Libya and Korea: fatal cohesion of events (II)

15:00 27.04.2011 • Oleg Revenko , Political analyst ; Alexander Vorontsov , Head Korea DepartmentInstitute for Oriental studies of the Russian Academy of Science



Creeping of instability and political revolts in the Arab East has given birth to expectations that the democratic wave will soon reach North Korea as well. Indeed: if there is no chance to change the political regime in North Korea by using military force so why not to choose less risky and not so expensive way do it – for example by providing “assistance” to the North Korean people who are yearning for democracy?  

This orientation prevails among the conservative part of the political establishment of South Korea. The administration of the president Lee Myung-bak, who came to power in February 2008, abandoned the earlier policy of the official Seoul aimed at convergence and reconciliation with North Korea and chose for extremely tough approach in relations between two Koreas, believes that the current regime in Pyongyang is falling into decay and soon will collapse either under pressure of domestic problems or thanks to the influence from abroad.     

 The key task in relations with North Korea has reduced to speeding up of the process of decay in the North; Seoul dreamers believe that North Korea is a “ripe fruit”, which will soon fall to South Korea’s feet.   

The initial strategic position of the current South Korean administration – definitively and quickly (ideally – within the term of Lee Myung-bak’s presidency) to “finish off” North Korea and to unite two Koreas on terms set by Seoul – in other words to “absorb” the North.  

 Numerous documents, including the materials of WikiLeaks website, show how obstinately high-ranking South Korean diplomats are trying to persuade their US colleagues that the North Korean regime is now very unstable, the health of Kim Jong Il is very poor (much poorer than in reality) and hungry and discontent people will meet the American troops, which pass 38th parallel, as liberators. They also say that on certain terms it is possible to make China, which is the first ally and sponsor of Pyongyang, be tolerant to such development of the events[1]. All what is needed is one but decisive step and the cherished dream of the change of regime in the North will come true.       

The authors of such forecasts strongly believe in the conclusion and the recommendation they made and it does not embarrass them in the slightest that their views of the situation in North Korea and relations with China are not taken seriously by most of the experts both in South Korea and abroad.    

Within the strategy chosen by South Korea’s administration Seoul prefers to work on principle – the worse for North Korea and its population the better.

In particular, the efforts are being made to aggravate the international isolation of Pyongyang, to close access to international financial resources, humanitarian aid, to limit opportunities for foreign trade, to create the atmosphere of distrust and confrontation around North Korea.

At the same time the accent is being made on intensive propaganda activities against North Korea through radio programs and sending aerostats with leaflets containing information about the events in Egypt, Libya and Syria, appeals to people’s revolution and the overthrowing of the existing regime (to make these pamphlets more attractive they attach small money, portable radio-sets and even food products to them - for example, ramen noodles). From the territory of boarding regions of China, where many ethnic Koreans live, numerous missioners of different religious organizations, representatives of NGOs and intelligence agencies of South Korea are intensively working on defamation of the North Korean authorities and promotion of “liberal and market economy values” to the North . 

Reportedly, the South Korean government is already developing a program of measures, which should be taken in case of the collapse of North Korea. This plan is aimed at the unification of Koreas according to the “absorption” scenario, and in particular it implies the recruiting and training of the officials who can occupy the leading posts in North Korea after its reintegration with South Korea.

It is known that since the end of the Korean War South Korea has had a secret but official department, which serves as a kind of shadow government of North Korea.  Within this department the groups of experts on North Korea were formed – at H- hour they should form the core of the central government and local governments of North Korea. 

Now the task is in addition to these groups to form the teams of experts from the ranks of North Korean border-crossers, who could head the local administrative bodies in North provinces and to ensure efficient economic management on the level of the governmental bodies and private corporations.

These few examples are already enough to see the scale of field operations. The funds Seoul used to allocate on joint economic projects with Pyongyang and providing humanitarian assistance to the North now have been redirected to undermining activities against North Korean regime. What are the results of this work?  They are not visible yet: the situation in North Korea, despite serious social and economic problems, remains seemingly stable, and there have been no noticeable signs of “unrest” or open expression of discontent with the policy of the government.

Of course, this can be explained by the closed character and the information isolation of the North Korean society, as well as by smooth operation of repression machine, which enables the government to successfully withstand the influence from outside.  In Pyongyang propaganda mass media keep on warning the population: “when there are many hazardous insects around it is time to put anti mosquito nets on windows and doors”. Whatever it be the fact is that unlike the Arab East North Korea does not have any real opposition, which could have been trained in advance and brought to power as a legitimate government supported by the most of the population. 

It would be useful to consider this aspect in detail.  The matter is that the North Korean elite despite all internal contradictions and backstage fight for privileges and power turns to be quite consolidated when it comes to the interaction with the external world. The explanation is easy – practically all representatives of the ruling elite have many “sins” and “black spots”, which cast shadow on their reputation in the West. That is why they do not have any illusions about their “prospects” in case of the change of the regime or “democratic coup”.


Besides that, Pyongyang leaders are well informed that in Egypt new rulers are settling accounts with the representatives of the old regime.  They remember not only the fates of S. Miloshevic and S. Hussein, but also what happened to South Korean presidents generals who did a lot for “the hey day of the Miracle on the Han River” - Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo, who were sentenced by the first democratic president Kim Yong-nam to death and 20 years in prison respectively (only Washington’s interference saved the two disgraced president). Knowing the peculiarities of the Korean national character and applying such situations to themselves they strongly believe that if the North is defeated and South Koreans come to power, there will be “no quarter” for them. Summing it all up: no matter what the attitude of the representatives of the North Korean elite towards each other and the government is  – living under the current regime, under the rules of the Kim clan is much better than to find themselves in prison in the new “democratic Korea”.

As for the common people in North Korea there is nothing reminiscent of the opposition: democrats – traditionalists. An average North Korean citizen usually does not have an idea of the “changes” and “reforms” he should fight for. He is likely to welcome any strong power even if it is slightly oppressive, but which is able to pay attention to him – to improve his financial situation, remove such threats as starvation, cold and diseases.

Besides that, people in the North still remember the horrors of the Korean war and many of them see potential South Korean liberators as former landlords, who want to return their lands and turn local people into farm servants.

Here is an interesting fact showing the low level of political culture of North Korean people: of all the information accessible via the South Korean TV channels the most popular programs among North Koreans are not the news or the stories about “luxury life” in South Korea but so called “dramas”, South Korean variant of soap operas.  

Of course, trying to prove full invincibility of the North Korean system in front of the growing domestic and external challenges would be unadvised.  The national economy desperately needs fuel, energy, food and goods of first priority, which the country cannot produce. Seoul and Washington will continue to make pressure on North Korea and economic and political collapse cannot be fully ruled out.

Nobody really knows what the final will be and what political forces will emerge in North Korea. Nevertheless, South Korans who are now trying to “rock the boat” hoping that they will manage to get control over the North and the united Korea will be ruled from Seoul, should be careful of possible consequences of their activities. A hypothetic collapse of the central power in North Korea may result not in democratic reforms but in growing chaos, a civil war with high risk of humanitarian catastrophe and mass “exodus” of refugees to the neighboring counties. This will definitely lead to complete misbalance of the situation in the region, aggravation of tension not only on the Korean peninsula but between the countries, which border two Koreas.

[1] The Guardian, November 29, 2010 reporting on WikiLeaks Cables.



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