Sunday, September 24, 2006

Ave, KL!

The Korea Liberator should be required reading for everyone with an interest in Asian politics. Joshua and his cohorts constantly churn out well-written must-reads, of which I'll mention the three most recent:

The Case for Blocking Ban Ki-moon

The Sunshine Policy is Dead, Part 2

Waiting for the Ceausescu Moment

On that last one: Kim might avoid a Ceaucescu* moment by pulling a Saddam, i.e., shuttling himself around and using spider holes to avoid capture by his people or by foreign troops. What we learned from Saddam's case is that a prominent dictator might not be able, plausibly, to flee his own country: he'd be too well-known, with too many potential Judases in his retinue, people who would sell the enemy his location for the right price.** Ceaucescu tried this as well, zipping around inside Romania by helicopter, but he was eventually nabbed by his own police, turned over to the army, and shot dead on Christmas of 1989.

Unfortunately, North Korea has become an enormous maze of gopher tunnels, so a wild goose chase to track Kim down could theoretically take much longer than did the chase for Saddam. This is balanced, though, by the fact that North Korea's infrastructure stinks. Faulty roads and too few usable vehicles might slow down Kim's ability to escape.

Does Kim have an "undisclosed location" available to him, à la Dick Cheney's secret chamber near the earth's core? If so, Kim could plunge coreward from directly underneath Pyongyang and wait events out.

It should be noted that 1989 was a momentous year: the Berlin Wall fell in early winter, around November 9 or 10. Europe was in motion. Countries were throwing off the yoke of totalitarian oppression. The coup in Romania almost certainly benefitted from what had happened in Germany: people were given hope that change was possible. Korea doesn't have any proximate examples of the same kind of change: Chinese citizens don't appear to be about to revolt en masse; South Korea and Japan, for their part, both enjoy powerful, largely stable economies and social structures, any contentiousness being well contained and channeled by the democratic political systems there.*** The spark for revolution in North Korea won't be the result of local examples giving hope: it'll be the result of a people that finally decides, on its own, that it's had enough.

Go read your KL!

*Spellings vary. I've seen "Ceauşescu" and "Ceaucescu." My own preference is for the latter, but ultimately I don't care: the guy's dead either way.

**Some might offer Osama bin Laden as a counterexample, but I think there are distinct disanalogies. Osama was never the leader of a country: he shot to hero status fairly quickly in the eyes of the anti-American world. Being surrounded by loyalists more than willing to die for him has undoubtedly helped him hide from justice this long. Is he now dead? I can't say, and neither can France or the US.

***Thailand might represent a very recent and discomfiting rebuttal to this; some conservative Korean politicians appear to have hinted to President Roh that he shouldn't take current stability for granted.


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