Kim Jong-Il has died, and will be replaced by his son, Kim Jong-Un. At this moment, I believe we have a singluar opportunity to topple the most barbaric regime in the modern world.
North Korea relies on its black markets. North Korea’s more-Stalinist-than-Stalin laws which centralize the economy are so restrictive that authorities have had to turn a blind eye to black market ventures- such as the private sale of grain between persons (illegal since 1957, but unenforced from 1990 until 2005)- just to allow people to subsist and to bring hard currency into the country.
A 2002 attempt by the NK government to legalize some of this black market and slightly liberalize the economy turned out to have worked too well- too many North Koreans were found to have been participating in these ventures, and the government rescinded these minor freedoms in 2005 and resumed enforcing Stalinist laws which hadn’t been enforced in decades.
According to Andrei Lankov, the average North Korean household drew nearly 80% of its income from these minor capitalist ventures at one point. This is astonishing, considering the criminal penalties for breaking the law in North Korea. The communist system is such a complete failure that people risk execution or generational imprisonment of their families by undertaking minor black market activities just to survive in a country where famine is so widespread some people are resorting to cannibalism.
These necessary and natural black markets also carry outside information into North Korea, primarily in the form of South Korean CDs and magazines. There is clearly a desire in North Korea for contact with the outside world.
This reminds us of something we already know about communism in general: It’s always doomed to failure. The more hardline a communist regime, the shorter the regime’s life expectancy will be. North Korea has become more hardline in the last several years- tightening economic controls in 2005 and wiping out citizens’ savings by revaluing the NK won, for example.
The death of Kim Jong-Il and the apparent takeover by his son, Kim Jong-Un, means that this monstrous state has reached its “rock bottom”: the most total of totalitarian governments, organized for decades to be totally dependent on a single, deified leader, will now bestow absolute authority on a fat, spoiled, unprepared 28-year-old psychopath who only got the job because his older brother was deemed “too girly” by their father. In other words, Kim Jong-Un will undoubtedly be a modern-day Caligula in charge of an already-failing regime.
Couple this with an already-desperate condition for most of North Korea’s population, and an ever-growing desire for contact and trade with the rest of the world, and we have the conditions for a regime change.
Any act which the United States and its allies can take to undermine this failing state would be a positive step- and would be especially devastating at this particular time. Suspending food and oil shipments, sanctioning North Korea’s central bank, hijacking North Korea’s broadcast media to spread the message of freedom, promoting North Korea’s black markets, all of these acts and others would contribute to hastening the fall of the DPRK.
We have a unique opportunity at this moment to topple the most oppressive government in the world, without military force, simply by taking advantage of the already-present desire of many North Koreans to be free of their dictator and improve their living conditions.
In other words, we have a chance to do to North Korea what Ronald Reagan did to the Soviet Union.
And in case you’re interested, here’s my post about North Korea’s constitution.