Five Myths About North Korea, by Joel S. Wit & Jenny Town

[This article appeared in the 29 March 2013 edition of The Atlantic Monthly. Joel S. Wit is a visiting fellow with the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and founder of its North Korea website, 38North. Jenny Town is a research associate at the Institute and the editor of its website. –CanKor]

It’s Not a Hermit Kingdom, and 4 Other Myths About North Korea

Yes, we should be taking Kim Jong Un’s recent threats seriously. But first, we have to lose the comic-book caricature of his country.

(Photo by Erich Weingartner)

(Photo by Erich Weingartner)

Every day the media is filled with reports of North Korea threatening to attack the United States and its close allies. An escalating cycle of threat and counter-threat has been going on for the past few months. It started with the North’s partially successful long-range rocket test in December, was followed by its third test of a nuclear bomb in February, new U.N. sanctions in response to those tests, U.S.-South Korean military exercises, Pyongyang’s bellicose threats to launch strikes against the United States, and now the temporary deployment of long-range U.S. B-2 bombers, capable of carrying nuclear weapons, to South Korea.

Americans should be deeply concerned about these events. While the North may eventually be able to put a nuclear weapon on top of a long-range missile and attack the United States, Pyongyang’s bombs can already reach our friends in South Korea and Japan. There is also a danger that North Korea may export nuclear technology to other rogue states, like Iran and terrorist groups. Remember that the North did send a nuclear reactor for producing bomb-making material to Syria — luckily Israeli warplanes destroyed the unfinished facility in 2006. The danger of exports will grow in the future if the North’s nuclear arsenal continues to grow. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Road to Pyongyang Goes Through Helsinki, by Frank Jannuzi

[Frank Jannuzi serves as Deputy Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, and head of the AI Washington, D.C. office. An international affairs policy and political expert, he previously served Chairman John Kerry as Policy Director for East Asian and Pacific Affairs for the Democratic staff of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. His 12 April 2013 article in Foreign Policy highlights an idea that has been tossed around in policy circles for the last several years, namely the idea of finding a regional solution to the Korean conundrum. The model would be the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which resulted in the “Helskinki Accords” that involved all of Europe, including the then-Soviet Union and North America. Helsinki is widely believed to have been the first step in the eventual dismantlement of communism in Eastern Europe. Foreign Policy is published by the FP Group, a division of the Washington Post Company. –CanKor]

Frank Jannuzi 1Here’s how you really solve the North Korean nuke problem.

The world needs to change the pieces and stop playing the DPRK’s game.

The leaders of the DPRK are not motivated by a love of plutonium or highly enriched uranium, but by their quest for security and power. To persuade them to abandon their nuclear weapons, the voices of the North Korean people, especially elites in Pyongyang, will be more powerful than those of foreigners. We can’t be certain what North Koreans make of their nation’s circumstances, because there is no independent domestic media, no known opposition political parties, no independent civil society, and criticism of the government can lead to imprisonment. But we know that the government makes extraordinary efforts to prevent its people from learning the truth about the failures of their economy and the successes of the DPRK’s neighbors. By focusing its attention on the human dimension of the North Korean challenge, the world can gradually change the attitudes of the elites and thereby bring pressure on the leadership to see their nuclear program as a liability rather than an asset. Read the rest of this entry »

Why is Russia Favored by Mongolia and North Korea? by Jargalsaikhan Mendee

[Long-time friend of CanKor, Jargalsaikhan Mendee is a political science PhD student at the University of British Columbia. Col. Mendee has previously worked at the Mongolian Ministry of Defense, Embassy in Washington, DC, and at the Institute for Strategic Studies. He has taken special interest in military transitions in Mongoloa and has compared these to similar processes happening in the DPRK. His paper “Civil-Military Relations in a Dictatorship: North Korea” appears as Chapter 7 in The Routledge Handbook of Civil-Military Relations (edited by Thomas C. Bruneau and Florina Cristiana Matei; published 10 September 2012, Hardback, ISBN: 978-0-415-78273-9, 380 pp., $200.00). The current article was published on 21 August 2012 in PacNet #52, a publication of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu, Hawaii. –CanKor]

Russia is favored by Mongolia and North Korea just as the United States is welcomed by some of its Southeast Asian partners. At the same time, Mongolia and especially North Korea provide opportunities for Russia to raise its stakes in Northeast Asian matters.

Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union and relative inattention by the Kremlin in the 1990s, Ulaanbaatar and Pyongyang never abandoned their attempts to renew ties with Russia. High-ranking political and military officials constantly made calls to advance political, military, economic, and cultural ties with Moscow. Positive responses came after a decade, under Russian President Putin. Putin’s visit to the DPRK and Mongolia in 2000 demonstrated the Kremlin’s new emphasis on two its former allies, whose industrial facilities and enterprises were built with Soviet assistance and technology. Their treaties of mutual assistance with Russia were replaced by treaties of good neighborliness in 1993 (Mongolia) and 2001 (North Korea). And the $11 billion debts incurred during the Soviet era, were resolved favorably for Mongolians in 2003 and North Koreans in 2012. As a result, Russia seems to have secured its stake in key infrastructure development projects. In North Korea, Russia will invest in the trans-Korean railway, a gas pipeline, special economic zones, and education. Russia will invest in the trans-Mongolian railway, its extension, and the mining of uranium and aluminum in Mongolia. Economic cooperation with Mongolia and North Korea will play an important role in Putin’s agenda to develop Russia’s long-neglected Far East and Siberia and to secure Chinese and East Asian markets for its mineral exports. Read the rest of this entry »

North Korea in April: Defining the Future Under Kim Jong Un by Ruediger Frank

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by CanKor Brain Trust member Ruediger Frank. Find more articles by Ruediger Frank here. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

April 2012 promises to be an interesting month for North Korea and its observers, with at least four mega-events. The long announced celebrations to mark the 100th birthday of the country’s late founder Kim Il Sung will be held on the April 15. Two days before, the annual session of the Supreme People’s Assembly (the North Korean parliament) will convene. The fourth Conference of the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) will take place on the 11th. Last, but not least, around the same time a rocket launch that has been criticized by the West as a missile test is set to take place.

April 15, 1912 was not only the day the Titanic sank. In a small village near Pyongyang, a boy with the name Kim Song Ju was born. Later, much like Lenin (Uljanow) and Stalin (Tschugaschwili), he adapted an alias. In October 1945, by then called Kim Il Sung, the 33 year old youngster was presented to the wondering population by the Soviets as the liberator of the country from the Japanese. Hardly anybody took the young man seriously back then, neither his Soviet protectors nor his much more numerous, senior, powerful and experienced domestic political competitors. They were wrong, as they later learned the hard way. By building and breaking alliances, first the Christians and then rival factions within the Korean Communist camp were eliminated or assimilated, until Kim Il Sung and his Kapsan guerilla faction had acquired a monopoly of power within the KWP.

Kim Il Sung smartly used the badly failed Korean War (1950-53) not only as a welcome occasion to eliminate some of his influential political foes. He also converted Korea into one of the hot spots of the Cold War and was thus able to force the Soviet Union and China to provide much more economic, military and political aid than either of them had originally intended. The costs for Mao Zedong included his eldest son Anying, still buried in North Korea. Even my home country East Germany, laying in ruins after World War II and the post-1945 demounting policy of the Soviets, and facing fierce competition from West Germany which prospered under the Marshall Plan, felt compelled to rebuild North Korea’s second largest city, Hamhung, at an enormous cost. Read the rest of this entry »

Recognizing the Human Behind the Ideology

by Col. Jargalsaikhan Mendee, graduate student from Mongolia, Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia, 12 July 2010

Attending a reading by Erich Weingartner at UBC last May, I couldn’t help feeling the pain of his fictional friend Pak Kim Li. Mr. Pak is in the middle of everything: ideology, civilization, history and humans. Pak’s story was touching because we have lived in a similar closed society in Mongolia. Personally, Pak’s story was believable because my experience was similar to his. Pak’s story is heartbreaking because after so many years, we are still not doing enough to understand him and his people. Read the rest of this entry »

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