Korea: Not If, But When

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October 10, 2005: Negotiations over North Koreas nuclear weapons programs are, once more, stalled. The north refuses to allow inspections, or disarm before it gets a nuclear power reactor (which would take several years to build) from South Korea and the United States. Meanwhile, signs of rot in the North Korean police state continue to appear. These include more crime, especially burglary and robbery. There's more corruption, with even some secret police (the core force in keeping the communists in power) taking bribes. Discipline continues to decline in the army, as does readiness (because of little training with heavy equipment, and lack of spare parts for maintenance.) It's looking more and more like Eastern Europe two decades ago. It's not a question of if the north will collapse, but when.

October 8, 2005: In the north, the government is trying to re-establish the food rationing system it had to abandon in 2002. The rationing system began to fall apart in the 1990s, as the agricultural sector of the economy collapsed, and the north had to rely on foreign aid to feed nearly half  the population. The foreign aid groups refused to just turn the food over to the North Korean government, because of earlier diversion of such food from the needy to the military and export (to earn money for weapons programs). The new rationing system will give the government more political control in the event of unrest, and is made possible by a good crop this year. If there are problems in a city or rural area, the government can cut off food and send in more police. Sending in troops may not work, as these are largely conscripts, and not enthusiastic about attacking civilians. Food may turn out to be a decisive weapon up north, where a free market (since 2002) has driven up prices so that only a minority (entrepreneurs and senior government employees) can afford to buy it, and everyone else must scrounge, or get a handout from the government. 

October 6, 2005: North Korea has allowed the resumption of visits by South Korean tourists. Nine such visits were allowed in late 2003, then suspended.  Some 150 were admitted today, on strictly controlled visits to sites in the north. While North Korea needs the money the southerners pay for these overpriced trips, the northerners are wary of too many North Koreans finding out about the outside world, particularly South Korea (which has long been portrayed as a poverty stricken American puppet.) The North Koreans are resigned to the fact that most northerners know, or suspect, the truth. So the North Korean government is just going for the cash. There are signs of this "information pollution" in the north. There is more crime, including a lot more black market activity. Despite the fact that the secret police are still very much in control, there's an "every man for himself" attitude among government employees, even while everyone continues to be careful what they say, and looking over their shoulders.

 


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