2003 December 04 Thursday
Wind-Up Radios For North Korea Would Cost Only $20 Each
StrategyPage.com has a post up about cheap wind-up radios that US forces are distributing in Afghanistan.
The 200,000 radios the U.S. is
buying will probably cost less than four million dollars. But it appears to
be a good investment, as the Taliban and warlords in Afghanistan have gained
power, and stayed in power, by taking advantage of the relative ignorance of
most Afghans. The radios will provide a lot of information (and music, soap
operas, religious programming and much more), and will definitely change the
Trent Telenko comments "Now if they would only do this with North Korea.". No kidding Trent. To make enough wind-up radios for the approximately 22.5 million people in North Korea would cost about $45 million dollars. Delivering them might cost more than making them. Some could be put into floatation containers and delivered out of US attack submarines all along the North Korean coastline. Others could be attached to helium or hydrogen balloons (the hydrogen could be generated cheaply from electricity and water) and launched upwind from whereever the winds were blowing into North Korea. This could be done from South Korea (unless our enemies the South Koreans prevented us from doing so) or off the North Korean coastline outside of territorial waters. Still others could be placed in obscure locations in North Korean ships docked in foreign ports.
The Bush Administration's strategy for North Korea is inadequate to deal with the threat North Korea poses. South Korea and China are playing enablers propping up the regime while North Korea's nuclear and missile programs continue under development. The US needs to use more tactics against the North Korean regime. One way the US could weaken the North Korean regime is by breaking the information monopoly that the regime holds over its own people. Many of the radios floated on the water or the air toward North Korea would not make it into the hands of regular North Korean people. But given the low cost associated with making and delivering the radios for the cost of what that the US spends in Iraq in a single week the US could easily afford to send ten times as many radios into North Korea as there are North Koreans to hear them.
By Randall Parker at 2003 December 04 06:45 PM
When talking about millions of units, I am sure some engineers could reduce the cost even below $20. They could use a reduced or expanded band range. Would the NK's care if there were a little static? Or if the peak volume were reduced a little?
An NK might consider it a blessing if the radio were made of cheaper materials that burned easier and more completely, for instance.
Heck, a device that allowed one to tune existing NK radios and TV's to multiple channels might even be cheaper and safer.
I think the issue with North Korea is the same issue facing CIA operations behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War: we can't feel terribly good about ourselves if we "succeed" in bringing our message to the oppressed only to stand idly by while they get slaughtered by their oppressors as a direct result. During the Cold War, this was a matter of explicitly encouraging resistance to the Soviet occupiers, not a matter of merely possessing radios (hence Radio Free Europe could operate).
I believe we have attempted to smuggle radios into North Korea, which has caused the North Korean regime to take this one step further: state-issued radios are fixed to only the state's channel, and anybody caught with a modified radio is, along with their entire family, severely punished.
I suspect the numbers of people who would be harmed by a concerted effort by the NK regime to punish anyone with a modified or smuggled radio would amount to a spit in the ocean compared to the millions they simply allow to starve to death.
Breaking the information monopoly would break the strongest coercion the NK regime has on its people. Given a choice between certain death by starvation or a chance of getting shot if they happen to get caught walking to China, how many of those millions do you think would have sat around starving to death?
Unfortunately, the continued existence of North Korea is because of (alternating) lack of will on the part of U.S. leaders and just plain "dumb luck" due to the risk involved (at various times) in a military solution. North Korea stands as a glaring example of how insidious and persistent are pathological maniacs once they gain power. Note too: In every case we see the Stalins, Saddams, etc. gaining and holding power through manipulating an ideology. The perpetrators themselves no more believe the ideology they propagate than I believe in Santa Claus -- and this includes "Conservative," "Liberal" and "Libertarian" ideologies in addition to Communism and Islamic Pan-Arabism.
So, as others state, I doubt the possession of radios by N.K. subjects will make any difference at all. Still, it behooves us to take every action to eliminate the state of North Korea. In other words -- an opportunistic and VERY patient strategy will contribute to eventually ending the nightmare known as North Korea. And the lesson learned? It's that we MUST have faith in our own strength and goodness and take action even when there's some risk of serious cosequences. After all, no nation nor any conceivable combination / alliance of nations in the world could defeat us militarily.
I run a weblog called Free North Korea (at http://www.freenorthkorea.net) and the idea of dropping radios is something that we discuss frequently there. We get a pretty informed group of people and the consensus is that it would need to be done in sufficient quantity and it would take time to be effective, but it would work.
Many North Korean defectors who have made it to the South have stated that hearing (illegal) broadcasts from outside of North Korea on illegal tunable radios was instrumental in their making the decision to defect. It just became obvious to them that Kim Jong Il's entire regime was built on a pack of lies. This is his Achilles heel. Why we are not in there doing it already i don't know. Perhaps its because of the theatre missile defense program? I know that North Korea must have seemed like a godsend to those guys in the Clinton era of shrinking defense spending.
But there is also no denying that North Korea does pose a danger and so we have to do something, even if their continued existence is good for the defense industry. I don't think we should sit on our hands. Too many people are dying.
In 1944, the Germans built a UAV that could carry 1800 pounds of explosives a distance of 250 miles, at a unit cost of around $1000 (remember the V-1?). By updating this simple technology with a GPS chip and replacing the warhead with a load of radios (or food, or medicine, or cell phones), one gets a practical, accurate delivery system that could cover huge areas of North Korea. Modern radar-absorbing coatings and low-visibility cross sections would make them very difficult to intercept, or more importantly, to misunderstand. One could launch such a system from a vessel as small as a fishing boat, and send it toward either of North Korea's long coasts from international waters.
North Korea would do everything in its power to collect every radio and food packet, knowing that to accept their presence would be to accept the loss of control over the population. The financial, maintenance, and manpower cost of North Korea sending its Army and security services up into the hills to gather up all of the cargo would be crushing. It would also have the added benefit of moving most of North Korea's troops out of their bunkers and training ranges, thus reducing the likelihood of an invasion. It would put the authorities in direct conflict with the people as they searched thousands of homes for contraband, thus sowing the seeds of resistance.
If this did not bring down the regime, we could use similar methods to drop weapons to the rural population, most of whom are politically alienated from the regime. Even without trained cadres, weapons in the hands of hungry and desperate people would sow chaos in the countryside. If we were able to train North Koreans in, say, Mongolia, the arms would be even more effective. Unless China intervened, Kim Jong Il would not survive (a coup would probably get him first). North Korea's mechanized army is not structured to fight a guerrilla war. If China did intervene, it would be an opportunity to weaken China in a protracted guerrilla war just as the Soviets were similarly weakened in Afghanistan.