Kim Jong-Il: Death Of A Dictator

Kim Jong-Il, the tyrant that ruled over North Korea has finally died at the age of 69. He likely died from a heart attack or stroke, although the North Korean propaganda machine has claimed that he died from “overwork.” Under his leadership, North Korea continued to be a concentration camp writ on a nightmare scale. While Jong-Il dined on expensive Japanese sushi (imported directly from Japan through his personal chef) and drank French cognac, millions of North Koreans died of starvation and disease. On every measure of societal development, North Korea comes dead last, thanks to a regime that is the living embodiment of paranoia, xenophobia, and totalitarianism.

What is most frightening about the situation in North Korea is not that it’s so bad, it’s that it could be even worse. The Kim regime placed thousands of artillery pieces in the hills surrounding the Korean DMZ, and possesses chemical, biological, and crude nuclear weapons. The North Koreans have the means to devastate much of Seoul with a barrage of artillery, or even launch attacks against targets in Japan with medium-range missiles. The Kim regime may appear insane, but appearances are decieving: if anything, the Kim regime were coldly calculating, deftly weaving Korean legends and Marxist claptrap into a net that has kept 25 million people enmeshed in a living nightmare.

The scenes of North Koreans crying over the death of their persecutor mirrors the scenes of 1994 when Kim Il Sung died-—there too was a massive show of grief, staged or not. And what is even scarier to contemplate than these scenes being staged is that the Kim regime has so completely brainwashed the people of North Korea that the grief is real.

As terrible as the situation in North Korea is, it is made even more terrible by the fact that there is no acceptable endgame to this situation. Even if the regime were to collapse, it would be a humanitarian nightmare for the region and for the world. China has no interest in absorbing 25 million starving North Koreans. As much as the United States may wish to see a unified and democratic Korean Peninsula, that would be a project that could take decades, and the South Korean government may not be so willing to accept the cost of trying to lift the North out of its medieval state.

Heir to a Madman

But a collapse is all too possible. Kim Jong-Un has been designated by the Kim regime as the “Great Successor,” but he is not even 30, has never served in the military, and has only been groomed for leadership for a year. In contrast, the transition from Kim Il Sung to Kim Jong-Il occurred only after Kim Jong-Il had 25 years of experience in taking on leadership tasks. The North Korean military is the only power in the country that could do anything to stop the Kim regime, and it’s not certain whether senior military officials are willing to be led by a 20-something with no military experience and little credibility.

Little is known about Kim Jong-Un, including his actual birthday, his background, his education, his outlook on affairs, or how he might choose to lead the DPRK. What we do know is that he was educated in Europe where his classmates observed a shy boy with a love for basketball. He was not interested in engaging in diatribes against the United States, but drew portraits of Michael Jordan and collected pictures of himself with NBA stars. What this means for his outlook on the world is unknown. But what is known does not paint a picture of someone who has the leadership abilities or cunning of his father or grandfather.

It may well be that Kim Jong-Un is little more than a placeholder—rumors are that the heir apparent to the madman’s throne is hardly up to the task. It may well be that his aunt, Kim Kyong-Hui may be secretly running things behind the scenes. There are a million rumors, and because North Korea is so secretive and isolated from the rest of the world, it’s impossible to know what is really going on.

No Good Options

The problem with North Korea is the same that it has ever been: there are simply no good outcomes at this point. If the Kim regime continues under the leadership of Kim Jong-Un, then the North Korean people will remain mired in a living nightmare for years more. If Kim Jong-Un falls, then the only power that could keep the country from sliding into anarchy is the military, and they could very well end up provoking World War III if given the chance. And if both fall, then there is nothing left in the country to hold it together. North Korea would fall into anarchy, and the human costs would be beyond comprehension. Not since World War II would the world have seen such a refugee crisis.

The best that anyone can do is prepare for the day when the regime finally collapses, and hope for the best. That is not a sound policy, but that’s the only remaining option left. The chances that Kim Jong-Un will set North Korea on a path of openness and moderation are slim to none, and even if he were to try, it’s not at all certain that the military would support him in that endeavor.

The fact is that we would like to think of the leadership of North Korea is being insane, but the reality is that it is sociopathic, but not crazy. Kim Jong-Il was a rational actor playing a rational game—bloody, intransigent, and evil, but rational all the same. Both he and his father knew that North Korea could not compete except by playing great powers against each other, which was accomplished by seemingly irrational actions like threatening war and shelling South Korean targets. So long as the DPRK could threaten the world, it could extract concessions that it would never have gotten by playing nice.

We simply do not know if Kim Jong-Un is smart enough to keep playing this game, or there’s some member of his inner circle that can. What is scarier than a coldly rational and insane-seeming North Korea is an irrational North Korea willing to risk it all on a dangerous whim. One of the best options may be that North Korea becomes a de facto Chinese protectorate, with Beijing keeping the country in line. As distasteful as that option may be, it is better than having an unstable North Korea with both an ongoing humanitarian crisis and plenty of weapons of mass destruction that could fall into terrorist hands.

Kim Jong-Il is dead, and roasting in a hell that he richly deserves. What we must hope for is that he doesn’t take the entire Korean peninsula down with him.

North Korea Deal Reached

The six-way talks with North Korea have yielded a potential nuclear disarmament deal in which the North Koreans receive a massive influx of fuel oil in exchange for shutting down their nuclear program. The multilateral approach of including China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea has paid off, as the North Koreans couldn’t simply walk away in a huff as they could have in bilateral negotiations with the United States.

Not everyone is happy, however:

But already before its adoption, the deal drew strong criticism from John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., who urged President Bush to reject it.

“I am very disturbed by this deal,” Bolton told CNN. “It sends exactly the wrong signal to would-be proliferators around the world: ‘If we hold out long enough, wear down the State Department negotiators, eventually you get rewarded,’ in this case with massive shipments of heavy fuel oil for doing only partially what needs to be done.”

Bolton has a point — however, disarming the DPRK is a major foreign policy priority. So long as the North Koreans have nuclear leverage, they’re in a position of strength. If a few hundred million worth of fuel oil will get them to give up that leverage, it’s still a win for everyone involved. As much as it would preferable to see the Hermit Kingdom to become something less than the hellhole it is now, that simply isn’t realistic at this point. So long as the tyrannical Kim Jung Il regime is in power and capable of inflicting massive damage to South Korea, we’re constrained as to what we can do in the region.

This deal isn’t perfect, and it will require further negotiations on key sticking points such as the inspection regime that would verify its terms and the return of kidnapped Japanese citizens, but this deal is a crucial first step. The world showed determination towards the North Koreans, and it appears that they will give up their nuclear technologies. A denuclearized Korean peninsula is in the best interest of all parties, and if that is the result than a diplomatic victory will have been achieved.

UPDATE: James S. Robbins argues that everyone got played for suckers by the North Koreans:

The terms sound suspiciously like the Clinton-era Agreed Framework. The North Koreans wanted light-water nuclear reactors and shipments of heavy oil for heat and power generation. They agreed to move towards normalization of relations and settling outstanding issues. And they agreed to allow nuclear inspectors to make sure they were keeping to the terms of the deal. Same now as 13 years ago. Proponents of the current approach observe that the 1994 agreement only sought to freeze North Korea’s nuclear program, not dismantle it. Of course, back then North Korea did not have as much to dismantle.

It depends on what the specifics of the deal are — especially what “teeth” lie behind it if the North Koreans refuse to comply. Especially if the Chinese start moving troops towards the Yalu River, we’ll know that they’re serious about this deal. Does China feel that it’s in their interests to have a nuclear-armed and frequently irrational regime along their border when they’re trying to flex their global muscles? I rather doubt that they would, which would give them powerful incentives to make sure that this deal doesn’t follow the trajectory of the 1994 Agreed Framework.

It’s still possible that the North Koreans really are playing us for chumps — but what do they get in return? The most they can do is destroy themselves, and they know quite well that any threat of regime change is not realistic unless we want to see Seoul reduced to rubble. Nuclear weapons buy them only so much leverage, and the fact that their test didn’t do all that much to change the diplomatic situation made that clear. The North Koreans can only rattle the cage so far before they would end up risking some kind of retaliation. If a nuclear test won’t work, there’s little more they can do that wouldn’t end up seeing themselves at the risk of attack from the US, Japan, South Korea, China, or any combination of the above. Kim Jung Il is, above all, a believer in his own survival, and if he thinks it’s in his best interest to trade nukes for oil, then we’d be foolish to exacerbate this situation by failing to accommodate him.

The Ceausescu Option

The Australian is noting that China may be planning a coup against North Korean dictator Kim Jung Il. The Chinese have been cultivating ties with North Korea for years now, and have access to thousands of North Korean defectors who could easily create a replacement government more friendly to Beijing’s interests. The Australian notes:

“In today’s DPRK Government, there are two factions, sinophile and royalist,” one Chinese analyst wrote online. “The objective of the sinophiles is reform, Chinese-style, and then to bring down Kim Jong-il’s royal family. That’s why Kim is against reform. He’s not stupid.”

More than one Chinese academic agreed that China yearned for an uprising similar to the one that swept away the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 and replaced him with communist reformers and generals. The Chinese made an intense political study of the Romanian revolution and even questioned president Ion Iliescu, who took over, about how it was done and what roles were played by the KGB and by Russia.

Mr Kim, for his part, ordered North Korean leaders to watch videos of the swift and chaotic trial and execution of Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, the vice-prime minister, as a salutary exercise.

The balance of risk between reform and chaos dominated arguments within China’s ruling elite. The Chinese have also permitted an astonishing range of vituperative internet comment about an ally with which Beijing maintains a treaty of friendship and co-operation. Academic Wu Jianguo published an article in a Singapore newspaper – available online in China – bluntly saying: “I suggest China should make an end of Kim’s Government.”

“The Chinese have given up on Kim Jong-il,” commented one diplomat. “The question is, what are they going to do about it?”

The Chinese are looking out for their own best interests in this case, and those interests are not served by a Japan and/or a South Korea brandishing nuclear weapons. The Hu government knows quite well that that’s exactly what will happen if the DPRK continues to pose a nuclear threat to the region. Therefore, it’s in their interests to see those tensions ratcheted down — and the only way to do that may be to quietly and quickly take down the DPRK’s top leadership and replace them with generals friendly to China.

In the end, that scenario is probably the best for everyone. The Chinese get a more stable neighbor that won’t wreck their hegemonic ambitions. The US, Japan, and South Korea no longer need to worry about the North’s aggression and can dismantle the DMZ. The people of North Korea can be lifted out of their current hellish situation and would gain the benefits of Chinese more moderate form of Communism.

An all-out war is untenable for all, which is why the Chinese would have to ensure that they could isolate and destroy the current regime before it could strike back. However, if they have the option of doing it, hopefully they will. The DPRK is nothing short of a nightmare; the government is tyrannical to the core, the people are starving, and the threat the DPRK poses to the region is great. If this can be solved with a quick and decisive coup, then a quick and decisive coup should take place.

Why The US Is Going Multilateral

A group of elites are calling for the invasion of a hostile country suspected of creating weapons of mass destruction and destabilizing the region. They’re saying that if the UN fails to act, we must do it on an ad hoc basis. They’re saying that we need to play hardball with our erstwhile allies.

Sounds like it’s those dreaded “neocons” and Iraq?

It’s The New York Times talking about North Korea. Apparently all the talk about the value of multilateralism and the idea that America can’t go to war without the imprimateur of the UN only applies in certain situations — mainly when Bush was making the same arguments himself.

The fact is, while there is something to those arguments, North Korea has something Iraq never had: the ability to wipe out a major city. The North has enough weapons to level Seoul poised along the DMZ. They could rain down 500,000 shells an hour from hardened positions. We would have to use a massive amount of force to stop the DPRK from pouring through the DMZ, and all sides would take nightmarish losses in the process. That status quo has existed for decades now, and it’s bought the North one hell of a good insurance policy against US or coalition action. There is almost no chance we could stop that kind of devastation in time, and certainly no peacekeeping force would be adequate to deal with the aftereffects.

The North Koreans want multilateral talks because it inflates their ego to be able to browbeat the world’s biggest superpower. They don’t want to negotiate because a negotiated settlement would be admitting even a partial defeat. Furthermore, there’s another white elephant in the room that isn’t getting reported in the media that explains the actions of the North Koreans in a consistent way.

The North Koreans need hard currency to keep their economy afloat, and the way they’ve been doing that is by counterfeiting massive amounts of $100 bills. The amount of money they’ve literally created that way probably amounts in the billions of dollars, and has probably been going on for years. The first North Korean-made banknotes were found in 1989, and the North Koreans have continued producing them since. The quality of these counterfeit bills are easily enough to fool all but the most sensitive investigative techniques.

The US Treasure Department and international organizations have severely hampered the North Korean’s counterfeiting operations, which has left Kim Jung Il without a source for that valuable hard currency. Those “supernotes” were his primary means of support, buying him the goods he wants for his lavish lifestyle on international black markets. It has also gone towards funding development of weapons of mass destruction.

International analysts think that the shuttering of that operation was one of the primary reasons for North Korea testing two missiles last July. It is also one of the reasons for Kim Jung Il’s belligerence on the nuclear issue. The reality is that the North Koreans don’t particularly need a nuclear deterrent — their conventional arsenal is more than enough to deter the US or anyone else from invading. The only real threat they conceivably face is from the Chinese, who aren’t particularly interested in taking direct control of North Korea’s nightmarish conditions. What they hope to achieve is an agreement that would preserve their counterfeiting operations while letting them keep their nuclear weapons.

Of course, such a plan is not acceptable to the US or anyone else, which is why we’re hoping that China will exert enough leverage to get North Korea to drop their demands. The Chinese are the DPRK’s primary benefactors, and are the only ones who can influence Kim Jung Il to change his nation’s policies. We can’t gain anything from bilateral talks, because what we want and what North Korea wants are completely incompatible.

The Bush Administration inherited a bad situation and made it worse by taking the position that a nuclear-armed North Korea was “unacceptable” without being able to do much to prevent it. Outside of military force, we have no real options in terms of stopping North Korea’s nuclear program — and military force would produce unacceptably high costs to us. However unhelpful some of our rhetoric was, it didn’t do much to change the dynamic of the situation in Korea. The North Koreans were rebuilding their nuclear capacity long before the change in diplomatic posture begun by the Bush Administration. The Agreed Framework was never truly implemented — the North Koreans continued to develop both nuclear weapons technologies and ballistic missiles during that time, merely shifting their emphasis from plutonium processing to the enrichment of uranium.

Our best course of action remains on an insistence on multilateral negotiations with all parties, and a doctrine of containment. North Korea cannot be allowed to proliferate technologies or threaten its neighbors — which is why a robust and multi-layered system of anti-ballistic missile systems is necessary. Already three Aegis-class cruisers and one Japanese ship have been outfitted with a boost-phase ABM system to shoot down incoming missiles. Further technologies to shoot down incoming missiles are being developed, including long-range interceptors that would destroy a warhead in space.

It’s odd to see The New York Times begging for the same “unilateral” diplomacy they decried just a few years ago. Then again, when one’s whole worldview is defined by opposition to one man, what can one expect?

McCain: Clinton Failed On NK Nukes

Sen. John McCain guest-posts at Captain’s Quarters and has some harsh words for Democrats critical of the current Administration’s handling of the situation. Indeed, the 1994 Agreed Framework was almost certainly a joke, and in order for North Korea to be testing a bomb now they must have been developing enrichment technologies for years prior — long before the current Administration took power.

The Agreed Framework helped buttress Kim Jung Il’s brutal rule, but so long as he has massive amounts of artillery pointed at Seoul, playing hardball is simply not an option. The Clinton Administration inherited a problem that was already several decades old, and the Bush Administration inherited a situation that was much the same. I’m not at all entirely convinced that some heroic actions on the part of Bill Clinton would have toppled the North Korean regime. The Agreed Framework was a joke, and it didn’t help, but had we played hardball the situation would have likely been the same.

Kim Jung Il wants to be seen as powerful. Nuclear weapons let him achieve that. Anything which forces him to give up those weapons thereby limits his power. He’s not going to stand for that, no matter how many carrots we throw his way. Senator McCain is right that the Agreed Framework was all carrots and no sticks, but the political will on either side was lacking. It wasn’t as though the Republicans would have risked turning Seoul into rubble in the holiday from history of the 1990s either.

The fact is that decades of policy failures from now until the end of the Korean War have led us to this point. Passing blame around isn’t particularly helpful now. We must figure a way of making non-proliferation work. So far the only real success we’ve had on the nuclear non-proliferation front is the unilateral decision by Libya to give up their nuclear program, which then helped us break up the A.Q. Khan network. And that only happened because Qaddafi saw the writing on the wall and realized that the risks of following in the footsteps of Saddam Hussein was not a desirable result. Three years later, it’s doubtful that other regimes are particularly worried about that now.

Iran is watching our next steps with interest, and if we spend more time pointing fingers than fixing the problem, it won’t be long before Tehran joins the nuclear club, and our chances of seeing a major city in the US annihilated suddenly rise.

UPDATE: The center-left Brookings Institution explains why the Agreed Framework was a failure from the beginning is it did not significantly impede North Korea’s nuclear program. As the Brookings report states:

But this approach risked encouraging North Korea to use extortion as its main tool of interaction with the outside world. Moreover, a fix that did little to reform North Korea’s economy would probably have proved only temporary, making it likely that Pyongyang would try to play a similar game at a later date with other weapons. And whatever one thinks of the Clinton approach, it clearly needed to be revised once the United States uncovered evidence of North Korea’s illegal and illegitimate uranium enrichment program by the summer of 2002.

The North Koreans did not just start to reprocess uranium when Bush took office, no matter what the apologists for Clinton-era failures would have one believe. The North Koreans were actively violating the Agreed Framework for years, in fact, almost since the moment it was signed. The idea behind the Agreed Framework — that the DPRK would willingly negotiate away its nuclear capabilities, was always incorrect. North Korea wanted to possess nuclear weapons, and no amount of negotiation would change that fact.

We must learn this lesson quickly, as Iran is trending down the same course, and will soon present the same challenges. If we follow the same failed path of trying to find an illusory negotiated settlement that ignores what our adversaries actually intend, the results could be even worse. A nuclear North Korea can be adequately contained. A nuclear Iran will have much more freedom of action, which makes that prospect all the more frightening.

Was It A Dud?

DefenseTech argues that the North Korean nuclear test was a failure, with a yield of substantially less than a kiloton. However, Donald Sensing argues that may be by design.

In terms of weapons design, it could go either way and both sides have persuasive arguments. From a standpoint of policy, that’s not good news for the North Koreans. A fizzle diminishes the deterrence factor of a nuclear weapon — especially since both Japan and South Korea will almost certainly be able to possess working nuclear weapons (probably with large MADE IN THE USA stamps on them) in short order if so desired. Given that the DPRK can’t get it up (its missiles at least) and can’t prove they have a working nuke, beyond the initial shock of a DPRK nuclear test, there’s not much else.

All in all, this was probably a major strategic mistake for the Kim Jung Il regime. They’ve been pulling the tail of the Chinese dragon for a long time now, and if the Chinese start saying that enough is enough, it’s quite possible that the Chinese will start really playing hardball — as in having PLA agents start assassinating leaders and disrupting the regime. Quite frankly, that’s not at all a bad thing for the rest of the world. In fact, that’s probably one of the few truly effective things that can be done about the situation.

This does reflect badly on American policy, however. President Bush had been talking a tough line about not letting North Korea get nuclear technology. Granted, there’s not much we could do other than risk a major destabilizing war that would leave South Korea a smoldering ruin and risk major attacks on Japan as well. However, there can be no doubts that the Iranians are looking at our reaction with great interest and it is perfectly fair to ask whether we’re really serious about counterproliferation. As they say, talk is cheap, and if we’re not willing to take real action to prevent the spread of deadly weapons to rogue regimes, then we’ll have to live with the consequences.

North Korea To Conduct Nuclear Test

The DPRK has announced its intention to conduct a nuclear weapons test, which would confirm what analysts have long expected — that North Korea is a nuclear power.

The North Koreans are acting a lot like a group of petulant, spoiled children. They want attention, and they want it now, and they believe that the only way they can get it is by crying as loudly as possible and doing something destructive. They hope to force the US to accept bilateral negotiations which they will promptly use as an excuse to demand further outrageous term and then promptly walk out in a huff. Fortunately, the Bush Administration doesn’t seem to have much interest in playing along with them on that and is still rightfully insisting on region-wide talks. The US isn’t as threatened by a North Korean nuke as South Korea and Japan are, and they have every right to sit at the table and be part of any proceedings.

What will be truly interesting is to see the Japanese reaction to all this. The new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe wishes to follow the path of the outgoing Junichiro Koizumi in creating a more muscular Japan. The Japanese almost certainly have the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons at any time, although they have not done so due to the understandable reticence of the Japanese people towards the possession of nuclear weapons. If the Japanese have reason to worry that they will once again be the victims of a nuclear attack, then it is quite possible that Japan may accelerate their gradual re-militarization.

The North Koreans want attention, but our policies should not change — we should continue to support multilateral negotiations and continue to work on anti-ballistic missile technologies to prevent the North Koreans from using those weapons. The North Koreans can cry until they’re blue in the face, but we must not allow the whims of tyrants to dictate our foreign policy.

NYT: UN Bad, Bilateralism Good

Proving that consistency doesn’t matter unless it’s going against Bush, Captain Ed has a great take-down of the latest NYT editorial on North Korea. Quoth the Times:

The United Nations Security Council certainly should register international condemnation of last week’s North Korean missile launches. But if any serious progress is going to be made on this and the related North Korean nuclear issue, it will not be through Security Council resolutions or sanctions.

There are only three countries with any real leverage — the United States, China and South Korea — and none are doing all they could to nudge North Korea onto a less provocative course. Until they do, Security Council resolutions will remain a largely symbolic sideshow.

So wait, I thought the only arbiter of legitimacy on the international stage was the United Nations? Wasn’t that the whole argument on the war in Iraq? So why is it that the UN was somehow effective in containing Saddam, but not Kim Jung Il? Why was it absolutely unconscionable that Bush would engage in bilateralism over Iraq, but it’s necessary to do so for North Korea?

Then again, when all you need to do is reflexively oppose the Bush Administration, consistency isn’t a requirement.

Bush administration should drop its reflexive opposition to direct talks. But before scheduling a meeting, Washington should call on North Korea to reinstate its moratorium on long-range missile tests and keep it in place for at least one year while talks on a permanent ban proceed.

Those direct talks should also include discussions on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. Nearly a year ago, North Korea agreed in principle to give these up as part of an agreement with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. Crucial details were never worked out because North Korea left the talks over unrelated banking sanctions the Bush administration announced last fall. Washington has refused to conduct direct negotiations on the banking sanctions.

Those banking sanctions have to do with the North Koreans counterfeiting over a billion dollars in $100 bills than using the money to fund terrorism. There’s no way that the US can allow that to continue, and lifting those sanctions would hurt the US economy and embolden Kim Jung Il.

The US gains nothing from bilateral talks, other than giving the North Koreans a chance to bluster around and blame the US for their inevitable failure. If there’s one thing that we know of the Kim Jung Il regime, it’s that he is not a rational actor. The North Koreans have no intention of giving up their nuclear program, and short of instigating a devastating war on the Korean peninsula, we have almost no options other than sanctions. The North Korea crisis effects China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan far more than it does us – especially given that our anti-ballistic missile technology has performed better than the DPRK’s long-range missile program.

Our priorities should be to apply what diplomatic pressure we can, but to isolate the DPRK military and economically. Short of war, an option that is completely untenable, nothing will prevent the North Koreans from continuing on their current course. Isolating them and ensuring that they can’t proliferate weapons or get the resources necessary to build stockpiles remains our only valid option. Diplomacy is futile, preemption is too dangerous, and doing nothing is naive. This is a case in which the only valid option is containment and the hope that this malignant regime collapses on its own.

The Bizarre World Of North Korea

Strategypage has a look inside the completely dysfunctional state of North Korea:

While everyone’s attention was focused on North Korean missiles, the real story is the North Korean economy. It continues to fall apart, and more North Koreans are unhappy about that. Worse yet, more North Koreans are finding out how badly they have been screwed by their leaders. Meanwhile, North Korean officials engage in even more bizarre behavior. For example, food and fuel supplies sent to North Korea have been halted, not to force North Korea to stop missile tests or participate in peace talks, but to return the Chinese trains the aid was carried in on. In the last few weeks, the North Koreans have just kept the trains, sending the Chinese crews back across the border. North Korea just ignores Chinese demands that the trains be returned, and insists that the trains are part of the aid program. It’s no secret that North Korean railroad stock is falling apart, after decades of poor maintenance and not much new equipment. Stealing Chinese trains is a typical loony-tune North Korean solution to the problem. If the North Koreans appear to make no sense, that’s because they don’t. Put simply, when their unworkable economic policies don’t work, the North Koreans just conjure up new, and equally unworkable, plans. The Chinese have tried to talk the North Koreans out of these pointless fantasies, and for their trouble they have their trains stolen. How do you negotiate under these conditions? No one knows. The South Koreans believe that if they just keep the North Korean leaders from doing anything too destructive (especially to South Korea), eventually the tragicomic house of cards up north will just collapse. Not much of a plan, but so far, no one’s come up with anything better.

Russian web developer Artemii Lebedev traveled to North Korea and took a series of amazing photos of the country. Granted, what the official tourist agencies show is exactly what they want people to see, but even that is chilling in itself. The countryside of North Korea is reportedly orders of magnitude more grim – with scattered reports of mass starvation, and even cannibalism.

Once the current regime falls, I suspect we’ll find out that North Korea was more horrific than anyone could imagine.

Projectile Dysfunction

It looks like Kim “I’m So Ronery” Jung Il just couldn’t keep it up this July 4th. Three North Korean missiles launched – three North Korean missiles going down in the Sea of Japan. Captain Ed wonders if that’s mere coincidence or if the US didn’t have a hand in showing Lil’ Kim Jung Il that messing with Uncle Sam is a very, very bad idea.

It looks like Kim Jung Il’s attempt at Fourth of July fireworks just didn’t work…