What will happen in Korea?
December 27, 2011 3:26 PM   Subscribe

The recent event in North Korea has got me going on a Korea jag. Specifically, I'm wondering what's next for the two Koreas. Googling just gets me a bunch of blog entries. . .

What I'm really looking for are informed opinions on what may or may not happen in Korea over the next couple of weeks/months/years. I mean policy reviews, think tank essays, articles written by historians, all with a focus on North Korean political changes and/or reunification. Anybody have any cool links in the right direction?
posted by TheTingTangTong to Law & Government (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
No one knows. That's why you aren't seeing anything. No one has an educated opinion.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:08 PM on December 27, 2011

Yeah CP is essentially correct, it is such a closed society and so little is actually known abut Un that it is a wait and see time: if you are really interested you could listen to this program: which basically says the same thing, but in a more interesting and informative way.
posted by edgeways at 4:17 PM on December 27, 2011

Best answer: Yep, it's all a real tossup what'll happen now: will the young & untested son of the Dear Leader wield real power, or will the old & imbedded generals hold the reins? If I may, I'd like to suggest a couple books that can help give you an informed look inside the country:
The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in a North Korean Gulag, by Kang Chol-Hwan
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick
posted by easily confused at 4:20 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Add to that reading list "The Cleanest Race" by B. R. Myers and "The Two Koreas" by Don Oberdorfer, the latter providing a very good history of post-war relations.

For links to, and commentary on, thoughtful news articles and analyses as well as spirited English-language debate on what's going on in Korea (North and South) with regard to pretty much anything, read The Marmot's Hole blog regularly.
posted by holterbarbour at 4:29 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Straits Times has been carrying double spread coverage and speculation on the future for the past week. Most of it is behind a paywall but here are a couple of syndicated pieces.
posted by infini at 4:56 PM on December 27, 2011

Best answer: The Asia Pacific Journal is a great place to search for articles about Korea. Here's a recent article about the prospects for war on the Korean Peninsula.

The Marmot's Hole frequently posts links to scholarly articles and journalism about Korea, and also features a blogroll that's worth exploring. Many of the sites Marmot links to are in Korean, but if you use Chrome it will offer to translate into English.

While there's nothing recent about North Korea, Scribblings of the Metropolitician offers some insightful analysis of Korean society, history and politics.

I would say there is lots of analysis about the future of the Korean Peninsula, just not in English.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:14 PM on December 27, 2011

The prospects for war on the Korean Peninsula. article should be taken with a grain of salt... Upon examination, the writer, Tim Beal, has a decidedly pro-Pyongyang slant, which is utterly reprehensible.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:07 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

OP, I will advise you; it is rare to get a geo-political expert to show up and answer a question on message board, but I thought this should change...

My 2nd home is Washington DC. My mind has been trained in geo-politics since I was 12. BUT, no one can accurately predict years down the road, but if you remember my answers years from now, you will remember the accuracy.

Current: nothing will change. It will get more strict for the next year. Remember one important thing: Dear Leader is not the most important "thing" in North Korea: it's the military. These are hundreds of senior officers that have a stake in keeping things as they are - they will not allow change so quickly, even if Dear Leader demands it tomorrow.

A year (or 2) from now: the "thawing" will begin. It will be spurred by capitalism and personal greed. Not for the country - but for the military officers. They desire get rich from a more "open" society. The average North Korean will be in the same spot. There will be more defections, and Dear Leader will not care as much about them. The country will start to open up ever so slightly, but the ideology will remain (it will be the last to go, so to save "face").

One generation from now: noticeable change will have taken place, likely in the model of 1980-1990 China. Read up on China during this time. Dictators will not survive the modern world, people cannot remain shut out of the modern world with today's technology along with "neighborhood of concerned leaders" playing World Police i.e Ghaddafi is your immediate example.

Pursue with fervor your new "jag."
posted by Kruger5 at 6:22 PM on December 27, 2011 [6 favorites]

What Kruger5 says, along with the point that North Koreas's neighbors (i.e., China and South Korea) do not want a sudden regime change or any other conflict, as that would send thousands or even millions of refugees across the borders. The cost, when the DPRK does open up, by however many degrees, will be astronomical, to bring that country's infrastructure up to speed even with the poorer areas of China. Forget about having it be on a par with Seoul. Think the pricetag of German reunification times 100, or more.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 8:10 PM on December 27, 2011

Kruger5, this is a very astute analysis. But on the question of personal greed among military officers, don't the upper echelons already benefit from the wealth bestowed to them as members of an elite?

Thinking back to the USSR, the leaders enjoyed perks, such as dachas and private cars, unthinkable to the masses, and the source of capitalistic yearnings seemed to come from other sectors of society. Does this hold true for North Korea, or are most of its generals and VPs more or less impoverished?

Also, shamelessly piggybacking here, but I've always been intrigued by the Kim Jong Il looking at things meme. It seems that Kim Jong Il spent countless hours on photo-op-related trips to the most unlikely of places, such as egg farms, supermarkets, and tupperware manufacturing sites. Reading translated write-ups of these trips, high-ranking military leaders accompanied him.

Do these visits--highly odd and time-consuming for a national leader and his brass entourage--indicate a weakening of the military and civilian power structure, or did they have a purpose that we in the West can't discern?
posted by Gordion Knott at 3:15 AM on December 28, 2011

Well, there is, of course, no strict analogy for North Korea. At it's most isolationist China had a much greater engagement with the world-at-large, as well as having a wider range of groups of people within it's borders, in addition China has always had some aspirations towards global engagement/preening even with the level of secrecy it engages in. It is big enough and powerful enough to be on the world stage in a number of arenas.
I don't think the Ghaddafi analogy is precise either as ultimately his overthrow was internally based, as well Lybia was a country that wanted, from Ghaddafi on down, greater global engagement. With North Korea we have a exceedingly closed loop, much like Burma there is no apparent desire for engagement with the wider world except for minor, very controlled ventures. Saying that dictators can't survive the current global/technology climate may be wishful thinking. It certainly is thinking from a particular mindset that has assumptions based on how X society works is how Y society will work, or wants to work.
Which is not to say that something like Kruger5 espouses will not happen, however, personally, I think it is overly optimistic. The system as set up only reinforces the power held in North Korea, they have ample external treats to point to and rally against, they have a homogenized population that has limited access to communication technologies, a highly controlled environment and a strong internal cohesion.

Given the diversity and the global engagement I suspect Iran has a much greater chance of liberalization than North Korea, and that is likely to be very difficult.

Remember that revolutions often happen, not when things are at their absolute worst, but when things start to get better.

I think it'll be 30 years or so before we see significant change in North Korea.
posted by edgeways at 9:08 AM on December 28, 2011

Things like Kim Jong Il's factory tours and photo ops keep the leader constantly in the forefront of the people's attention. It may seem time-consuming, but that focus on *The Leader* is desireable in personality cults. Also, Kim Jong Il apparently moved around almost constantly anyway and rarely spent many consecutive nights in the same place, as an anti-assassination measure. (He seems to have had dozens of mansions all over the country.)
posted by easily confused at 9:11 AM on December 28, 2011

Two intelligent and well-informed sources that haven't been mentioned yet are North Korean Economy Watch and the Council on Foreign Relations.

BTW, Kruger5 may well be right, but it's worth noting that people have been predicting thawing in North Korea for many, many years now.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 2:48 PM on December 31, 2011

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