That might seem a little extreme. Given the local geopolitical and humanitarian realities, it also might be the most desirable. At least until a “4+2” type of conference can settle on the terms of Korean reunification.
But honestly, trying to predict anything about North Korea is a fool’s game. Kim Jong-un might just hold the place together. Or the generals and party bosses might decide to get out while the getting is good. If there’s anything left in the Treasury (including counterfeit U.S. hundred-dollar bills), then maybe we’ll see all-new buyers of Riviera condos in the not-too-distant future. But that kind of looting has to be done judiciously, or you risk general societal collapse before you make it to the exits. The current Egyptian junta is showing just the way to do it. Careful notes are being taken in Pyongyang, I’m sure.
But my gut tells me that North Korea will collapse, because it has been collapsing, slowly, under Kim Jong-il. I just don’t see how a 28-year-old with apparently little experience is going to accomplish anything better than his old man. Most likely, the rot will accelerate.
And it won’t be pretty. As I wrote more than eight years ago:
South Korea has fewer than 50 million people, and while they’ve made great strides, their per capita income is still only up to that of modern Poland. They aren’t poor, but they aren’t nearly as rich as West Germany was. In addition, their economy isn’t as mature or robust, as the Asian Financial Crisis of a couple years back showed.
Up north are 22 million of their starving brethren. Before the Communist dictatorship, they lived a brutal existence as virtual slaves of Japan. “Chosen,” as Tokyo called Korea, was annexed by the Japanese Empire 93 years ago. It’s safe to say that there is no one in North Korea with any experience living in a politically modern, free, democratic, or tolerant state. Travel is forbidden. Only a small handful of South Koreans are allowed north. There is only one radio station, and it runs nothing but the foulest sort of propaganda. And according to a story in US News & World Report a few weeks ago, North Korea even has concentration camps bigger than the District of Columbia.
Through no fault of their own, the people of North Korea simply aren’t ready to enter the modern world, and South Korea can’t afford to feed, house, re-educate, and re-civilize them all.
Whether or not there’s a war, when North Korea collapses there’s going to be a humanitarian crisis on a scale the world has never seen — 22 million scared, hungry, and desperate people left without any semblance of anything familiar.
This is why I say, given the other realities on the ground, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army might be the best hope for the people of North Korea.