The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future

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The same goes for the political edifice of North Korea, which is being slowly undermined from within and outside, by a failure to provide for its people, and by a trickle of information reaching its hapless citizens from neighboring countries. We must remember that the regime has a sole preoccupation: to survive. With such single-mindedness it is possible to flagrantly disregard the needs and wants of the citizens under its charge and ignore its gross under-fulfilled national potential.

This is both as dangerous as it is tragic Cha argues. This explains the sinking of the South Korean frigate Cheonan and subsequent shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in These are desperate acts of a regime on its last legs; it has nothing to lose. More alarmingly, it may feel that it is safe from retaliation behind its erstwhile nuclear deterrent. This could lead it to escalate conflict under a misguided faith in or misunderstanding of deterrence dynamics.

Cha therefore contends that this deteriorating North Korean position, combined with an increasingly dangerous path of antagonism and brinkmanship towards its neighbors, is fueling an already combustible security situation. Moreover, stable and experienced DPRK leadership is lacking at this critical juncture. As in the case of Pakistan, a failing state armed with nuclear weapons poses security risks of calamitous proportions.

Bush administration. President Jimmy Carter. This allows for long personal anecdotes, and many often interesting asides, but also leads to frustrating repetition, as if it had not been properly edited. The bastions of American academic establishment are all duly cited, but the book is surprisingly light on South Korean sources.

Considering the colossal expertise held by this constituency, this serves to further underline the nature of the purely American-centric perspective delivered here. These limitations duly noted, this is the most accessible, comprehensive, and up-to-date book on the paradoxical North Korean state. My Account Sign In. Second surprise was that North Korea was once relatively prosperous compared to it's rival in the South.

That during the cold war generous aid from both Soviet Russia and Communist China made it both more industrialized and gave it a higher standard of living than South Korea, even if now the South has outstripped its GDP by over twenty to one. That North Korea is an incredibly repressive regime, arguably the least free nation on earth, was no surprise.

But a lot of the details of the atrocities committed within and without were a shock. I didn't know, for instance, that in an attempt to assassinate a South Korean president, North Korean agents murdered the country's First Lady, or that another attempt killed half of South Korea's cabinet, or that North Korea admitted it abducted over a dozen Japanese citizens to train their agents.

The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future

It's amazing to me that over the decades a full-fledged war hasn't broken out. Except that the butcher bill could reach a million lives, and as Cha explains, the North Koreans knowing this know they can violate international norms with near impunity, and extort aid to stop rattling their sabers. And the chapter dealing with the forced labor camps that rival the concentration camps of Hitler and Stalin for horror are not for the faint of heart.

I wouldn't say this is necessarily a classic that will be read decades from now, which is why I didn't give it a fifth star.

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I didn't think it was well-edited. I caught a few typos, some cliched phrases, awkward sentences, and some repeated points that could have been eliminated to make for a tauter book--but it is invaluable as an informative book that gives us a sense of an isolated, secretive, and dangerous country and as just published in April of this year up to date. I'll admit to having something of a fascination with North Korea, surely one of the planet's strangest, most awful places. Meyers's "The Cleanest Race," and while Victor Cha's "The Impossible State" is wonkier than those two volumes, it's may, in the strictest sense, be the most informative of the three.

Cha worked on the North Korea issue during the second Bush administration and his knowledge of the the country and region and its problems is deep and nuanced. In my opinion, the most useful facets of "The Impossible State" are Cha's recounting of North Korea's history as it relates to the Kim dynasty and his exploration of the ideology that holds the regime together.

He provides an interesting history of North Korea's role in the Cold War -- when it was considerably better off than its southern neighbor -- and how this conflict continues to inform it's leader's worldviews. Cha doesn't just attibute North Korea's situation to world-historical forces, though. Cha also explores what the oft-cited concept of "juche" means in a modern context, and includes a lot of interesting material on North Korean identity.

It's difficult to know, of course, how many ordinary North Koreans believe the massive amounts of state propaganda that they're exposed to, but Cha convincingly argues that the Kim regime is so closely tied into the Kim dynasty that more North Koreans support their government than most people would think possible. This is the sort of stuff that you won't find in your average news report on North Korea.

Likewise, his description of North Korea's confusing but effective negotiating tactics is, although repetitive, enlightening. There are elements of "The Impossible State" that are probably less relevant to the average reader, though. While I found Cha's description of China and the DPRK mutually non-beneficial relationship interesting, his meticulous description of its relationship with all of its neighbors will probably interest academics and no one else.

Cha, who served under George W. Bush, also gives his former boss considerable praise for his work on the North Korea issue: any lefties that still cringe when they hear Dubya's name might want to skip this one. For what it's worth, Cha makes an effort to argue that Bush's policy towards the DPRK wasn't as disengaged as many people assume. Recommended to readers who have a special interest in what's often called "The Peninsula of Bad Options.

A fascinating look at the history of North Korea and diplomacy efforts over the years by the U. When I hear a news story about NK--e.

The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future - Network 20/20

It's a long book, but well written so that it's an easy read. The only thing I found challenging is the author writes more topically than chronologically so I had to try to create a timeline in my head to get a full picture of what was happening. An excellent overview on North Korea through the initial reign of Kim Jong-un. Victor Cha was the National Security Council adviser in multiple administrations responsible for Asia, with his primary "time-suck" being North Korea from the late 's Cha does a good job describing the modern situation of North Korea, including the policy decision of China, South Korea, Japan and the US to prop up the Kim regime along with well meaning NGO's that prop up the regime through the aid they naively send there.

He portrays the differences between the communist elite and the regular North Korean, as well as going into an excellent analysis of why North Koreans accept, serve and worship the Kim family. A large part of the recent history of North Korea circles around its missile and nuclear development. In particular in chapter 3, Cha ridicules the Kim dynasty, which makes the book more entertaining but affects its credibility as a product of serious scholarship.

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The section on the top leadership nicely summarizes what is thought to be known about this field of Pyongyangology. Chapter 6 starts with the scenario of a military attack by North Korea. No nuclear weapons are included, but 5, metric tons of chemical agents are repeatedly mentioned.

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The nuclear program does receive its fair share of attention, in particular in chapter 7, which is devoted to its complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement. Chapter 9 is devoted to inter-Korean relations, focusing on unification, which is regarded as a major but inevitable challenge. As with any book on current affairs, it is natural that some information is outdated. This would point at an unrealistically high level of affluence and the absence of any food shortage.

On many points, Cha is very much in line with the thinking of other experts.