The bitter inheritance of the 20th century still last in the south-east quadrant of Asia. While countries like Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia are raising as high growing GDP stars (Viet Nam and Laos are still monopartitic socialist countries and Cambodia is nominally a kingdom but it’s under the same ruler in the last 25 years), with South Korea leading more than often key sectors of high-end productions and finally Burma (no, I refuse to use the name Myanmar) that’s coming out of its misery there’s still a black hole, a gap who reminds to everybody that there’s a country behind the biggest DMZ in the world. Yes, I’m talking about North Korea.
Imagine a country with sligthly more than 1.2 million people in active military duty over a total population that’s a bit over 24 million (that’s about the 5%), a nation with an active space program, advanced technologies when it comes to atom bombs and missles, massive problems with healthcare and the basic needs of food. Name another country, if you can, that’s nominally devote to an ideology where the leader is just a bit less than a god himself. Those who dare to dream a future, like me, with a reunited Korea are in the need of getting more and more patient. No easy way out, not after all those years of damage.
DPRK (short form for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) got itself a short story altough not an easy one. Occupated by USSR after the end of WWII while the south part of the country was placed under western occupation (mainly USA and UK), forged and hardened by one of the worst conflicts ever, toyed and used first by the USSR then by the China as an anti-western bastion, now this nation is a little more than a problem, something that can’t be resolved easily. Since 1953 (cease fire of the war, a peace treaty was never signed) DPRK developed as one of the most complex authoritarian state ever, a country dominated by a militarian caste.
For what I know there are no other countries in the modern era that completed an easy transition from such an authoritarian model to a more open reality. Usually a regime change is caused by a major shift of power, think about USSR in the 1991 for istance, or by a full-scale war (i.e. Germany, Italy and Japan after WWII). The social factor of this equation, raised by the leader-driven cult of personality, complicate matters a lot since after 60 years of Kim Il-Sung dinasty there are roughly three generations of north koreans grown in the “light” of such an ideology. Add an huge level of poverty, an invasive state-oriented media control, an economy that is completly China-dependent and you got the picture.
For the western media the main problem is the bomb. And the knowledge to develop and build more, the fear that DPRK can sell one or more bombs and/or high radioactive products to organizations like Al-Quaeda. Of course it’s a sensible matter, with South Korea and Japan on the first line and well inside the range of DPRK array of missles. But there’s more to think about, even in the cold light of geopolitical considerations.
The population of DPRK.
Assuming that the bomb factor could be put in control in any way, how you can restart such a country? Once again, there are no prior examples of a succesful transition. The experience of Germany, reunited after the end of the soviet era, to me is not a real benchmark given the differencies between the states (South Korea will have to role of BRD, North Korea the role of DDR).
The area models, such as Viet Nam and Laos, are tempting but not superimposable. The weight of the military caste in DPRK exceeded by far their counterparts and the cautious path to market economy of both countries have been greatly helped by western countries. In my opinion there’s a narrow street available for a better future in DPRK, a very slow one such as all inner changes. Yes, inner changes. The Kim Il-sung dinasty and/or the group in power now in the country got to lead the change if they want to survive the next decade. An harsh nation like DPRK got no easy way out and if it will turn against the present government it will be a bloodbath of cataclimismic size, with the potential of great damages for all the countries that are inside the range of DPRK weapons.
What other countries can do to help this kind of change? Resume diplomacy, at the maximun levels available. Ensure privileged channels for trade and huge credit lines, offer education and health assistance, shift the export focus of the country from weapons and raw materials to civilian necessities. We’re talking about billions of USD for at least twenty years, the time needed to form a new generation who could be ready to cross the bridge and reach the modern day Asia community. Is it a dream?