Be Careful What You Wish For

Glenn Reynolds links approvingly to this report on North Korea:

Intelligence sources and other observers both here in the capital of the PRC and elsewhere in Asia are stating that they project a possible collapse of the North Korean regime within six months time.

Although there have been similar dire predictions made in the past, those analyzing the current situation point to several factors that indicate that the regime may finally be unraveling.


The Weekly Standard claims that Kim Jong-Il Is hiding setting aside gobs of cash money for his exile retirement. If the regime collapses in a hurry–a Romanian-style coup, Kim will be lucky to escape the country with his life. It all sounds too good to be true–and it is.

Here’s what I had to say about this exact same issue four 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 1990, when they absorbed 17 million relatively rich and well-fed East Germans]. In addition, their {South Korean] 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.


I don’t know if I buy this six month timeframe idea–Pyongyang has looked like a dead regime walking since Old Man Kim got himself entombed back in ’94. But no matter how you slice it, the liberation of 22 million people would be a wonderful thing. The disappearance of a hereditary communist gangster state wouldn’t exactly suck, either. But the aftermath is going to be bloody and messy–and might require the involvement of Beijing to a degree not seen in Korea since 1951, when the PLA crossed the Yalu River en masse.

Sleep tight!

A few other things to think about.

Can China afford to watch after a few million refugees? I think the answer is yes, but don’t expect the Chinese to be very hospitable, much less lavish.

The US Army in South Korea is now based away from the DMZ, much further south than it once was. That’s good news–you don’t want American troops maybe having to enforce possible (unlikely, but possible) South Korean orders to shoot at North Koreans fleeing towards Seoul. The bad news is, somebody has got to secure North Korea’s WMDs, and it’s likely to be a race between the US Army and the PLA. And I wonder if we have any idea where to look.

Also, we’ll be hamstrung by refugees in ways the Chinese won’t allow themselves to become.

North Koreans are, thanks to 50-plus years of especially-inept communism, shorter, dumber, less educated and more paranoid than their southern brethren. Northerners and Southerners are, in effect, no longer one people. Who’s to say Seoul will want to reunify any time soon? In that case, what becomes of North Korea, and who is going to run the place? Would it become a UN, US, or Chinese protectorate? A new dictatorship to replace the old one? Anarchy?


I’m just thinking out loud here, on the logistics of a rapid and thorough North Korean collapse–and my head is spinning. I hope Washington and the Pentagon have given all these questions a lot more thought than I have.


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