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January 31, 2005

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I realize that my tin-foil hat is showing but I wondered some time ago if he hasn't been dead since the disappearance last summer and that the subsequent appearances have been doubles.

From the Times article, it appears that the inmates in the asylum are fighting over who will continue to run it.

A fascinating artice, Charles, thanks for the link. North Korea is one of the world's last "hermit kingdoms", and hard news about what is really going on in this closed land, one of the planet's most dangerous states is so rare.
However, one of the points the Times seems to skip over is what, exactly, a post-Kim-dynasty North Korea might look like. Regardless of who, exactly, wields the levers of power in the DRK, the country and all its problems will still be there - not least an entrenched "leadership" clique who are not going to want to yield power - and while Kim's departure (preferably à la Mussolini or Ceaucescu) will certainly be a net benefit to the world - it creates a hard question to have to deal with: What is better/worse for regional and/or world peace? A paranoid Stalinist dictatorship wioth nuclear bombs, or a paranoid post-Stalinist dictatorship with nuclear bombs?

While I agree it's a fascinating article, I should point out that The Times no longer has a particularly good reputation among British newspapers: it's too inclined to print the sensational without doing the fact-checking. (Like Fox News, it's part of the Rupert Murdoch "news" empire.) If you want good right-wing journalism, my recommendation is the Daily Telegraph.

I say "no longer" because of course The Times was, once upon a time, the very pinnacle of British journalism, the 'newspaper of record'. But it has not been regarded as such for well over 20 years.

Does anyone know of a credible source indicating that the Ryonchon explosion was an assassination attempt? (My wife, who works in terrorism monitoring, says that's widely accepted to be the case but I haven't seen credible MSM coverage since it happened.)

Man, if that article is correct, it would be f**king cool to see the end of that regime.

A paranoid Stalinist dictatorship wioth nuclear bombs, or a paranoid post-Stalinist dictatorship with nuclear bombs?

It's my understanding, and I'm far from an expert, that a "faction" taking power is preferable to a lone dictator. That is to say, a collection of party insiders who take power after the strongman dictator would tend to be far more conservative and less prone to rash actions than, let's say, the personality-cult heir. But still authoritarian, of course.

Some of the details are interesting, but I have to wonder about the credibility and seriousness of an article that can deliver the following:

Bush’s re-election dealt a blow to Kim, 62, who had gambled on a win by John Kerry, the Democratic candidate. Kim used a strategy of divide and delay to drag out nuclear talks with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea through 2004.

Kim lost his bet and now faces four more years of Bush, who says that he “loathes” the North Korean leader and has vowed to strip him of atomic weapons.

There's some serious stumping for a Karnak award going on here. These are practically verbatim Bushist talking points, and not only do they try to speak for what Kim "wants", they do so based on highly specious grounds. It doesn't exactly speak well for the veracity of the article's content, although I can't say I'd expect much else from a Murdoch publication.

The thought that the NK regime is in trouble is tentatively hopeful. But not only would I like to see similar observations and reportage from a credible newspaper, it'd also be nice to see some thought given to what, or who, would fill the vacuum when Kim goes.

Jay C speaks to my heart on this above.

It's my understanding, and I'm far from an expert, that a "faction" taking power is preferable to a lone dictator. That is to say, a collection of party insiders who take power after the strongman dictator would tend to be far more conservative and less prone to rash actions than, let's say, the personality-cult heir.

I don't know that I agree with that. It could just as easily be said that a faction, whose member interests will not necessarily align with one another, could be far more unstable as the people involved jockey for influence and position. It would almost seem to be inherently unstable, with the state's policies and actions subject to whoever currently wields the gripping hand.

Pardon my Gary Farber, but what does this have to do with Iraq and terrorism?

Pardon my Gary Farber, but what does this have to do with Iraq and terrorism?

Axis of eviiil ....

Jonas Cord: (3:00 pm)

"It's my understanding, and I'm far from an expert, that a "faction" taking power is preferable to a lone dictator. That is to say, a collection of party insiders who take power after the strongman dictator would tend to be far more conservative and less prone to rash actions than, let's say, the personality-cult heir. But still authoritarian, of course."

Maybe you are correct here, but there are two things to consider in discussing (the happy possibility of) a post-Kim North Korea. First, in the context of the paranoid lunacy that passes for "foreign policy" there, a government "more conservative and less prone to rash actions" can only be good thing as far as the DRK's relationships (such as they are) with the rest of world - but if and only if the issue of their nuclear armaments can be resolved (a HUGE "if") - otherwise, we are back to Square One: only with a junta making the decisions, rather than a despot (?? an improvement??)
Secondly, one wonders how a "regime change" in any buut the most radical manner can or could do anything to improve the lives of the ordinary citizens of the DRK - who, after all, are the chief victims of their System - and from the Times article's view (I gather), it is mostly the main beneficiaries of that System who might be in line to replace Kim.

Jay C,

That's my very tentative guess that we'd all be better off with the Junta. Think of the vaguely Junta-esque Chinese system - whereby we've been able to apparently maintain a mind-bogglingly nonsensical status-quo in regards to Taiwan. Here's to hoping that this hypothetical Junta is amenable to a "Get rid of nukes and we'll never bother you again" status-quo.

In regards to the unfortunate welfare of the North Koreans themselves - I'm going to guess that the Junta would likely have better luck than Kim Jong-Il had with their previous attempts at market-oriented reforms. I seriously doubt that the sophisticated and apparently cynical members of the NK elite figure that the whole uber-totalitarian system is tenable. Not much, but it would be something.

"- otherwise, we are back to Square One: only with a junta making the decisions, rather than a despot (?? an improvement??)"

At least with a Junta you have individuals to play against eachother. Its just a thought.

On general principles a junta seems more likely to behave sensibly than an individual.

What that means is not clear. It probably means less likelihood of starting a nuclear war - a major plus I would say - but I suppose it could have some unpleasant results as well.

"Pardon my Gary Farber, but what does this have to do with Iraq and terrorism?"

You have one, too? Kewl. Can you bring it over to play with mine?

Pardon my Gary Farber, but what does this have to do with Iraq and terrorism?

If it doesn't very well fit the other categories, I default to Iraq and Terrorism.

If it doesn't very well fit the other categories, I default to Iraq and Terrorism.

Some days I can't tell if it's a joke or a Freudian slip. I suspect the former, but I'm too distracted by the thought of praktike's Gary Farber playing with Gary Farber's Gary Farber to pursue that line of thought any further.

Ah. I default to 'Current Affairs'...

I'm *shudder* with the pro-Junta group. (Aside to self: God, I'm glad I wasn't born in North Korea!) Okay, back to steely-eyed realism, or rather, abstract and futile speculating on the future of North Korea. I'd say that individuals playing off each other would be less likely to risk a total committment to the insanity of using nukes. Even a crazy paranoid junta would, I think, be subject to the a-mule-is-a-horse-designed-by-a-committee rule: decision-making adverse, more prone to half-measures, back-stabbing...

Well, Jackmormon, while you have a point about the inherent problems of junta-vs-despot governments in totalitarian systems, I think the crux of your whole comments can be summed up (as can the whole major issue of North Korea) in the formulation "less likely to risk a total committment to the insanity of using nukes". As Jonas points out in his post at 4:48, any North Korean government that can be induced to eliminate or place under control its nuclear program(s) will be a vast improvement over the current regime, whatever other flaws they may exhibit.
I am not so sure, though, that a DRK junta of "individuals playing off each other" would necessarily provide the stability (or ability) to significantly curtail the country's atomic "option" - not given, IMO, the way the NK "System" has been set up.

If one wishes to think about the post-Kim Jong Il, but non-collapse, scenario, there may be worse ideas than considering the post-Stalin and post-Mao scenarios, as well as the post-Kruschev, for lessons learned.

It's certainly true that group leadership, in a Politburo of split power, can, historically, be manuevered into a dictorial regime -- see, of course, the post-Lenin period and observe Stalin's success -- but on the whole, group leadership is clearly historically more stable.

Yes, Gary, but is it not true that in the USSR, after the death/fall of Stalin/Khruschev (as well as post-Mao China) the reins of power, originally in the hands of a small group, eventually passed to a single person (most obvious in the case of the Soviets)?
Totalitarian systems tend, it seems, to lend themselves to Great Leader models (Duce, Fuhrer, Great Helmsman, etc.) and it seems hard for top-down autocratic regimes to change, structurally, without a LOT of trouble.
Not that this is Good Thing, mind you, since, in the case of North Korea it would merely mean the eventual emergence of a new Dear Leader to replace the Kims: "Group leadership is clearly historically more stable" might be a truism, or it might not: IMO, it all depends on the group.

Jay C,
I'm having a hard time understanding you, as you use a lot of acronyms and short-hand and assume that I understand your leaps. I'm sorry if I seem pedantic, but I really am having difficulty following your argument.

Well, this is a lot closer to home for me. Please do me the favor of not assuming that any links I offer or any points I raise can be taken as support for the NK regime.

The article is interesting, but I think you are seizing on the wrong points. Kim generally goes into seclusion around the winter (his birthday is mid Feb, but even that is probably done for myth making purposes) and often does not appear at celebrations for his birthday. I think this is related to notions that 'the leader is the state' (think Fraser's _Golden Bough_) and others have noted that that Kim often goes into seclusion in order to draw out potential opponents.

Also, your reading of the Times article has the assumption that Kim is the master puppeteer. The key quote is

Some of those interviewed believe the “Dear Leader”, Kim Jong-il, has already lost his personal authority to a clique of generals and party cadres. Without any public announcement, governments "

This should be taken that Kim has fallen out of favor, not that he is going to be toppled.

It should also be noted that one reading of recent events is that Kim tried to undercut hardliners by admitting that NK abducted Japanese. Further speculation (based on careful piecing together of testimony of returned abductees as well as Charles Jenkins (which is probably why he got off with a slap on the wrist) suggests that competing spy agencies have abducted Japanese, setting out a much more complex situation. This article gives a dated, but more detailed picture. Makes the Soviet example seem simple.

There has been some reporting of increased dissent in Japanese news, but it is important to note what kind of dissent. At first glance, these have been videotapes simply of defaced portraits. However, the portraits defaced show Kim in uniform, portraits that are reserved for the higher ranking.

Also, one should reflect on why the North Korean people are so paranoid. This Japan focus article by Cumings, while not my viewpoint, presents some food for thought, while this one discusses conflicts between NK moderates and hardliners. To make it a trio, this one discusses whether or not NK has a nuclear threat.

The fact is not that we are going from one man rule to a junta, we are simply seeing the process of political manuvering by the generals. Anyone cheering about the march of freedom would be better to stick to Iraq

"Stalin/Khruschev (as well as post-Mao China) the reins of power, originally in the hands of a small group, eventually passed to a single person (most obvious in the case of the Soviets)?"

However, after Stalin, Krushchev never achieved anything resembling dictorial power, but was merely first among equals, and the public face of the USSR for a brief period, after which he was removed from power by the Politburo for various errors and failures (it was, of course, a huge evolution in the Soviet system when the group took control after Stalin, not a single person, and having experienced the horrors of Stalin more closely than anyone else, they knew the dangers and made sure Krushchev was in no position to be come another Stalin. Ditto with all his successors; what personality cult there was about Krushchev or Brezhnev was pretty minimal; by the time, say, Andropov, was in power, the time was long past where dictorial power could be seized in the Soviet system.

And post-Mao, for all that Deng eventually created something of a personality cult, it was never remotely on the order of Mao's, and he never achieved the sort of single-handed rule of Mao. It also helps that he was entirely sane. Despite any appearances at a distance, he was never in a position to become a new Mao, and he also didn't seem to desire to be; his usage of some personality cult trapping seem more to be simply for their tactical usage than anything else. And the power of the individual leader in China has only grown weaker and more collegial ever since, not the reverse.

I'm not saying this was absolutely inevitable in either, or any, case; I pointed out that group leadership can be maneuvered by a properly ruthless and situated leader in the leadership; I'm simply observing that the tendency has been for group leadership to be more stable. That's all. Tendency.

Jackmormon:
Sorry for the overuse of acronyms, if any: like many a blog-commenter I am sure, I try to make it easier on myself by using a number of standard contractions for some simple standard phrases like:

IMO - In My Opinion
IMHO - In My (Humble/Honest) Opinion
IMNSHO - In My Not So H**** Opinion
AFAICT - As Far As I Can Tell
AFAIK - As Far As I Know
IANAL - I Am Not A Lawyer
BTW - By The Way
WRT - With Regard To

Etc. (Although I am still unsure of "YMMV")

Also: DRK (properly DPRK) stands for "Democratic (Peoples) Republic of Korea", i.e. North Korea: as opposed to ROK for "Republic of Korea" [South Korea]

Sorry if my comments weren't clear.

Your Mileage May Vary.

Also, ROTFLMAO = Rolling on the floor laughing at Mao.

sidereal:

Tx, LOL!

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