Korea After Kim

, Jocelyn Grecko, Leave a comment

The death of Kim Jong-il raises many questions about the future of North Korea, the country he ruled.

David S. Maxwell, Associate Director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies and the Security Studies Program in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, fears that North Korea will continue to suffer under what he calls, “arguably one of the worst violators of human rights in modern history… the Kim Family Regime (KFR).”

“Is it rational to starve some 23 million people to allow the regime to survive?” Maxwell asks in an essay distributed by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI). “Was it rational to attack and hijack the Pueblo?”

“On 23 January 1968, while off Wonsan, North Korea, Pueblo was attacked by local forces and seized,” according to the U. S. Navy. “One crewmember was killed in the assault and the other eighty-two men on board were taken prisoner.”

“The North Koreans contended that the ship had violated their territorial waters, a claim vigorously denied by the United States.”  The Pueblo was “USS Pueblo, an 850-ton environmental research ship,” according to the Navy.

“After eleven months in captivity, often under inhumane conditions, Pueblo‘s crew were repatriated on 23 December 1968,” the Navy claims. “The ship was retained by North Korea, though she is still the property of the U.S. Navy. She was exhibited at Wonsan and Hungham for three decades and is now a museum at Pyongyang, the North Korean capital city.”

“Is it rational to attempt multiple assassinations to kill the South Korean leadership (at least twice in Seoul and once in Rangoon) and to use terrorist action against the South and international community?” Maxwell asks in his FPRI essay. “Is it rational to trade in myriad illicit activities to include being one of the world’s largest and most proficient counterfeiters (to include that of US currency but also cigarettes and drugs such as Viagra and methamphetamines)?”

“Is it rational to turn down Chinese help for economic reform (because such reform would likely end the regime)?” Maxwell served in the U.S. Army Special Forces, retiring as a colonel, and was posted, at one point, in Korea.

As with any opppressed state, Maxwell said he believes that the North Korea’s regime will only collpase when it, “loses its central governing effectiveness and the coherencey of its military forces.” In his article for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, he indicates reasons why this might not occur.

“First, there is a belief system in place that is far worse than that of the Japanese prior to and during the Second World War and it is called Juche,” he explains. “Some have even called it ‘Kim Il Sungism’ or as the father of Juche himself called it ‘Dear Leader Absolutism.’”

“Juche is all about the cult of the Kim Family, taking on a religious dimension. Kim Il Sung took on a deity-like status when he died; his body remains on display and he remains the leader of North Korea for eternity (which is why the regime is working so hard to connect Kim Jong-un to Kim Il-sung notably in his looks, dress, and mannerisms). Since 1993 the Juche ideology has taught that to die for your country means you will achieve immortality.”

Maxwell also says, “Kim Il-sung established a security and control system that would have made Joseph Stalin blush.”

“From the ‘rule of threes’ (anyone found to be disloyal in word or deed will have three generations ‘expunged’—at best all three generations go to the gulag and at worst all three are totally expunged, as in execution) to the establishment of a personal loyalty system—i.e., you get promoted or get ahead or are simply allowed to exist by demonstrating personal loyalty to the regime and not by merit—means that there is a system of control that is totally focused on protecting the regime from rebellion,” Maxwell explains. “This personal loyalty system has the added benefit of preventing coups because anyone who says a word against the regime must be reported both by regulation but also because by reporting it one further demonstrates one’s loyalty to the regime and allows that person to ‘get ahead.’”

“At the same time the personal loyalty system explains why the bureaucratic systems within the regime are so broken and inefficient— loyalty does not mean competence of course. It further sows the seeds of distrust as people even report others for such simple things as forgetting to wear the pin of the Great Leader on their jackets and shirts— as it must be displayed at all times (as an aside most people will wear the pin of the Great Leader [Kim Il-sung] vice the Dear Leader [Kim Jong-il]).   Even family members report on other family members (the dirty little secret is that while the rule of threes still applies the family member who reports on his or her family will be initially rewarded, but usually suffers from some quiet but catastrophic accident some months later such as a swimming accident in the winter or a traffic accident or perhaps poisoning by a piece of lead the size of 7.62 millimeters).  This system is probably the best at preventing coups and conspiracies from within, both among the elite and at the grassroots level.”

“Many of our defector friends have informed us about the ‘paralysis’ of the people in the North because they cannot reconcile their sixty years of indoctrination with the increasing knowledge that they are gaining of the outside world.”

While Maxwell says that he “holds out hope for the North Korean people,” he does not foresee change occurring without drastic measures. “I strongly recommend an aggressive influence campaign to get information into the people to conduct the psychological preparation necessary to mitigate the challenges in a post-regime collapse or post-conflict North,” he says. Maxwell has also taught at the War College.



Jocelyn Grecko is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia. Jocelyn has spent the past four years in the nation’s capital as a Media Studies undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America. She will graduate in May 2012.

If you would like to comment on this article, e-mail mal.kline@academia.org