Saturday, August 3, 2013

North Korea: Nomadic Empire in a Bottle

I've been trying to understand North Korea lately.  It occurred to me last night that North Korea is a lot like a nomadic empire, but one that is so constrained geographically and politically that it cannot expand.  I wonder how it will evolve.

If you read the secret histories of the Mongols and the Manchus, you find that Genghis Khan and Nurhaci rose to power in similar ways.  Each one felt betrayed again and again by the outside world, to the point that his only recourse for justice was conquest, and Heaven pitied him and granted him victory.  Both were able to transform the fabric of their societies, building a military order that was integrated into the social order.

The narrative in North Korea seems similar: betrayed and humiliated by Japan and the West, the Glorious Leader formed the Juche Idea and the Songun policy.  The fabric of society has been transformed, and the military order is integrated into the social order.  But where does a nomadic empire go when it can't expand?  How many generations will the army stand, unable to move?

Kim Jong-un seems to be trying to reform North Korea's economy, but the Juche Idea permeates society, and probably shapes the way he thinks.  How can this situation possibly evolve from here?

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