The End of the Beginning: Bringing About a Khrushchev Thaw in the DPRK

In the midst of Britain’s darkest hour, Winston Churchill famously remarked in 1942 that what the country faced was not “the end, it is not even the beginning of the end; but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

If there is anything to describe the events of what we have witnessed in the DPRK in the past week or so, Churchill’s words could not be closer to the truth. We seem to be at a bridge that has never been crossed in the history of the country, and no one is quite sure how long, or even how sturdy, this bridge actually is. The fact that this bridge is now in the horizon may also help some of us to rethink positions we have had in the past as well.

For many of us, from the perspective of observing North Korea from the “outside in,” the DPRK presents some unique and difficult challenges. It is important to note that it is in fact not even a fraction of the country that is responsible for the challenges that we are faced with; our quibble is with the people in Pyongyang who seem to hold the reins of power in that country.

With Kim Jong Il’s death, there has been a renewed interest in what we on the outside should be doing about those folks in Pyongyang we seem to have this quibble with. After all, we seem to be back at square one when it comes to dealing with the regime. Ten years of the Sunshine Policy brought very little in practical progress when it came to forcing the North Koreans to take off the proverbial Aesopian jacket. On the other hand, the last five years of hardline policies have produced equally dismal results. Read the rest of this entry »

Rethinking the Goal Posts: Engagement

The never-ending argument of humanitarian aid to the DPRK has grown into a crescendo in the past few weeks. As articulated at CanKor, several voices have piped up on both sides of the issue: those who advocate aid cry for the depoliticization of aid itself, while arguing that the regime has had no qualms behind starving a million or so of their own citizens. On the other hand, those who are against sending aid to North Korea argue that as defector surveys show,  aid does not go to intended recipients and that aid enables, and perhaps even sustains Pyongyang.

Regardless of which side of this argument you fall on (and despite my own views on the subject, I do believe there are merits to both sides), the issue of humanitarian aid is only a subcomponent of a larger meta-issue regarding our own behaviour towards the DPRK: to engage, or not engage?

With the assumption that most readers of CanKor are already familiar with these arguments, I’d like to explore a particular aspect of engagement that has been lost in a vortex of “North Korea Creep”: if we are to engage Pyongyang, what are the goals that we ourselves have set for engagement? Why are we engaging with North Korea? And when do we know when we’ve been successful?

Read the rest of this entry »

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