June 26, 2019  

Two new flags will be flying high at the Olympic Games in Rio.

For the first time, South Sudan and Kosovo have been recognized by the International Olympic Committee. Kosovo, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia, will have 8 athletes competing; and a good shot for a medal in women's judo: Majlinda Kelmendi is considered a favorite. She's ranked first in the world in her weight class.

(South Sudan's James Chiengjiek, Yiech Biel & coach Joe Domongole, © AFP) South Sudan, which became independent in 2011, will have three runners competing in the country's first Olympic Games.

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus


(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)



Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler



CARTOON: Peter Broelman, Australia/BROELMAN.com.au)


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Entries in DPRK (2)


Military Exercises and Stability on the Korean Peninsula (PERSPECTIVE) 

North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un (L) applauds as he visits the Seoul Ryu Kyong Su 105 Guards Tank Division of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in Pyongyang, in this picture released by KCNA January 1, 2012.

By Daniel Pinkston 

Last Friday, 27 January, the U.S. and Republic of Korea (ROK) Combined Forces Command (CFC) announced the dates for two joint and combined military exercises in the ROK. Key Resolve, an annual command post exercise will be held from 27 February to 9 March, and Foal Eagle, a tactical field exercise, will be held from 1 March to 30 April. The DPRK immediately denounced the exercises, which Pyongyang has labeled an “unpardonable grave military provocation to the sovereignty of the DPRK and a wanton challenge to the international community’s desire for peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula”. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) asserts “Key Resolve is a nuclear war rehearsal for aggression on the DPRK” that is “intolerable while the nation is mourning the loss of Kim Jong-il”Rodong Sinmun calls the exercises “a test nuclear war to invade the DPRK through a surprise attack”. DPRK media reported several appeals throughout January to cancel the exercises even before the CFC announcement.

U.S.-ROK combined military exercises often have been controversial, particularly during crises or during times of inter-Korean tensions. The U.S.-ROK Team Spirit exercise, which was launched in 1976 to reassure the ROK when it abandoned its nuclear weapons program, was repeatedly cited by Pyongyang as a “rehearsal for nuclear war against the DPRK”. Team Spirit then became a bargaining chip and was cancelled in the mid 1990s as reward for DPRK cooperation in the Agreed Framework. This led some to believe that ROK and U.S.-ROK military exercises exacerbate the security situation on the peninsula, and that the best way to reduce or eliminate DPRK belligerence is to cancel military exercises.

Some on the left in South Korea (ROK) have suggested that Key Resolve and Foal Eagle should be cancelled as a gesture for beginning a new cooperative relationship in the Kim Jŏng-ŭn era. A reduction in tensions and greater inter-Korean cooperation is desirable, but cancelling the exercises is unlikely to achieve this result for several reasons.

First, despite Pyongyang’s harsh criticism of exercises in the South, the Korean People’s Army (KPA) has continued its winter training exercises. Aircraft sorties reportedly have increased this year, and the North has conducted flight tests of short-range missiles over the last two months. It seems disingenuous to ask others to stand down when ramping up one’s own military training. And on the other hand, it would be irresponsible for the ROK and U.S. to neglect military training requirements without a reduction in the KPA force posture.

Second, the DPRK clearly has stated its intention to adhere to its sŏn’gun [military first] policy line. Sŏn’gun is a slightly modified Leninist world view that emphasises the importance of military power to resist “imperialist aggression”. The DPRK under the leadership of the Korean Workers’ Party has not renounced the use of force to unify Korea. Military weakness is more likely to invite greater military adventurism from the DPRK rather than arms control and nuclear disarmament. The good news is that sŏn’gun has strong “realist” overtones. In other words, power is what matters in sŏn’gun, and the KPA leadership probably has no delusions about the balance of power on the peninsula. The DPRK can be deterred, but deterrence can fail in the case of poor readiness and inadequate training.

Third, militaries have to train if they are to fulfill their tasks when called upon. ROK Army conscripts serve 21 months, and most U.S. military personnel serve for one year in the ROK, although some serve for 2-3 years. This turnover in forces requires annual training, which is scheduled well in advance. The KPA has been notified of the exercises, and CFC has invited the KPA to observe the exercises. Personnel from the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) will observe the exercises to verify they are in compliance with the Armistice.

So why is the rhetoric out of Pyongyang so shrill? It’s always shrill, but slightly more so this year, possibly because of Seoul’s response to the Ch’ŏnan sinking and Yŏnp’yŏng Island artillery attack in 2010. Those events triggered a reassessment of ROK military readiness and a reorganization of the command and control structure. The ROK has been increasing procurement and deployment of weapons systems to counter the DPRK’s asymmetric threats, and ramping up its military exercises.

Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are not the only ROK exercises these days. In January, ROK forces participated in Cobra Gold, a multi-national exercise in Thailand that included the U.S., Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. The 2012 Cobra Gold exercise included simulated UN peacekeeping operations and humanitarian assistance, which mirrors some of the activities ROK troops would have to perform under ROK contingency plans for the North.

Furthermore, the ROK Air Force dispatched F-15s to Nellis Air Base in Nevada to participate in the Red Flag exercise from 2 January to 3 February. The ROK Air Force has participated in Red Flag before, but this is the first time since 2008. The exercise typically includes training in interdiction, ground attack, air superiority, air defense suppression, airlift, air refueling and reconnaissance. This training provides realistic scenarios for responding to DPRK provocations near the North Limit Line (NLL).

Despite the rhetoric, the likelihood of military conflict during the training period is low. The DPRK will continue its military training through the spring, and Pyongyang should be well behaved in the lead up to the Kim Il-sung centennial celebration in April. However, conventional provocations after April cannot be ruled out. In that case, military training and readiness in the South will be instrumental in dealing with any crises that could arise.

If the KPA is a professional military force, as it proclaims under its sŏn’gun doctrine, it should accept invitations to observe military exercises, just as the PLA, Russian military and others have done at Cobra Gold and elsewhere. The commanders of the KPA, the PLA (or technically, the Chinese People’s Volunteers, who no longer exist), and the United Nations Command all have the responsibility to uphold the Armistice. Transparency, mutual observation of all military exercises in the region, and other confidence-building measures are the appropriate pathways for tension reduction and stability on the Korean peninsula.

- Daniel Pinkston is the Deputy Project Director, North East Asia Program. His work focuses on inter-Korean relations, domestic politics, regional security, nonproliferation and the reform process in North Korea. Originally posted on the International Crisis Group's blog on Korea 'Strong and Proserous'


North Korean-Style "Democracy" and the Prospects of True Democratization (ANALYSIS)

by Daniel Pinkston  

Images: CIA World Factbook(April 27, 2011) Recent events in the Middle East have led to speculation about contagion and possible effects on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea). The events in the Middle East began in Tunisia, but were unexpected and progressed mostly in unpredictable ways. The pattern and evolution of contagion showed that each case of rebellion or revolution is different in terms of elapsed time, amount of violence and political outcomes.

No polity is permanent or indestructible. The most sustainable political systems are those that adjust to domestic and international change. Those systems lacking mechanisms for reform and change inevitably face challenges that often are characterized by violence. Past waves of democratization and the recent events in the Middle East raise several questions about the nature of authoritarian regimes. What triggers instability, regime collapse or revolution? Why are some authoritarian regimes more resilient than others? Can we identify ideological, cultural and/or institutional aspects of authoritarian regimes to help understand the prospects for democratization?  Can we predict or prepare for rapid changes in authoritarian systems? And if so, what role should various international actors play in such a scenario?

PHOTO CREDIT: noboundariesorg/flickrThe North Korean Case        

In human history, the concept of democracy was not always popular. It is a recent phenomenon and was often associated with “mob rule” and “disorder.” However, by the 20th century, democracy had become a universal ideal that is espoused at least nominally by practically all governments regardless of structure or regime type.     

North Korea is no exception. The DPRK Constitution embraces and guarantees a number of democratic rights, privileges and principles. Article 1 stipulates that the DPRK represents the interests of all citizens. Sovereignty is vested in the working people, who are represented by the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) and local people’s assemblies (Article 4). Citizens are guaranteed direct universal suffrage by secret ballot (Articles 6, 89 and 138) and their representatives are required to have close ties to their constituents or face no-confidence recalls (Article 7). Article 8 respects and protects human rights, and the rights of Koreans are extended when they are abroad (Article 15), while foreigners are guaranteed legitimate rights and interests while in the territory of the DPRK (Article 16). Furthermore, all institutions, enterprises, organizations and citizens are required to respect the laws that enshrine these rights (Article 18).

The DPRK Constitution guarantees democratic rights and freedoms for all citizens (Article 64) in all spheres of state and social life (Article 65).  These rights and freedoms include universal suffrage and the right to be elected to public office for all who have reached the age of 17 (Article 66); freedom of speech, of the press, assembly, demonstration, association (Article 67); of religion (Article 68) and the right to appeal and file petitions (Article 69).

Article 74 grants the freedom to engage in scientific, literary and artistic activities, and Article 75 grants the freedom of residence and travel. Women are granted equal rights and status with men (Article 77). Citizens have the right to privacy in their homes and in their personal correspondence, and they are protected from illegal searches (Article 79).

The DPRK Constitution also includes a number of clauses addressing social welfare issues. For example, citizens have the right to rest (Article 71), the right to receive free medical care and support from the state if unable to care for themselves (Article 72). Citizens have the right to education (Article 73) and maternity leave is guaranteed for the protection of mothers and children (Article 77). 

Unfortunately, the constitution also contradicts democratic principles in several ways. For example, it stipulates that chuch’e [主體] and military first [先軍] are the “guiding principles” of the DPRK (Article 3), and the state is organized and managed according to democratic centralism (Article 5). All DPRK activities must be carried out under the leadership of the Korean Workers Party (Article 11), and the state must strengthen the dictatorship of the people’s democracy (Article 12).

The state is required by the constitution to carry out mass movements vigorously (Article 14), and carry out a cultural revolution to train all the people as builders of socialism (Article 40). The state “shall eliminate the outdated society’s mode of life and establish a new socialist mode of life in full measure in all fields” (Article 42). “Eliminating outdated society” has a liberating connotation in the context of the collapse of the Chinese world order in the 19th century or colonialism in the 20th. However, the second diktat of Article 42 justifies the DPRK’s complete eradication of civil society and the construction of mass movements to eliminate individualism and freedoms that are nominally protected by the constitution.  

The integration of “creative writers and artists to produce many works of high ideological and artistic value and enlist a broad range of masses in literary and artistic activities” ensures artistic expression is only tolerated within channels sanctioned by the state and KWP. Literature and art must be “chuch’e-oriented, revolutionary, national in form and socialist in content” (Article 52). Rights and responsibilities are “based on the collectivist principle of ‘one for all, all for one’” (Article 63), not on the rule of law.

Collective conformity with state doctrine is extended to the military, which has a “mission to carry out the military-first revolutionary line in order to protect the nerve center of the revolution” (Article 59). The constitution requires the state to “convert the entire army into a cadre army, modernize the entire army, arm all the people, and turn the whole country into a fortress, on the basis of arming the army and the people politically and ideologically” (Article 60).

Individual property rights are severely restricted as “there shall be no limit to the property which the state can own, and all natural resources of the country, railways, air transportation, telecommunications and postal organs, as well as major factories, enterprises, ports, and banks, shall be owned solely by the state” (Article 21).

State control and regulation of resources are primary instruments of social control and regime sustainability. First, the ruling elite can reward loyalists and punish traitors or disloyal citizens by supplying or withholding resources, including food, medical care and other necessities. Second, state control of resource allocation nominally eliminates the need for markets, which can have political effects as well as an economic function. Markets can only function if they have buyers and sellers, and they are more efficient if the actors have autonomy and adequate information to make decisions. However, autonomous buyers and sellers with the capacity to transmit, receive and store information can use that capacity to take collective action. Even if collective action initially is only directed at market activities, it can later be directed towards political aims.

Haggard and Noland note that the North Korean regime is highly insecure about the market, and that so-called “reforms” have been designed to maintain economic control.[i] The economics measures announced on 1 July 2002 were trumpeted as the beginning of reform and opening, but policies were incomplete and insufficient to cure the country’s economic malaise. The state recognized and tolerated some marketization from below that began during the famine of the 1990s, but by 2005 was working to reverse the nascent marketization underway. The botched currency reform announced on 30 November 2009 is indicative of the state’s will to eradicate markets and reassert control of resources, which is necessary to sustain the current political structure.           

The normal, everyday market activities we see in liberal democracies have been criminalized in North Korea. Legal statues, prosecutors and courts are mechanisms to control society and perpetuate centralized control. According to Article 162 of the DPRK Constitution, “the duties of the court are to:  

1. Protect the sovereignty of the DPRK, the socialist system, the property of the state and social cooperative organizations, and the constitutional rights, lives, and property of the people through judicial activities.

2. Ensure that all organs, enterprises, organizations, and citizens precisely observe the laws of the state and struggle actively against class enemies and all law offenders.

The DPRK has nominally adopted some international legal standards and procedures such as habeas corpus and nullum crimen sine lege [no crime without law], but no due judicial process seems to apply to political crimes.[ii] Detention, prosecution and imprisonment accompanied by extreme violence are common. Social deviants live under the threat of terror to themselves and their extended families. The deterrent effect apparently has been very effective. But, the discretion extended to the security apparatus [國家安全保衛部; 人民保安部; 組織指導部; 호위사령부] also creates extraordinary rent-seeking opportunities. The corruption in North Korea seems to be increasing as the economy remains stagnant. Rampant corruption, which is structurally created by the legal code and security apparatus, could eventually undermine the integrity of the security institutions that are supposed to protect and preserve the state.        

Kim Jŏng-il, HUMNEWS file photoThe Personalistic Suryŏng [ 首領 ] System

Under the concept of “democratic centralism” Kim Il-sung began to establish a personalistic system fitting the term “totalitarian” or “sultanistic” in the words of Juan J. Linz.[iii] Others have described the DPRK political system as “Stalinist, corporatist, mono-organizational, neo-traditional.” Charles Armstrong correctly points out that the state has displayed all of these characteristics and the state has transformed since it was founded in 1948.[iv]    

According to state propaganda, the DPRK is dependent upon a “Great Leader” for survival and prosperity. Borrowing from imperial Japan’s kokutai [國體], North Korean propaganda refers to the suryŏng as the “brain” for the “national body.” North Koreans are indoctrinated to believe that “freedom and national independence” are only possible by submitting to and supporting the leader—even if it means sacrificing one’s own life. The ideological pillars of the state promise that in return the leader will protect North Koreans from an impure and hostile international environment.[v]

The leader is enshrined in the constitution. Kim Il-sŏng is credited with having “reinforced and developed the republic into a popular masses-centered socialist country and a socialist state of independence, self-support, and self-defense by putting forward a chuch’e-oriented revolutionary line.” He is said to have “turned the whole society into one big, single-heartedly united family.”[vi] And as a “united family,” citizens cannot opt out of this relationship and have non-negotiable responsibilities:   

Under the leadership of the Korean Workers Party, the DPRK and the Korean people will hold the Great Leader Comrade Kim Il Sung in high esteem as the eternal president of the republic and complete the chuch’e revolutionary cause to the end by defending,  carrying forward, and developing Comrade Kim Il Sung’s idea and achievements.

The constitution’s preamble declares that “Kim Il-sŏng’s chuch’e-oriented idea of state building and his achievements in state building have been made into law.” The constitution justifies hereditary succession, which is now under way for the second time in the country’s history. The current leader, Kim Jŏng-il, is the “supreme leader [最高領導者] of the DPRK” (Article 100), and has the authority to “issue orders” (Article 104) that essentially carry the weight of supreme law immune from judicial review or challenge from any institution or citizen.   

A modern democracy must include free and fair elections, the protection of human rights and civil liberties, freedom of thought and of the press, freedom of religion and a separation of powers with an independent judiciary. The DPRK fails in every single category necessary for a functioning democracy. The DPRK probably has come closer to the totalitarian ideal than any of its predecessors that attempted to build a totalitarian system, and the DPRK has lasted longer than any of its peers.

Dictators and totalitarian leaders always face threats and challengers. The rent-seeking opportunities are extensive in personalistic systems, but even the greatest dictators are victims of the system because of the attention and resources that must be expended to remain in control. Terror is a common instrument in non-democratic regimes. The ruthlessness exercised in these systems and the consequences of losing power, which often results in death—or exile if lucky—lead to a culture of settling political differences violently.

The lack of internal checks and balances, and the very militarized societies built to maintain personalistic systems, often result in dictators using their militaries to settle international disputes. The North Korean case is exacerbated by national division and a sclerotic economy that obstructs any modernization of its conventional military forces. The result has been a long-term commitment to the development weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their related delivery systems.

The need for critical technologies and materials, and the desire for economies of scale in production have led to the establishment of procurement and proliferation networks for the most dangerous materials and weapon systems.[vii] WMD development, including two nuclear tests, has brought international sanctions that have compounded the DPRK’s economic plight. North Korea’s WMD threat cannot be ignored, but the very sanctions and other international pressure designed to compel Pyongyang to disarm have had little effect. Instead, they almost certainly reinforce hardliners in North Korea. This is not to suggest that sanctions should be lifted. To the contrary—but we must have realistic expectations about the effectiveness.

We should not be very optimistic about WMD disarmament, economic liberalization, the protection of human rights and civil liberties or democratization until there is a change in leadership and a change in the political structure/system. Without structural change—in other words, without a dismantling of the inter-locking institutional arrangement of the KWP, the military, and the security apparatus and the tight centralized control of economic resources—whoever is the suryŏng will not matter. Anyone would rule in a similar fashion in such an institutional environment or risk being toppled from within.

The current DPRK system is doomed to failure, but it could last for a considerable time. The international community could impose democracy through force, but that would require a very costly war that is politically untenable. Deterrence and containment are the primary policy instruments for dealing with Pyongyang for years or decades ahead. That means waiting for change generated from within, but the prospects are bleak.

Daniel Pinkston is the North East Asia Deputy Project Director at The International Crisis Group  - This article was first published at Strong and Prosperous 2011: Crisis Group's Blog on Korea  

[i] Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland, Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea (Washington, DC: Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2011).  [ii] Ibid. [iii] Juan J. Linz, Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2000). [iv] Charles K. Armstrong, “The Nature, Origins, and Development of the North Korean State,” in Samuel S. Kim, editor, The North Korean System in the Post-Cold War Era (New York: Palgrave, 2001), pp. 39-63. [v] Brian Myers, The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters (New York: Melville House, 2010). [vi] DPRK Constitution Preamble. [vii] Daniel A. Pinkston, “Up in Arms - North Korea’s Illicit Weapons Deals,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, 22 April 2010.