THREAD: Why North Korea would Prefer Leaching Off South Korea to Absorbing It

There is a lot of debate on whether NK still seeks full-blown conquest/absorption of SK.

I am skeptical, bc I think the ruling Kim family are more degenerate gangsters than nationalist ideologues.

They won't seriously risk their rule or material perks for a psychological (nationalist) pay-off. In fact, IMO, both Koreas are de facto status quo states, despite de jure revisionism:

1. Talk is Cheap

So sure, both Koreas talk tough and maintain formal commitments to

unification, but talk is cheap obviously and leaders lie a lot. Unification might be formally retained as an end-goal, but only as a far-off, de rigeur ideal recited ceremonially, rather than actually seriously planned for or built into NK strategy. I could be convinced of the

opposite, bc we don't know that much about NK strategy. But is NK taking any kind of serious strategic risks to bring about unification? Not that I can see for awhile. Its subversion and terrorist efforts in SK have subsided a lot. Tactical actions on the DMZ and NLL are not

bids for unification but for attention and a short-term pay-off. The sinking of the Cheonan was aggressive and might have provoked real escalation, but it seems to have been a one-off. NK nukes could have potential offensive value, but other nuclear weapons states have found

that nukes usually end up as deterrents rather offensive tools.

2. Tough Unification Talk is Domestically Ideologically Valuable

Nationalism is NK's domestic ideology, so it has to keep talking about unification whether it wants it or not. This is the regime's raison d'etre.

The only way NK can explain why it has not already unified w/ wealthier, more successful SK is to insist that the South is a subservient Yankee Colony that has to be cleansed and all that. But that too might just be rhetoric - for domestic consumption & ideological clarity -

rather than strategy. The Kims are living the gangster high life well. Why rock the boat?

3. Could NK even absorb SK without bringing itself down?

3a) At some point, realism must confront even the most blinkered 'Kimist' ideologue. It would be very hard to conquer SK. Among

other things, the US might nuke NK to prevent that. This must feed thru and temper all but the most ferocious dogmatists

3b) Could NK's songbun system be extended to 52 million S Koreans? This very stylized, punitive system has been customized around NK's unique circumstances

for decades. To suddenly extend it to a tripled population would almost certainly overwhelm it, particularly since almost everyone in SK would necessarily land in the bottom 'hostile' class.

3c) Could the KPA occupy SK for years without being massively corrupted and facing

endemic revolts from S Koreans accustomed personal freedoms? Almost certainly not and all these new costs and stresses would create discontent back in NK too.

4. Conquering SK ruins its value

Absorbing SK - and thus disconnecting it from the global economy - would ruin the

material (although not nationalist/psychological value) of victory. SK is only valuable if connected to the global economy. Take-over would kill the golden goose and burden the already grossly inefficient NK economy with new costs.

5. Why Not Just Take the Money and Run?

The SK left wants a 'peace economy' in a 'peace regime.' In practice, this would mean a paper-thin inter-K covering federation, with the North's domestic politics effectively unchanged, BUT the very juicy semi-permanent subsidization of the North by the S. Why not just let SK

pay your bills? To be clear, SK should not do this, IMO, but NK permanently leaching off of SK wealth is almost what a (bogus) federation would be in practice. And if you're the Kims, that is a pretty great outcome.

Again, I think the core debate is to what extent NK elites

are genuinely committed nationalists willing to take strategic risks, versus complacent, bloated thugs content to just stay in power and looking for cash. I'd say the latter.


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More from @Robert_E_Kelly

15 Sep
THREAD: Why there is No Korean Peace Treaty (It wouldn’t Change Anything)

Much of the linked thread is highly contestable:

A. Korea obviously is not a 'forever war'

This is a grossly inaccurate description. 'Forever war' implies sustained kinetic activity in an unwinnable

quagmire with no obvious endpoint. That is not K at all. The war has been over since mid-1953, and it is NK, not the allies, who provokes. The lack of paperwork - a formal peace treaty - has no bearing on the empirical situation on the ground which is far from open conflict.

B. A 'War-Ending Declaration' (종전선언) is a legally bizarre neologism which no one really understands

The only reason this strange language is used is bc the Moon government's first effort to get a 'peace treaty' failed, as did its second, vaguer 'peace regime' effort. So

Read 18 tweets
11 Sep
THREAD: Strategically, 9/11 was a one-off sucker-punch. That’s it.

1. 9/11 did not ‘change everything.’ In fact, it changed surprisingly little

This language was deployed to create political space for a vast expansion of US coercion, especially in the Middle East. If all the

rules have suddenly changed, then all sorts of behavior are suddenly permissible – like domestic spying, torture, and Iraq. But strategically, 9/11 did not change that much: US GDP continued to expand; US military power was scarcely affected; US alliances did not fracture; the

stock market re-opened after a few days and did not crash; gas prices did not spike; the global Islamic revolution Osama Bin Laden hoped this would ignite did not materialize:

2. 9/11’s big change was psychological – our shared national trauma fully

Read 17 tweets
10 Sep
THREAD: Post-'War on Terror' Restraint

If the Afghan withdrawal & 20th anniversary of 9/11 can wind-down our big foot-print 'war on terror' (for a more measured counter-terrorism), here is a quick case for greater restraint:

1. Strategic: Over-Extension

A well-known problem

of empires/hegemonies is too many commitments and too few resources. We should, obviously, avoid such overstretch, & given rising China, US commitments in the Middle East particularly (Afghanistan, e.g.) should be re-considered

2. Domestic/Democratic: Blowback Militarization

The post-9/11 militarization of US foreign policy has come home: in the torture debate (yes, we actually 'debated' torture), domestic surveillance, endemic governmental secrecy, near reverence on military and police issues (just watch Fox for 5 minutes),and the militarization/

Read 6 tweets
25 Aug
The biggest surprise, revelation even, of Afghanistan’s fall is not that the Taliban are bad or that the departure is messy. We knew that already

It’s how belligerent, even militaristic, the American and British media are, how totally captured by blob talking points about the

‘necessity’ that America fight all over the place and that it’s always ‘defeat’ rather than retrenchment or cutting your losses.

Two weeks ago, there was almost no reporting on Afghanistan. Suddenly a few days of inevitability chaotic imagery, and America is abandoning its

responsibilities in a fiasco.

And it was all hawks all the time on-air to comment. No retrenchers or restrainers to place the withdrawal in greater context.

Even in academia, a lot of international relations scholars have deeply soured on the war for more than a decade. But

Read 4 tweets
19 Aug
THREAD: 5 Bad Afghanistan Takes you should Ignore

1. Tragic: ‘What about all we lost there?’

If Afghanistan collapses this fast, there wasn’t actually that much there to lose. If anything, the rapid collapse indicates just how accurate were all those leaks over the last

decade, including the A Papers, about how little progress we were making, how corrupt the government was, how soft its military’s independent capabilities were, and so on.

2. Demagogic: ‘Did our soldiers die for nothing?’

That is an emotionally manipulative version of the

sunk cost fallacy. We cannot bring back our war dead. If we must stay in an unwinnable conflict to ‘honor their sacrifice,’ then we condemn more to die later. That’s immoral. The logic of this argument means also we can never leave a commitment, no matter misconceived, which

Read 12 tweets
14 Aug
THREAD on South Korea as a regional geopolitical pivot or broker arbitrating between the US and NK, or the US and China.

This is not true.

I’ve reviewed repeated journal articles during the Moon years making this argument, and my comments are always the same. So to the left-

wing SK scholars who continue to push this (bc SK hawks never say this), please consider how obviously falsifiable this idea is:

1. SK is a formal, MNNA US treaty ally. That right there makes neutralism more a normative desire than an empirical claim.

2. There are emplaced

US bases, equipment, warfighters, and consultants all over the peninsula. Not that many US allies or partners actually have as much stuff as the US parks here.

3. USFK is pretty integrated with the ROK military. The relationships with Japan and NATO are more siloed.

Read 13 tweets

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