2003 July 18 Friday
The Guardian Sympathises With North Korean Regime, Not Populace

Reading The Guardian of London frequently helps to clarify my own thinking because they do such an excellent job of collecting up bad arguments.

No one has a clear strategy for defusing the Korean crisis, least of all the Bush administration, which has undercut South Korea's efforts to promote detente. Though China is now playing a more active role, a new non-nuclear agreement will be hard to achieve: Pyongyang is unlikely to place itself in the position of Iraq by giving up its nuclear capability. Those who hope that the Kim Jong-il regime will collapse should reflect on the consequences of a refugee exodus which already gives Seoul nightmares.

Examine the reasoning. The downfall of a regime that would free over 20 million people from a brutally repressive system is bad because many of the poor hungry souls would flee into South Korea and burden the South Koreans with having to feed them. Oh horrors. Oh absolute horrors. It would be even worse than what happened when East Germany collapsed. After all, the East Germans were not nearly as hungry. The editors of The Guardian are not the least bothered that the North Korean people live in a Stalinist dictatorship. But to inflict the South Koreans with a refugee problem? That would be a nightmare.

Also, note the sympathetic tone struck about the North Korean regime. They are only doing what any reasonable leftist would do when faced with the presence of US military forces in a neighboring country: building nuclear weapons. Never mind that North Korea has been working on nuclear weapons development for decades during periods of time when the US obviously had absolutely no interest in invading North Korea. Obviously in the minds of The Guardian editorial board North Korea's nuclear weapons program is justifiable as a rational respond to American capitalist-imperialist aggression.

US policymakers have historically become interested in North Korea when North Korea has acted in a threatening manner. The US has reluctantly paid to keep US forces in South Korea as a deterrent against a North Korean attack. North Korea has to make rather threatening moves in order for the US to take notice. What motivates those threatening moves? Some say the North Koreans see nuclear weapons development as a means of extorting aid. Others say the leadership are paranoid and truly believe the US has long conspired to invade and overthrow their regime.

If extortion of aid is their motive then one can see why The Guardian finds the North Koreans such sympathetic figures. If a left-wing regime is poor then the Leftists think the Right-wing capitalists are somehow to blame. The Guardian believes if North Korea is not prospering it must be because the capitalistic countries haven't sent them enough aid to allow them to get ahead (really, I'm not making this up. read the whole editorial). But is China getting ahead because of international aid? Are some parts of India experiencing the growth of high tech industries as a result of foreign aid? Of course not.

Then there is the idea that the North Koreans are doing what they are doing out of paranoia. Well, Hitler thought the Jews were running a massive international conspiracy that at least partly justified in his mind what he did. I think there is a lesson that can be drawn from this: There are times when some group's belief that the whole world's out to get them itself serves as a justification for the civilized world's really setting out to get them. Paranoiacs living in isolation on a remote mountainside imagining various conspiracies are probably best left alone. But paranoiacs setting out to develop nuclear weapons while selling other dangerous weapons technologies are best dealt with in some fashion to remove the threat that they pose.

Update: While making fun of the Korean Herald's editorial staff Marmot's Hole blogger Robert Koehler gives the North Korean argument on the need for nuclear weapons to defend itself the derisive treament it deserves.

. And let me state for the record that I don't give a rat's ass about North Korea's security concerns - a one million man army, a gazzillion artillery tubes focused on Seoul, and a well-known arsenal of chemical and biological weapons were all the "security guarantees" that it needed. Nothing pisses me off more than listening to people - the Korea Herald included - link the North Korean nuclear program to some new-founded security concern that Pyongyang discovered after Bush called Kim Jong-il a big meanie. North Korea's drive to aquire nuclear weapons dates back to at least the 1980s, and probably goes back to the 70s.

The older I get the more I realize that some basic truths need to be constantly repeated.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 July 18 01:16 PM  Korea

The Marmot said at July 18, 2003 10:05 PM:

You know, the strange thing is, there is quite a bit of method to the North Koreans' madness. So many of the fateful policy decisions that the DPRK leadership made throughout the 70s and 80s actually made strategic and tactical sense at the time they were made. It's massive arms build up during the 70s and 80s, for example - it seemed like the Americans were on the run globally, the Soviets were on the offensive in Southern Africa and Central America, and it looked like Washington was trying to cut South Korea loose (with the South Koreans starting their own not-so-clandestine nuclear weapons program in response). North Korea was at the height of its Stalinist growth curve, South Korea was still poorer (but growing rapidly) and politically unstable, so if you're Pyongyang, putting on the pressure looks like a good idea. That it didn't quite work out for them and they were stuck with a million-man army with nothing to do and an unreformable political-economic system designed to support them was simply bad luck - hey, that's how the historical cookie crumbles. But from a geopolitical standpoint, it was a nice try nevertheless.

I read that Guardian piece on the 12th (fisked it myself, although not quite as well as you did, over at my site - "The Guardian gets Marmot-nated"), and I gagged. Seriously, it made me wonder if the writers at the Guardian actually did their homework. And the hypocracy of the South Korean leadership (and, truth be told, a large segment of the South Korean population) never ceases to astound me. Ironically enough, it's the Korean Left who often accuse those Koreans (for example, the Grand National Party) who oppose the Sunshine Policy as being "anti-unification,""anti-Korean," and "anti-historical" (the last one, ban-yoksa-jokin, is probably better translated as "anachronistic"), while at the same time supporting a policy that a) intentionally delays re-unification by propping up a Northern regime that b) has starved to death two million fellow Koreans because it's c) the mother of all anachronisms - a Confucio-Stalinist dictatorship in the 21st century. The mind boggles...

Randall Parker said at July 18, 2003 11:05 PM:

Robert, The Guardian writers surely believe they don't need to do their homework. When you have achieved ideological enlightenment all answers flow from your ideology. It makes understanding the world so much easier.

On the propping up of the North Korean regime: The longer they do it the more they get invested in continuing to do it. To admit that what they are doing is a mistake would require them to look back and see what the terrible effects were of their choices.

I now recall reading your fisking but didn't click thru to the full article because I'm generally disgusted by The Guardian and just didn't want to feel disgusted at that moment. But I was out Google News searching and when I found that article while looking for other material I finally read it since it matched my keyword search. So I had to end up being disgusted by it anyway.

What I just can't get over is their enormous concern for the South Korean desire to avoid having to deal with large numbers of refugees. As compared to a dangerous regime getting nukes or running their economy in a way that leads to millions dead from starvation and shrunken bodies among the survivors while many live in horrible concentration camps are just not of consequence to the Guardian writers. Meanwhile you can count on The Guardian to wring their hands over the treatment of Guantanamo prisoners who are all gaining weight. Go figure.

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