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Things get interesting on the Korean peninsula

For several days now, there has been speculation that North Korea is about to test one of the nuclear devices it claims to possess. This Guardian article states that

satellites have tracked a special North Korean train, the usual form of transport for Mr Kim, entering Chinese territory.

It does not surprise me at all that China would expeditiously summon Kim in such circumstances; China has the most to lose if North Korea tests a nuclear device.

In many ways, China has profited handsomely from its enduring ‘special relationship’ with North Korea; Beijing’s rapprochement with the West meant it was an ideal conduit between the US and the so-called Hermit Kingdom. Consequently, China has acquired a fair slice of diplomatic prestige from its mediating role in such a critical conflict. However, this cachet is predicated on the assumption that China has a powerful hand in North Korea’s internal affairs – a reasonable assumption, considering North Korea’s reliance on Chinese energy.

However, if Kim Jong-il goes against the express wishes of his Chinese patrons and conducts a nuclear weapons trial, Chinese diplomatic credibility will take a severe blow. This would be bad enough for a leadership obsessed with symbolism. For Chinese planners, an even more serious consequence of North Korea exploding an atomic device would be the reaction of its neighbours.

A probable response to such a grave threat would be to increase military spending markedly. If the threat of a conventional arms race in the region is enough to keep Chinese strategists awake at night, consider the most distasteful consequence of such noisy bellicosity; both Japan and South Korea operate a number of nuclear power stations. They too might decide to go nuclear. Certainly Japan has the materials and technical know-how to assemble a nuclear weapon quickly. It may even possess such devices now, on the (very) quiet. China would be aghast at any new declared nuclear states in the region – such entities would dilute China’s hard-power influence in the region considerably. To say that it is in China’s interest that her technically capable neighbours do not reach their full military potential is extreme understatement.

In light of the way the situation is unfolding over the longer term, it looks as though the American effort to involve China so deeply in the conflict resolution process on the Korean peninsula was a masterstroke. Pyongyang can sabre-rattle all it likes; Chinese interests are the best insurance against Kim Jong-il’s rash impulses becoming outright belligerence. Even if Chinese influence in Pyongyang proves to be less convincing than widely thought, the probable result of this will be Western allies in the region growing militarily stronger to deter a North Korean attack. From an American perspective, this has two attractive benefits. Firstly, it can afford to militarily disengage from the region somewhat, as its allies take up the slack. Secondly, these allies will grow militarily stronger relative to Chinese military power. The latter consequence becomes a useful hedge if China develops into a strategic rival in the future. Chinese involvement in this affair is increasingly looking like a win-any-which-way for the Americans, regardless of the outcome – barring North Korea actually bombing someone, that is.

Putting down the tarbaby

After nearly sixty years it looks like the US is finally slipping free of Korea.

The U.S. military will stay on, perhaps in reduced numbers, and play a supporting role, officials say. South Korea wants to take back the authority for wartime combat by 2012. The Pentagon says South Korea can have the authority back by 2009.

Roh said Wednesday that anytime in between those dates would be fine; indeed, he said, Seoul could take it back “even now.”

I have long felt the South Koreans quite capable of defending themselves so long as the US keeps them under its nuclear umbrella.

Interesting little shifts

History has shown us that communist nations are frequently obsessed with symbolism. Even the most mundane alterations to edifices physical, ideological, political – you name it – can signify profound shifts within the hidden inner workings of such regimes. North Korea provides a timely example.

The dead communist arsehole sadly departed Kim Il Sung is infamously referred to as the Great Leader by brainwashed communist apparatchiks adoring and grateful beneficiaries of the socialist Juche revolution. Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung’s repugnant spawn son is now also termed “Great Leader” at the official North Korean website, the Korean Friendship Association. Interesting. Kim Jong Il used to be known as “Dear Leader”.

(See http://www.korea-dpr.com/pmenu.htm for further details – the KFA bounces all embedded links to its precious virtual domain)


His grandmother, Kang Pan Sok, his grandfather’s younger brother.

A “that explains something” moment regarding Kim Jong Il’s lineage, gleaned from his “brief” 160 page history fielded by the ever-admiring KFA. Found here (pdf).

How capitalism is starving North Korea

Paragraph one of this BBC story goes thus:

North Korea is in urgent need of more food aid, the UN has warned.

And the most chilling quote concerns what the South Koreans think of the North Korean nuclear bomb programme.

Our correspondent says that Seoul believes Pyongyang is raising nuclear tensions to extract a better aid offer.

In other words, this is a hostage situation, the hostages being the people of North Korea, and the hostage takers being the government of North Korea.

The usual way to end hostage situations is to storm the place and capture or kill the hostage takers. Although, come to think of it, giving the hostage takers a free, escorted trip to the nearest airport and then plane tickets to the alternative scumbag country of their choice, in exchange for the lives of the surviving hostages, would also be a good way to end this thing. Either scenario would be a big improvement.

My favourite bit of the story comes right at the end.

How come the people of North Korea are being so cruelly treated? Communism perchance? Actually, not:

Market reforms introduced in North Korea in recent years mean most people only get about half the food they need through the state and have to buy the rest themselves.

But rampant inflation inside North Korea is making it increasingly difficult for people to make up that shortfall.

Japan, the US and South Korea are key contributors to the WFP programme, but Mr Ragan says donations have slowed in the last two years.

Blame capitalism! Capitalist reforms are causing people to starve, and the capitalists are refusing to pick up the tab. The North Korean government should be more communist, in order to feed the people of North Korea properly, and the rest of the world should become more communist, in order to feed the people of North Korea properly.

Well, if the way to get someone to sort this mess out is for them to be allowed to announce that they are rescuing North Korea from the ravages of freedom and the free market, then I say: make the announcement, and get on with it.

Bruce Cumings – professor of idiocy

Anthony Daniels, in the course of reviewing the work of someone more sensible (more about that book here), in the Telegraph, ends up devoting rather more space to nailing useful idiot Professor Bruce Cumings of Chicago University.

What is the antiidiotarian blogosphere for, if not for bouncing paragraphs like this around, and generally rubbing salt into well deserved wounds?

Like every useful idiot before him, Professor Cumings is much impressed by free child-care and kindergartens, much more so than by gulags and famines. There is no Potemkin village so transparently a fraud that he would not be taken in by it. Such matters as collective family responsibility, whereby entire families are severely punished for the political dissent of one of its members, do not impinge on his imagination – a faculty with which he is not much blessed.

While Cumings admits that the personality cult of Kim Il-Sung (who, though dead for 10 years, is still President For Eternity) is absurd, he attributes its extravagance entirely to the Confucian strain in Korean life, thus displaying a complete and startling ignorance of Communist iconography. Is he not aware that almost every Communist dictator was, according to the paintings of him, followed by an eager amanuensis capturing for posterity his on-the-spot guidance to farmers about how best to harvest potatoes, and to car mechanics about how best to change the spark plugs? The pictures of multi-racial crowds stretching their arms in the direction of the Great Leader as the only hope of Mankind are not unique to North Korea.

It is true that North Korea is the ne plus ultra of this vile and inglorious tradition, and that Confucianism might have been an added ingredient, but to overlook the part that Communism itself played, as Professor Cumings does, and blame mainly the Americans, is preposterous.

I feel a little sorry for Professor Cumings. He has spent his life studying the language, culture and history of a nation that not so long ago was disregarded and ignored, if not despised. Despite his erudition, however, he will, in the long run, be regarded as a buffoon. His works on North Korea will be seen in the same light as those of the Webbs on the Soviet Union. They knew everything about the Soviet Union except the truth.

Personally I feel a hell of a lot sorrier for the hapless people of North Korea, as Daniels does too, I do not doubt. I hope and trust that the US government is working busily for the demise of the vile regime which now imprisons them, and that their day of deliverance may not be too long delayed.

Aid doesn’t

Instapundit quotes from this, which is about how the North Korean regime may finally be coming to its last days.

The bit he quotes concerns aid. Apparently foreign donors are refusing to just throw good money after bad, because they are not being allowed to see if the aid they sent last time has reached its intended donees. Instead, the assumption is that the North Korean army is gobbling it all up, as I am sure it is.

This is all excellent and a credit to the aid givers. First your target the vile regime you intend to topple. You then give it a succession of vast aid bribes. The regime accordingly becomes addicted to your aid for its continuing survival, and stops bothering about finding resources anywhere else. Then you cut off the aid, and start dangling the thought of resuming aid if certain political concessions are made.

Instead of crushing the regime militarily, we simply buy it.

Bad luck for the millions of poor bastards on the receiving end of the vile regime in question, of course, but at least this way they have hope that their torment may end one day, provided they can live to see “one day”.

On the other hand, maybe the aid givers achieved this outcome by mistake. They were trying truly to help the vile regime. No matter. When it comes to toppling a vile regime, idiots trying to help can be just as effective as competent people trying to topple.

I recall how the Communist regime in Poland never ever really recovered from all the aid it was given by idiot merchant banks in the nineteen seventies. The rulers of the place became addicted to a lavish lifestyle that their bankers eventually got bored with paying for, and it all unravelled from there.

As Instapundit says of North Korea just now: stay tuned.

The face of the enemy

Wall Street Journal Online’s Claudia Rosett has a stunning article on repression in North Korea, where the prison camp state may have reached its apotheosis. The article served to remind me of the righteousness of our project here at Samizdata. I can only pray that our small efforts make a difference, somewhere down the line.

Of immediate interest is the link she draws between the utter savagery of the North Korean regime and the newly ascendant strategy of appeasement of that regime. Sadly, it appears that the Bush administration has opted for appeasement as well, after resisting such a policy for many months.

The latest hallucination of geopolitics has it that if only we can make North Korea’s Great Leader Kim Jong Il feel safe from the fate of Saddam Hussein, maybe he’ll stop testing missiles and making nuclear bombs. So the experts–whose ranks have now swelled to include, alas, even President George W. Bush–have been scrambling for ways to make Kim feel more secure.

Bad mistake. Even in the exquisitely complex realms of geopolitics, there comes a point at which right and wrong really do matter. Ensuring the safety of monsters is not only an invitation to even more trouble ahead, it is also wrong. Before Mr. Bush says another word about security for North Korea’s regime, before any more policy makers suggest any more deals to gratify Kim Jong Il’s deep appetite for his own ease and longevity, there’s a report the entire civilized world needs to read–released today by the Washington-based U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. In landmark depth and detail, this report documents the filthiest of all Kim’s backroom projects: North Korea’s vast system of political prisons, which underpin Kim’s precious security right there in his own home.

As an aside, I never cease to be amazed at the useful idiots who view corporations and the market as more of a threat to their well-being than the state. When Microsoft and Exxon order “babies tossed on the ground to die, with their mothers forced to watch. . . , or assign [grandmothers] to help in the delivery of babies who were thrown immediately into a plastic-lined box to die in bulk lots,” I will be willing to listen to these morons, but not before.

The state is not your friend.

News about North Korean nukes

American spy satellites have found what looks like an advanced nuclear testing range in North Korea, the Telegraph reports.

American intelligence officials now believe that North Korea is developing the technology to make nuclear warheads small enough to fit atop the country’s growing arsenal of missiles, potentially putting Tokyo and American troops based in Japan at risk, according to officials who have received the intelligence reports.

An intelligence assessment, which has been shared with Japan, South Korea and other East Asian nations, identifies a previously unknown range of the type needed to produce a nuclear missile warhead according to the New York Times. The new testing capability does not mean North Korea can actually build a small weapon, but it suggests that the North Koreans are moving to combine their two most advanced weapons projects: nuclear technology and missile technology.

As Telegraph points out such uncertainty leads to a further cause for alarm: the outside world’s reliance on remote sensors and satellite images to track what is going on inside the paranoid totalitarian state.

North Korea, unlike Iraq, has made no secret of its plan to develop nuclear weapons. Now, administration officials say they fear that the North is on the verge of producing five or six new weapons, some of which might be miniaturized.

“This would give them the range they never had before, and the chance to spread their threat far beyond South Korea,” said a senior Asian official, noting that about 60,000 American troops are based in Japan.

Without question, though, North Korea’s abilities greatly outstrip anything Iraq had in the last decade, and the North’s program is probably several years ahead of Iran’s.