Home / Robert Farley / Korean Unification

Korean Unification


Take a look at Robert Kelly’s series of posts on the USC-CSIS “Challenges for Korean Unification” project (part 1, part 2, part 3). Kelly’s argument, if I may boil down, is as follows:

  1. The workshop participants concentrated too much on learning lessons from the U.S. experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not enough on the unification of Germany.  While the DPRK is in a much more dire position than the GDR, an occupation-style counter-insurgency frame is likely the wrong way to approach the problem.
  2. It is extremely unlikely that the North Korean regime will long survive any effort at Vietnam-style political and economic reform; the existence and persistent prosperity of South Korea undercuts North Korean claims to legitimacy.
  3. The South Korean state apparatus will come under dire strain as it attempts to absorb the former DPRK; managing massive internal migration will be a major problem, but hardly the only one. Efforts to prevent internal migration are unlikely to succeed, and are immoral in any case.
  4. Efforts of regional players (most notably China) to “veto” reunification in the context of North Korean state collapse are likely to fail.  At the same time, Koreans probably expect more from Japan in terms of financial assistance than they’re likely to receive.

In any case, it’s an interesting read.

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  • liberal

    As far as the US goes, why don’t we just sign a peace treaty with NK and get the hell out of the peninsula?

    • Offering to sign a peace treaty with NK would be seen as a blatant attempt to destroy the NK government. The bombs would start flying within 15 minutes.

      • Why is that?

        • ploeg

          I might be joking.

          Then again, the legitimacy of the North Korean government depends upon maintaining massive levels of paranoia. The North Korean government has played along with de-escalation initiatives when they have seen a short-term advantage in participating (for example, injections of foreign aid), but in the end, some provocation is made and the status quo remains.

          Certainly South Korea can defend itself well enough now, and the US presence is largely symbolic. But to the North Korean government, it’s worse to be ignored than to maintain their current confrontational attitude, so North Korea will not be ignored. And with much of Seoul within artillery range of the border, any change to the status quo that is not unambiguously to North Korea’s advantage must be done with extreme care.

    • You mean greenlight another invasion of the South?

      • Malaclypse

        Honest question – don’t you think the DPRK leaders know they can get more out of the South by extortion than invasion?

        • I don’t think anyone can reliably say, with any confidence, what the North Korean government is all about. Pyongyang is irrational, erratic, and opaque.

          If we look at them as rational pursuers of their material self-interest, then yes, they can get more from extortion than war – but how safe an assumption is that?

          Look at the invasion of Iraq. Governments frequently make irrational decisions about war and self-interest, for all sorts of reasons.

          • Derek

            Even if the US leaves the peninsula, an NK invasion would start a war that can only end in defeat and regime destruction. If they’re so wantonly suicidal as to invade anyway, how can a continued US presence possibly have any contribution to deterring them?

          • Davis X. Machina

            Irrational? I don’t think a trillion dollars, and a few score thousands dead, is too high a price to have paid for another decade of an America free from the scourge of gay marriage, socialized medicine and slightly higher top marginal rates of income tax, do you?

      • cpinva

        by who, china?

        “You mean greenlight another invasion of the South?”

        the NK military, while still functional, is hardly in the position of being realistically able to invade anyone, much less a SK. that assumes china (who would probably need to provide massive support for such an invasion) would be amenable. NK got its one bite of the apple, at its strongest point, and got crushed, saved from invasion itself only by the intervention of china & russia. in the years since, SK has become exponentionally stronger, and NK has flat-lined.

        • It would be an act of desperation by the regime, but they’ve done stupid, aggressive things before.

        • liberal

          exponentionally stronger

          Exactly. The GDP of the South is, what, 40 times larger than that of the North?

        • Hogan

          No, but they can do a metric assload of damage in the course of trying and failing.

      • liberal

        No, actually.

        • Yes, actually. The actual consequence of the US signing a peace agreement with the North and leaving would be to withdraw our security agreement from the South, giving the North a green light for an invasion.

          Whether that was you intended your proposal to mean, that’s what it actually means.

          • cpinva

            no, it doesn’t.

            “Whether that was you intended your proposal to mean, that’s what it actually means.”

            you asserted earlier that the NK regime is irrational, i beg to differ. it is entirely rational, from its perspective, not yours, and its perspective is what counts, not yours. invading SK would not only be a foregone loss, it would result in the total destruction of the kim family. he may be a jerk, he isn’t suicidal, as few dictatorships are.

            while china would definitely come to there aid, in the event of US interference, they’d be hard pressed to legitimize that, if it were strictly SK.

  • oldster

    Typical liberals–pretending that the fate of 75 million Koreans is an important diplomatic issue, while ignoring BENGHAZI!!!!

    • cpinva

      you do realize this is all part of the obama conspiracy, don’t you?

      “Typical liberals–pretending that the fate of 75 million Koreans is an important diplomatic issue, while ignoring BENGHAZI!!!!”

      • c u n d gulag

        This dates to before Obama.

        His Presidency, and everything since 1993 was a result of plans that lesbian, Hillary Clinton, dreamed-up with her male lover, Vince Foster, before she shot him for wanting some credit for the ‘vast Left-wing Conspiracy” – prepping the way for her successful run for the Presidency in 2016.

        I no itz tru – I red it on the inter-tubes.

        • Hogan

          And now she’s part of the vast conspiracy of Muslim Brotherhood lesbians subverting our precious bodily fluids freedoms from within.

  • That’s a bit more reading than I have time for early in the workday, but who in the hell thinks Iraq or Afghanistan is a better template than Germany for Korean unification? Are these the adult versions of those College Republicans the Bush Administration sent to Iraq with visions of Germany and Japan in their heads?

    • Todd

      The North Koreans would welcome us with open arms. Sure, we’d have to deal with the “dead-enders”, but quick and cheap success is assured.

      Plus it would send a real reform-or-else message to…um….Iran?

      Anyway, there’s this axis, see….

      • c u n d gulag

        Oh, I can hardly wait for “Pyongyang Bob’s” reports to the North Korean people that Lil’ Kim is still in charge!

        Most North Korean’s don’t have TV or radio sets?

        Neeeeeeeever mind…

  • There wasn’t much mention of expatriate Koreans in Japan and what role they would play. I don’t pretend to know what would happen, but stuff like this, this and this might have an impact beyond whatever financial assistance nation-states would pump in.

  • chris

    Did I miss some kind of news indicating that there’s any possibility that North Korea would cooperate in any unification effort whatsoever? Especially when it’s obvious that North Korea would pretty much cease to exist and the resultant state would be much more like South Korea?

    • ajay

      chris: part 2 of the linked post seems to imply that this is a post-regime-collapse scenario. But you’re right, it’s not clear (other parts discuss it as a consensual scenario), and how one gets from here to there is a very interesting question.

  • LeeEsq

    The reunification of Germany is the best model for the reunification of Korea and even then it wasn’t close. East Germany, for all its problems, was in much less dire economic straits than North Korea and didn’t have a population propagandized into believing some really evil and stupid things. Re the late Hitchen’s A Nation of Racist Dwarves.

    Its a cliche but North Korea is probably the closest you can get to Orwell’s 1984 in real life. Most of the population seems to be living in a state pretty close to serfdom if not actual serfdom. The juche ideology of the North Korean regime isn’t exactly a healthy one, putting it mildly, but its one that many North Koreans have adopted thoroughly if reports are to be believed. Reengineeing North Korean society is going to make De-Nazification look like a cake walk, the Nazis had less than a generation to work with. North Korea would be like working with a Germany living under a Nazi regime that succesfully propagandized for at least two generations.

    South Korea is a very successful state economically and now, politically. I don’t think they are up for the challenge. A lot of South Koreans are rather sympathethic to North Koreans because they view North Korean culture as “pure” and uncorrupted by non-Korean influences. This isn’t going to help any reunification or reform of North Korea. I also don’t think that the South Korean economy is large enough to rehabilitate North Korea. West Germany had enough problems resorbing the much less of a basket case East Geramny. A lot of outside cash and assistance is going to be needed.

    • witless chum

      I tend to think that reunification will be very ugly, because the South Koreans are not going to let the North Koreans just move south. It’ll probably involve some very heavy-handed tactics to keep the North Koreans in place while the south takes control and such.

      • DocAmazing

        I have little knowledge of the Korean culture, but I do have experience watching what happens when real estate developers and other “entrepeneurial” predators gain access to previously unavailable populations, land, and resources. I suspect reunification will be accompanied by land rushes, cronyism of the worst sort, and outright theft. The South Korean military may well be drawn in to protect the claims and/or lives of some of these rapacious prospectors, and the US military may be involved due to treaty obligations. The North Koreans may get an up-close eyeful of poorly-restrained capitalism and conclude that the Juche ideology wasn’t all wrong about the world.

        • Dave

          Northern Korea is small, cold, not particularly fertile, and polluted. Almost anywhere else in the world would be a better target for a ‘land grab’…

          • LeeEsq

            North Korea actually has a lot of the natural resources of the Korean peninsula. During the Japanese colonial period, a lot of the exploitation and development occured in whats now North Korea because thats where the resources were. Whats now South Korea was used for agricultural exploitation because of a lack material resources. Its one of the reasons why Korean nationalism in the North developed in more radical directions than the one in the South.

            In many ways, the division of Korea into North and South can be traced back to Japanese imperial policies as it could be to the fact that the Soviets and Americans decided on a split occupation after WWII. Without the Japanese decision to industralize the northern part of the Korean peninsula, there probably would not be a communist faction of the Nationalist movement.

            • There were lots of Korean communist factions at one time. The division was partly geographical. They were variously based in Shainghai, Irkutsk, Manchuria, and Japan as well as in Korea. Some of them especially those based in Korea had rural rather than industrial roots. This is not a big a problem as it appears, communists came to power in both China and North Vietnam based upon the support of indigenous rural support rather than emulating the Bolshevik Revolution. Kim Il Sung who was a guerrilla fighting against the Japanese in Manchuria and later retreated to the USSR came to power in North Korea because the Soviet Red Army put him there. His industrial base of support was created after he came to power not before. But, the Soviets could have installed any number of Korean communists in power in the north including those that had popular roots roots in fighting against Japanese land lords.

    • Warren Terra

      I came to say (the first two paragraphs of) this, pretty much. I can’t claim to be well informed, but the couple of books I’ve read from escapers portray a society utterly foreign to everything we know. How 25 million of these people could be integrated into the 21st century at a stroke baffles me.

      Mind you, the South Koreans have been practicing on individuals for years, and North Koreans who do escape seem to be able to survive in the real world (albeit as victimized migrant labor in China), so maybe I’m overdramatizing. But the society portrayed in what I’ve read was so vividly disconnected from anything I recognize.

      • c u n d gulag

        As someone noted earlier, it’s like “1984” – only bleaker.

        • Cody

          Hope it has a better ending.

          Yes, I am still mad about 1984.

          • Warren Terra

            Huh? That totalitarianism, by its own lights, succeeds, that you can utterly crush the human spirit and ruthlessly oppress and deform both a whole society and its individual members, is the point of 1984. Sure, it would have been less of a downer if when Winston Smith was in Room 101 Emmanuel Goldstein had burst in through the door guns a blazing, chiseled profile silhouetted against the corridor behind, freeing Winston and Julia to joyfully fight for free love and a free England – but Orwell wasn’t writing a cheerful boy’s adventure lark.

            • cpinva

              i think that was Brazil.

              • Warren Terra

                Indeed, though it was iirc a fantasy in the victim’s broken mind.

          • ajay

            Hope it has a better ending.
            Yes, I am still mad about 1984.

            1984 arguably does have a happy ending – the Appendix is written by an unnamed narrator, at some point after the fall of the Party in the late 20th or early 21st centuries. Winston Smith dies, but the Party does not outlive him for long.

    • One of the Blue

      The whole premise of this post is the old Cold War notion that a Commie regime cannot possibly be popular among its citizenry. One would have thought the course and outcome of the Vietnam war would have blown that notion to smithereens, but, even 20 years after the Cold War ended in a U.S. win, too many people, even on an exemplary progressive blog such as this, keep on wanting to fight it.

      Of course one of the reasons German unification worked as quickly as it did is that the GDR regime appears really to have been unpopular. GDR built the wall because millions, literally, were trying to leave. So there was no ambiguity about the FRG government being legitimate to the great majority of East Germans.

      There is in Korea nothing to indicate that the DPRK regime is unpopular, as opposed to not always effective. Until well into the 1980’s, DPRK arguably had the upper hand in the legitimacy battle, and still was insisting on reunification on its terms.

      So any reunification would have to take account of NK legitimacy with its public. To run roughshod over the losing side the way the FRG’s did in a relatively civilized way and the DRV’s did in a far less genteel manner would have a fairly good chance of provoking internal war. I have not read the linked article, but I bet that’s one reason the authors have assumed a counterinsurgency model, though absent a very unlikely ROK invasion, it’s nest to impossible reunification would occur in that way.

      • There is in Korea nothing to indicate that the DPRK regime is unpopular

        The secret-police executions of dissidents? Or does that just prove the government’s legitimacy?

        • Dave

          I’d go with the extensive network of prison-labour camps.

          • LeeEsq

            How about when the North Korean regime kidnapped Japanese citizens so they could use them as interpreters and breed stock for spies? How about when the Kim family kidnapped directors and artists from South Korea for their own enjoyment?

            • One of the Blue

              All this shows they are a nasty government, not an unpopular one. Two different things. It’s not like our nation hasn’t supported and from time to time still does support some comparably nasty regimes.

              The 200,000 political prisoners believed by anti-NK activists to be locked up is pretty horrific. But then when you compare that number to the entire NK population, it would seem their incarceration rate is similar to . . . well . . . our own.

      • witless chum

        There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of North Koreans who flee like hell when given half the chance, but I would think there would be plenty of true believers, too. I’m less sure true belief will survive collapse of the state for any large number of citizens.

        • Uncle Kvetch

          There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of North Koreans who flee like hell when given half the chance, but I would think there would be plenty of true believers, too.

          I heard a great radio documentary a few years ago (NPR? BBC?) about the very real difficulties some North Korean defectors face in adjusting to life in the South…in some cases, to the point where they actually said they would go back if they could. That’s not to minimize the horrors of the DPRK…if anything, I think it actually shows the effectiveness of the regime in creating the ultimate all-enveloping, totalitarian state.

      • oldster

        Yeah good point.

        If you think that the former Communist Party regimes behind the Iron Curtain were unpopular, then you are pretty much an unrepentant Cold-warrior, the demon spawn of Joe McCarthy, John Foster Dulles, and Tricky Dick Nixon—*before* he went to China.

        Also, nothing that you read about North Korea could possibly be an accurate portrayal of life inside the Workers’ Paradise. It’s just propaganda written by Wild Bill Donovan.

        • Jay C

          At the risk of being mistaken (even over the Internet) for Joe McCarthy, or John Foster Dulles: I do have to pose one question:
          if the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe really weren’t all that “unpopular”, then why did they (and the sociopolitcal model they championed) vanish like dust in the wind over a few short years in the 1990s? To the point where communist parties in the now-electoral Parliaments of the former Iron Curtain countries are now fringe movements with about as much political leverage as, say, the Greens (in the US)??

      • LeeEsq

        Just because a regime is popular with the general public doesn’t mean that regime should be treated with respect. The Confederate regime was pretty popular to the bitter end and the Union had every right to run rough-shode over this and not accept the legitmacy of the Confederate regime with the Southern public.

        The North Korean regime is based on a pretty messed-up ideology and its one that they effectively propagandize. Brainwashing a population and viciously persecuting all defectors does not give a regime legitimacy. Its a corrupt absolute monarchy, and I think that passing down power father to son three generatiosn in a row makes NK a monarchy even if they call the King something else, in Confucian-Fascist garb.

        At best the North Korean regime deserves the respect that the an angry drunk on public transport gets. You avoid him and try to keep him calm but you don’t honor him.

        • John F

          Also the Confederate regime was not AS popular with the [white] populace at the time as has been later portrayed – the Confederacy had people who voted against secession, draft dodgers, and the like.

          Plus among a significant chunk of the human population that happned to be dark hued the confederate government was extremely unpopular…

      • Warren Terra

        There is in Korea nothing to indicate that the DPRK regime is unpopular

        I’d think that decade when there was no food, and doctors had to leave their hospitals to venture into the countryside seeking green shoots no-one had yet found that they could boil in the hope of extracting some nutritive value might have made the regime slightly unpopular. The people stealing their own parents’ food, or their childrens’ food; the people hanged for having a handful of white rice. The stories from that time simply boggle the mind. To be sure, the government control of information may be so good that the victims don’t realize the experience was unusual, or don’t realize it was unnecessary. But then, it may not …

      • John

        Much has changed since “well into the 80’s,” surely.

      • John F

        There is in Korea nothing to indicate that the DPRK regime is unpopular, as opposed to not always effective. Until well into the 1980′s, DPRK arguably had the upper hand in the legitimacy battle, and still was insisting on reunification on its terms.

        If DPRK (as much a creation of outsiders as the South’s initial governments) ever had any “upper hand in the legitimacy battle” it had lost it before the 60s ended.

      • “There is in Korea nothing to indicate that the DPRK regime is unpopular,”

        In addition to everything else mentioned already, there’s the fact that in 15 post-Soviet states, Mongolia, seven post-Yugoslav states, and seven post-Communist states in Central Europe, a Communist regime survives in precisely none of them. Politics doesn’t give us a lot of natural experiments, but this is awfully close to one, and the results are clear.

        • Warren Terra

          in 15 post-Soviet states, Mongolia, seven post-Yugoslav states, and seven post-Communist states in Central Europe, a Communist regime survives in precisely none of them

          I’m not sure this is accurate. In several of these, to a greater or a lesser degree, the people in power after the fall of communism are the same people who were in power before the fall of communism. Yes, they’ve ditched “communism”, and yes, I doubt their popularity – but they’re in power. Heck, they’ve managed to go from Communism, which in theory has high ideals and noble goals but has thus far failed in practice and accomplished only totalitarian repression, to just the totalitarian repression without the high ideals and noble goals.

    • John

      De-Nazification was barely even a thing, and to the extent that it was a thing, it was pretty close to a cake walk. Nobody much was interested in being a Nazi anymore after VE Day. There were certainly some efforts to identify and punish actual war criminals, but the Nazi ideology died more or less without a fight. There was no significant effort at ideological re-education in post-war West Germany, and what there was in East Germany was focused around promoting Communism, not de-nazifying.

      • Hogan

        In the words of Roger Kahn, “It turns out there were only about three Nazis in Germany at any one time. But they were really busy.”

        • ajay

          In the words of Roger Kahn, “It turns out there were only about three Nazis in Germany at any one time. But they were really busy.”

          I was never a member of the Nazi party! I didn’t even know there was a war! We lived at the back! Next to Switzerland! It was very quiet! All we ever heard was yodelling!

          • Barry Freed


      • John F

        but the Nazi ideology died more or less without a fight.

        I’m sure that’s news to the millions who fought in Europe during WWII-
        Nazism died after and as a result of the largest most horrific fight in human history (to date)

        • Hogan

          The regime is not the ideology.

      • “it was pretty close to a cake walk.”

        This will also be news to the 68ers in Germany. Histories of, for example, the Foreign Ministry, numerous police forces, banks, and leading corporations, show a great deal of continuity in personnel between the NS regime and the institutions of the Federal Republic. Watch for developments concerning Germany’s larger foundations coming soon; several of them (Hertie Stiftung for example) are having to show that their starting capital came from confiscated Jewish property. There was a huge book last year about Nazis in the Foreign Ministry, and how many of them stayed on and eventually retired in peace. Very little of that history would have come out so publicly if not for Joschka Fischer. Far from having been a cake walk, denazification — in the sense of acknowledging the role that Nazi methods and people who had been active Nazis continued to play after the end of the war — is still ongoing.

      • ajay

        Nobody much was interested in being a Nazi anymore after VE Day. There were certainly some efforts to identify and punish actual war criminals, but the Nazi ideology died more or less without a fight.

        That’s only true if you restrict yourself to Europe. The Nazis remained popular after 1945 elsewhere in the world, in particular South America and the Middle East.

  • Amanda in the South Bay

    Im surprised (not really) at how many people think NK is some sorta bog standard 1970s Eastern European regime. Juche is really preferable to living in a ROK style state? WTF do you know really about the DPRK?

    • “Bog standard.” No: worse, by at least an order of magnitude. European communism was oppressive, inefficient, violent, ideological, and inhumane. North Korea is starvation, slavery, dehumanization, cultish.

      How do we know? It’s not easy – and the regime’s unwillingness to make it easier speaks volumes about how bad things are – but hundreds of defectors, escapees, increasing numbers of satellite-phone-equipped residents, and the personal observations of what few foreign visitors are permitted are all entirely consistent with this deeply troubling understanding of North Korean affairs.

      • Malaclypse

        How do we know?

        Also, just read the official news agency, and think about the levels of suppression needed to make that news agency not be seen by the populace as a bad joke.

        • “South Korean Police Accused of Tightening Gag on Media”


          • Malaclypse

            Now think about the level of control for that not to be a joke, and tell me that the DPRK is not among the worst places on the planet.

        • cpinva

          i’m guessing, if the whole NK gig doesn’t work out, the authors of all those articles (possibly the same guy?) could easily find jobs with FOX.

      • LeeEsq

        I think the fact that during the Cold War, a lot of the other Communist states thought that North Korea was completelty nuts is telling. Allegedly, a Cuban ambassador and his family were once lynched when he tried to take them around Pyongyang becaus of their dark skin. From what I’ve read, officials hated being posted to North Korea embassies because the North Korean regime didn’t even trust other Communists.

        • John

          Wouldn’t the fate of a Cuban ambassador and his family be something that goes beyond “allegedly?” If they all died in Pyongyang, wouldn’t there have to be some official explanation of what had happened?

          • rea

            Noteworthy that there isn’t anything on Google about this.

          • Warren Terra

            I’m not saying the story is true, but both countries could easily cover it up and need not fear exposure in a free media.

          • CBrinton

            The Cuban ambassador wasn’t lynched, but he was apparently put in fear of his life. I read about the incident (which first became known after Communist archives started opening) in B.R. Myers’s book _The Cleanest Race_. Googling turns up this from Myers (in a book review he wrote in the Atlantic):

            A diplomatic report translated in the CWIHP [Cold War International History Project] bulletin shows how the masses finally got into the spirit of things. In March of 1965 the Cuban ambassador was driving his family and some Cuban doctors around Pyongyang when they stopped to take pictures. Hundreds of adults and children quickly swarmed the diplomatic limousine, pounding it with their fists, tearing the flag off, and ordering the occupants to get out. Their rage and insults, directed mainly at the ambassador “as a black man,” abated only when a security force arrived to beat back the mob with rifle butts. (Not for nothing did Eldridge Cleaver say that the North Korean police made him miss the Oakland police.)

            Source: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2004/09/mother-of-all-mothers/303403/

            • LeeEsq

              This is the incident that I was talking about. I was a bit sloppy with my language. I think that one of the most damning facts about North Korea were that other Communist states thought they were not quite right during the height of the Cold War. From my reading, a lot of Communist diplomats tried to stay as low-key as possible when posted to North Korea to avoid incidents like the above.

      • LeeEsq

        I also wonder why the East Asian communists, with the excpetion of the Vietnamese, went into ideologically wackiness to an extent beyond the European and Cuban communists. Even Stalin at his highest and most cruel wanted a technically competent regime and would have fond Mao’s Cultural Revolution to be troubling. Only Albania went off into woolly, mystically defined thinking thats similar to the Asian communists.

        • John

          Interesting in this context that Vietnam is the Asian communist country with the longest and most sustained European influence.

          • Hogan

            Vietnam is the Asian communist country with the longest and most sustained European influence.

            The Opium Wars were well before the French invasion of Indochina, so China has a pretty good claim there.

        • Nicolae Ceaușescu admired the Cultural Revolution, and he played off opposing the USSR unlike the other Communist European countries:

          Ceaușescu visited the People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Mongolia and North Vietnam in 1971. He took great interest in the idea of total national transformation as embodied in the programs of North Korea’s Juche and China’s Cultural Revolution. He was also inspired by the personality cults of North Korea’s Kim Il-sung and China’s Mao Zedong. Shortly after returning home, he began to emulate North Korea’s system. North Korean books on Juche were translated into Romanian and widely distributed in the country.

          On 6 July 1971, he delivered a speech before the Executive Committee of the PCR. This quasi-Maoist speech, which came to be known as the July Theses, contained seventeen proposals. Among these were: continuous growth in the “leading role” of the Party; improvement of Party education and of mass political action; youth participation on large construction projects as part of their “patriotic work”; an intensification of political-ideological education in schools and universities, as well as in children’s, youth and student organizations; and an expansion of political propaganda, orienting radio and television shows to this end, as well as publishing houses, theatres and cinemas, opera, ballet, artists’ unions, promoting a “militant, revolutionary” character in artistic productions. The liberalisation of 1965 was condemned and an index of banned books and authors was re-established.

          The Theses heralded the beginning of a “mini cultural revolution” in Romania, launching a Neo-Stalinist offensive against cultural autonomy, reaffirming an ideological basis for literature that, in theory, the Party had hardly abandoned. Although presented in terms of “Socialist Humanism”, the Theses in fact marked a return to the strict guidelines of Socialist Realism, and attacks on non-compliant intellectuals. Strict ideological conformity in the humanities and social sciences was demanded. Competence and aesthetics were to be replaced by ideology; professionals were to be replaced by agitators; and culture was once again to become an instrument for political-ideological propaganda and hardline measures.

          He’s one of the few leaders, Communist or otherwise, to have a building style named after him:

          Ceauşima (“Ceaushima”) is a vernacular word construction in Romanian, sarcastically linking former Communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu to Hiroshima.[1] This portmanteau term was sometimes coined in the 1980s to describe the huge urban areas of Bucharest that Ceauşescu ordered torn down, comparing the results with the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. It has also been used to describe other actions of Ceauşescu not linked to the demolition of Bucharest, such as intense pollution in the Transylvanian city of Copşa Mică.

          During the final few years of Ceauşescu’s tenure, significant portions of the historic center of Bucharest were demolished to accommodate standardized apartment blocks and government buildings, including the grandiose Centrul Civic and the palatial House of the People, now the Palace of the Parliament.

          There’s a reason he was the only EE Communist leader who was taken out and shot.

          • wengler

            If you read about the Romanian Revolution and the aftermath, the inevitable conclusion is Ceausescu was shot in order to protect the people that took power after him. All the chaos and death was engineered to defeat revolution and it more or less worked.

        • John F

          Mao’s cultural revolution was certainly something that Stalin could appreciate- it was done by Mao in order to re-assert Mao’s personal authority.

          Sure Stalin wanted a “technically competent regime”- but that was secondary to his paramount goal- securing and maintaining his personal authority

        • Smut Clyde

          East Asian communists, with the excpetion of the Vietnamese

          Did the Pathet Lao go particularly wacky? They’ve survived, if that counts for anything.

          • No, but they were pretty much under the control of the Vietnamese communists so they are not really a separate case.

        • Smut Clyde

          Need moar data points. Three wacky groups (Khmer Rouge, China, North Korea) against the non-wacky Vietnamese (and half a point for the Pathet Lao) — this is hardly a significant sample size.

          How about the failed Communist groups? How far out along the wackiness spectrum were the Malayan insurgents and the Indonesian party?

          Interesting in this context that Vietnam is the Asian communist country with the longest and most sustained European influence.

          I think Cambodia became part of the French empire before Vietnam.

          • Well no it is not a large enough sample of distinct CPs to do such an analysis. But, the size of China really militates in giving it a lot more significance than the other examples. Really, the comparison is between the USSR under Lenin, Stalin, and the post-Stalin leadership and China under Mao. Brezhnev looks pretty conservative compared to the GLF and the Cultural Revolution. I suppose if Laos gets half a point you can also give a half a point to Outer Mongolia which was the USSR’s closest sputnik.

            • The basic recipe for Maoism in any country is pretty simple:

              Mao’s battle-plan is simple. It can be adapted to almost any country as long as you’ve got the basic ingredients: mean landlords, hungry peasants, educated city people who couldn’t care less what’s happening in the countryside. In other words: if you’ve got a really fucked-up agricultural country. Nepal had that. Mao’s plan doesn’t take military geniuses to make it work. What it does take is lots and lots of discipline and patience, because you must avoid battle until the odds are overwhelmingly in your favor. So the first rule is: No Hotheads Need Apply.

              Step one is to work the villages. The university-trained commie recruiters fan out into the villages and radicalize the locals — which isn’t too hard when the landlords have been buying and selling peasants like mules.

              The next part is harder: you set up a shadow government. You don’t attack the local police or army at this stage — you try to make them irrelevant. Instead of taking complaints to the cops, peasants take their quarrels to a People’s court that meets in a shed at night. Instead of paying regular taxes, you pay people’s taxes to a guy who comes around at night with a notebook and a bag. The idea is to isolate the cops, tax collectors and other informers — to “put out the eyes” of the government in the area, so that by the time you’re ready to attack, they won’t have any intelligence system worth the name and you’ll take them completely by surprise.

              • Lurker

                This is the way you get the power. What you do afterwards is a decidedly different thing.

                • wengler

                  I’m not so sure. In a lot of these countries the interactions of people with ‘government’ usually involved someone coming around with an armed group and shaking them down for money and food and stealing their teenage boys for the army.

                  The CP movements in these countries did that, but also provided some level of reciprocity, in terms of promises of education, opportunity(especially for women), etc. They also promised them the chance to fight the government.

                  People in the US tend to maximize the harm caused by CP governments and minimize the harm caused by governments flying any other flag.

              • ajay

                The War Nerd is not a reliable source.

                • That’s such a substantial response, do you have an expanded version, with footnotes, etc?

          • wengler

            Shining Path can win the failed CP group in craziness. Though it still retains a small presence.

    • LeeEsq

      I think it comes from a knee-jerk anti-Westernism thats somewhat common in progressives inclined to wolly thinking. The type that used to be referred to as useful idiots. Anything Western is bad so anything non-Western is good despite all evidence to the contrary. In this case the ROK is bad because its Western with its democratic politics, pop culture, and materialistic lifestyle, and NK is good because its anti-Western.

      • wengler

        I don’t think anyone has praised North Korea here or much anywhere else.

        I do think it’s presuming a lot that the South Korean government can automatically stake a claim on the whole peninsula when the DPRK fails. There is no political need for unification. In fact, deprogramming the Kim Il Sung cult in relative isolation is likely more advantageous.

  • mpowell

    So why really would it be immoral to prevent massive migration? The economic cost, per South Korean, would be enormous. It’s not obvious to me why South Korea has a moral obligation to support that cost.

    • What would “prevent mass migration” actually mean, in terms of what people working for the government would actually go out and do about the migrants?

      I’m not getting a lot of pretty pictures.

      • witless chum

        And what conditions would those wishing to massively migrate be living under in a North Korea undergoing reunification presumably after its government collapsed? I’m getting as ugly of pictures as Joe is.

        And in a scenario of Korean reunification, both sides would be citizens of the government ordering the preventing.

      • Malaclypse

        And if the regime collapses, and migration is not controlled, you have several million starving beggars on the streets of Seoul. In winter. And in many collapse scenarios, quite a few of them are ex-military who kept their weapons when everything collapsed. None of them have ever experienced life outside of the worst dictatorship we can imagine. None of them have even met anybody outside of that dictatorship.

        There is probably no scenario where you don’t end up with literally millions of dead. Martial law and long-term military occupation of the north is probably the least horrible of the fucking horrible choices.

        • John F

          Martial law and long-term military occupation of the north is probably the least horrible of the fucking horrible choices.

          The least bad outcome I can imagine is that after the regime collapses a semi-intact DPRK military takes and accepts orders from the south and is used to distribute foodstuffs while the economy is sorted out…

          • Warren Terra

            I beliieve the DPRK military has a track record with food aid, one that doesn’t involve a lot of distribution to the public.

        • mpowell

          This is generally what I was thinking. I don’t see why you have to divide things into a black and white “is this a state border or not” problem. In a very unusual situation like North Korea and South Korea beginning the process of reunification, I think you would initially continue to treat the border as a place where you would limit mobility. And I can hardly see a moral duty argument against this. Even if the best thing for North Koreans happened to be unlimited mobility, I’m not sure South Koreans would be obliged to accept that burden immediately if they could come up with a reasonable path towards full reunification and normalization of the entire peninsula. I guess someone might try to call this apartheid or something, but it’s just not the case that South Korea has any greater moral obligation to the citizens of North Korea than anyone else in the world does and having a reunification process where North Koreans temporarily surrender sovereignty to a government that doesn’t grant them immediate representation or freedom of movement as a path towards a normal civil society does not appear unjust to me.

          • CBrinton

            I have to agree. The South Koreans are not going to want to have the whole population of NK moving south at once, and if they want to I think the SK government could enforce an internal border control at least as effectively as the PRC manages to control the borders of the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone.

            I’ve no doubt some people would call this “Apartheid” or something, but I really doubt the SKs would care. Their most likely response would be to ask how many NK refugees the criticizing country wanted to accept.

    • Dave

      Because no country is entitled to safeguard the prosperity of its inhabitants by physically assuring the security of its borders, apparently.

      • I believe the main premise here is that reunification has taken place – so there would only be one country at that point.

        That being said, no border is completely airtight. Even today several thousand North Koreans make their way across the border into China every year.

      • drkrick

        First, in a reunification scenario you’re talking about an internal border where the standards are perhaps a little different. Second, what you’re “entitled” to do and what you can do at an acceptable human and political cost aren’t always identical.

        • Johnny Sack

          fuck you

  • What really worries me is that one day the DPRK may just say “What the heck, we’re all going to starve anyway. Might as well go for it.”

    • Karate Bearfighter

      Or in the alternative, the Kim family et al. might say, “what the heck, we’re losing our grip on power, might as well go for it.” The elite levels of the DPRK regime have been sending their children abroad to study for decades under pseudonyms, and they enjoy access to Western goods and media. They know how completely Juche has failed the DPRK, and I think you have to assume that anyone willing to perpetuate the regime under those circumstances is, at best, an amoral opportunist.

      • cpinva

        my guess is, they’d all leave in the middle of the night, and relocate to a sunnier clime. with the money they’ve most likely stashed away in foreign bank accounts, this makes far more sense, than basically committing mass suicide.

        “Or in the alternative, the Kim family et al. might say, “what the heck, we’re losing our grip on power, might as well go for it.”

        this would be strictly the power elite of course, leaving the rest of the country to fend for itself. in that event, see major kong’s comment.

        • I would expect both: order the assault, then leave. The confusion and destruction works in their favor at that point.

      • Warren Terra

        I thought the current situation was thought to be that a surprisingly large privileged class enjoyed a rather nice lifestyle, while the vast preponderance of the populous still suffered inconceivable levels of poverty and repression.

        • mpowell

          That was not my impression, but if true, that sounds like a plausibly sustainable regime. The difficulty with that kind of arrangement is that the larger the set of elites, the larger the group of people who know the regime lacks credibility and the harder it is to contain that information. But maybe North Koreans are just particularly good at doublethink.

        • Anonymous

          I think it depends on what you mean by “surprisingly large”. Pyongyang is supposedly a vast Potemkin village surrounded by military checkpoints, but even within Pyongyang there is apparently real poverty if you get past the facade.

          • Warren Terra

            What I meant was basically senior officials and military officers and their families. Not a big number, all told, but the people in charge are supposedly all living fairly large – and must be aware that a transition of any sort would threaten their privilege. Even if for many below they very topmost tier the level privilege in reality amounts to a lower-middle-class lifestyle in the South, it still places them inconceivably ahead of the utterly destitute masses, and that gives the leadership class something to protect, something to hang on to.

            A thoroughly, vilely evil system, to be sure – but as mpowell notes, it is (if such a description is accurate) a system that will try very hard to maintain itself, because it’s not just the Kims who’ve got a lot to lose.

            • Lurker

              You forget that humans are, first and foremost, social animals. Even though a median-income South Korean most likely lives vastly better than a DPRK Army colonel, the colonel is quite high in the social pyramid. He is serving in an armed force, the maintenance of which is the whole ideology of the regime. As such, he has a very high social standing and a lot of personal power over subordinates. For such a person, the status in the community is likely more important than having an Iphone.

  • Hi,

    I am the original author; thanks for posting this. I am glad you like it, and I happy to see it generated so much commentary.

    To the summary, I would add one final point:

    5. A ‘one country, two systems’ approach will either not happen or fail, because the two regime types are so different. As a wealthy, functioning democracy, SK will not change to be more like NK, in order to get them close enough to fit into a meaningful confederation. That means NK would have to do all the changing. But to get itself close enough to SK to make a meaningful federation possible, it would have to change so much that very need for a seperate NK state would then be called into question. If NK is just a poorer version of SK, why should it exist at all?

    • CBrinton

      I think what people are talking about is a “one country, two systems” approach _after_ a NK government collapse, with the SKs imposing movement controls and keeping migration from NK to SK at a level they consider acceptable (not zero, obviously).

      I think you are overestimating both the level support North Koreans would command from world opinion and the extent the SK government would care about whatever criticism they might end up receiving.

      • ajay

        CBrinton, the question is surely the extent to which the ROK would be able to enforce these movement controls? Which boils down to: how many soldiers in the ROK army are there who would be willing to open fire on unarmed, starving migrants heading south across the DMZ?

        • Warren Terra

          Well, there is precedent. Granted, that was our troops, not our ROK allies – but they’ve had fifty years of training since then.

        • CBrinton

          There’d be plenty willing to use tear gas (the SK government has very extensive riot control experience). And probably a sufficient number willing to shoot “Communist agents” who are “irresponsibly endangering innocent North Koreans” by leading them away from refugee relief centers where they are being provided with food, water, and medical care by the SK government.

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