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North Korea: Axis of Roneriness ready to talk

"Why is North Korea so lame?" you might have pondered to yourself at some point over the past few years. "What is Kim Jong-Il's deal?"

Well, let's explore these questions a little, right here and right now.

First, the Korean War. Following World War II, a Communist Korean peninsula was a strategic aim of Mao's China, as well as Stalin's Soviet Union. A Communist AND united Korea was the goal of Kim Il-Sung, thus through the sheer force of numbers, the Communists overran the entire peninsula, which provoked the United States, along with the United Nations, to respond. The war never really ended conclusively; there still is no peace treaty. Officially, a cease-fire created the demilitarized zone (DMZ) along the 38th parallel. WILLisms.com suggests a book such as The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950-1953 for a more detailed look at the conflict.

North Korean leaders still hold an obsessive grudge about this war from more than 50 years ago, and they have never given up hope on a unified Communist Korea. America's military presence in South Korea, for leaders of North Korea, means they can never see a single, Communist Korea.

Now flash all the way forward to January 29, 2002-


President George W. Bush, delivering the first post-9/11 State of the Union address, declared:

"North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.
States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world."

The President's "axis of evil" comment did a lot of things. It rocked (purposely) the American foreign policy establishment, it irritated Carterites, it allowed Clintonites, already in a patronizing and defensive mood over its failed Agreed Framework policy, to squirm and feign deep concern. It put rogue and hostile regimes on notice. It signalled to the UN and foreign governments that America is not going to allow threats to fester and gurgle and gather. The 2002 State of the Union address articulated the still-emerging Bush doctrine, recently affirmed democratically as American policy on November 2, 2004.

The North Korean regime is in many ways more Stalinist than anything in Stalin's wildest imagination, more Maoist than any Maoist revolutionary ever could have contemplated, more Marxist than Marx could have probably stomached. It is the closest any nation has ever come to the Platonic ideal of Communism. Its "Communist-ness" is unparalled in history.


Lots of reasons. Its mountainous terrain, its history, its ethnic and cultural homogeneity, its relatively small population, its prominent role in the Soviet sphere of influence, its relative geographic isolation- North Korea is now but a bizarre relic of the Cold War. North Korea, much like other Soviet satellites, survived for decades under a nonsensical economic and political system thanks to heavy subsidies from Moscow and a potent propaganda campaign, detailed here and here by WILLisms.com.

When the U.S.S.R. collapsed, so did its system of foreign aid distribution. By the early 1990s, North Korea was on its own, abandoned by its patron, left to fend for itself in the real world.

Shortly thereafter, in 1994, Kim Il-Sung, "Great Leader," passed away, leaving the North Korean fiefdom to his son, Kim Jong-Il, "Dear Leader" (pictured below).

Kim Jong-Il, so ronery. (From the movie Team America: World Police)

The lyrics:

"I'm So Ronery
I'm so ronery
So ronery
So ronery and sadry arone

There's no one
Just me onry
Sitting on my rittle throne
I work very hard and make up great prans
But nobody ristens, no one understands
Seems that no one takes me serirousry

And so I'm ronery
A little ronery
Poor rittre me

There's nobody
I can rerate to
Feer rike a bird in a cage
It's kinda sihry
But not rearry
Because it's fihring my body with rage

I work rearry hard and I'm physicarry fit
But nobody here seems to rearize that
When I rure the world maybe they'rr notice me
But untir then I'rr just be ronery
Rittre ronery, poor rittre me
I'm so ronery
I'm so ronery"

About the same time Dear Leader inherited the North Korean throne, the perfect storm hit North Korea, both literally and figuratively. The weather alternated between flood and drought, and Pyongyang failed to respond to crop losses. At the same time, decades of a stifling central planning, an isolated economy, and the lack of rudimentary investment, all came to roost.

Malnutrition swept North Korea. Millions starved to death, while millions more survived on a couple hundred calories per day of "alternative food," such as ground-up cabbage and pumpkin leaves.

In 1999, the executive director of the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP), Catherine Bertini, said:

"DPRK [North Korea], does not produce enough food, it never will. It is not constructed in a way that it can be self sufficient."

Not only is North Korea incapable of producing enough food for itself, it has almost no foreign trade by which to purchase enough food. Its exports primarily include refugees, ballistic missiles, and illicit narcotics, and its trading partners are few and far between.

Exacerbating the food shortages is North Korea's maintainance of the world's 5th largest active-duty military, with 1.1+ million members (not to mention a 5+ million member reserve force) and enough missiles pointed at Seoul to kill millions of people in a matter of minutes [its lofty military capacity put in context, North Korea has roughly the 50th largest population (a little more than 20 million people) and approximately the 100th largest GDP (a little more than 20 billion dollars a year), in the world].

Thus, North Korea relies on gargantuan levels of foreign aid, at regular intervals, just to prevent widespread starvation. A more cruel and calculating nation than the United States might not have provided the assistance America has over the past decade. In a game of pure realpolitik, severe famine in North Korea could lead to regime destabilzation, a positive development on the geopolitical Risk board; however, the United States is a compassionate nation, genuinely concerned with human suffering.


Let's turn back briefly to the Agreed Framework of 1994. Bush takes a lot of flak from the foreign policy establishment for somehow being responsible for the breakdown of the Agreed Framework.

"Just what made the Agreed Framework so lame, you ask?"

Here are the basic obligations:

"Mutual Obligations -The United States and North Korea committed to move toward normalizing economic and political relations, including by reducing barriers to investment, opening liaison offices, and ultimately exchanging ambassadors.
-Both sides commit not to nuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
North Korean Obligations
-Reactor Freeze and Dismantlement: The framework calls for North Korea to freeze operation of its 5-megawatt reactor and plutonium-reprocessing plant at Yongbyon and construction of a 50-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon and a 200-megawatt plant at Taechon. These facilities are to be dismantled prior to the completion of the second light-water reactor.
-Inspections: North Korea must come into "full compliance" with IAEA safeguards when a "significant portion of the [light-water reactor] project is completed, but before delivery of key nuclear components."
-Spent Fuel: The spent fuel from North Korea's 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon is to be put into containers as soon as possible (a process called "canning") and removed from the country when nuclear components for the first light-water reactor begin to arrive after North Korea has come into full compliance with IAEA safeguards.
-NPT Membership: The Agreed Framework requires that North Korea remain a party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
U.S. Obligations
-Establish and Organize KEDO (The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization): essentially, the U.S. is obligated to play power company for North Korea.
-Implement the Light-Water Reactor Project: The United States is to facilitate the construction of two 1,000-megawatt light-water nuclear power reactors.
-Provide Heavy-Fuel Oil Shipments: KEDO and the U.S. is to provide 500,000 metric tons of heavy-fuel oil annually until the light-water reactor project is completed."

"Wait a minute," you may be saying, "how could the U.S. have agreed to give an axis of evil member half a million metric tons of heavy-fuel oil every year? Why did the U.S. box itself into bilateral relations, which put the paranoid North Korean regime on equal footing with the United States, weakening the American position in the long-run? Why didn't the United States demand more from the North Koreans in terms of joining the civilized community of nations? And, most importantly, what kind of appeasement-minded wuss did America have negotiating for it when it agreed to build them two nuclear plants, albeit light-water reactors?"

If you answered "Jimmy Carter" to that last question, you are absolutely correct. Prior to the death of Kim Il-Sung, in 1994, former President Jimmy Carter inserted himself into the failing negotiations.


Afterward, John McCain and other Republicans on Capitol Hill were vocally frustrated with the conclusions of the talks. "If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck," McCain commented, "it's appeasement. It was bribery."

So, the agreement itself was flawed. Only the lamest president of the 20th century (and even more lame ex-president) could have agreed to that kind of weak-kneed blackmail. Looking back, Jimmy Carter and his Carter Center posse played the Clinton administration like a fiddle.

Near the end of the 2nd term of President Clinton's administration, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright paid a diplomatic visit to North Korea.


In the hours and days after Albright left North Korea, the DPRK propaganda machine cranked out "news" commemorating the 50th anniversary of U.S. "imperialism" and "aggression," using its typical hostile and aggressive language.

Not only was the Agreed Framework itself flawed, but the North Koreans admitted in October of 2002 that all throughout the 1990s, they had been secretly developing uranium enrichment technology for nuclear weapons, in violation of the 1994 negotations.

This is where a 6-party multilateral agreement could have been helpful. China, in particular, could have shaken a little sense into North Korea.

Just for reference, here are the members of the 6-party talks:

1. U.S.- For obvious reasons, there are no talks without the U.S.

2. North Korea- For obvious reasons, there are no talks without North Korea.

3. South Korea- Yearning for reunification, it would probably suffer the worst casualties in a hypothetical war on the peninsula. There is an attitudinal chasm between generations in South Korea, the older citizens respecting the presence of the United States in Seoul, the younger generation blaming the United States for hindering reunification. South Koreans have strong cultural bonds with North Koreans, and they are increasingly hostile toward the American occupation of such prime real estate in Seoul.

4. China- The closest "ally" North Korea has, it is the destination for floods of refugees and the source of a great deal of aid to North Korea. China is an emerging superpower, perhaps viewing itself as a counterweight to American unipolarity, so it would rather resolve the North Korean situation than give the United States pretext for escalated military presence in the region. On the other hand, China would like to watch the United States squirm a little bit while it tries to play catch-up, militarily and economically.

5. Russia- Bordering North Korea, and Pyongyang's former patron, it has an interest in matters of war and peace, particularly nuclear matters. Already-tested North Korean missiles could hit Russian targets, today. Like China, Russia is another power with notions of (again) becoming a superpower. The Bear's pride is wounded, its world power status diminished, but it seeks to regain its dignity through oldschool embarrassment of the United States.

6. Japan- A regional power, former colonial master of Korea, Japan is also well within range of North Korean missiles. Japan will "go nuclear" and otherwise build up its practically non-existent military forces if it believes the U.S. cannot provide appropriate deterrent against the North Korean nuclear threat. Japanese citizens have also been the target of numerous abductions over the years, perpetrated by the North Korean regime.

Recently, North Korea allowed a U.S. Congressional delegation into its country, giving it unprecedented access to sensitive sites. Additionally, Pyongyang agreed to initiate Six-Party talks, according to KCNA, North Korea's official news site.

One disadvantage of a free society in dealing with a dictatorial regime is that time is usually on the dictator's side. The dictator can usually just wait for elections in America before negotiating. Kim Jong-Il, through 2004, believed President Bush might be replaced by Senator Kerry, and accordingly, a strong foreign policy stance toward North Korea replaced with a weaker one. The Financial Times even reported that North Korea, short of endorsing John Kerry, gave the Democrats' presidential nominee a warm reception in its state-run media. From the March 4, 2004 Financial Times:

"North Korea's state-controlled media are well known for reverential reporting about Kim Jong-il, the country's dictatorial leader.

But the Dear Leader is not the only one getting deferential treatment from the communist state's propaganda machine: John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic candidate, is also getting good play in Pyongyang.

In the past few weeks, speeches by the Massachusetts senator have been broadcast on Radio Pyongyang and reported in glowing terms by the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA), the official mouthpiece of Mr Kim's communist regime."

During the September 30, 2004 Presidential Debate, the topic of North Korea came up, with John Kerry supporting bilateral talks similar to the negotiations held during the Clinton administration, and President Bush supporting multilateral talks.

With the election now decided, and President Bush's foreign policy affirmed by more than 62 million voters, a record number for an American election, North Korea has signalled it may be ready to return to the table, under Bush's 6-party terms.

Representative Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, said talks could resume in "weeks, not months or years."

White House spokesman Scott McClelland told the press corps, "We remain hopeful that North Korea will come back to the six-party talks very soon."

"It's important that we move forward on the multilateral approach that this administration is pursuing," McClellan said. "All countries in that region have made it very clear they want a nuclear-free peninsula and they're sending the same message to North Korea."

It appears as if North Korea has determined that it is in its best interest to get back to the negotiating table. Maybe the North is just ronrey and wants someone to talk to?

While the United States should be skeptical of promises made by North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs, the signs are promising for some kind of temporary resolution. The only permanent resolution, afterall, would be the emergence of a free and democratic society in North Korea.

WILLisms.com will have more on North Korea in the weeks ahead, but we expect to focus more on other issues in the immediate future.

Posted by Will Franklin · 21 January 2005 04:14 PM


i hate all koreans... even though i am one...jon choi loves sun mi li

Posted by: mj at May 25, 2005 08:49 PM