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United Nations report on human rights within North Korea
February 17, 2014 10:35 AM   Subscribe

United Nations finds evidence of human rights violations within North Korea.

After a year long investigation, the United Nation's commission on human rights have released their report on conditions within North Korea detailing evidence of torture, execution and arbitrary imprisonment, deliberate starvation and other human rights violations. China has already stated that they are opposed to referring North Korea and it's leadership to the International Court of Justice (ICC) as they remain doubtful that it would help improve conditions within the country.

The findings mirror what Ms. Soon Ok Lee stated in her testimony to Congress in 2002 and comes just weeks after both Koreas agreed to the first reunion of families since 2010. This report also comes at a time when tensions are beginning to escalate over the annual US and South Korea military drills.
posted by lpcxa0 (106 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
For once, I'm not sure I disagree with China, which is a weird feeling. I mean, I think they're also trying to protect their own interests, here, but I'm kind of hazy on what anybody thinks the ICC could possibly do that would actually fix things. Even if you remove the sitting government, you end up with a massive number of human beings who need to be governed by somebody and fed and clothed and educated, and I gather that the south has not been quick to volunteer to take on that burden itself? I could be wrong. But that assumes we even could remove the sitting government, when it survived the famines of the 90s.
posted by Sequence at 10:44 AM on February 17


I'd venture to guess there's a chance that more than a few of those 80-120K political prisoners might have some refreshingly good ideas for governing a post-Kim NK.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:51 AM on February 17 [9 favorites]


In other news, the United Nations has been banned from r/pyongyang.
posted by Naberius at 10:52 AM on February 17 [38 favorites]


This is so scary, and way too reminiscent of what happened during the 1930s and 1940s. I can't help but feel like we all have blood on our hands, but I don't know how something of this magnitude can be stopped or even faced, really.
posted by mynameisluka at 10:53 AM on February 17 [6 favorites]


It not so much a question of remove the dictator and his cronies from power as it is about documenting human rights violations for future usage in a court of law and for the history books because the atrocities that the North Korean government has committed will be questioned by internal and external actors for various political and social reasons.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:56 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I don't get it. Are the rights to sustenance, to political process, and to due process of law somehow not human rights?

We have to wait until we find evidence of outright torture now to condemn the North Korean regime's record?
posted by atbash at 10:59 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


I can't help but feel like we all have blood on our hands

Overthrowing the government by invading North Korea would also kill hundreds of thousands of people.

Countries that intervened on the South Korean side in the Korean war deserve some credit for keeping 2/3 of the population of Korea out from under the thumb of the Kims, though I don't think anyone could have known in the 50s just how bad the North would become.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:05 AM on February 17 [11 favorites]


Wait till they find out about the gambling at Rick's.
posted by jonmc at 11:07 AM on February 17 [43 favorites]


what anybody thinks the ICC could possibly do that would actually fix things
That's not the question. The question is whether referring them to the ICC would cause a better outcome than not referring them.

That argument, I don't know enough about to participate in. (Would the likely bloodbath of an invasion be better than the continued suffering of the political prisoners? Is military intervention required?) But the lack of an easy option for the ICC doesn't mean that inaction is the best choice, either.
posted by katrielalex at 11:09 AM on February 17


The only thing the ICC can reasonably achieve is to shame China a little. Not too much, mind, but a tidy jab nicely calibrated. Maybe draw attention away from some other unpleasantness at the same time, win-win!
posted by aramaic at 11:11 AM on February 17


Great. Now Dennis Rodman will claim that by shitting all over the rug in his hotel's hallway last month he was actually performing an intentional act of civil disobedience.
posted by item at 11:16 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


As is usual in politics, the question is not what is in the report (N. Korea HR abuses are widely known) but why is the report coming out now and who stands to benefit?
posted by benzenedream at 11:22 AM on February 17 [5 favorites]


Time for another strongly worded form letter from the UN. I suggest mixing it up with a Times New Roman font; Helvetica is kind of played out.
posted by Renoroc at 11:23 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


The North Korea issue is a deeply troubling one - but also one that has no obvious resolution.

The issue is simple - the inhabitants of NK have been brainwashed into believing that the ruling Kim family are basically gods. The result is that a tiny number of people are essentially keeping 25 million people as hostages. If, say, Kim Jung Un were assassinated, the mantle would pass to someone else, there would no doubt be mass-killings in retribution, and the system would continue.

There's an additional wrinkle that NK has nukes and delivery systems - crappy ones, yes, but probably capable of hitting Seoul, which is about 50 miles from the border. And the rulers would definitely use them if they felt at all pressed - believing you are a god is not good for your rational judgement - moreover, their entire position depends on the rest of the world believing that they are dangerous crazies who would use those nukes under the slightest provocation, so they can't risk their bluff being called.

So an invasion of NK would likely be a bloodbath unlike anything we've seen since Stalin and Mao. The number of deaths might easily exceed ten million - even a badly-made nuclear bomb falling on Seoul could easily kill five million people.

There's a long pause here as I rack my brains for a good solution. But I can't come up with one. Of all the things that I come up with, perhaps the political assassination one is the best - and the fact that I say that indicates what a terrible situation it really is. Allowing it to continue is appalling, but any intervention seems to be just as bad...!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:28 AM on February 17 [7 favorites]


I couldn't finish reading Mrs Lee's testimony. No words.
posted by bunderful at 11:29 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


What I don't understand is why China seems to be so sanguine about a batshit crazy regime on its doorstep that's developing long-range missile capability. "Oh, they're not pointed at us" doesn't seem terribly reassuring to me given the aforementioned completely batshit crazy part.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:30 AM on February 17 [5 favorites]


I've come around to the view that, as unpopular as it would have been, Clinton should have attempted to overthrow the NK regime in the late 90s. I certainly can't blame him or any other world leader (other than the Chinese govt) for failing to do so, but I feel like that was the most plausible moment since the Korean War to end this crisis, which I think is, in aggregate over the last 60 years, probably on the same order as the holocaust.
posted by gsteff at 11:38 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Frontline recently did a piece on NK. It's well-done and seriously saddening.
posted by cman at 11:45 AM on February 17 [6 favorites]


An interesting book about an oppression in NK is The Aquariums of Pyongyang, written by a survivor of an NK concentration camp. It's pretty matter of fact, which allows a sensitive reader to continue - though there's a disconcerting moment when you realize that the concentration camp he's writing about is one of the very nicest ones in the country, and some of the others are much worse.

Regarding China - their leadership rationally assumes that if the nukes go off, there is zero chance that they will hit China. I imagine they have a realistic evaluation of NK's delivery systems, all massed on the southern border of NK, as being completely unable to deliver nuclear weapons the 550 miles to Beijing, which is the largest sizable (by Chinese standards) city near NK. Yes, NK has demonstrated missiles that can theoretically throw 100kg of payload for 4000 miles but that won't contain an NK nuke, which are likely near in size to Little Boy (about five tons) - and there's also the issue of the guidance systems, which are likely also built with primitive technology.

There have been four generations of education of the populace as "communists" and China is about the only country that hasn't been portrayed as "imperialists". All China has to do is keep being a little less harsh than the rest of the world and they're guaranteed, even in the worst case, not to be targets of NK's insane wrath.

> I've come around to the view that, as unpopular as it would have been, Clinton should have attempted to overthrow the NK regime in the late 90s.

There would have likely been millions of casualties, if not over 10 million. No elected leader could possibly take that risk, particularly considering that NK posed no direct risk to the US at all - this is a feature, not a bug, of a democratic system.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 11:46 AM on February 17 [9 favorites]


What I don't understand is why China seems to be so sanguine about a batshit crazy regime on its doorstep that's developing long-range missile capability.

China also doesn't want to be responsible for the massive flood of refugees that's going to occur if/when the regime falls.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 11:46 AM on February 17 [17 favorites]


gsteff: "I've come around to the view that, as unpopular as it would have been, Clinton should have attempted to overthrow the NK regime in the late 90s. I certainly can't blame him or any other world leader (other than the Chinese govt) for failing to do so, but I feel like that was the most plausible moment since the Korean War to end this crisis, which I think is, in aggregate over the last 60 years, probably on the same order as the holocaust."

Given that Clinton basically spent over half his second term dealing with a sex scandal of his own creation, I'm not clear on where he would have gotten the political capital to start a war with NK. Even limited military actions like the missile campaign to contain Hussein were popularly regarded as Clinton-engineered "distractions" from the Lewinsky mess. The U.S. didn't get its jones for foreign regime-change back until 9/11.
posted by Strange Interlude at 11:55 AM on February 17


>An interesting book about an oppression in NK is The Aquariums of Pyongyang

If you are looking for another read on how gut wrenching horrid these camps are - Escape From Camp 14 is a must read, though I warn it's not for the faint of heart and at times, you do need to force yourself to keep reading
posted by lpcxa0 at 11:55 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


The International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) are two completely different bodies. Whichever one the article means, China's point is nonsensical, and is based in non-belief in international human rights law full stop.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:59 AM on February 17


Concerning the Situation in the Ideological Sphere: Document No. 9

The seven dangerous values

Via Xi Jinping's wikipedia entry.
posted by b1tr0t at 12:02 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Clinton should have attempted to overthrow the NK regime in the late 90s.

Nuclear weapons don't actually make the situation appreciably worse than it was in the 90s. The North Koreans have enough conventional weapons on the border that Seoul would take a catastrophic amount of casualties in the event of an invasion or bombing of North Korea.

There was never an easy way to end this unless we did what MacArthur wanted to do and drop nuclear weapons during the Korean War, and I don't think anyone would have preferred that.
posted by empath at 12:06 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


A) taking the NK leadership to the ICC isn't going to happen because China won't sign off on it.

B) even if it did happen, it's not the same thing as determining on military action to remove the leadership.
posted by yoink at 12:10 PM on February 17


Even if Clinton had had the desire and the political capital for military action in NK, it is highly unlikely that that would have ended well. NK is not an easy situation. Even the best case scenario right now is still pretty bad.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:16 PM on February 17


The equation is the same here as it was during the Holocaust, and indeed during every horrible time when the strong have preyed upon the weak: how many are you willing to kill to stop this? The butcher's bill will be high, paid in the blood of your own folk, theirs and, inevitably, the innocent. A war upon North Korea sounds tempting... to those who will observe it from a distance.

Perhaps we'll get "lucky." Perhaps this petty tyrant will overstep himself and do something just stupid enough to bring down the wrath of East and West on his head and he will end his days swinging from a lamppost. But I'm betting he has surrounded himself with keepers that will reign him in, just enough, to keep his sad regime alive, because they know they'll all hang with him.

(This is where, in a better world, Superman would fly down, punch Kim Jong Un in the jaw and settle the matter. But this is not a better world.)
posted by SPrintF at 12:16 PM on February 17


(And, hand to God, if ever a face needed a good right-cross, it's his.)
posted by SPrintF at 12:19 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Right now, the North Korea nukes don't really tip the scales at all as far as a war would go. They can't deliver it. They can't make it small enough to put on a missile yet (and that's a huge issue) and any bomber big enough to bring it to SK would be downed at the border.
posted by azpenguin at 1:05 PM on February 17


Right the issue as I understood it was always the amount of conventional artillery that they have pointed at Seoul and the inability to do much about it before it reduced most of the city to rubble.
posted by Carillon at 1:16 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I've been binge-watching Chuck this past weekend, so maybe my thoughts are colored by that goofy spy drama, but I wonder if the solution isn't infiltrating and affecting the Kim family from within? If we could quietly "eliminate" the more problematic members of the government and get other key well-placed figures to realize the futility of their position on an increasingly shorter term, maybe we could get them to consider some kind of gradual transition of power to the people with some oversight from international commissions? I know there was some optimism about Kim Jong Un because of his Western education and love of things like the NBA...

I don't mean to make light of the problems of the North Korean people. It's a terrible tragedy, and I'm just trying to think outside the box for solutions.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:20 PM on February 17


It's too bad a lot of people seem to think that the only possible avenue for regime change in North Korea is war. And then there are factions who question if the North Koreans would be able to govern themselves in the event of a collapse of the Kim dynasty. I can't but help think that these are just some examples of the worst kind of paternalistic western thinking. When they have an opportunity to do so, the North Koreans have shown a great desire to engage with the outside world, they aren't as backwards as some may presume. Hell, thousand to tens of thousands risk execution (for themselves and 3 generations of their families) every year to defect to South Korea, cross the border to China and consume media from the free world; they are thirsting for the outside world.

I believe the talk of nukes is more of a distraction from the real issue: the Kim regime is dependent on China. If China cuts off aid, North Korea's government would collapse. But I don't even think it would take that. If China simply stopped persecuting North Korean defectors and shipping them back to North Korea, then the flow of people north to China and mass media south to North Korea would probably be enough to topple the Kims. The real issue here is that the West doesn't seem to want to pressure China to end its support for NK, either because they don't want to upset their bankers or they don't want it to become apparent that they need China's acquiescence in this matter. Of course, China (and South Korea) doesn't like the idea of potentially millions of refugees streaming across the border, but if the west is serious with helping the North Koreans there is a lot we can do to help that situation.

Nukes (whether they actually work or are deliverable at all) weren't enough to keep the Iron Curtain up, I don't believe they'll be enough to support the North Korean regime. We need to stop looking at this like a game of Risk and admit that NK is already a failed state, therefore what is needed to end this lunacy 1) identify who is propping them up and 2) do whatever we can to end that support.
posted by roquetuen at 1:31 PM on February 17 [31 favorites]


Rock Steady: I've been binge-watching Chuck this past weekend, so maybe my thoughts are colored by that goofy spy drama, but I wonder if the solution isn't infiltrating and affecting the Kim family from within?

Infiltration and assassination is, well, not easy. First of all, Kim's government is to a large extent family-based, so your infiltrators face a major problem right off the bat, since they don't have family backgrounds within the country. Furthermore, their internal culture and customs aren't very well known due to a lack of exported cultural products, and a paranoid regime like that will instantly pick up on any mistakes, so they're particularly hard to infiltrate on that level, too. Assuming you did get in to the government, no structure stable enough to survive this long can't survive the death of a few members here and there (except possibly Kim himself, but I think they'd outlast even that), so you'd have to kill a lot of people. Finally, at the end of it all, the complete mess that would result from your destabilization might be as bad as outright war, with factions inside the country fighting for dominance.

It's also almost certainly a suicide mission with a low chance of success for any individual infiltrator, so good luck finding volunteers. Plus, if any get caught and identified (which is really likely), you might easily provoke a war - a war where they would have the first strike and possibly the element of surprise. So the worst-case scenario is actually worse than regular war, since we could probably take out a lot of that artillery before it fired if we attacked them.

So basically, lots of good reasons.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:43 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


Just to give an idea of the scale of the military problem (I had to look it up, in my head defeating a nation with a demotivated army and no technology seemed fairly easy if you were the United States of America).

NK have 17900 units of artillery. By comparison the US have just 1537 ground attack fighters. Not all of those are stealth. To make SK safe you'd really want to deal rapid devastating damage to the artillery units, before they can fire.

Now a stealth aircraft can deal that sort of damage against NK. Their radar won't be good enough to spot an attack coming, but I'd say that the numbers mean that in every case you'd be left with a good number of artillery getting shots off against Seoul.

(I suppose it's plausible that you could pull it off with attack submarines, but 17900 artillery being hit with even 70 subs launching tomahawks would be a tall order surely?)
posted by ElliotH at 1:52 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


Time to activate the sleeper Rodman to assassinate lil' kim.
posted by planetesimal at 1:58 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


If China simply stopped persecuting North Korean defectors and shipping them back to North Korea, then the flow of people north to China and mass media south to North Korea would probably be enough to topple the Kims.
They would kill every last one of them at the border.
Really, they would.

Until Seoul puts up a version of SDI that works or secretly builds the largest network of underground bunkers in history there's nothing much you can do. 25 million people live in Seoul and it's surrounding areas.

That's World War levels of dead in a few hours.

I don't think The Intersect is going to help.
posted by fullerine at 2:02 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


Great job stating the obvious, UN.

But now what will anyone do?
posted by hal_c_on at 2:03 PM on February 17


Countries that intervened on the South Korean side in the Korean war deserve some credit for keeping 2/3 of the population of Korea out from under the thumb of the Kims, though I don't think anyone could have known in the 50s just how bad the North would become.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:05 PM on February 17


There's a great book called Nothing to Envy that goes into some detail about how North Korea actually seemed to be the better Korea for some time after the Korean War. They had a lot of money flowing in from the Soviets to prop up their economy, and their factories were virtually all full. Yes, people were still disappeared by the oppressive regime but there was food on the table and jobs to be had (although the purpose of a job in communist North Korea was different than the purpose of a job in a capitalistic society).

It wasn't until probably the 80's (I'm recalling from memory here, so my dates could be wrong) that the South Korean economy really started picking up and developing past the N Korean economy. North Korea was hit by declining favoritism from the USSR and also an absolute resistance to implementing anything resembling a capitalistic system. China, on the other hand, realized the benefits of modified capitalism and started that transition process in the 1970's.

Anyways, it got really bad in the 90's when the famine hit and their economy completely fell through the cellar. For anyone who believes that the cult of personality persists in N Korea, the famine was the absolute breaking point. There are no polls but from what I've read most average people in N Korea know they are in a miserable situation caused by their government, but they have little recourse.

I cannot recommend "Nothing to Envy" enough. The stories of the families are heartbreaking as they try to endure unimaginable hardships. I couldn't help but remember while reading it that during many of those difficult years, Kim Jong-Il became one of the world's largest importers of Cognac (over $600k/year while 23 million people were starving).
posted by glaucon at 2:23 PM on February 17 [20 favorites]


NK have 17900 units of artillery.

How many are functional? The fail rate must be pretty significant at this point.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:24 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


What are the types of grassroots efforts out there? Seems like a lot of the solutions here are on a government or military level, surely there are others?
posted by divabat at 2:30 PM on February 17


I assume this has already been posted -- a bit of it was shown during the Frontline episode linked above, which didn't point out the music: North Korea destroys US city to the tune of We Are The World.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:30 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


"Great job stating the obvious, UN.

But now what will anyone do?
"

I think the point of the report is to make an official record, so these crimes are recorded somewhere outside of various nation states classified intelligence archives. Some day change will come to North Korea, and when it does the real story will become known both inside and outside of the country. This is a start on that process.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:34 PM on February 17 [6 favorites]


I'm curious, what is the best case scenario for a military intervention in North Korea? Is there any chance of it being anything short of a total disaster?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 2:38 PM on February 17


I'm curious, what is the best case scenario for a military intervention in North Korea? Is there any chance of it being anything short of a total disaster?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:38 PM on February 17


From what I understand, there's an absurdly large chance they'll just start lobbing nukes. Which is the main reason why they're so public about their testing of said nukes.

They're basically playing the crazy guy strategy. You know part of it is an act, but you wonder just enough if there's truth behind what they say.

Edit: In terms of best case scenario, it's not too promising. A best case scenario would probably be starving their army and then enticing them to surrender arms for food, or encouraging a relatively bloodless coup d'tat. There are so many complicated factors I really think there are only "less bad" scenarios.
posted by glaucon at 2:41 PM on February 17


Leaving nukes aside, what would the objective of a military intervention be? To command the territory? That's basically impossible, as we saw in Iraq and elsewhere. North Korea would be much, much, much harder, because they're prepared for it and have fifty years' worth of equipment and supplies stored away in secret stores and redoubts. And that's after you get your troops across fifty years' worth of border fortifications. In a country which isn't a nice flat desert, either, so it's more tactically challenging.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:47 PM on February 17


I'd like to reiterate that the Kim regime may be *playing* crazy, but their various strategies and cycles of yes/no on everything from disarmament/nuclear showmanship, food aid, family reunifications and economic matters are all perfectly reasonable ways of keeping the rest of the world afraid of a tiny impoverished state. The one and only purpose of the NK government is keeping the Kim family in power; they essentially own the entire country, possessing and controlling all its human and physical resources.

Any external agreements limit the Kim's absolute authority - not going to happen.
posted by Dreidl at 3:00 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Can we also stop with the North Koreans are brainwashed myth? If PBS Frontline's report is anything to consider, it seems that North Koreans are generally able to rationalize just fine and recognize the situation they're in.
posted by SollosQ at 3:02 PM on February 17 [8 favorites]


If China simply stopped persecuting North Korean defectors and shipping them back to North Korea, then the flow of people north to China and mass media south to North Korea would probably be enough to topple the Kims.

They would kill every last one of them at the border.
Really, they would.


Really? Because they sure don't right now. They try, but it isn't possible. There are 50,000 North Koreans hiding out in China right now, possibly a lot more given that it is hard to estimate a population that is illegal and risks their lives by being seen. Around 3,000 North Koreans make it to South Korea every year. If you haven't watched the Frontline docu linked by cman above, I would urge you to take a look. It is hard to estimate how many are made each year, but crossing the border happens a lot. There are many smugglers who right now make their living moving contraband across the Chinese border. In the Frontline doc, they show smugglers bribing guards (when the soldiers themselves are starving, it makes this much easier) and going into North Korea to take people out and DVDs and other contraband in.

My point is that the border with China is their weak spot; they are dependent on China and they know it. The border is pretty porous as-is and they can't really shut it down because they don't have the infrastructure in place or the manpower available to make it impenetrable like the border to the south. If China stopped being complicit, then the North Korean citizenry would become even more daring.

And the smuggled contraband is working. In the Frontline doc, you see North Korean women arguing with soldiers when they are told not to sell goods on the street. Pirated DVDs from South Korea are sold on the street. This was unheard of even a few years ago. What does it say about the psyche of North Koreans when they are willing to spend money on DVDs when the specter of starvation stalks even the "well off"? Cell phones are becoming available, Koryolink , North Korea's Egyptian-backed cell-service, reports more than 2 million subscribers, not all of them are party loyalists. Illegal cell-phones are available that make calls to China possible for border towns. So many ask that since the Kim regime survived the famines of the 90s, why would they collapse now? Well, because there is orders of magnitude more outside access than there was even a few years ago. Cell phone ownership was completely illegal less than a decade ago.

I really believe almost all the arguments against North Korea opening up are falling to the wayside. As more media from the outside world comes in, the North Koreans have done nothing but devour it ravenously. They are ready to move towards something new. We need to stop washing our hands and saying that the North Koreans are too brainwashed and backwards to want change. Every day there is a North Korean risking his or her life and the lives of their families to prove that wrong. Again, the war arguments are moot and a waste of time, the North Koreans are embracing the outside world, all we need to do is do everything we can to provide access to it.
posted by roquetuen at 3:02 PM on February 17 [29 favorites]


Dreidl: The one and only purpose of the NK government is keeping the Kim family in power; they essentially own the entire country, possessing and controlling all its human and physical resources.

Has anyone approached them about simply buying the country outright? Surely even 100 million a piece and asylum in Switzerland would be cheaper than trying to take it from them by force...
posted by curious.jp at 3:03 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


"What I don't understand is why China seems to be so sanguine about a batshit crazy regime on its doorstep that's developing long-range missile capability. "Oh, they're not pointed at us" doesn't seem terribly reassuring to me given the aforementioned completely batshit crazy part."

China is worried about several things, most notably (as someone mentioned above) the effects of millions of refugees coming to China. North Korea is also both domestically and internationally useful as a fellow communist state that is bravely standing off Western imperialism, and it's a significant trade partner for China. It'll be interesting to see to what extent that changes if this report gets wide circulation in China — if I recall correctly, a lot of the domestic sentiment is already dubious of the Kims.

"The real issue here is that the West doesn't seem to want to pressure China to end its support for NK, either because they don't want to upset their bankers or they don't want it to become apparent that they need China's acquiescence in this matter. Of course, China (and South Korea) doesn't like the idea of potentially millions of refugees streaming across the border, but if the west is serious with helping the North Koreans there is a lot we can do to help that situation."

No, there's been a ton of pressure on China for decades to stop supporting the North Korean state. The West has certainly made no bones about it — it's a significant conflict in foreign policy and has been for years, coloring things like the Chinese claims on Japanese islands, and South Korean trade.

There's a pretty solid report from a couple years back on China's NK policy from the US Institute of Peace (which is generally pretty reliable). Things that they highlight are that stability is a key interest for China, and the guide for many of its policies, in a way that can be often understated or misunderstood from the West. China's leadership is dealing with a lot of domestic upheavals, and both the people (when polled) and the leadership again and again highlight the overall importance of stability — it can be seen as a direct lesson of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and industrialization policies.

Compounding that is that China has a lot of money invested in Pyongyang, and the relationship is valuable in two ways. First off, the investments are predominantly in mining and resource extraction, and since China's growth is predicated on cheap commodities, that's an important aspect. The other thing is that China is pretty much the only trading partner for North Korea, and so sees a significant portion of manufacturing exports going to North Korea — including weapons, but also other things like cars and tractors. The Northeast of China has been hit hard by falling industrial manufacturing, which has led to a lot of labor unrest up there, and since those exports are propping up an area that would otherwise be hit even harder by the global recession, domestic stability is really important.

China's decision-making apparatus has also become more diffuse in recent years, as more and more institutions are acting on local interests, which has the effect of weakening some of the decision-making apparatus overall, meaning that it takes more effort to achieve a consensus (e.g. how long it took China to condemn NK's aggressive military action toward a South Korean corvette). But because there's been long party-to-party cooperation and long military-to-military cooperation (including joint trainings), that means that it's often easier for China to default to a friendly relation with NK than muster the internal will to oppose NK action. Over time, as hardliners from the military age out of national leadership, that trend should actually make it easier to effect reform, but for now, it makes it more difficult.

One real shift that happened after the above report was published was Kim's execution of his uncle, who had been leading the pro-China faction within North Korea. That may be part of the timing of this report — China and North Korea are frostier now than they have been in recent years, so this might be another push to help China distance themselves. But as Xi and Li are both pragmatists (and have explicitly been critical of notions like universal human rights and media independence), it's hard to see that a report like this would have much direct effect when weighed against nationalist interest.
posted by klangklangston at 3:05 PM on February 17 [23 favorites]


Leaving nukes aside, what would the objective of a military intervention be? To command the territory? That's basically impossible, as we saw in Iraq and elsewhere.

I don't claim any special knowledge, but I suspect that if there were some way to remove the very top layer without horrific casualties, the rest of the country would not fight on... because there's absolutely no incentive for them to. This isn't like the middle east, there aren't warring tribal factions nor religious fervor. I strongly suspect the vast majority at all levels want reunification, or would if they had the slightest bit of access to information.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:05 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


In related news, the United Nations also made similar findings regarding the People's Republic of Nofuckingshitistan, after the last decade of cross border strife with neighboring Youdontsay. Further tentative findings from recent UN fact finding missions: water may in fact be wet, the Pope is quite possibly Catholic, and bears have been reported, on occasion, to eliminate waste in wooded areas.
posted by stenseng at 3:09 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


related
posted by Twain Device at 3:10 PM on February 17


Well, I'm guessing part of the issue is that it would automatically mean massively increased tensions between the West and China. China simultaneously would not want that much instability and war directly south of their border, but at the same time would want the massive mineral deposits and resources North Korea possesses but doesn't have the infrastructure to mine or develop. So I personally think that avoiding conflict or war with China is probably a major roadblock to an intervention.

It's a fucked up policy designed for world stability at the expense of millions of people, and another example of how murky the "right" answer truly is. Do we potentially upend peace for billions of Asian citizens if the conflict spreads for the sake of our moral conscience? I want to say yes, but it really takes some thinking.
posted by glaucon at 3:11 PM on February 17


Comment posted above wondered why China still pals with N. Korea...easy: if N unites with south, we (Am) are at border with China. If US or any nation goes to war with North, then, again, we are likely to be at border with China. North Korea would topple this week if China did not supply them with food and the do this supplying to keep the North beholding and a buffer to the West--by the West I mean the 30 thousand Am troops hanging out in S. Korea, with an additional 40 or so thousand in Japan
posted by Postroad at 3:17 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


Regarding the best case scenario for an invasion today, I think it's almost simpler to list the various nightmare scenarios, and define the best case as one in which none of the following happen:
  1. An artillery barrage against Seoul
  2. A successful nuclear weapon attack
  3. Intervention by the PLA (a real uncertainty, given that the PLA doesn't always do what Beijing wants), such as seizing of NK territory to prevent it from being seized by the attackers
  4. NK forces killing SK civilians after successfully crossing the DMZ
  5. Terrorist attacks by North Korean agents against against the attacking nations
  6. Execution of everyone in the labor camps to prevent them from telling occupiers about the crimes
  7. Mass disease/starvation as the government-run economy collapses
These, are, of course, just some of the downside risks of the the military operation, let alone reintegration. Avoiding an artillery barrage, massacres of prisoners and PLA intervention all strike me as very unlikely, today.
posted by gsteff at 3:20 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]


Really, this is a great comment. I love the idea of continuing to build the N Korean citizens' knowledge of the world as a means of encouraging more questioning of their leadership's policies.
posted by glaucon at 3:22 PM on February 17


Dude, remember the time Radar and Colonel Potter took the wrong turn and ended up in North Korea? Wow. That was a close call.
posted by Colonel Panic at 3:27 PM on February 17 [8 favorites]


Y0UNG-HAE CHANG. HEAVY INDUSTRIES. PRESENTS. 0PERATI0N NUK0REA.[Previously Related h/t homunculus]
posted by ob1quixote at 5:06 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


So, fuck nukes, it's all about spamming the hell out of them with reruns of Friends, airdropping Levi Strauss products, and smuggling iPads filled with subversive western content.

Isn't this the kinda thing that supposedly took down the USSR? I'm not being facetious, I just always got the sense that you can't fight capitalism, in its most benevolent form.

So my future goggles tell me that NK is headed for the roller coaster that is a kleptocracy.
posted by valkane at 5:11 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


North Korea would topple this week if China did not supply them with food
They weren't toppled by three years of famine that killed hundreds of thousands of people per year.
posted by Flunkie at 5:23 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Buried within the second link of the OP is a link to these drawings by a former labor camp prisoner. They're pretty self-explanatory, but can anybody translate?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:30 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Dang, klang, that's some first rate analmalyzing. Thanks!
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 5:31 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


China ... doesn't like the idea of potentially millions of refugees streaming across the border

If I do my math right (and that's never a certainty) there are 54 Chinese for every North Korean. If the whole country comes stampeding across the border, you have every Chinese family dig out their old percentile dice (D&D is huge in China) and roll. If you roll a 99 or 00, you take in one North Korean. Have them clean up the place during the day or something. They'd just vanish into China.

Okay, granted I'm oversimplifying, and I'm sure they don't want to deal with the hassle, but it's hard to see North Korean refugees as a massive threat that could destabilize China.
posted by Naberius at 5:38 PM on February 17


Furthermore, their internal culture and customs aren't very well known due to a lack of exported cultural products, and a paranoid regime like that will instantly pick up on any mistakes, so they're particularly hard to infiltrate on that level, too.

Hell, even North Koreans who escaped had trouble getting back in as smugglers in the past - they were spotted by being "fat" instead of malnourished and starving.

(This from the fascinating Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.)
posted by bonaldi at 5:59 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


The United States is partially responsible for the situation in North Korea. We have 29,000 troops stationed on their border whose goal is to preserve the status quo. For sixty years they have been successful as our strong military presence discourages anyone else from getting involved.

You can make a pretty good case for the status quo, especially if you are South Korean, considering the alternatives involve Seoul being shelled. But this is little consolation to the people of North Korea.

If the United States is unwilling to resolve the situation, we should pull out and let the people of East Asia tackle the problem. Perhaps they, too, will choose to maintain the status quo. But at least then the blood will be on their hands, not ours.
posted by foobaz at 6:14 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think that many commentators are not aware that even accounting for poor maintenance and low morale, North Korea has built up a military capability, within the context of being right next to millions of South Koreans, that the US simply is incapable of resolving militarily at an acceptable cost. Full stop. That's been true for a long time and is largely independent of the nukes. The nukes just make it worse.

I disagree with roquetuen — even without China, North Korea is a classic example of a situation where other countries have no reasonable, realistic options for effecting short-term positive change. Without China, North Korea would slowly spiral into worse and worse poverty, starvations, mass death, and oppression until a coup or a revolution, which would then also almost certainly be followed by more poverty, starvation, mass death and oppression. With China, you get about the same amount of suffering, except spread out over several decades. With military invasion, you get even more death and poverty and starvation, including among people who were previously among the world's most economically secure.

That's why basically the whole world, including the US and China, have just been hoping for some dramatic change within the ruling family. That hasn't happened. Or, rather, it hasn't happened for the better.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:31 PM on February 17 [2 favorites]


Does North Korea speak the same version of Korean as South Korea? I don't know much about languages but I would suspect that a country whose people are isolated from the rest of the world for such a long time would start developing some idiosyncrasies in their language.
posted by gucci mane at 6:39 PM on February 17


gucci mane, I heard an interview on the radio maybe six months ago that mentioned a bit on that. Apparently there are definitely noticeable differences, but more along the lines of "those people speak in a more direct way that those other people would typically consider brusque or even impolite", or "those people speak in a way that those other people would consider overly formal", and some different vocabulary, rather than a lack of mutual intelligibility.
posted by Flunkie at 6:44 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


The subtle language differences that can give away that someone in the north is really from the south reminds of a video I saw that talked about how the US was airdropping South Vietnamese spies into North Vietnam and every last one of them was discovered and killed. After the war, IIRC, it was learned that the plain gym shoes that the South Vietnamese were wearing was a dead giveaway. Apparently most everyone in the north wore sandals.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 7:01 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


.

Is there any nonprofit organization one can donate to that would actually in any way help effect change there? Anyone smuggling in food, or even jeans and CDs, that is public about it?
posted by limeonaire at 7:03 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


The United States is partially responsible for the situation in North Korea. We have 29,000 troops stationed on their border whose goal is to preserve the status quo. For sixty years they have been successful as our strong military presence discourages anyone else from getting involved.

You can make a pretty good case for the status quo, especially if you are South Korean, considering the alternatives involve Seoul being shelled. But this is little consolation to the people of North Korea.

If the United States is unwilling to resolve the situation, we should pull out and let the people of East Asia tackle the problem. Perhaps they, too, will choose to maintain the status quo. But at least then the blood will be on their hands, not ours.


You know, you might reference the fact that South Korea is a *democracy* (and boy have they ever worked hard to become one, kudos to the South Koreans) and that North Korea is a criminal regime.

Why the United States (and I am not even American!) should be held responsible for the crimes of the regime in the north is beyond me.

And while Americans have repeatedly rubbed it in my face that they selflessly protect countries like Canada, and Japan (and here in this thread, South Korea), what many parochial Americans like you perhaps do not understand is that it is a connected world.

"East Asia" is not some distant region decoupled from the United States. What happens on the Korean Peninsula directly impacts American fortunes, as well as the fortunes of billions of people around the world.

So perhaps it is worth it to keep some tin pot dictator at bay and avoid spilling "blood."

Yeesh.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:08 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


After the war, IIRC, it was learned that the plain gym shoes that the South Vietnamese were wearing was a dead giveaway. Apparently most everyone in the north wore sandals.

Jesus. If comedy equals tragedy plus time, that's pretty fucking hilarious.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:09 PM on February 17


"Does North Korea speak the same version of Korean as South Korea? I don't know much about languages but I would suspect that a country whose people are isolated from the rest of the world for such a long time would start developing some idiosyncrasies in their language."

Yeah, the two Koreas have had a large dialectical shift from each other. Wikipedia has a good overview of the differences.
posted by klangklangston at 7:14 PM on February 17 [3 favorites]


Comment posted above wondered why China still pals with N. Korea...easy: if N unites with south, we (Am) are at border with China.

iirc, the Chinese saw protecting their border as their strategic interest in entering the Korean War, and I agree that this probably has not changed.
posted by thelonius at 7:16 PM on February 17


BTW, Japan is an important source of hard currency for NORK. The flow of currency from Japan to Korea is used as a bargaining chip by Japan (which Korea has targeted with nuclear weapons).
posted by KokuRyu at 7:36 PM on February 17


So perhaps it is worth it to keep some tin pot dictator at bay and avoid spilling "blood."

I totally agree. And if Japan and China think the best solution is to protect South Korea and leave North Korea to rot, they are perfectly capable of making that happen. I just don't think it's in anyone's best interest to have the US dictate regional policy from halfway around the world, especially when we aren't really paying attention to the situation.

Right now China is scared to take any action because of our presence. We are scared to take any action because it is in China's sphere of influence. Nothing will ever get done as long as the United States maintains a presence in Korea. All our presence does is prop up the Kim regime and deprives Asians from having a say in their own regional politics.

If Japan and China were in charge, something might get done. They could encourage en masse defection, plant moles, sabotage military installations, create a succession crisis at the right time, etc. Or, if they prefer, they can sit tight and maintain the status quo. But at least they would have the freedom to decide for themselves.
posted by foobaz at 8:08 PM on February 17


What if we put like 1/3 the effort and money of a war into sneaking people out if they want to leave? They can run our prison system humanely, and the people who run our prison system now can replace the prisoners in the camps? It's WIN WIN. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:22 PM on February 17 [5 favorites]


Hell, thousand to tens of thousands risk execution (for themselves and 3 generations of their families) every year to defect to South Korea

North Korean prisoner escaped after 23 brutal years: Born in a prison camp, Shin Dong-hyuk describes how three generations of a family are incarcerated if one family member is considered disloyal
posted by homunculus at 9:29 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Is there any nonprofit organization one can donate to that would actually in any way help effect change there? Anyone smuggling in food, or even jeans and CDs, that is public about it?
posted by limeonaire at 7:03 PM on February 17


Liberty in North Korea is directly helping North Koreans refugees in China and provides support for their resettlement in South Korea.

"LiNK is a non-political, non-governmental organization. We rely on your donations to fund our work...We’re rescuing North Korean refugees who are vulnerable to exploitation & forced repatriation... We rescue refugees hiding in China through a 3,500 mile modern underground railroad"
posted by smartypantz at 10:50 PM on February 17 [6 favorites]


Regarding the best case scenario for an invasion today, I think it's almost simpler to list the various nightmare scenarios, and define the best case as one in which none of the following happen:

An artillery barrage against Seoul
A successful nuclear weapon attack
Intervention by the PLA (a real uncertainty, given that the PLA doesn't always do what Beijing wants), such as seizing of NK territory to prevent it from being seized by the attackers
NK forces killing SK civilians after successfully crossing the DMZ
Terrorist attacks by North Korean agents against against the attacking nations
Execution of everyone in the labor camps to prevent them from telling occupiers about the crimes
Mass disease/starvation as the government-run economy collapses

These, are, of course, just some of the downside risks of the the military operation, let alone reintegration. Avoiding an artillery barrage, massacres of prisoners and PLA intervention all strike me as very unlikely, today.
posted by gsteff at 3:20 PM on February 17 [5 favorites +] [!]


Thinking outside the box - is it outrageous to contemplate evacuating Seoul and all of the population close to the DMZ/border and then invade the North, dropping well targeted bombs on military and political targets? Yes, yes it's millions and millions of people to evacuate, but it would eliminate some of the risks of massive casualties outlined here by gsteff. Do it on Choesuk when most of Seoul empties as people go to visit their families anyhow? I'm not saying it would be easy, I lived in Seoul for a year so I'm suggesting this with full knowledge of how ridiculous and unrealistic this would be logistically. But maybe unrealistic brainstorming is what's needed to find a real solution to this conundrum. It's horrifying that this situation has gotten to this point and STILL the world just throws up our hands and says more or less " oh well, what can you do...".
posted by smartypantz at 11:08 PM on February 17 [4 favorites]


.
posted by evil_esto at 2:02 AM on February 18


I think the concern with evacuating Seoul is that you'd have to convince everyone to do it, and if they did do it, NK might take it as a prelude to an attack, and then start shelling anyway.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 2:40 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]


This is so scary, and way too reminiscent of what happened during the 1930s and 1940s.

More like 1950s and 1960s and hardly unusual. It's not the first time the world has been confronted with human rights violations on such a massive scale. The Soviets, the Cubans, the Cambodians, the Red Chinese, and dozens of other communist countries went through similar periods of human rights violations. The Cold War policy of containment worked pretty well and should probably be applied against North Korea. This offers no immediate relief, but as George Kennan said on the eve of the Iraq war, it's probably the wisest course of action.

"Whenever you have a possibility of going in two ways, either for peace or for war, for peaceful methods of for military methods, in the present age there is a strong prejudice for the peaceful ones. War seldom ever leads to good results."

War seldom leads to good results. How many times must that be said?
posted by three blind mice at 3:05 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]


There's a decent argument that at least the conventional threat against Seoul is a bit overstated. As an armchair general, I don't think the DPRK has the ability to defend and supply the artillery required inflict hundreds of thousands of casualties on Seoul. Not to mention that the valuable artillery would be busy shelling civilian targets instead of advancing ground forces. It would be a suicidal move for the DPRK government, and as bizarre and brutal their behavior is, I don't think they would do something that would ensure their own destruction.
posted by mikepaco at 3:21 AM on February 18


War is war. Reading that testimony, I feel demeaned as a human. War doesn't demean me, though it may describe the typical behaviour of my species. That testimony doesn't describe typical behaviour of my species. It describes terror, perverse neglect, brutalization, disgust and atrocity.

Its atrocious.
posted by evil_esto at 3:30 AM on February 18


If Japan and China were in charge, something might get done.

I think there is the misconception that the US somehow calls the shots in northeast Asia. The US has one hell of a lot of influence, thanks to its bases and nuclear weapons deployed at bases like Yokosuka, but at the end of the day Japan and Korea will do whatever Japan and Korea will do.

For the time being, there is no chance that "Japan and China" will be "in charge", notably because the PLA has decided Japan is enemy #1.

On top of that, S Korea is a strong regional player. South Korea's military has a definitive strike capability, whereas Japan has nothing like a strike capability. The current government in South Korea, for whatever strange reason has decided to enter, if temporarily, the orbit of China (Korea is definitely deciding to stick it to Japan whenever possible).

There is not much that Japan can do except pull on the lever of trade with and aid to North Korea.

You could say that the US should pull out, and let Japan fend for itself. However, that's not going to happen. Japan spends something under 2% of its GDP on defense. As mentioned, its military is no configured for any kind of attack capability, so reconfiguring its military would be expensive and domestically controversial when there are so many other challenges to address.

Japan is also ageing quite rapidly, and staffing at current levels is difficult enough.

Japan is going to depend on the United States for quite some time.

The problem is, far from pulling the strings in northeast Asia, the US is by turns disinterested and contradictory in terms of how it approaches the region.

It's like no one in the US State department really gives a shit what's happening in the region, at least not enough to have a focused strategy. The new ambassador "Princess" Kennedy cares more about the dolphin hunt than the threat of imminent war between Japan and China.

What the US really seems to care about is making sure the US Marine Corps (Okinawa) gets to continue to compete with the US Army (Korea). That's what the Okinawa base agreement is all about - facilitating inter-service rivalry. It's like, as they say, the tail is wagging the dog.

US military presence in the region is not based on some sort of geopolitical strategy exactly.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:35 AM on February 18 [7 favorites]


The Soviets, the Cubans, the Cambodians, the Red Chinese, and dozens of other communist countries went through similar periods of human rights violations.

Not to mention the right wing juntas in South America.
posted by empath at 5:09 AM on February 18


How are other countries not in violation of human rights and UN not responding?

Africa?
Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern countries oppressing/killing women for being women?

I'll never understand politics.
posted by stormpooper at 6:59 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


How are other countries not in violation of human rights and UN not responding

It's a bit different than systemic cultural isses here, as the UN is speaking to direct actions committed by the DPRK leadership.
posted by planetesimal at 7:46 AM on February 18


"The new ambassador "Princess" Kennedy cares more about the dolphin hunt than the threat of imminent war between Japan and China. "

From interviews with ranking members of the diplomatic corps, ambassadors are, like, 90 percent figureheads. Occasionally you'll get one that both knows their shit and is prepared to act on it, in which case YAY, but usually they're a political hack appointed because of their fundraising skill deserves a reward with lots of fancy dinners.
posted by klangklangston at 8:47 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


It should be noted, to anyone that thinks Japan and South Korea might be on the same side because they are both US-allied democracies, that South Korea hates Japan with about the same fervor as China hates Japan. In fact, I am not aware of an East Asian country that doesn't hate Japan over their invasions and war crimes from WW2. To whatever extent South Korea might oppose China on national security grounds, they would be equally as glad to see China wipe Japan off the face of the map, or do it themselves.

Southeast Asia is this century's Balkan Peninsula.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 10:06 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Korea and Japan are considered Southeast Asia?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 10:19 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


No, but Germany wasn't part of the Balkan Peninsula either. I was refering to the Koreas, whose conflict will extend outside that particular region, though now that I think about it a bit more, they're still part of simply East Asia. I really don't want my point to get lost in whether something is far enough south of China for my terminology to be incorrect.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 10:27 AM on February 18


NBD but given southeast Asia's huge 20th century history it was confusing to parse for a second. "You're right, east Asia" works and is precise enough to preserve the point though I think it's more than an oversimplification.
posted by lordaych at 12:21 PM on February 18


Wait, which Asian countries other than Korea and China are still bitter against Japan about WW2? I certainly can't name one.
posted by Aiwen at 3:57 PM on February 18


Wait, which Asian countries other than Korea and China are still bitter against Japan about WW2? I certainly can't name one.

Well, I know some of the older generations in the Philipines aren't exactly warm and fuzzy about Nippon.
posted by valkane at 4:50 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Indonesians are not terribly fond of Japan either.
posted by planetesimal at 5:06 PM on February 18


The Philippines and Vietnam, at least at a government level, have strong relations with Japan, and are moving towards a "collective defense" framework in light of China's growing territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.

On the other had, the Battle of Manila at the end of WWII is called "the Warsaw of Asia", not only because the Americans and Japanese obliterated the city, but also because of Japanese war crimes.

There is a sense in Japan that people would like to just move forward. Japan has paid reparations, and has apologized. And personally I believe that governments in Asia, notably in China and S Korea use the bugbear of Japanese wartime and colonial atrocities for domestic political purposes; Japan is very useful.

On the other hand, all of the hard work by successive postwar Japanese governments to acknowledge and even compensate wrongs is being totally undone by pols like Koizumi in the last decade and now Abe, who insist on visiting Yasukuni.

On top of that, many of the current Japanese leadership have a pedigree linked to the last war, and that lineage cannot be ignored by China and other countries. Abe is related to a wartime prime minister. Aso, the finance minister, is another blueblood, born with a silver spoon in his mouth whose family used slave labour in its mines and industrial projects during the war.

That's why I am mystified by Princess Kennedy's willingness to turn a blind eye to Abe's December Yasukuni visit (the American embassy in Tokyo protested in the mildest terms, and the issue was dealt with in Washington by a very junior member - 30ish - of the State Department) while protesting about a dolphin hunt.

The thing is, Abe's visit to Yasukuni came after a high-profile visit by Joe Biden, first to Japan and then to China. At around the same time the US sent B-52 bombers into China's unilateral "no-fly" zone.

Strong support from the US that was essentially wrecked by Abe's visit to Yasukuni. Yet no meaningful reproach from the US, probably because Abe was able to fix the Okinawa base "problem," once again more of a victory for the USMC than as strategic initiative for NE Asia.

So if Kennedy is a figurehead, she should just keep her damn mouth shut, or read from the playbook of the previous ambassador John Roos, who was an exceptional diplomat and friend of Japan.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:21 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


KokuRyu: "the US sent B-52 bombers into China's unilateral "no-fly" zone."

You gotta love those B-52s. It's a shame we had to chop most of ours up as a deal with the Russians. They were just coming into their own with electronic jamming to confuse the SAMs that were sent up after them. I miss those vast fleets of Big Ugly Fat Fellows. Guam almost sank during the Vietnam war due to all the BUFFs we had stationed there.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:48 PM on February 18


From interviews with ranking members of the diplomatic corps, ambassadors are, like, 90 percent figureheads. Occasionally you'll get one that both knows their shit and is prepared to act on it, in which case YAY, but usually they're a political hack appointed because of their fundraising skill deserves a reward with lots of fancy dinners.

"Usually" isn't quite accurate. While the trend appears to be negative, 37%-- not a majority-- of US ambassadors are political appointees, the rest being career FSOs.
posted by threeants at 10:25 PM on February 18


I have an odd mixed up mishmash of feelings about North Korea. Both my grandmas were from the North, and my mother raised me on the dream of reunification (she really wants to open up a school in her mom's hometown). A family friend's son was one of the missionaries imprisoned in NK. I've been to Gaesong and Geumgangsan and the DMZ three times. I've volunteered at a refugee school in Seoul. And yet I really really am uncomfortable with some of the major actors (the conservative, evangelical war hawk crowd) active in NK human rights issues.

Currently open access, “Reframing North Korean Human Rights” – a thematic issue of Critical Asian Studies.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:12 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


""Usually" isn't quite accurate. While the trend appears to be negative, 37%-- not a majority-- of US ambassadors are political appointees, the rest being career FSOs."

I'll amend that to say 90 percent of the plum assignments — it's rare to have an Ambassador to France who is not a figurehead.
posted by klangklangston at 8:34 AM on February 19


Jeffrey Goldberg: How Much Does It Cost to Be Ambassador to Hungary?
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:31 PM on February 19


NASA Shows How Dark North Korea Really Is
posted by homunculus at 9:05 PM on February 25


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