This is a re-post of an article I wrote this month for The National Interest.
The editor asked me to comment on whether North Korea’s recently announced ‘food crisis’ could lead to regime instability? The answer is probably not.
North Korea has proven remarkably resilient to the buffets of history and geopolitics. Much of this, I bet, is simply due to repression. If you are willing to eat your own children to stay in power, then you probably will. Kim Jong Il let a million of his people starve to death in the late 1990s in order to not change anything meaningful about the governance of North Korea – no opening, no aid with conditions, no nothing, even if people were literally dying in the streets.
It’s true that his son seems less openly callous and bloodthirsty. By North Korean standard, Kim Jong Un is a step up. At least he has admitted this food crisis, unlike his father’s adamant refusal during the ‘Arduous March.’
But the limits of Kim III’s ‘modern outlook’ are likely pretty narrow. He won’t change the economy to be more efficient, because he fears an unraveling akin to the USSR after perestroika. And of course, he’ll kill anyone has must to stay in power.
So after 75 years without a revolt, including a brutal famine, it is unlikely this latest round of food insecurity will lead to regime challenges. Alas…
The full essay follows the jump:
This is a local re-post of an essay I just wrote for The National Interest. My argument is basically that the North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons unless it gets something very large and very tangible in return. This strikes me as common sense. Nuclear weapons are really valuable to any state, and given how much North Korea is loathed around the world, nukes are even more valuable for its elites to hold regime-change at bay. So they aren’t just going to give them up from Trump’s coastal condos, vague security guarantees, or something other vague future benefit the US might cheat on, as we did during the Agreed Framework and to Kaddaffi.
So we should stop saying CVID, especially demanding it upfront for basically nothing. The North Koreans aren’t stupid. They’ll never make that deal. Instead, we need to have a serious US debate – which isn’t happening – about what commensurate to NK nukes we’d be willing to give up: US airpower in Korea, a shrinkage of USFK, closing bases, and so on. It we don’t want to give up something that valuable – and I don’t want to either – then we can either A) accept the new status quo of a nuclear missilized NK, or B) try to buy the program.
The full essay follows the jump.
All the hubub on North Korea hacking Sony got me thinking about the impact this might have on the private sector. To date, most of the North Korea & hacking discussion has focused on cyber-attacks on big, predictable targets like the US Defense Department or South Korean Ministry of National Defense. But targeting a private sector firm, especially a big, well-known one like Sony strikes me as a major expansion. Now for-profit entities with far fewer resources, especially intelligence, have been put on notice. That’s gotta make a lot of foreign companies who are thinking of operating in Korea think twice. Who wants to accidentally anger the Norks for who knows what by opening a store in Daejon or something? Best to just steer away. At least that is what I would be thinking, or more correctly fearing, if I were South Korean commercial officials.
So if you are major foreign firm operating in the Korean space, you’ve been warned. The Sony hack is meant to put you on notice. Hopefully you do the right thing: pulling investment or chilling creativity because of totalitarian threats would be a terrible outcome.
The essay below was first published at the Lowy Interpreter and then picked up by The National Interest. It starts after the jump:
If you don’t know H-Net, you probably should. It is a great way to keep up to date with what is being read and discussed in the humanities and social sciences. They seem to offer mostly book reviews and roundtables. I find them particularly good in my area – the intersection of history and political science. H-Net has a general qualitative bent also, so its reviews are mercifully readable.
Over the summer, they asked me to review Amitav Acharya’s book, The End of the American World Order. Here is the link to review on the actual H-Net site. I have re-printed it below. In brief, he argues that the US is in terminal relative decline, and that a world order without a domineering American role must be discussed. He sketches a few (unconvicing) alternatives.
And being the child of the 80s and its so-bad-it’s-awesome film, what image of American World Order could surpass Stallone beating the crap out of commies while draped in an American flag? Awesome! Go Rocko! I remember cheering in my seat when Rocky beat Drago. We won the Cold War and kicked some russki butt! Hah! I think I was 12. Good times, which I guess Acharya is taking away from us…
So this is a blog about Asian security, but regular readers will know that I write a lot about political economy too. And nothing drives me up the wall so much as the endless NTB gimmickry so common in Asian to prevent free-trade outcomes that national elites and entrenched mega-corporations don’t like. If you live in Asia and want to know why everything is so outrageously expensive, or why you can’t get technologies/products your friends take for granted in the West, here it is: endless crony protection, tariff or otherwise, to block imports that are superior and/or bring price competition. If the US has had too much deregulation, Asia desperately, desperately needs it. Romney for president of Korea!
The case of Seoul City banning the car-sharing app Uber is a classic example of everything wrong with Asian mercantilism: xenophobia, competition-quashing, monopoly rent protection, reverse engineering someone else’s idea, shameless nationalist demagoguery of a successful foreign enterprise, hypocritical rejection of free-trade ideals by a country that runs a regular trade surplus, open violation of free-trade norms despite recently signing multiple FTAs, and so on.
So below is a reprint of my recent essay for the Diplomat on this disgrace.