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.|
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.
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|
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.|
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?