Andrei Lankov

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South Koreans watch a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul on Monday. Kim said Monday the United States should be aware that his country’s nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate. (Lee Jin-man/AP)

On Dec. 22, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2397, which may well mark a dramatic change in the hitherto grossly ineffective sanction policies targeting North Korea. These tough new measures could well end up having a dramatic impact — but if they do, the consequences are likely to be much different from what their supporters anticipate.

The various sanctions imposed by the U.N. over the years have so far had little effect. Over the past decade, North Koreans have cautiously reformed their economy according to the Chinese model, allowing them to achieve annual growth of 4 to 5 percent.…  Seguir leyendo »

While North Korea draws world attention with spectacular and seemingly bizarre actions like the hacking of Sony’s computers or outbursts of bellicose rhetoric, Pyongyang has quietly initiated a round of reforms aimed at liberalizing the economy.

It’s unlikely that Kim Jong-un, the young North Korean leader who inherited power in December 2011, will allow economic liberalization to lead the way for political and social change. The repressive regime will continue to be a thorn in the side of world leaders who want to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

But the economic changes hold great promise for improving the lives of millions of North Koreans who have suffered in deep poverty for decades.…  Seguir leyendo »

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Let’s start with the bad news: The North Korean problem has no simple or quick solution. The North’s weapons-grade plutonium and nuclear devices have already been manufactured, and are now safely hidden in underground facilities. China, and to a lesser degree Russia, remains unwilling to support a truly rigorous (read: efficient) sanctions regime. More narrow financial sanctions that target the money used to reward regime insiders with perks, like bottles of Hennessy cognac and Mercedes cars, won’t have much impact. Most of the North Korean elite believe that regime stability is a basic condition for their survival.…  Seguir leyendo »

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From time to time, newspapers shower readers with predictions of a looming mass starvation in North Korea, usually in springtime. In March 2011, the New York Times wrote: “North Korea: 6 Million Are Hungry.” One year earlier, in March 2010, the Times of London warned: “Catastrophe in North Korea; China must pressure Pyongyang to allow food aid to millions threatened by famine.” In March 2009, a Washington Post headline read: “At the Heart of North Korea’s Troubles, an Intractable Hunger Crisis.”

The predictions come every year, but famine does not. Indeed, the last five to 10 years have been a time of modest, but undeniable, improvement in the North Korean economy.…  Seguir leyendo »

North Korea is a tiny dictatorship with a bankrupt economy, but its leaders are remarkably adept at manipulating global public opinion. In recent weeks, we have been exposed to yet another brilliant example of their skill.

Scores of foreign journalists have been dispatched to Seoul to report on the growing tensions between the two Koreas and the possibility of war. Upon arrival, though, it is difficult for them to find any South Koreans who are panic-stricken. In fact, most people in Seoul don’t care about the North’s belligerent statements: the farther one is from the Korean Peninsula, the more one will find people worried about the recent developments here.…  Seguir leyendo »

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To an outside observer, the behavior of the North Korean leadership often appears short- sighted and irrational. There seems to be a tested and easy way out of their predicament -- the path of Chinese-style economic reforms. While such gradual capitalist reforms might be good for the country, however, they would be far too dangerous for the current North Korean elite. As a consequence, they’re unlikely to be implemented anytime soon.

The history of East Asia after World War II has been, above all, one of spectacular economic growth. From 1960 to 2000, average per-capita gross-domestic-product growth in East Asia reached 4.6 percent, while the same indicator for the world was 2.8 percent.…  Seguir leyendo »

Reports of unusual activity have been emerging from North Korea. Farmers were told in early July that going forward the state would take not their entire harvest but only 70 percent, and they would be allowed to keep the rest. The military’s economic role was partially curtailed last month when some military-managed companies were transferred to civilian control.

Meanwhile, the nation’s young hereditary dictator attended a concert of American pop music — something unthinkable until recently, as the Western mass culture was, for decades, officially considered an embodiment of decay and immorality.

All these actions reflect a dramatic shift from the policies of Kim Jong Il, the longtime dictator who died in December.…  Seguir leyendo »

Last week, Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory was invited to visit the North Korean nuclear research center in Yongbyon. He was shown a uranium enrichment plant whose sophistication and likely output is well in excess of what most experts suspected about the North Korean uranium program. Then on Tuesday, North Korean artillery shelled a South Korean island, inflicting heavy damage.

The world is likely to say that the North Koreans are again acting “irrationally.” But this is not the case — they are a very rational regime, actually the world’s most Machiavellian.

North Korean leaders are sending a message.…  Seguir leyendo »