The Skeptics

North Korea and Benign Neglect

 The Hermit Kingdom of North Korea remains an enigmatic curiosity. A major Communist party conference planned for early September has yet to occur and no one knows why. Earlier Pyongyang suggested its willingness to return to the ever-futile six-party talks, yet the prospect of concessions from the North seems even less likely than before. What to do?

For all of its 62 years of existence—except during the 1950-53 Korean War—the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has been a paragon of stability. Only two men have ruled, “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung and his son, “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il. After the elder Kim dispatched his rivals during the 1950s control from the top has been essentially absolute. The DPRK became a totalitarian communist monarchy.

For most of that time the North was only a conventional, though potent, military power. The North Korean threat declined significantly as Seoul raced past Pyongyang in economic strength and diplomatic reach. Today the DPRK is a mere shadow of its neighbor in most measures of international power.

However, for nearly two decades North Korea has been ostentatiously developing nuclear weapons. While the numbers and capabilities of its arsenal remain limited, Pyongyang must be counted as a nuclear state. Neither negotiations nor sanctions have had any discernible impact on the North’s course. Obvious regional discomfort at the prospect of North possessing nuclear weapons was eased slightly by the recognition that the regime matched malevolence with stability. Kim Jong Il obviously enjoyed his Swedish blondes—if not virgins—in this world and appeared to have no desire to trigger a war which he would lose.

New START a Step Closer?

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved out of committee the New START Treaty by a vote of 14 to 4. All 11 Democrats voted in favor, along with three Republicans, Richard Lugar, Bob Corker, and Johnny Isakson. Prospects for ratification in the full Senate remain up in the air. It seems unlikely that the treaty will be ratified before the congressional recess, or the November elections.