be the best form of government for this situation. It may not be efficient.
    Civil rights may not be convenient. Therefore, a more naturally coping form of government may materialize. Expect it.

    - Voting: 50% more voters, all voting unpredictably and chaotically. The entire stalemated political system will collapse, and what's left will become radically polarized.

    >>> Expect the potential for mass violence, with extreme political movements taking troubles to the streets.

    - Concentration of power in the chaebols: if you think they have economic power now, you haven't seen anything yet. The useless, beleaguered governments will ask the Chaebol families to step in and "bring order and development." This will cement an already monopolistic power club and turn Korea into a labour and worker farm for the personal service of the Chaebols.

    - BIG ISSUE: DRUGS. North Korea is a sociological disaster when it comes to drugs. Meth is everywhere, marijuana easier to get than aspirin, and other drugs sold openly in markets. South Korea brutally enforces prohibition and can reasonably maintain it. With North Korea joining, the worst of both will descend on South Korea: Mass drugs everywhere, with their attendant socially disastrous effects, as well as inept, corrupt and savage police persecution, resulting in organized crime that will be utterly off the scale. It'll make Chicago during prohibition look like a Sunday outing for the choir of St James.
    It will be remorselessly, viciously ugly beyond calculation on all sides. There is no way to overstate this potential disaster. It will rip South Korean society to shreds. SK is utterly unprepared for this.
    Its cops are useless teenagers; its rules for engagement bad jokes; its security almost nonexistent; training among the worst in the world, because cops are largely unnecessary.

    - The law: Korean legal norms are barely modern. Justice is a notion that is bent wholyl out of shape here, and the courts are little better than partisan platforms. it's fragile. Introduce this kind of chaos, and the system will just break.
    There will be no independent, honest justice in this new Korea.

  4. This is just to start.

    Anyone who thinks some moderate solution would work hasn't faced off against unleashed Korean nationalism. Those borders will vanish overnight.

    Try this:

    - Permanent social stratification. We all know Koreans are big on social status, that it rules everything in SK. Imagine: Lack of marriage between SKs and NKs, because NK men will be seen as discardable trash - no SK girl will ever marry one, it would be an unforgivable insult even to suggest it - and prostitution will reign supreme. N Korean women will be working as prostitutes within days of NK's collapse, and SK men will abuse the living tar out of them and SK politicians and women won't care.
    NKeans will be the new "niggers" of Korea - disposable garbage useful for slave labour and "re-education".

    They will be socially untouchable. Refugees are socially ostracized and isolated now - they have almost no chance at normal lives in SK. A whole country of poor, shell-shocked, uneducated or badly educated quasi-criminal poor? Jesus. I can't imagine the social nightmare they'll face.

    -Leading to...

    Ethnic violence: Expect lots of mass thuggery and discrimination as the NKeans take to hating the SKoreans for their inevitable superior attitudes.

    Leading to....

    - Retribution against non-racially-pure Koreans and foreigners. Unwelcome will be all of the mixed Koreans who the Northerners will hate, for sure, for both ideological and pragmatic reasons that are understandable. Add in the foreigners, all of whom will live a million times better off than NKoreans, and the attacks and assaults on foreigners will be fierce.

    Watch openly racist political parties ascend. Some will be based around SKeans; but they'll draw numbers from NKeans. This will be part of the terrible shakeup of S Korean politics.

    In every possible sense, the nice, comfy world of S Korea will be completely shattered. Whatever nation emerges from this unstable mess may not be something we'd admire.

    Anyone who loves South Korea has to consider the consequences.

    1. Though your speculations are a tad on the speculative side, they certainly are more plausible than what Sue Mi Terry said. Well said, sir.

    2. Dude, You spend way too much time playing "Fallout"...

  5. 대한미친국!!!

  6. Has it ever been considered that North Korea simply get rid of it's dictator, adopt democracy and remain autonomous? Is there some reason why the fall of the Kims should necessarily lead to reunification? Wouldn't that actually be a better option after 60 years? Not that I think any of these situations are imminent. Am I being really dumb in thinking that perhaps should the Kim government ever be overthrown it would perhaps be a military coup and South Korea need not even get involved? I'm just thinking out loud since obviously I'm no expert of course.

    1. Even if the Kim dynasty were to be overthrown, it is quite unlikely that a democracy would replace it.

      To be honest, what would happen after a North Korean collapse is anyone's guess. They could be replaced by someone else in the inner political circle. Though not as legitimate as the Kims, well, that was what they said about Raoul Castro - that he doesn't have his brother's charisma. He seems to be doing fine in his island. Or a new leader might be handpicked by the Chinese government. Perhaps Kim Jong-un's older half-brother, Kim Jong-nam? Or perhaps even someone else. Or, as you said, it might be a military coup, thus turning North Korea into another Myanmar, except with nuclear weapons.

      But Sue Mi Terry was assuming that the North Korean government collapses and all other political actors in North Korea decide to just call it a day and go home; allowing South Korea to just waltz in and take things over, which is simply ridiculous.

  7. Yes it does seem a bit simplistic considering she's supposed to be some kind of expert. Blinded by neo-con ideology I suppose.