North Korea through the Looking Glass

North Korea through the Looking Glass

Fifty-five years after its founding at the dawn of the cold war, North Korea remains a land of illusions. Isolated and anachronistic, the country and its culture seem to be dominated exclusively by the official ideology of Juche, which emphasizes national self-reliance, independence, and worship of the supreme leader, General Kim Jong Il. Yet this socialist utopian ideal is pursued with the calculations of international power politics. Kim has transformed North Korea into a militarized state, whose nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and continued threat to South Korea have raised alarm worldwide. This paradoxical combination of cultural isolation and military-first policy has left the North Korean people woefully deprived of the opportunity to advance socially and politically. The socialist economy, guided by political principles and bereft of international support, has collapsed. Thousands, perhaps millions, have died of starvation. Foreign trade has declined and the country's gross domestic product has recorded negative growth every year for a decade. Yet rather than initiate the sort of market reforms that were implemented by other communist governments, North Korean leaders have reverted to the economic policies of the 1950s: mass mobilization, concentration on heavy industry, and increased ideological indoctrination. Although members of the political elite in Pyongyang are acutely aware of their nation's domestic and foreign problems, they are plagued by fear and policy paralysis. North Korea Through the Looking Glass sheds new light on this remote and peculiar country. Drawing on more than ten years of research—including interviews with two dozen North Koreans who made the painful decision to defect from their homeland—Kongdan Oh and Ralph C. Hassig explore what the leadership and the masses believe about their current predicament. Through dual themes of persistence and illusion, they explore North Korea's stubborn adherence to policies that have failed to serve the welfare of the people and, consequently, threaten the future of the regime. Featuring twenty-nine rare and candid photos taken from within the closely guarded country, North Korea Through the Looking Glass illuminates the human society of a country too often mischaracterized for its drab uniformity—not a "state," but a community of twenty million individuals who have, through no fault of their own, fallen on exceedingly hard times.

North Korea

The Paranoid Peninsula: A Modern History, Second Edition

North Korea

This reissue of Paul French's acclaimed introduction to North Korea provides an up-to-the-minute overview of the politics, economics and history of the DPRK, with added chapters dealing with recent events. A new foreword examines why North Korea has not gone away as a country or as an issue and argues that an understanding of the country is more important now than ever. A new in-depth postscript offers analysis of recent years and why Pyongyang felt compelled to test a bomb.

Inside the Red Box

North Korea's Post-totalitarian Politics

Inside the Red Box

North Korea's institutional politics defy traditional political models, making the country's actions seem surprising or confusing when, in fact, they often conform to the regime's own logic. Drawing on recent materials, such as North Korean speeches, commentaries, and articles, Patrick McEachern, a specialist on North Korean affairs, reveals how the state's political institutions debate policy and inform and execute strategic-level decisions. Many scholars dismiss Kim Jong-Il's regime as a "one-man dictatorship," calling him the "last totalitarian leader," but McEachern identifies three major institutions that help maintain regime continuity: the cabinet, the military, and the party. These groups hold different institutional policy platforms and debate high-level policy options both before and after Kim and his senior leadership make their final call. This method of rule may challenge expectations, but North Korea does not follow a classically totalitarian, personalistic, or corporatist model. Rather than being monolithic, McEachern argues, the regime, emerging from the crises of the 1990s, rules differently today than it did under Kim's father, Kim Il Sung. The son is less powerful and pits institutions against one another in a strategy of divide and rule. His leadership is fundamentally different: it is "post-totalitarian." Authority may be centralized, but power remains diffuse. McEachern maps this process in great detail, supplying vital perspective on North Korea's reactive policy choices, which continue to bewilder the West.

The Real North Korea

Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia

The Real North Korea

Andrei Lankov has gone where few outsiders have ever been. A native of the former Soviet Union, he lived as an exchange student in North Korea in the 1980s. He has studied it for his entire career, using his fluency in Korean and personal contacts to build a rich, nuanced understanding. In The Real North Korea, Lankov substitutes cold, clear analysis for the overheated rhetoric surrounding this opaque police state. After providing an accessible history of the nation, he turns his focus to what North Korea is, what its leadership thinks, and how its people cope with living in such an oppressive and poor place. He argues that North Korea is not irrational, and nothing shows this better than its continuing survival against all odds. A living political fossil, it clings to existence in the face of limited resources and a zombie economy, manipulating great powers despite its weakness. Its leaders are not ideological zealots or madmen, but perhaps the best practitioners of Machiavellian politics that can be found in the modern world. Even though they preside over a failed state, they have successfully used diplomacy-including nuclear threats-to extract support from other nations. But while the people in charge have been ruthless and successful in holding on to power, Lankov goes on to argue that this cannot continue forever, since the old system is slowly falling apart. In the long run, with or without reform, the regime is unsustainable. Lankov contends that reforms, if attempted, will trigger a dramatic implosion of the regime. They will not prolong its existence. Based on vast expertise, this book reveals how average North Koreans live, how their leaders rule, and how both survive.

North Korea

Markets and Military Rule

North Korea

In this historically grounded, richly empirical study of social and economic transformation in North Korea, Hazel Smith evaluates the 'marketization from below' that followed the devastating famine of the early 1990s, estimated to be the cause of nearly one million fatalities. Smith shows how the end of the Cold War in Europe and the famine brought radical social change to all of North Korean society. This major new study analyses how marketization transformed the interests, expectations and values of the entire society, including Party members, the military, women and men, the young and the elderly. Smith shows how the daily life of North Koreans has become alienated from the daily pronouncements of the North Korean government. Challenging stereotypes of twenty-five million North Koreans as mere bystanders in history, Smith argues that North Koreans are 'neither victims nor villains' but active agents of their own destiny.

Nuclear North Korea

A Debate on Engagement Strategies

Nuclear North Korea

The regime of Kim Jong-Il has been called "mad," "rogue," even, by the Wall Street Journal, the equivalent of an "unreformed serial killer." Yet, despite the avalanche of television and print coverage of the Pyongyang government's violation of nuclear nonproliferation agreements and existing scholarly literature on North Korean policy and security, this critical issue remains mired in political punditry and often misleading sound bites. Victor Cha and David Kang step back from the daily newspaper coverage and cable news commentary and offer a reasoned, rational, and logical debate on the nature of the North Korean regime. Coming to the issues from different perspectives—Kang believes the threat posed by Pyongyang has been inflated and endorses a more open approach, while Cha is more skeptical and advocates harsher measures—the authors together have written an essential work of clear-eyed reflection and authoritative analysis. They refute a number of misconceptions and challenge much faulty thinking that surrounds the discussion of North Korea, particularly the idea that North Korea is an irrational nation. Cha and Kang contend that however provocative, even deplorable, the Pyongyang government's behavior may at times be, it is not incomprehensible or incoherent. Neither is it "suicidal," they argue, although crisis conditions could escalate to a degree that provokes the North Korean regime to "lash out" as the best and only policy, the unintended consequence of which are suicide and/or collapse. Further, the authors seek to fill the current scholarly and policy gap with a vision for a U.S.-South Korea alliance that is not simply premised on a North Korean threat, not simply derivative of Japan, and not eternally based on an older, "Korean War generation" of supporters. This book uncovers the inherent logic of the politics of the Korean peninsula, presenting an indispensable context for a new policy of engagement. In an intelligent and trenchant debate, the authors look at the implications of a nuclear North Korea for East Asia and U.S. homeland security, rigorously assessing historical and current U.S. policy, and provide a workable framework for constructive policy that should be followed by the United States, Japan, and South Korea if engagement fails to stop North Korean nuclear proliferation.

Tyranny of the Weak

North Korea and the World, 1950–1992

Tyranny of the Weak

To much of the world, North Korea is an impenetrable mystery, its inner workings unknown and its actions toward the outside unpredictable and frequently provocative. Tyranny of the Weak reveals for the first time the motivations, processes, and effects of North Korea’s foreign relations during the Cold War era. Drawing on extensive research in the archives of North Korea’s present and former communist allies, including the Soviet Union, China, and East Germany, Charles K. Armstrong tells in vivid detail how North Korea managed its alliances with fellow communist states, maintained a precarious independence in the Sino-Soviet split, attempted to reach out to the capitalist West and present itself as a model for Third World development, and confronted and engaged with its archenemies, the United States and South Korea. From the invasion that set off the Korean War in June 1950 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tyranny of the Weak shows how—despite its objective weakness—North Korea has managed for much of its history to deal with the outside world to its maximum advantage. Insisting on a path of "self-reliance" since the 1950s, North Korea has continually resisted pressure to change from enemies and allies alike. A worldview formed in the crucible of the Korean War and Cold War still maintains a powerful hold on North Korea in the twenty-first century, and understanding those historical forces is as urgent today as it was sixty years ago.

Nothing to Envy

Ordinary Lives in North Korea

Nothing to Envy

An eye-opening account of life inside North Korea—a closed world of increasing global importance—hailed as a “tour de force of meticulous reporting” (The New York Review of Books) NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST • NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD FINALIST In this landmark addition to the literature of totalitarianism, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick follows the lives of six North Korean citizens over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il (the father of Kim Jong-un), and a devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population. Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive regime today—an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, where displays of affection are punished, informants are rewarded, and an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life. She takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors, and through meticulous and sensitive reporting we see her subjects fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we witness their profound, life-altering disillusionment with the government and their realization that, rather than providing them with lives of abundance, their country has betrayed them. Praise for Nothing to Envy “Provocative . . . offers extensive evidence of the author’s deep knowledge of this country while keeping its sights firmly on individual stories and human details.”—The New York Times “Deeply moving . . . The personal stories are related with novelistic detail.”—The Wall Street Journal “A tour de force of meticulous reporting.”—The New York Review of Books “Excellent . . . humanizes a downtrodden, long-suffering people whose individual lives, hopes and dreams are so little known abroad.”—San Francisco Chronicle “The narrow boundaries of our knowledge have expanded radically with the publication of Nothing to Envy. . . . Elegantly structured and written, [it] is a groundbreaking work of literary nonfiction.”—John Delury, Slate “At times a page-turner, at others an intimate study in totalitarian psychology.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer