Korea: Something Is About To Happen


July 23, 2007: Starvation deaths in North Korea have returned to 1990s levels. That means over a thousand people a week dying from lack of food. Over a million people died during the 1990s food shortages. This time around, the shortages are caused by government refusal to allow in food that must have its distribution monitored (making it difficult for the government to divert the food to the army or private sale). The government also took its time with the current round of nuclear disarmament talks, delaying shipments of food from South Korea. These have just arrived and are being distributed.

Meanwhile, North Korea is full of rumors that leader Kim Jong Il is very sick, and has just had surgery. Kim Jong Il has not been seen much for months, but that is not unusual. But rumors about his health have been circulating, on and off, for over a year.

North Korean negotiators, as is their custom, are now demanding more. They want light water nuclear electric power reactors, and assurances from the U.S. that there will be no attack on North Korea. South Korea is so confident that North Korea is no longer a military threat (because of the economic crises up there) that they are speeding up the downsizing of the South Korean army.

North Korean tactics have not changed much over the last half century. There is lots of drama, lots of delays, and maximum effort to extort as much as they can in the negotiations. Then the cycle is repeated, endlessly. What has changed is the lack of predictable subsidies from Russia and China. Until the Cold War ended, these subsidies kept North Korea comfortably afloat. But in the early 1990s, those subsidies ended, and starvation and economic collapse ensued. Now the economy has been loosened up, and some people are making money. But many North Koreans are starving, and the government fears collapse, or a revolution. No one in the North Korean government can decide what to do. The North Koreans are trying everything, and not settling on any one strategy. The hard liners still have a police state operating, while the reformers have South Korean firms coming in and opening factories, and there are now free markets, with uncontrolled prices, throughout the country. Corruption is way up, and discipline is falling. Something is about to happen, but no one is quite sure what.

July 15, 2007: North Korea has shut down its nuclear research reactor and allowed UN inspectors to visit and confirm that.


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