North Korea and Benign Neglect
The Hermit Kingdom of North Korea remains an enigmatic curiosity. A major Communist party conference planned for early September has yet to occur and no one knows why. Earlier Pyongyang suggested its willingness to return to the ever-futile six-party talks, yet the prospect of concessions from the North seems even less likely than before. What to do?
For all of its 62 years of existence—except during the 1950-53 Korean War—the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has been a paragon of stability. Only two men have ruled, “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung and his son, “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il. After the elder Kim dispatched his rivals during the 1950s control from the top has been essentially absolute. The DPRK became a totalitarian communist monarchy.
For most of that time the North was only a conventional, though potent, military power. The North Korean threat declined significantly as Seoul raced past Pyongyang in economic strength and diplomatic reach. Today the DPRK is a mere shadow of its neighbor in most measures of international power.
However, for nearly two decades North Korea has been ostentatiously developing nuclear weapons. While the numbers and capabilities of its arsenal remain limited, Pyongyang must be counted as a nuclear state. Neither negotiations nor sanctions have had any discernible impact on the North’s course. Obvious regional discomfort at the prospect of North possessing nuclear weapons was eased slightly by the recognition that the regime matched malevolence with stability. Kim Jong Il obviously enjoyed his Swedish blondes—if not virgins—in this world and appeared to have no desire to trigger a war which he would lose.