November 29, 2004
Confusing signalsBy Thomas Lifson
Nobody outside a small circle of internal power actors — party officials and senior military — knows what is going on in North Korea, but something is up. Probably something very big. Although the major press largely ignores these developments, they could be vital to the future success of the War on Terror.
Keep in mind that North Korea is a regime which potentially can sell both nuclear weapons and the ballistic missile means to deliver them intercontinentally, and which is desperate for cash. We have recently been warned by a senior US military official that North Korea may be selling plutonium for dirty bombs to terror groups.
Over the last two decades the state—run economy of North Korea has collapsed to a degree unprecedented in modern world history. As many as two million people — ten percent of the population — have starved to death in the past few years, because there was no fertilizer from the chemical plants and no electricity to run the irrigation pumps for its rice paddies. A pervasive lack of spare parts for repairs has disabled or reduced practically all industrial production, including electricity generation. Across the 38th parallel in South Korea, no decline in agricultural yields was noted during the years of famine in the North. The North Korean regime has virtually no legitimate sources of foreign exchange earnings.
Earlier this month, the ubiquitous portraits of Kim Jong—il started disappearing from public places, where they had hung in tandem with portraits of his father, founding Communist monarch of the Kim Dynasty, Kim Il—sung. Photographic evidence confirmed the removals. Additionally, official media (there are no private media outlets) began toning down the honorifics applied to the Dear Leader, as he is known. All of this fuelled speculation of a power struggle, or even of the death of the tyrant.
In April, a curious explosion of massive proportions destroyed a rail junction a few hours after the Dear Leader's special train passed that very spot, returning home from a journey to China. The Dear Leader refuses to travel by air, for obvious reasons. The official story is that an electrical line from the catenary overhead fell on a boxcar which just happened to be loaded with dynamite to be used in mining. That's a lot of coincidences for the most tightly—controlled society on earth.
Now, it has gotten even stranger in the land of the strange.
South Korea's Unification Ministry, the officials in charge of monitoring activity above the 38th Parallel, reports that North Koreans are no longer wearing lapel pins celebrating Kim Jong—il. Travelers crossing the border from North Korea into China now wear only lapel pins with the image of his father, Kim Il—sung. Formerly, one or the other pin had to be worn, but now it is only the father's pin which is seen. The phasing out of Lil' Kim's lapel pin extends to business people, diplomats, and other North Koreans who come into contact with foreigners.
The official North Korean news agency is now calling aforesaid reports of removal of Kim—the—lesser's portrait from public places a malicious fabrication. 'A foolish attempt to take the sun down from the sky' is how they put it. Naturally, the United States and 'other hostile forces' are at the root of this nefarious deception.
This is part of an anti—North Korean racket aimed at tainting the lofty authority of our supreme leadership and creating a false impression that there is a problem within our republic," KCNA said in a dispatch monitored by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
Keep in mind that we can only speculate. However, when the official story in a totalitarian regime starts fragmenting, with one arm denying actions which have visibly taken place at the direction of another arm of the regime, it is a sign of an internal split.
These are not like the disagreements between Democrats and Republicans, however bitter feelings might be after the past election. We are talking about people who are fighting for their very lives, in a regime where political power is the only kind of power, and where death is a familiar tool of power, up to and including gas chambers for entire families of political dissidents.
Or, it could be that the little matter of the rest of the world beginning to gang up on North Korea to end its nuclear program has begun to foster a controversy within the regime. We simply do not know what has been going on in private among the Bush Administration, our close allies, and the North Koreans. We do know that President Bush has successfully kept the negotiations with the North a united multilateral effort. I incline toward the belief that hardball is being played, in the aftermath of Bush's re—election.
The North Koreans, dismayed at the re—election of an American president they know to be a tougher adversary than Bill Clinton, undoubtedly recognize the weakness of their position. An apparently genuine internal North Korean regime document smuggled out to China reveals concern over 'illegal' documents, flyers and recordings circulating among the people of North Korea, and notes that the former Soviet bloc did not survive the circulation of uncontrolled information. The memory of crowds in Bucharest abusing the hanging bodies of Romania's dictator is undoubtedly fresh in their minds, especially since Romania was a close ally, until its Communist regime collapsed.
The military leaders in particular understand how weak is their military, starved for fuel, replacement parts, and everything else, and understand they may not be able to match the bluster of officials. If push comes to shove, they could easily lose everything. If the Bush Administration intimates a surgical strike on its nuclear plants could happen, they may not be able to mount much of a retaliatory attack, even if the people do not rise up against them upon learning the regime is in jeapordy.
The theory that Kim Jong—il is voluntarily downplaying his own personality cult, in some sudden outburst of humility, is the least probable explanation. This corrupt voluptuary, known to import blonde prostitutes from Sweden for his own pleasure, consume large quantities of the finest XO cognac, and build his own movie studio, complete with a kidnapped South Korean film director to teach him the art, so as to indulge his love of cinema, is the last man on earth to turn a new leaf.
We have no alternative but to wait and see. But keep your eye on the North Korea.
Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.