Thursday, February 23, 2006

Andrei Lankov's North Korean Note

North Korean expert Andrei Lankov, whom you see to the right (photo from Australian National University), has published a very interesting research note (pdf), "The Natural Death of North Korean Stalinism," in the National Bureau of Asian Research's inaugural issue of Asia Policy, Number 1 (January 2006), 95-121. From page 96, here's the official Executive Summary:
This report analyzes the sweeping changes that have taken place in North Korea over the past fifteen years, evaluates the impact these changes will likely have on the fate of the state, and offers implications for U.S. policy.

Main Argument

The last fifteen years have witnessed the gradual wearing away of North Korean Stalinism. The collapse of the centrally planned economy has resulted in the unprecedented revival of small business. The corruption and gradual disintegration of the bureaucracy have led to considerable relaxation of police control. North Korea's self-imposed information blockade has been broken, and uncensored information about the outside world is flowing in. Thus, while North Korea remains under authoritarian rule, the polity can no longer be described as Stalinist.

Policy Implications

*Encouraging the gradual disintegration of Stalinism would help make North Korea more predictable and would pave the way for a democratic transition in the future.

*The new situation has created opportunities to communicate with common North Koreans, opportunities that can be exploited by the outside world.

*Large-scale economic ventures spearheaded by the United States and other foreign businesses in the North would likely only generate income for the elite and could even support nuclear development and other military projects; small-scale activities, on the other hand, would help engage the North Korean people and expose them to the outside world.

Organization of the Essay

An overview (p. 98) of the pre-1990 situation in North Korea is followed by separate analyses of the three main areas of change in North Korea that have occurred over the past fifteen years:

The Information Flows In: 100

The Economic System: 109

Diminishing Political Control: 114

A conclusion (p. 118) summarizes the main points of the report and discusses how the collapse of North Korean Stalinism can be hastened.
A discussion of this article is going on over at Marmot's Hole. I've rather quickly read Lankov's article and found it very interesting.

Basically, his argument is that the North Korean regime lost control of the economy during the famine of the 1990s, when up to a million people starved to death under conditions in which the state could no longer meet the subsistence needs of its population, forcing many individuals to create markets to supply the population's needs. As black-market trading began to take place across the relatively open border to China, many North Koreans began to realize that not only is China wealthier than their own country but that South Korea is wealthier still. North Korean authorities have given up genuine attempts to control free markets, allowing corruption to develop as smugglers bribe guards, police, and party officials for protection or favors. The state is still authoritarian but no longer Stalinist because it has given up its control of every aspect of people's lives and no longer has the means or the will to reimpose this lost control.

Most interesting for me is his policy suggestion, namely, that small-scale economic ventures be encouraged in the North because these would enhance the independence of people from the North Korean state apparatus and increase the population's knowledge of the outside world.

How this policy suggestion would be implemented is left unsaid. North Korea might be no longer Stalinist, but as an authoritarian state, it still has the wherewithal to obstruct official economic ventures from the outside. But perhaps Lankov means unofficial ventures?

Even so, the suggestion is a bit like belling the cat -- who's going to do it?


At 6:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Small-scale economic ventures [should] be encouraged in the North because these would ... increase the population's knowledge of the outside world."

Care to explain how?

At 6:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I posed the same question:

"How this policy suggestion would be implemented is left unsaid."

Perhaps we should both ask Lankov.

Jeffery Hodges

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