“When North Korea Falls,” the feature cover story in the next (October) Atlantic Monthly by Robert Kaplan, is great. Here’s an excerpt:
One of Kim’s main goals in so aggressively displaying North Korea’s missile capacity is to compel the United States to deal directly with him, thereby making his otherwise weakening state seem stronger. And the stronger Pyongyang appears to be, the better off it is in its crucial dealings with Beijing, which are what really matter to Kim.Read the full article here (requires subscription). But first, read this excellent article by Andrei Lankov who shows how the regime’s authority is already collapsing internally. And Nicolas Eberstadt, an indispensable source on North Korea (and a dizzying array of other things) surveys North’s political economy and the chances of an economic collapse. These three articles would be at the top of my list for anyone interested in becoming as well-informed about the Hermit Kingdom as most experts and decision-makers.
To Kim’s sure dismay, the American response to his recent missile tests was a shrug. President George W. Bush dispatched Christopher Hill, his assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, to the region rather than Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I was in South Korea during the missile firings, and there were few signs of alert on any of the U.S. bases in Korea. Pilots in several fighter squadrons were told not to drink too much on their days off, in case they had to be called in, but that was about the extent of it.
What should concentrate the minds of American strategists is not Kim’s missiles per se but rather what his decision to launch them says about the stability of his regime. Middle- and upper-middle-level U.S. officers based in South Korea and Japan are planning for a meltdown of North Korea that, within days or even hours of its occurrence, could present the world—meaning, really, the American military—with the greatest stabilization operation since the end of World War II.
North Korea’s potential for anarchy vastly exceeds that of Iraq’s. Iraq is not going to suffer a general breakdown of its urban economy–sending millions into the surrounding country-side to live and die as hunter-gatherers. But North Korea has somehow survived at the edge of that nightmare scenario for nearly two decades. And it has nukes.