Korea: Suicide Isn't Painless, It Does Bring On Many Changes

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December 10, 2010:  Most South Koreans expect the north to make another attack, and to keep at it until the south resumes food and fuel shipments. The north is starving and cold because of growing shortages. Northern propaganda has created a myth based on the idea that mighty, virtuous North Korea is surrounded by powerful enemies, and does what it must to survive. While three generations have been subjected to this brainwashing, most North Koreans simply don't care anymore. Most of the population is mainly concerned with their next meal and avoiding frostbite. Because of the slow infiltration of cell phones across the Chinese border in the last decade, most North Koreans now know that they do not live in a "worker's paradise" and that things in South Korea are nothing like what they have been told. But North Korea is still a communist police state, and one thing that the communists were very good at was turning entire nations into prison camps. The North Korean security forces are weakening, because of corruption and knowledge of the outside world. But the secret police also know they could be accused of crimes if the dictatorship collapses. Many know of what happened to some of their counterparts in East Europe after communist rule collapsed in 1989. So the security forces can be depended on, after a fashion. The corruption, despite several recent crackdowns, is getting worse. The military is another matter. The latest generation of conscripts are smaller in number and stature. These are the kids born during the great famines of the 1990s, when about ten percent of the population starved to death.  The birth rate plunged, as did faith in the system. The generals commanding the armed forces today were well fed in 1990s, and remain so today. But they command lots of troops who remember what it's like to see family or neighbors waste away from privation.  Whatever happens, that much smaller generation born in the 1990s means growing labor shortages in the coming decades as those born in the 1990s are entering their prime working years.

Trying to assure the loyalty of the armed forces is one reason for the increased aggressiveness of North Korea. If the troops can't be fed much food (even the military is on short rations now), you can provide them with little victories. South Koreans know the drill, and now refuses to give in. What the north is basically saying with this violence is, "give us food and fuel or we'll keep it up." But the mood has changed in the south. If not exactly defiant and spoiling for a fight, the south now refuses to be extorted by the bullies up north. Southern leaders have openly pledged to strike back if the north attacks again. This could get interesting, because the north feels compelled to get free food anyway it can, and disarmament (especially of its nukes) is out-of-the-question. So another barrage of shells or rockets along the DMZ, or a submarine attack on American warships, another commando attack in the north, perhaps even kidnapping people, or a Kamikaze air attack, are all possibilities South Korea and its allies have to cope with. While southern retaliation is more certain next time, escalation to a full blown war is less likely. As damaging as this is to the south, it is suicide for the north (at least for the small ruling class and their minions). The north wants to keep the pot boiling, not knock it over.

China announced that its senior diplomat had visited North Korea and met with Kim Jong Il to discuss the situation. The announcement only said the two nations had reached a "consensus" on the situation. The Chinese rep was sent to tell the northerners to cool down. The north apparently told the Chinese to send a lot more food and fuel (which the Chinese won't do) or butt out. The Wikileaks messages have revealed that Chinese diplomats are not happy with North Korean behavior, but are unable to coerce the northerners to calm down or enact much needed economic reforms. The secret diplomatic messages also revealed that China no longer considers North Korea necessary as a buffer state between it and capitalist South Korea. For its part, South Korea had pledged China that, once Korea is reunified, American troops, if any remain, will never be allowed to have bases north of where they are now (just south of the DMZ, which is scheduled to become a nature preserve after reunification.)

The U.S. and Japan have publically pledged to get involved in operations against North Korea. This means the military staffs are hustling to update joint plans, and telling their troops in the area that things are likely to get a little more exciting in the next few months. The North Korean leadership is desperate and delusional, which is a bad combination.  Despite that, South Korea, Japan and the United States will go forward with scheduled training exercises. Intimidation is no longer a useful weapon for the north.

In the north, security around the royal family (Kim Jong Il and his proclaimed heir, Kim Jong Un) has greatly increased since the attack on Yeonpyeong Island. It's believed this is as likely to protect the Kims from angry northerners, as from vengeful southerners. The security forces up north are being encouraged to be even more vigilant, and, well, look busy. This means the secret police will start arresting people just to make their bosses happy, or less nervous. While things are tense in the south, in the north there is fear, hunger and a chill (both physical and psychological) upon the land.

December 9, 2010: South Korea announced it would send gas masks to civilians living on the five islands off the west coast that are within range of North Korean artillery. The north is known to have chemical weapons, and artillery shells filled with nerve gas and other nasty stuff.

December 8, 2010: An Iranian diplomat, who defected (while stationed in Norway) earlier this year, described how, when  (2002-7) he was in charge of Foreign Ministry operations at airports, he witnessed frequent visits by North Korean technical experts, on both nuclear and ballistic missile matters.

December 4, 2010: Most of the 1,300 civilian residents of Yeonpyeong Island will not return until there is peace with the north. South Korea is increasing the size of the garrison on Yeonpyeong (currently about 1,200 troops, mostly marines) and the other four islands nearby. The government is encouraging the civilians to return as well, but that appeal is not working.

 

 

 

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