The Norks

Is North Korea about to collapse?

That’s the question Don Surber asks in this post last week. He is looking at the recent defections of soldiers and civilians. We have at least one soldier, an elite soldier no less, who simply walked across the border unmolested. Maybe this happens from time to time, but the impression from news reports is that the Norks guard that border ferociously. The Norks have special units that do nothing but roam the border looking for anyone trying to flee. Here’s a recent video of them shooting a guy trying to escape.

Surber is looking at these recent incidents where North Koreans have managed to escapade unmolested and compares it to the last days of the Soviet empire. There’s also the fact that the one soldier was from an elite unit. That seems unusual. There was also the solider that escaped and was found to be infested with parasites, suggesting the regime is struggling to care for even the soldiers that protects it. The Kim regime can only survive if it has the absolute loyalty of the military, so they have to make sure they are fed.

I think we can also wonder if the recent Chinese cooperation may be another signal that all is not well in the hermit kingdom. It’s reasonable to assume that the Chinese know the most of any outsiders about what is going on inside the country. The assumption in the West is that they were willing to prop up the Norks, in order to avoid dealing with the collapse. Maybe they have decided that Kim’s days are numbered, no matter what they do, so they are now looking to turn the inevitable into an opportunity.

American military intelligence probably knows a great deal about what is happening inside North Korea, but it is tightly held information. As a result, the public defense experts have no idea what’s happening. Trump’s dramatic ramp up of pressure is reminiscent of what we did with the Russians in the 1980’s. Reagan’s great insight, and it was truly his insight, was that the Russians simply could not compete with the West, if we got our act together economically. That proved to be correct. The Russians were spent as an empire.

Maybe that is what Trump is sensing. A generation ago, standard operating procedure in the US was to try and negotiate with the Russians. It was done on the assumption that the Soviets were strong. Reagan’s insight was that they were weak, so he abandoned appeasement. Trump seems to be going down the same path with the Norks. He has said that negotiations are a waste of time. That would explain the build up of assets in the region, along with the moves to cut off the North’s access to hard currency.

It’s all speculation, but we can tease out some things from what we do know about the Norks. Countries have a finite amount of resources. Some portion are used for the necessities of maintaining society. Some portion are used for defense. Some other portion is used by the ruling class to maintain their positions. Similarly, the ruling class will use some portion of their available capital to expand their position, both internally and externally. A country is not a closed system, but about 90% of its resources are internal.

It is assumed that the Norks have a lot of human capital, relative to rogue regimes in the Arab world. This is based on the unspoken assumption that Asians are smart, while Arabs are dumb. The Norks have split the atom and developed respectable missile technology, which is more than Saddam was able to do and more than the Persians have mustered to this point. The Norks have also shown themselves to be very resourceful in gaining access to the global arms market and the global drug trade. The Kim regime is clever.

That said, we know that most of the population is living with barely enough to eat and the bare minimum of health care. So much so that the North Koreans are shorter than the South Koreans. We know from Western history, that as nutrition improved in the West, Europeans got taller. People also got smarter. The Flynn Effect is most likely a result of nutrition and health care. The Norks are probably experiencing a reverse of this, where starvation and poor sanitation are lowering the average IQ of the population.

Then there is the math of every extraction regime. North Korea is closer to a feudal society than a modern country. Every level of society sees the excess from its labor siphoned off by the layer above it. This not only stifles productivity and innovation, it encourages corruption at all levels. This was the experience in the Soviet Union, where trust in institutions fell to zero. That was the joke among Soviet workers. The government would pretend to pay the workers and the workers pretended to work.

The point here is that the sum of human capital in North Korea is probably an order of magnitude less than many assume. They have a large enough smart fraction to build crude nuclear bombs and launch some long range missiles into the sea. They don’t have enough of a smart fraction to do that, feed their people and provide the basics of health care. Throw in the fact that Kim may have been forced to kill off many of the regime’s best people in order to solidify control, and North Korea could be very weak right now.

In fact, the saber rattling may be an attempt to get South Korea and China to put pressure on the US, in order to get some food and medical relief. That has worked with past presidents. Clinton, Bush and Obama were all willing to cut a deal. Trump calling the bluff may be why the Nork solider was allowed to just walk across the border to the South. He is carrying antibodies for anthrax, suggesting he has been exposed to it. That could be intended to send a message that the Norks have it and will use it in a war.

It’s impossible to know the true state of affairs in North Korea. One feature of all authoritarian regimes is a high degree of secrecy and deception. The same skills used to lie to the people, are used by the political factions inside the regime to lie to one another and to the outside world. The one thing low trust societies are good at producing is gifted liars. Still, the fundamental math of society strongly suggest the Norks are much weaker than they wish the world to know. That may explain the shift in US policy under Trump.

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Dutch
Guest
Dutch

The key to Trump’s strategy is not that NK is weaker than it appears to be, but that China may be weaker than it appears to be. NK is a proxy regime for China to taunt the West. Most likely, the Korean missile technology was given to them by the Chinese, but indigenously constructed to hide the source. In any case, Trump is trying to divide the vested interests of China and NK, so that China will stop backing them up. A strong state would tell Trump to pound sand. That is not quite happening, though the signals from China… Read more »

Mike@Mike.Mike
Guest
Mike@Mike.Mike

The theory that we are trying to pressure NK into collapse is reasonable,
It would be worth it just to see all of the warmongering neocons, who are just craving to send someone else’s kid off to die for no reason, try to pretend that’s all they were advocating to begin with.

newrouter
Guest
newrouter

“Caught RED HANDED – very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!”

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/946416486054285314

calsdad
Guest
calsdad

Nobody wants to acquire the shit-show that will be North Korea once it’s current government collapses. I’m sure the Chinese don’t want that huge bag of poo – and if South Korea ends up getting it and it becomes another East Germany / West Germany situation – the south Koreans are going to live to regret it IMHO.

TWS
Guest
TWS

The Chinese don’t want a western aligned Korea on their border and they do not want a collapsed north Korea. If north Korea destabilizes the Chinese will step in. They’ll install a better puppet this time.

This isn’t east Germany west Germany or the Soviet union it’s as if Soviet Finland pretended to be independent.

Member

Just how vilely deranged do you have to be to imagine that a “friendly solution” consists of starving and freezing the Korean people to death?

Here’s a friendly solution.

How about the 27,000 murderous American thugs fuck off home?

Hardvanger
Guest
Hardvanger

North Korea is a Potemkin village set up by the bank power. Like North Vietnam, USSR, Cuba, all made to ensure arms races and wars. No victor divides his country with the foe he has just defeated. These leaders have covert training and aid from tbe West. Who brought Jomo Kenyatta to London in the 1930s? Who kept him and paid for his university training? Who brought Ho Chi Minh and Pol Pot to theSorbonne? Who gave Leon Trotsky $20 million in gold for his return to Russia after the Kerensky diktat? (all jews). Every political and social “issue” is… Read more »

Dutch
Guest
Dutch

Men live to wield power, get rich, make changes, and be remembered, by their peers if not society at large. Unfortunately, all too many of them see the path to power, wealth, and noteriety by disrupting the lives and settled cultures of others.

Many of the world’s problems are made by people who insist on peeing on every single fire hydrant and lamppost.

John Smith
Member

Hmmmmm. Can’t find a flaw in any of that, Z. I might be full of chit but – just spit balling here… could the build up be exactly what it looks like? America learned a few things from the war with Japan in WW2; when the Japs struck at Pearl Harbour, the media was filled with clot headed, buck toothed slant-eyed cartoon characters getting the stuffing beaten out of them by Popeye The Sailor. The average American was told that the Jap navy would be at the bottom of the sea by the end of the week, and that the… Read more »

LFMayor
Guest
LFMayor

Last gasps are the most dangerous. We got very lucky with the Soviets. That’s why he’s stacked by the deck.

OneEyedJack
Guest
OneEyedJack

Older, slower, weaker me will no longer go toe-to-toe with Younger Stronger Faster.
I’m going straight for my gun.
That has to factor into how to handle the Norks. They may go straight to nukes, knowing they cannot compete or survive any other way.

John Smith
Member

That is probably my guess, now that you mention it LF. All I know is that if Trump and the Navy are taking that mutt seriously – we better had too!

TomA
Guest
TomA

The North Korean people are indeed starving and destitute, so much so that even rioting is too much exertion for them. The oncoming winter will likely push this crisis to a breaking point soon. My guess is that senior members of the NK military are being offered incentives to end this. Now that China/Russia have acquiesced to the change, it’s only a matter of time. Kim takes the money and runs, or he gets a bullet to the head.

Richter Rox
Guest
Richter Rox

The Chinese will not go to the mat for Kim , he is a liability on every level .
The best course is ratchet up the pressure and wait , at some point something will pop.
The big hard question is what will pop (military take over , Chinese take over, SK take over or pure chaos) and when will it pop.

Anonymous White Male
Guest
Anonymous White Male

“It’s impossible to know the true state of affairs in North Korea.” True that. Armchair generals will base their opinions on sources that have a vested interest in promoting a specific view. One that I’ve seen over the years is that the North Korean ruler is always “insane”. And yet, they’ve gotten a series of concessions from the West that shows they aren’t. I am continually reminded of the movie “The Mouse That Roared”. They wanted to lose a war to the West so the West would rebuild their economy. The Kims know they cannot win a war with the… Read more »

Al from da Nort
Guest
Al from da Nort

AWM; Seems you’re approaching the situation from a Western point of view. It’s reasonably clear that the NORK leadership doesn’t *care* a whit about their people’s welfare much less having their economy rebuilt. They, and almost every authoritarian regime since the dawn of time cares deeply about their own, *personal* survival. And Kim’s inner circle would not survive losing a war. That’s because the next layer down would have to strike at the first chance lest they become the (dead) scapegoats. But yet those on top seem to be courting war. Why_? Also since the dawn of time authoritarian leaders,… Read more »

Garr
Guest
Garr

(((We)))’re using NK to distract you from the impending invasion by the Reptilian Space-Aliens that we serve. These Reptilian Space-Aliens of course serve Demons, who serve de-materialized higher-level (((us)))-Masters, who serve even higher-level Demons.

Anonymous White Male
Guest
Anonymous White Male

Well, as long as you understand that…..OK.

BillH
Guest
BillH

The only refreshing thing about all this NK stuff is, Soros hasn’t been linked to it so far. Must be the only anti-West situation he’s not trying to finagle.

Christopher Chantrill
Guest
Christopher Chantrill

Per-capita Nork GDP is less than $600 per year.

Per-capita South Korea GDP is around $27,000 per year.

Alzaebo
Guest
Alzaebo

“closer to a feudal society … Every level of society sees the excess from its labor siphoned off by the layer above it.”

“The one thing low trust societies are good at producing is gifted liars.”

Zman is the most accurate observer of our time. Remarkable.

james+wilson
Guest
james+wilson

Trump’s stand on NoKo should have been US policy ever since the Chinese had something to lose from supporting them, which period of time is at least thirty years. Methods of doing things become ingrained and are then assumed to be right. The US one cent piece should have been put to sleep after we passed the point of three for a penny or at the very least when copper minting exceeded one cent in value. But no, the penny is littering my person no like the last hundred years of politics. So I thank the Donald for everything he… Read more »

LFMayor
Guest
LFMayor

Were we going to leave base ten? How do you make change without a single units device?
Best of luck weaning TheMasses off that particular belief system without bringing the whole works down. Boomers believe in Dan Rather, pensions and several dead presidents before all else

james+wilson
Guest
james+wilson

A penny in 1900 is the equivalent of a quarter today. Eliminate pennies, nickles, and dimes, or just make the dime the only unit of coin. It is at least appropriately small. Or, give space for USG to accomplish their true objective, which is to eliminate cash.

Dutch
Guest
Dutch

Japan did it with the Yen (worth about a penny today). There used to be 100 Sen to the Yen. Mexico just went about it by trading in many old Pesos into one new Peso now and again. Different ways to get to the same place. We seem to be following the Japanese model, so far.

Walt
Guest
Walt

Australia ditched the one and two-cent piece years ago. Everything rounds up or down to the nearest unit of 5.

Al from da Nort
Guest
Al from da Nort

Z Man; Wars result from at least one party misunderstanding the actual correlation of forces. That seems to be what’s going on here with the NORKS. We can only hope that Surber is right, but I fear it is wishful thinking. Here’s the case made that the NORKS think they have *us* in a bind instead of the other way around. It’s from the legendary-behind-the-scenes George Friedman who has been following the NK situation for many years: https://geopoliticalfutures.com/north-koreas-rational-analysis/ IIRC, it was Friedman who capsulated the prior long-term NORK strategy in a way that made sense. They strive to be perceived… Read more »

Chazz
Guest
Chazz

Perhaps all that needs to be done is to set up a couple dozen bakeries and fried chicken joints along the border in South Korea, then crank up production when the wind is in the right direction.

JohnTyler
Guest
JohnTyler

IMHO Trump’s new strategy towards NK is based on the very visible and obvious; that all the strategies used in the past – mostly based on trying to mollify those commie gangsters – has simply not worked. Of course, “experienced” State Dept morons and equally idiotic, mostly leftist politicians would merely attempt to continue giving the NK gangsters the benefit of the doubt (and oil and food and medicine, etc) to hope they come around and decide to join the human race and cease working on nukes. But as Neville Chamberlain found out, yielding and negotiating with tyrannical gangsters is… Read more »

joey+junger
Guest
joey+junger

You get to the heart of a principle of warfare that doesn’t get talked about enough, probably because commanders are embarrassed by it. Underestimating an enemy’s strength (like the English did with the German faith in barbed wire) can cost you a ton of soldiers, but overestimating the enemy’s position can also cause you to prolong the war and get a lot of your own soldiers killed. The English were so impressed by German engineering in trenches that they assumed it carried over into other realms (like tunneling) and they proceeded to give the enemy too much credit. John Norton-Griffiths… Read more »

Member

The US must contain and stabilize the Korean peninsula because of Japan. Should NK threaten the Japanese, and should the Japanese respond by re-militarizing, the Chinese would begin to growl seriously…along with all the other Asian nations who fear Japanese militarism. To prevent this set of dominoes going down, the US must restrain the Japanese by assuring them that the NK situation is under control. Is it?

Member

I think it’s entirely possible that the guy acquired natural immunity to anthrax by exposure to tiny non-lethal doses in unsanitary rural conditions that we all know exist there. I’d be willing to bet that cattle die of anthrax on a regular basis in some areas there. Burn or bury a few of these and you get enough exposure to become immune. OTOH, I wouldn’t put it past the norks to figure this out and let the guy defect just to get us thinking that they have an advanced bioweapons program, which, who knows? maybe they have. One thing I… Read more »

Alzaebo
Guest
Alzaebo

OT: here’s an eye-opening update to the Kwanzaa podcast, by hatethinker Ann Coulter at VDare, no less!

http://www.vdare.com/articles/ann-coulter-happy-kwanzaa-the-holiday-brought-to-you-by-the-fbi

Saml Adams
Guest
Saml Adams

That was my first thought when the “elite” soldier turned out to be as healthy as your average famine refugee. Another interesting data point, the Kim regime has cracked down on celebration of all non-regime holidays (apparently NorKs were big on Mothers Day and the like). That has all the hallmarks of a regime in trouble. Would venture a guess that Kim is increasingly frustrated that his re-enactment of the “cargo cult” rituals of his father and grand-father are not bringing the ships and planes of goodies. But he really has no Plan B. Any solution has to acknowledge that… Read more »