Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Malice in Wonderland.

Down the Rabbit Hole.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, known to all outside of Pyongyang as North Korea, is often described as a communist state and a relic of the Cold War. The state was founded following WW2 as a satellite of Stalinist Russia. What should be remembered about all supposedly communist states is that they were founded on Marxist-Leninist ideas. The state of affairs in countries like China and Russia, was that they were undeveloped and arguably pre-capitalist in nature. As revolution by the working-class was supposed to occur in the most advanced capitalist society. In North Korea socialism was considered impossible to develop as capitalism had not yet reached it's peak. Thus, the DPRK is a state "holding" society in preparation for the "real revolution" which would come in an advanced capitalist state. This was the internal "justification" for the totalitarian regime in North Korea, it's dynasty, personality cult and the disparity between rich and poor being the result.

Recently North Korea, has been in the news and not for the usual reasons. The reason is the World Cup and the fight the North Korean team put up against Brazil, holding them off for the first half of the match and scoring a goal, before being humiliated by Portugal. Though the people of North Korea will not see either match as the DPR was not victorious. But there are far more serious issues at hand in regards to North Korea. The last few years have been turbulent for the hermit state, to say the least. The country has collapsed economically and the state has yet to resolve mass-starvation since the famine in the 90s. The Bush administration added North Korea to the "Axis of Evil", possibly to reassure the world that the "War on Terrorism" is not a "War on Islam". Lately, the regime has been developing nuclear weapons in defiance of the USA. The aim of which is probably to deter a "pre-emptive strike" by the US, the kind seen in Iraq, which could easily tear apart the country.

It's possible that we could see regime change in North Korea soon, as Kim Jong-il has suffered strokes and may be suffering from cancer. Though the "Dear Leader" has supposedly been grooming his son to succeed him, his brother-in-law may also be a candidate, it does seem likely that the dynasty will end with Kim Jong-il. A military junta might "fill" the power vacuum, after Kim has passed on, given the militaristic nature of the DPRK government. This seems likely as Kim Jong-il is dependent on the support of generals for power. Because Kim Jong-il is not the official ruler of the country, because his father has been made "Eternal President", he is only the leader of the Workers' Party of Korea and the Korean People's Army. The bankrupt regime sustains itself by placating a nomenklatura consisting mostly of generals and atomic scientists in Yongbyon. It is possible that Kim's death has the potential to destabilise the country, especially if the passing of the "Dear Leader" led to a turbulent power-struggle.

The declining grip of Kim Jong-il on power is not only due to ill-health, the revaluation of the won last year caused a decline in the standard of living for North Koreans including the elite. The aim of the devaluation was to divert the proceeds of black markets into the economy. Instead the devaluation of the currency was the biggest disaster since the famine for the poorest of North Koreans. There was even word of demonstrations about the devaluation, which led to the regime raising the limits on how much currency citizens could exchange. The won plummeted by over 95% to the dollar and the state soon backed away after a riot by traders led to shootings. Though the devaluation succeeded in decimating private stores of money accumulated through the black market, it damaged the living standard of the elite. The "Dear Leader" has since attempted to soothe the "bruised coffers" of his generals with luxury cars. Similarly, workers were promised their salaries would be restored - but they only received a month's pay in the end.

At the Tea-Table.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea was actually named in reaction to the founding of the Republic of Korea, at that time a virtual satellite of the US. During the reign of Kim Jong-il all references to communism and Marxist-Leninist ideology have been removed from the constitution. Instead, Juche and Songun have been enshrined in the constitution. The former essentially being self-reliance, which was first implemented to deal with the Sino-Soviet Split. The latter emphasising military as the driving force of the revolution and socialism. Though it is more likely a way for Kim Jong-il to maintain power, as by putting the Korean People's Army first the "Dear Leader" can remain in de facto control. It was likely that the jingoistic elements of Songun were comprised to unite the masses around the identity marker of the Korean nation. At the same time, the DPRK sought this shift in ethos to keep South Korea and the US at bay after the collapse of the USSR.

Therefore, the various acts of terrorism committed by the DPRK over the years, are probably ways of "holding-off" an invasion. The latest "outburst" from Kim Jong-il came in the sinking of the Cheonan, a South Korean naval ship, by a torpedo fired by a submarine from the North, which killed around 50 people. The North Korean regime soon went into denial as the outrage rippled across the world. Some analysts have concluded that this was a desperate act, the aim of which was to get the attention of the US, but also a show of strength and fearlessness to restore confidence among the military elite. The act certainly maintains the DPR government's reputation for jingoistic behaviour. Though the logical conclusion of this kind of foreign policy would be that powerful long-range nuclear weapons are a better tool for preventing a military strike in the future. Of course, the goal is not just to maintain the regime and fend off possible invading armies. It could be a way of gaining greater aid from the West, with the threat of a nuclear strike.

It is widely regarded that China has the greatest influence in North Korea, though due to the policies centred around an ethos of Juche the Chinese influence in Pyongyang has diminished. The ways in which the Chinese government supports the DPRK, economically with fuel and food aid, do not give China a great deal of control. The regime led by Kim Jong-il is fully aware that the Chinese will support them regardless of the development of nuclear weapons. Because the collapse of North Korea would be a disaster which could spill out into China, while at the same time making the US-backed South Korea a neighbour. The recent revelations that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld wanted to engineer a new "Cold War" with China, turning them into another Soviet Union, and essentially take US-China relations back 40 years.  Cheney and Rumsfeld were thinking of the interests of "Big Oil" and the military industrial complex, but not of the US economy as a whole which could be destroyed by such a conflict with China.

A war on the Korean peninsula would be a disaster, from which very few if anyone would benefit, as it has been estimated 100,000 people could be slaughtered in the first week. Seoul could easily be decimated by North Korean artillery. As the so-called "de-militarised zone" between North and South is the only place in the world where there are nuclear mines sewn into the soil and two armed forces are placed to watch each other 24/7. Though South Korea would likely be victorious in such a conflict the cost of seizing the Northern half of the peninsula could outweigh the rewards. After the collapse, Chinese and South Korean cities could be subject to a massive influx of desperate North Koreans. This is not needed nor desired by either Chinese or South Korean officials. So it would seem that conflict would be an unlikely reaction to North Korea's latest stunt. Diplomacy is probably the only way forward, to defuse the situation and move towards reunification in the long-run.

Related Links:
Behind North Korea's Closed Doors Part 1
Cheney wanted "New Cold War"

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