North Korea

Post-North Korean Missile Launch Regional Elections a Win for Harder Line Candidates in South Korea, Japan

The incoming president of South Korea, though, has already vowed to reach out to North Korea and soften her party's hard line stance

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former first lady, future president

The regime in North Korea successfully launched a long-range missile last week, drawing ire from the rest of the international community, including a condemnation by the U.N. Security Council. The United States called the missile test, ostensibly the launch of a weather satellite, a "highly provocative act." Even China said it "regretted" the action. The on-the-surface uniform response from North Korea's neighbors and much of the rest of the world belies a much more complex geopolitical landscape, one the regime in North Korea has successfully manipulated to remain in power for more than half a century.

In 2007, a presidential election in South Korea handed a resounding defeat to the ruling party, attributed in the linked editorial at least in part to the government's "favoritism for North Korea and decrease in cooperation and friendship with the United States and Japan vis-a-vis China and North Korea." The election was sandwiched by resignations of consecutive prime ministers in Japan. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which had ruled Japan almost continuously since World War II, eventually lost power in elections in 2009. The shifting geopolitical landscape created the space for North Korea, having extracted fuel aid for cooperation, to abruptly test a rocket and withdraw from the six party talks set up in 2003. They no longer served the regime any purpose.

Though Kim Jong Il died in 2011 after ruling the country 17 years, his son, Kim Jong Un, was able to consolidate power through brute force, his family's preferred management strategy. A failed rocket launch this April, early in the young dictator's rule, timed for the 100th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, the founder of North Korea, did little to weaken to his position internally. Last week's successful rocket launch came ahead of the one year anniversary of Kim Jong Un's father's death as well as elections in Japan and South Korea. While the last polls of the race showed the opposition candidate surging to near the margin of error against Park Geun-hye, the ruling party's candidate, Park ended up winning a close race. Her opponent, Moon Jae-In, the son of North Korean refugees, campaigned on a policy of rapprochement and was able to close a significant deficit in the polls as the North Koreans prepared their missile launch. Nevertheless, Park has vowed to reach out to North Korea and ease her party's hard line stance.

resignation no obstacle to victory

In Japan, meanwhile, the LDP took the reins of power again in an election held this week. The hawkish Shinzo Abe, the first of the two prime ministers to resign in 2007-2008 in fact, will become Japan's prime minister again. He has promised more military spending by the country, which has been severely restricted on that front since the end of World War II.

And in the background there is China and the United States. China began a leadership transition earlier this year. While the Chinese "regretted" North Korea's missile launch last week, the leadership appears poised to keep up its support for the regime, as a buffer to the United States (and its allies Japan and South Korea, between which 63,000 U.S. forces are based). In the mix as well is an ongoing dispute over uninhabited but resource rich islands in the East China Sea, claimed by China, Japan and South Korea. President Obama's first post-election foreign trip, meanwhile, was to Southeast Asia, part of the administration's "Asian pivot." Notably the trip included a stop in Burma, a country ruled by a military dictatorship facing U.S. sanctions since 1997, some of which have been lifted this year. Myanmar, the administration hopes, can become an example for other dictatorships (read: North Korea) that with at least some inkling of reform, rapprochement is possible. Myanmar at one point even tried to acquire nuclear technology, from North Korea. The hopeful policy is reminiscent of the Bush Administration's hopes after Colonel Moammar Qaddafi voluntarily gave up his purported WMD arsenal in 2003. The move was seen as a positive outcome from the invasion of Iraq as cautionary tale, as well as an exemplar of rapprochement. We all know how that turned out.

But regimes like Qaddafi's, or Bashar Assad's, or even Hosni Mubarak's or, in this case, Kim Jong Un's, are almost always destined to perish, whether or not a "great power" tips the scale one way or the other. The North Korean regime is by far the most totalitarian on the planet, yet when the Dear Leader Kim Jong Il the tears were largely forced. It is sustained by the cult of personality surrounding the Kims, but they survive thanks also to the fantasy that American imperialists stand ready to invade and enslave the population. The presence of all those U.S. troops (about 63,000 deployed in and around South Korea and Japan) helps feed that fantasy even though neither the "imperialists" in Washington nor Beijing may be planning to invade North Korea. On the contrary, their imperial machinations create a climate in the region that helps feed the regime, often quite literally

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  1. …”(the new Japanese pm) has promised more military spending by the country, which has been severely restricted on that front since the end of World War II.”…

    Good.
    I’m tired of paying for their defense.

    1. It does not matter if they pay more, the US will still pay as well. The usual suspects will say this

      If the Japanese and the South Koreans pay more, that means that they are great allies and we can’t cut and run now

      If the Japanese and South Koreans pay the same, that means that we have a mature and steady partnership and can’t cut and run now

      If the Japanese and South Koreans cut spending, that means that the situation is more serious then ever before and we can’t cut and run now.

      1. Because CHINA! and NORTH KOREA!

    2. Unfortunately, Abe wants to pay for this and so much more by running the central bank printing presses. It will also end deflation and that will somehow revive the economy.

  2. Great news, now that freedom and democracy triumphs in South Korea, the US now can remove its troops and return them to the US knowing its work is done. The South Koreans who have twice the population and much more then ten times the economy of North Korea will take over all responsibilities for its own defense.

    1. Hitting the eggnog a little early today, eh DJF?

      1. I can dream can’t I? And what is wrong with Eggnog before lunch?

        1. It’s got eggs, it’s practically designed for breakfast!

          1. Practically?!

    2. The South Koreans who have twice the population and much more then ten times the economy of North Korea will take over all responsibilities for its own defense.

      The Byzantine Empire had a much larger population and much more wealth than the early Muslim Arabs did, too. That doesn’t guarantee anything… in fact lack of hunger can be a problem.

  3. Don’t worry, North Korea, we have plenty of so called ‘liberals’ here in the US that will be rushing to your defense soon because they just can’t have enough stupid things to say or try to do.

    In other news:

    Limey running mouth, needs slap down

    Umm, didn’t we completely kick some limey ass once upon a time? I’m starting to think they are due for another one, since they apparently didn’t learn their lesson the first time. Maybe since he thinks it is any business at all what we do here, in our country, he and his all his comrades can come on over and try to do something about it. I think the girl scouts will be sufficient to handle that situation. Britain and most of Eurotrashia are turning into the biggest bunch of pussies on the planet.

    1. Once upon a time, Jews were constantly being slaughtered by Romans. No matter how hard they tried, the Jews just couldn’t win. So they invented Christianity and took over that way.

      Once upon a time, Britain was THE military superpower in the world. Now their empire is reduced to an island. Since they are too weak to take over the world again, they need to invent a religion that makes everyone just as weak as they are. Gun control seems to be that religion.

      If you go in for the long game, you can make some big changes as long as you have patience.

      1. Can you imagine what Churchill would have thought about the U.K. today, were he alive now? It is absolutely amazing reading about how much that country has changed in culture since even the 40’s.

  4. This is what I picture when I think about a North Korean missile launch:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0ddkaqxZEk

  5. The North Korean regime is by far the most totalitarian on the planet

    Amazingly, this is not true. Eritrea aka Africa’s North Korea is the only country ranked behind North Korea for press freedom.

    1. Weird. Remember when they were the good guys in their fight v. Ethiopia? Or at least, that’s how National Geographic made them look to be back in June 1996.

      1. They were good when they were allied with Ethiopian rebels trying to overthrow an evil commie. Then the left fell in love with Eritrea. Then their president banned opposition parties, media, and and conscripted everyone into the army. Literally everyone.

  6. It is shameful that any South Korean politician would even nod towards ‘rapproachment’ without being hauled out by an angry mob. South Korea should be on war footing at all times.

  7. The presence of all those U.S. troops (about 63,000 deployed in and around South Korea and Japan) helps feed that fantasy

    Are you kidding me, Reason? How naive are you?

    The US could withdraw every soldier from South Korea and Japan and everywhere within 3000 miles of Pyongyang, and the Norks would still be propagandizing their people about the evil US imperialists and their South Korean puppets are planning an attack at any moment.

    There are plenty of arguments for getting our troops out of Korea, but that’s not one of them.

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