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Rebranding North Korea

I draw the attention of Samizdata readers to this posting. This is because, although I am not a bit sure, I think that I am in favour of attention being paid to it. The posting is entitled “Snask rebrands North Korea as Love Korea with heart-focused identity”. “Snask” is not now being paid by North Korea to rebrand North Korea. They just did it, to draw attention to themselves.

Here is one of the images that Snask has provided:

Also little-red-pig focused, it would seem. (I like how the blue background does weird things when put in front of Samizdata blue.)

Why do I favour such attention? In no particular order, here are some reasons.

Hell-holes like North Korea persist partly because the rest of the world feels that there’s not a damn thing they can do to put a stop to them, so they just give up and ignore them, year after year, decade after decade. This at least stirs up some interest in North Korea, and in a new and hence news-worthy way.

This little scheme, if it is publicised enough, just might mess with the minds of the rulers of North Korea. Like me, they just might be confused about what exactly it means. But unlike me, they might be liable to brood, and to wonder how they can use it to their advantage, but whether instead, if they attempted this, it might blow up in their faces. In general, this strikes me as a way to poke this nasty little hell-hole with a stick. Well, a twig. North Korea really does, for me, I think (but am not sure), fall into the category of “something should be done this is something so this should be done”. I think. I can’t see this triggering a nuclear war. In fact I can’t see it doing much harm at all. Mostly what it will do is get people laughing, at the very incongruity of such a rebrand, and at the Little Red Pig who is in charge of the place being rebranded. And ridicule of such people is surely good. Especially when combined with more serious pressures of the sort that President Trump is now trying to apply.

When tyrannical hell-holes start deluding themselves that they can use what is known as “soft power” – softly, so to speak – that sometimes heralds their demise. Remember “glasnost”. That began as an exercise in old-school Soviet bullshit, to the effect that Soviet Communism was capable of becoming a lot nicer that it ever really could. Which encouraged the thought that the real way to make Soviet Communism a lot nicer would be to shut it down, there being no other way. It’s a long shot, but some similar delusion might be encourageable in the head of the Little Red Pig and his minions. (By the way, I also think that Trump tweeting about how he respects, or whatever was the wording, the Little Red Pig, could have a similar effect, accompanied as such thoughts have been by those serous pressures.)

But, like I say, I am not a bit sure about this. I am merely thinking aloud. Thinking aloud from others would be very welcome.

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32 comments to Rebranding North Korea

  • dmurray

    Think about the refugee crisis when the DPRK falls. East Germany was a challenge but was nowhere near the basket case North Korea is now. How will generations of starved hermits be healed?

    They are in my prayers.

  • Laird

    OK, I’ll dive in here.

    If this were truly a marketing gimmick for Snask, offered more-or-less tongue in cheek as a means of demonstrating to the world (and, more importantly, to its prospective clients) what a remarkable job it can do with even a shit brand such as North Korea, I would be inclined to say “good for you; nice job”. But these idiots actually seem to actually believe their own puffery. “To us dividing the world into north and south, particularly countries, creates boundaries, conflicts and hatred instead of love or a common feeling of belonging to each other.” Really? Are you truly that credulous? “Some people think we actually made this rebrand in the belief it would change North Korea, but we wanted to see if we could show change through design and branding.” I don’t even know what that means.

    These guys might have some technical competence, but given the level of intelligence on display here I wouldn’t go near them were I in need of “rebranding”. The only thing which would make me reconsider that if this were a precursor to changing their name to “Snark“.

    But I do like the idea of those heart-shaped buttons for the military uniforms. That should go over well!

  • Bob H

    That’ll work.

    After all, changing the historically established description of Islam into, “The religion of peace”, has finally succeeded in changing its murderous mindset.
    Its good to see that all the slaughter stopped once the world leaders had agreed on the new description!

    Seriously though, it might be amusing to see what happens with NK’s new raison d’etre, granted freely by Snask.

  • chk

    Laird is spot on. Or, with a slightly different expression: These people are Swedish.

  • bobby b

    Pol Pot was profoundly misunderstood, and would have garnered so much more love had he simply gone along with Snask’s proposed distribution of those cute and colorful “Uncle Saloth Hand Puppets” and the line of greeting cards with a picture of him holding a kitten along with one of his lovable pithy sayings.

    (I can’t see their goal.

    – If they want to shame NK into rejoining the community of humans, this isn’t going to do it – if Kim is unaffected by watching parents cry as their kids are butchered for his entertainment, cute little hearts woven into a flag aren’t going to change his outlook.

    – If they want to make NK more acceptable to the rest of the world so as to foster a rapprochement of sorts, this is offensive – Kim is a sociopath mass murderer who deserves only assassination.

    – If they want to get the “Snask” brand out there in conversation, well, they have, but with a connotation that they might not want to develop.)

  • bobby b

    But I do like the idea of those heart-shaped buttons for the military uniforms.

    As aiming points, sure.

    (These are the same sort of people who “fight” for kidnapped Nigerian girls through Twitter hashtags. Worse than useless.)

  • NickM

    Chess is as elaborate a waste of human intelligence as you can find outside an advertising agency.

    – Raymond Chander

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Hell-holes like North Korea persist partly because the rest of the world feels that there’s not a damn thing they can do to put a stop to them, so they just give up and ignore them, year after year, decade after decade. This at least stirs up some interest in North Korea, and in a new and hence news-worthy way.

    No. North Korea’s ruling regime could be attacked, defeated, and removed from power by many different countries, such as America, China, and Russia.

    The world is complex.

    The primary reason why North Korea has been a hell-hole for a long time and continues to be a hell-hole is because it is in the interests of America for North Korea to be a hell-hole.

    If North Korea were not a hell-hole, North Korea may not seem to South Korea/Japan to pose a threat, perhaps, maybe the ruler of North Korea would not even seem to be so insane/paranoid/hostile (depending, of course, on the precise nature of North Korea’s non-hell-hole status). In any case, by ensuring that North Korea is a hell-hole and is virtually 100% isolated from the international community, divorced from the global economy except for life support courtesy of China, and run by what appears to most people to be a hostile, insane, unpredictable authoritarian madman, America not only has a legitimate excuse to station huge military forces on China’s doorstep, but South Korea and Japan WANT the USA to do so.

    North Korea’s hell-hole status ensures that South Korea and Japan are in the American (as opposed to Chinese or Russian) sphere of influence for the foreseeable future, which substantially augments American diplomatic power, improves American commercial ties to Asian markets, and provides the US government with greater power over Japan and South Korea. Also, having an excuse to station American military forces so far from American shores in defense of allies gives America influence over some of the most valuable shipping lanes in the world, which enhances America’s power over global trade and business in general. Plus it lets America keep China in check.

    North Korea’s hell-hole status is quite valuable to the global diplomatic and commercial power the United States wields. America could liberate North Koreans from their masters in a day or two; it is not in American interests to do so.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Rubbish, Shlomo!
    The Chinese keep Kim in power! They supported the North Koreans in the North’s attempt to ‘unify’ all of Korea, or have you forgotten that?
    The still prefer Kim to a united Korea on their doorstep. And they like having North Korea around as a reminder of how bad things were under Mao. North Korea is a hellhole because the leaders of the North like having it that way- if the northerners had some leisure time, they might start asking questions and wanting to participate in their own government.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    Unless you were using Sarcasm, a difficult language for me.

  • Mr Ed

    The primary reason why North Korea has been a hell-hole for a long time and continues to be a hell-hole is because it is in the interests of America for North Korea to be a hell-hole.

    But then surely it would be in America’s interest for, say, the Irish Republic to be a Communist hellhole, threatening Northern Ireland and Great Britain with nukes, and so on?

    Or is this an epic example of someone swallowing Rothbard and his infantile disorders whole and undigested, and desperately needing a laxative?

  • Shlomo Maistre

    But then surely it would be in America’s interest for, say, the Irish Republic to be a Communist hellhole, threatening Northern Ireland and Great Britain with nukes, and so on?

    1+1=2 in East Asia and in Western Europe.

    Math is not international diplomacy.

    Nations use many strategies to expand their powers. What is effective for America to use in East Asia may not prove quite so expedient or efficient in Western Europe. There are many reasons for this – some are obvious and some are complex. Your question illustrates to me that not even the obvious reasons occurred to you.

    Math and libertarianism are for those who can only understand general, universal truths. International affairs is for those who can also understand particular, relative truths.

    You should stick to math and libertarianism.

  • The last Toryboy

    Reminds me of Iron Sky. ” We are the embodiment of love and bravery!”.

  • Mr Ed

    Shlomo,

    Your interpretation of events does seem rather overly complex. The US was in fact disarming after WW2 and it was caught on the hop in Korea, not once but twice. Surely if you are right, the US would have preferred a unified pro-Western Korea and the Kuomintang to have prevailed in China, as counter-weights to the USSR, rather than having to re-introduce its troops to Korea after the North invaded the South? Or do the facts get in the way too much for you?

    And BTW, I don’t do ‘math’ and I don’t think that I do libertarianism either.

  • bob sykes

    Implicit in this post is a commitment to R2P. You might want to recall that that is what created the messes in Ukraine, the Middle East and North and East Africa. Some things, as bad as they are, should be left alone.

  • rfichoke

    Shlomo is correct that the U.S. government is corrupt, mercantilist, and power-hungry. And its military adventurism often has been and sometimes still is driven by a desire to “make the world safe for (American) democracy (and by extension, American trade).”

    But I think this is one of those “it takes two to tango” scenarios. North Korea represents the stalemate between China and the U.S. If either government disappeared tomorrow North Korea would also.

  • rfichoke

    I think that’s correct. Internationalism and incompetent meddling is what created this situation in the first place. As bad as the world is, when I think of calling for help I don’t think of government–and certainly not the U.S. government.

  • Paul Marks

    Many thanks to “Shlomo Maistre” for reminding me why it is correct to despise him. NO it is not in the interests of the United States for North Korea to be a socialist Hellhole – and for North Korea to remain a Marxist state has NOT been an historic aim of American policy. To lie in such an extreme way as S.M. has done in his comments is a vile thing to do – and it is not the first time he has behaved in such a vile way. The United States is not some sort of “hegemon” that seeks power on the world stage by creating evil powers in order to keep its allies in line – the United States does not really want to engage in the world power politics, but is dragged into this process to protect others (and, yes, out of fear that if everyone else falls to evil the United States will end up surrounded and in a hopeless position itself).

    Even Bill Clinton, who first started handing out vast amounts of American food aid to North Korea, did not want it to stay a Marxist state – he just wanted to avoid the collapse of the place into mass starvation. The belief of Bill Clinton and others was that reform would take place over time – people who hope for that sort of thing are usually let down.

    One can debate the wisdom of such a policy of food aid, after all it has allowed the North Korea regime to develop nuclear weapons (in spite of their promises at the time that they would not do so – “surprise” they were lying), but the intention was benevolent.

    It is just the case that good intentions do not justify bad policy – either domestically in the United States (for example the Mayor of Detroit in the mid 1960s had benevolent intentions and did terrible harm) or on the world stage.

    Since the rise of Pragmatism at the end of the 19th century many Americans have acted in politics as if good intentions (at home and abroad) were enough – they are not enough. One must also have a firm grasp of logical principles of objective and universal truth – the very thing that fashionable American Pragmatism (de facto) denies.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    NO it is not in the interests of the United States for North Korea to be a socialist Hellhole

    It is in American interests for Japan and South Korea to rely on America for protection from North Korea. It is also in American interests to station military forces in Asia for several reasons, including the facts that doing so expands American influence on some of the most valuable trade routes in the world and keeps China in check.

    Many thanks to “Shlomo Maistre” for reminding me why it is correct to despise him.[…]To lie in such an extreme way as S.M. has done in his comments is a vile thing to do – and it is not the first time he has behaved in such a vile way. The United States is not some sort of “hegemon” that seeks power on the world stage by creating evil powers in order to keep its allies in line – the United States does not really want to engage in the world power politics, but is dragged into this process to protect others (and, yes, out of fear that if everyone else falls to evil the United States will end up surrounded and in a hopeless position itself).

    You seem upset. Yes, it is true that many realities of the world are vile, horrible, repulsive. Consider despising the message instead of the messenger.

    Truth is true whether you like to hear it or not. It’s interesting that you do not appear to dispute any one of the three following assertions in isolation:
    1. North Korea threatens South Korea and Japan
    2. It is in American interests for South Korea and Japan to rely on American protection to keep those countries in the American sphere of influence
    3. It is in American interests to station military forces in Asia

    You just don’t like what these three facts, considered all together, imply about the USA’s foreign policy. This is not surprising. Very few people are able to divorce emotion from sober, logical, proper analysis of what ought to be, which is one of many reasons why governments tend to be far less than fully truthful with the public about their motivations for many actions, particularly in the area of foreign affairs.

  • bobby b

    Robert A. Heinlein’s “Logic of Empire” contains the quote “You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity.”

    Of more recent vintage, we have Hanlon’s Razor, which reads “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

    Conspiracy buffs should pay heed.

  • Laird

    Shlomo, I disagree with your point #2, and I question #3 as well.

    Yes, the US certainly wants to keep Japan and South Korea within its “sphere of influence”, but that doesn’t necessitate their military protection. At this point our economic interests are sufficiently aligned that it will remain that way anyway. I’m sure that South Korea feels sufficiently threatened by NK (your point #1) that it welcomes (and probably still needs, to some extent) our military assistance. But Japan no longer does, although it surely must appreciate the fact that we’re taking on much of that cost for them, and that needs to stop. We don’t really gain anything from stationing military forces in Asia while we have the Seventh Fleet patrolling the sealanes. A refueling base is all that’s really necessary. The Philippines serves that role just fine, and could with far fewer of our personnel there.

    So I’m not sold on your argument that it serves US interests (imperial or otherwise) for NK to be the hell-hole that it is. You might be able to make the argument that a small troublemaker (such as a Fidel Castro) serves US interests, but not Kim. He’s far more trouble than any “benefit” he might provide, even to your way of thinking.

  • Jake Haye

    If the existence of the batshit NK regime furthers US interests against China, I guess the Chinese must be the ones who want to overthrow it.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    Yes, the US certainly wants to keep Japan and South Korea within its “sphere of influence”, but that doesn’t necessitate their military protection

    I never said that Japan and South Korea have to rely on the US for military protection in order for the US wants to keep Japan and South Korea within its sphere of influence. I said that reliance on American military protection is a key way America has kept Japan and South Korea in its sphere of influence. There are certainly other ways as well. No single method is really enough for one country; a combination of strategies tend to work best and a method that works well with one country may not work well with another for any number of reasons.

    At this point our economic interests are sufficiently aligned that it will remain that way anyway.

    1. Highly debatable.
    2. Remain that way for how long? Probably longer with the reliance on military protection than without it.
    3. And in any case, this isn’t a binary thing – countries are not either in or out of another country’s sphere of influence. It’s a matter of degree. South Korea and Japan are within American sphere of influence to a greater degree if they rely on American military protection than if they don’t.

    We don’t really gain anything from stationing military forces in Asia while we have the Seventh Fleet patrolling the sealanes.

    The US Navy has greater latitude to patrol the sealanes, more of an excuse to do so, and greater capacity to do so by virtue of the North Korean menace.

    Furthermore, what is also gained is indirect containment of China, implied protection of Taiwan, greater influence over Asian countries and a credible check on the expansion of Chinese power in the region.

    The Philippines serves that role just fine, and could with far fewer of our personnel there.

    More personnel, more forces, more ships mean more influence, more power over Asian nations and more stringent containment of China.

    He’s far more trouble than any “benefit” he might provide, even to your way of thinking.

    Tell me. How does Kim harm American interests?

  • Shlomo Maistre

    If the existence of the batshit NK regime furthers US interests against China, I guess the Chinese must be the ones who want to overthrow it.

    All else equal, everyone benefits from North Korea being a thriving first-world economy integrated into the global community and international marketplace. All else is not equal though. China accrues more relative detriment from the existence of the batshit NK regime than the USA does because it gives America an excuse, based on precedent of past national relationships and “inherited” national relationships that have resulted from history, to have its military forces defend countries that based on cultural commonality and geographical proximity ought to be within China’s sphere of influence.

    So, yes China eventually wants to overthrow NK, but how to do it?

    Everyone knows that if China attacks North Korea, North Korea would almost certainly shell Seoul into the Stone Age, for which South Korea would rightfully blame China, thereby dramatically impinging Chinese national interests by seriously harming China’s relationships with quite a few Asian countries and thereby drastically diminishing its influence with many countries across Asia.

    More broadly, though, we notice that the commercial, cultural, financial, and diplomatic influence of America, as the world’s foremost superpower, creeps into every country at a rate roughly proportionate to that country’s integration into the global economy and international community. By keeping North Korea on life support but not deposing its ruler, China is keeping that nation from encountering the sweet fruits of American influence before China has a more potent way of countering said influence. China is playing the long game.

    Indeed, China may not have the military, cultural, diplomatic and/or economic capacity to fully challenge the United States as of now. The US dollar is the reserve currency of the world and the global monetary order is built primarily on American monetary policies and international obligations. The global monetary order is decaying and with it American power is too. Time is on China’s side. China is waiting.

  • Laird

    Shlomo, the only point in your post with which I agree is the “implied protection of Taiwan”, which is indeed an important issue. But troops in South Korea or Japan do little or nothing in that respect.

    Kim harms American interests by threatening our allies (our economic allies), offering nuclear weapons technology to our enemies (Iran), and by directly threatening the US with its nuclear capability. It might not (yet) be able to deliver a nuclear weapon to our west coast (although that day is probably coming), but even with today’s capabilities it could detonate an electromagnetic pulse which would paralyze much of the country. This is a serious matter which few people understand. North Korea presents an existential threat to the United States, today.

  • Laird

    Shlomo, you posted your second comment while I was composing my above reply to the first, so I didn’t see (or address) your points there.

    Your suggestion that China tolerates North Korea’s obvious lunacy as part of a long game aimed at strengthening its position vis a vis the United States in Asia specifically, and in the world generally, is interesting and may have merit. (Although I would suggest that the calculus might be changing; witness China’s recent refusal to purchase North Korean coal, its principal export. Surely that is evidence of a desire to rein in NK, and maybe even of the beginning of a rapprochement with the US.) But even accepting your point as true, that argument is wholly inconsistent with your earlier claim that it is in the US’s interest to keep North Korea as an enemy so it has a plausible reason to maintain its military presence in the region. You can’t have it both ways.

  • Shlomo Maistre

    But even accepting your point as true, that argument is wholly inconsistent with your earlier claim that it is in the US’s interest to keep North Korea as an enemy so it has a plausible reason to maintain its military presence in the region. You can’t have it both ways.

    Having North Korea pose a threat to South Korea and Japan is in America’s interests for many reasons as I have already explained.

    I was responding to the question someone posed as to why, if this is the case, China does not simply overthrow the North Korean regime. There are many answers to this, but a key explanation is that as I said China is playing a long game to strengthen its power in Asia and global vis-a-vis the USA. These are not in any sense mutually exclusive contentions. In fact, they complement each other quite nicely.

    Kim harms American interests by threatening our allies (our economic allies),

    This benefits American interests, as I have already illustrated.

    offering nuclear weapons technology to our enemies (Iran)

    America just inked an agreement with Iran effectively granting them nuclear weapon technology. Iran more than almost any other country is fighting against ISIS. Iran getting nuclear tech diminishes the regional power of Israel and Saudi Arabia, which augments the reliance of those countries on the USA. It’s not unambiguously to America’s detriment for Iran to get nuclear technology; on balance, it’s probably harmful, but it’s not a cut-and-dry issue like it is for Israel. So this weighs on the scale in a fairly minor way IMO.

    and by directly threatening the US with its nuclear capability

    Remind me – does North Korea have sufficient jet fuel for its planes? We survived the USSR, I think we’ll survive this fourth rate sideshow. But yes, if North Korea were to develop the capacity to launch nuclear missiles at American soil then this would change the calculus, alter the game theory involved in the region to America’s detriment.

    even with today’s capabilities it could detonate an electromagnetic pulse which would paralyze much of the country

    Source? I have heard conflicting reports about North Korea’s capacity in this regard. Nothing definitive, just speculation.

    Overall, there’s almost nothing you cite that indicate that North Korea being a hellhole nation threatening South Korea and Japan is detrimental to American interests. And, at least to my mind, you have yet to contradict my explanations of the quite substantial benefits to American interests accrued by North Korea being a hellhole nation threatening South Korea and Japan.

    American foreign policy over the last few decades has almost entirely been predicated on assumptions that are compatible with my argument and almost certainly incompatible with your argument.

  • Darin

    Shlomo Maistre’s faith in American government is touching and overwhelming. When I look at US government, I certainly do not see super intelligent chess masters, playing for decades on the grand Eurasian chessboard with superhuman patience.

  • Erik

    Are you looking at the American government, or the American government there, though?

    In other words, the elected buffoons, or the 99.99% untouched by the election?

  • rfichoke

    They’re not that talented with real world skills. But they’re experts at opportunism. And it’s that (with a handful of sincere utopian goobers thrown in for the bargain) that drives most of our foreign and domestic policies.

    They ask themselves how they can help this or that interested party who helped them get elected or who has a cushy no-show job for them when they get out.

    And, of course, there is the bureaucracy which serves its own interests while helping politicians serve theirs.

    It’s a lot like a prison economy. It’s based on the same principles of incentives that private sector economics uses. But the incentives themselves are perverse. And the needs or desires of the outside world largely don’t figure in at all.

    So I think Shlomo is pretty close to the truth. The U.S. foreign policy establishment doesn’t feel all that interested in getting rid of NK because it creates more pressure for wealth and power to flow to government and its cronies. The Chinese see it as a buffer against the influence of the U.S. The only people who lose here are the Korean people. But they don’t matter to those in governments. They might as well be cardboard cutouts.

    That’s not the same as saying they “want a Marxist hellhole” though. They’re no more interested in it than they are in getting rid of it. They’re just opportunists. That’s my view anyway. But I’m pretty cynical.

  • Nicholas (Unlicenced Joker) Gray

    How would a rebranding work? Does North Korea adopt a new name? Northern Korea? Southern Manchuria? Eastern Harbin province? Imagine all the paperwork!

  • Thomas Hazlewood

    The US embargo did nothing to change the dictatorship in Cuba. The US supply of Food Aid did nothing to change the dictatorship in North Korea. The US support of South Korea did, in the end, provide for a democratic nation. Strangely, many comments here find the US complicit in an evil design regardless of the country or the outcome.