Is it too much to ask for the Korea Policy Institute (www.kpolicy.org) to just go away and die? It sickens me to have legitimate concerns about North Korea be used as a proxy for debating largely unrelated domestic issues at home in the United States and South Korea. KPI is right in asserting that Korea issues receive relatively little attention by US policymakers and the media, but that is exactly why KPI needs to stop steering the already limited discussion towards the endless, and largely intellectual, debates over globalization, corporatism, imperialism, and ethnic unity. There are more real and pressing issues at hand.
Stop charading as experts. Stop the poor academic writing. Stop profiteering off the uncertain future of others. North Korea ill needs a savior such as you.
Some comments on KPI’s latest piece, The Death of General Secretary Kim Jong Il.
Kim Jong Il’s leadership coincided with the most difficult times North Korea has faced since the Korean War, including the collapse of the socialist bloc in the early 1990s, the depletion of its energy reserves, and the great famine known in the North as the “arduous march” in which some 600,000 to 2 million North Koreans died in the mid-1990s. In 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush labeled North Korea part of an “axis of evil” and identified that country as a possible target for pre-emptive nuclear strike, setting U.S.-North Korea relations on a downward spiral from which it has yet to recover.
As a friend of mine pointed out here, the word choice in the above paragraph is atrocious. To say that “…Kim Jong Il’s leadership coincided with the most difficult times North Korea has faced since the Korean War…” implies that North Korea was but a passive actor in a circumstance largely out of its control. This is unrealistic from more than a few perspectives. First of all, it wrongly absolves the North Korean government from any responsibility for the events of the past two decades, particularly the famine and continued food shortages. From a completely different perspective, it also it does not at all recognize North Korea’s continued ability (for better or for worse, depending on who you are) to shape events on the international level. Lastly, while President George W. Bush’s ”Axis of Evil Speech” no doubt did not help DPRK-US relations, events in the real world are dependent on much more than the poorly chosen word’s of a mediocre at best American president. Bashing W. is old hat and an easy cop out for this organization more concerned with making their own dollar than facing reality.
The critical issue for North Korea—one that defined Kim Jong Il’s leadership—has been maintaining sovereignty while breaking out of its diplomatic isolation from the West. Relative to that task, Kim Jong Il, as the late South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun remarked upon meeting him in Pyongyang in 2007, was “the most flexible man in North Korea.”
The above paragraphs highlights one of the most infuriating things about KPI- that is, their tendency to use well-selected snippets of opinions (a la Bruce Cummings) to make sweeping conclusions about North Korea and the correctness of their own opinions. Citing the opinion of individuals can give powerful insight into the workings of a country or society when used in the proper context and included in a greater analytical framework of thorough anthropologist and sociologists, but it has no place out-of-context in shallow policy briefs, especially when the cited opinion was most likely politically motivated.
This leads me to my final point of the day. What credibility is there in the late Roh Moo-hyun’s quote that Kim Jong Il was “the most flexible man in North Korea”? How many North Koreans did Roh Moo-hyun meet in his life? What did he know about North Korean society? What about all the North Koreans who have lived through two decades of uncertainty, surely they are not the most flexible of all?