Daniel W. Drezner

A deal that North Korea can’t refuse

A deal that North Korea can’t refuse

The Wall Street Journal‘s Jay Solomon, Evan Ramsted, and Peter Spiegel provide a nicely detailed rundown on what U.S. officials think is happening in North Korea.  Essentially, U.S. policymakers in the know believe that the arrangements for a power succession from Kim Jong Il to his relatives are causing Pyongyang to act even weirder than usual. 

The story contains that classic combination of Kremlinology and bizarre personal detail that make the DPRK regime so entertaining for anyone not living within the range of the Taepodong-2 missile.  For example:

U.S. officials said they increasingly view [Kim Jong Il’s third son] Kim Jong Un as an important player in North Korea’s power equation. The 26-year-old has emerged as a stronger contender than either of his brothers. Kim Jong Nam, Kim Jong Il’s eldest son, was widely discredited in 2001 when he was detained in Japan for traveling on a forged Dominican Republic passport in a bid to visit Tokyo Disneyland. The middle son, Kim Young Chol, has been described as frail and unlikely to possess the stature to lead.

Kim Jong Il seems to view Kim Jong Un as the most like him in views and values, said the senior U.S. defense official. The younger son’s mother, Ko Yong Hee, who died in a 2004 car crash, is also believed to be Kim Jong Il’s favorite of his three wives.

Kim Jong Un fascinates North Korea analysts as he studied at an international school in Bern, Switzerland and is reported to be a fan of Western pop stars. (emphasis added)

I see the makings of a deal here — instead of security guarantees and light-water nuclear reactors, what if the U.S. instead offered to build a Pyongyang Disneyworld complex?  With special VIP-only lines for relatives of Kim?  [Who could afford the regular lines?–ed.  Oh, they’d still want the velvet ropes.] 

Furthermore, in this blog’s ongoing efforts to find social utility from washed-up pop stars, shouldn’t the U.S. also offer a lifetime contract for Miss Britney Spears to host the resort?  Now, I know what you’re thinking — Drezner is behind on his Entertainment Weekly reading hasn’t pop culture moved past Britney? Well, I figure that it takes a few years for these trends to trickle into the DPRK.  See, it’s win-win!!

Somewhat more seriously, I have to wonder about the utility of this kind of Kremlinological analysis.  I’ve been… unimpressed with the kind of research that tries to predict future policy prefereces based on past biography.  These kind of analyses often do a good job of explaining things after the fact — but I don’t remember anyone using this kind of work to correctly predict a Gorbachev or a Deng.  For the DPRK, the family dynamics make it even harder to discern, of course.