Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and The World, 1950-1992 with Prof. Charles Armstrong [FULL VIDEO]

Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and The World, 1950-1992 with Prof. Charles Armstrong [FULL VIDEO]


Good day. Welcome to The Korea Society and
welcome to Studio Korea. I’m Stephen Noerper, Senior Vice President. We’re delighted to have all of you with us—our studio audience
along with our streaming online viewers. It is a pleasure today to kickoff of our fall, 2013 season and to do that with an old friend of The Korea Society. Today I am delighted to welcome academic luminary
Professor Charles Armstrong of Columbia University. We’re delighted to see so many of you here with us
today and Charles’ good work over many years has warranted that. Professor Armstrong is a guiding force and thought leader on issues dealing with the Korean Peninsula
as well as America’s understanding of Korea—the essence of The Korea Society’s mission. I
want to take a moment to thank you, Charles, for your continued support of and friendship to The Korea Society. Charles is also the author of the just released second edition
of The Two Koreas. It’s actually the first 2014 text I’ve seen published by Routledge Press. I strongly recommend
it along with the subject of today’s discussion, Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and the World,
1950-1992. Today is the first event celebrating the publication of Tyranny of the Weak.
At the end of next week, Professor Armstrong will be at the Wilson Center in Washington,
DC to discuss this fine study. We are very grateful that he chose to spend his time here
with us today. We’d also like to thank Columbia University for its co-sponsorship. O. A. Westad from LSE refers to Tyranny of
the Weak as “the best book on the history of North Korea’s foreign relations.” Chen
Jian of Cornell describes the research you employed as “pathbreaking.” My first question
for you is about the gestation of Tyranny of the Weak. Why this book and what is its
appropriateness for this time? It seems that North Korea is always
appropriate for the time. This book is my attempt to explain the Groundhog Day
feeling we have when dealing with North Korea and particularly U.S.-North Korean relations
over the last sixty years. The term “tyranny of the weak” may be too
strong for some people (including all of my North Korean friends). It comes from an article
I found on Cold War history and is meant to help us understand the “tail wagging the dog”
phenomenon we witnessed during the Cold War—not from the point of view of the major protagonists
(the United States, the Soviet Union and China) but from smaller, more peripheral countries. North Korea is probably the best case of a
small and relatively weak country that was able to do remarkable things—although not
necessarily things we would all approve of—to maximize the benefits it received from its
Great Power patrons (and even in some cases enemies more powerful than itself). This project is an attempt to approach the study of North Korea through the eyes of a historian. I’ve
often said we can’t truly know anything about North Korea as we can’t do research there—that
North Korea’s history is locked away in a black box that’s completely impenetrable. It turns out this is not the case. We know
a lot more about North Korea than previously thought. What drove me to engage in this particular
project was the realization that we had so many new archival materials—from the former
Soviet Union, East Germany and other Eastern European countries that had been allied with
North Korea—and through these we would be able get a better understanding of North Korea.
The research is not from North Korea’s own archives—but it is the best we have and
something never done before. That’s interesting, Charles. You mentioned
that the title could have been “The World and North Korea” as opposed to North Korea
and the World… Exactly And this research was done in-house primarily
at the Wilson Center? At the beginning of the 1990s, the Wilson
Center launched a project called the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP).
This project acts as a clearinghouse of materials essential for anyone interested in Cold War
history—materials from the former Soviet Union and other formerly Communist countries
whose archives opened after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. A subsidiary of
that is another program at the Wilson Center—the North Korea International Documentation Project
(NKIDP)—that has translated many thousands of documents coming from Russia, Czechoslovakia,
Poland, Germany and, to some extent, China. Although I relied heavily on the archives
from these two programs, I have to say I did a lot of my own work, as well. I dusted off
my high school German and received a grant (the first ever awarded to an American by
the German government) to study North Korean history in Germany—allowing an investigation
of East Germany’s Foreign Ministry archives as well as the party archives. East Germany
was a very close ally of North Korea throughout most of the Cold War period, and it was indeed
fascinating and revelatory. I went to China. I went to Seoul. I went to Russia. I even
went to Addis Ababa and interviewed people who had dealt with North Korean advisors in
Ethiopia during the Marxist period there. This was a very wide-ranging and global research
project attempting to interpret North Korea’s interaction with the world starting from the
outbreak of the Korean War—the first example, I think, of North Korea practicing its “tyranny
of the weak”—to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the joint entry of the two Koreas
into the United Nations. You mention there are several aspects to the
distinctive nature of North Korea’s development—with its ability to weave together to maximum advantage
all the benefits it derived—and which may be appropriate in trying to understand the
events of this year. That perhaps the Great Powers of the Cold War were limited and that
the Cold War is a history of contest and a history of conflict. You begin by looking back sixty years to the
beginning of the Korean War (what you refer to as the “unfinished war”) from that perspective.
How do you believe this aspect of North Korea’s history will shape its thought process and
guiding principles going forward with foreign policy? One of the things we didn’t know in detail
about the Korean War until the last decade or so was how much of this event was driven
by North Korea and Kim Il Sung. At the time, America assumed that Kim Il Sung was a proxy
of Stalin and was doing Stalin’s bidding in order to test the Americans. What we now know is it was really Kim in particular,
and a few around him, who pushed Stalin constantly. He visited Stalin numerous times encouraging
an attack on South Korea. If there had not been this insistent pressure from Kim and
the North Korean leadership, I don’t think the Soviet Union would have agreed to this
venture. That was a very bold move by Kim and it almost
succeeded. I think it’s often forgotten how close the North Koreans really were to taking
over the Korean Peninsula—and that we would not have the Republic of Korea today had it
not been for the U.S.-UN intervention in December of 1950. The fact that the war never ended and that
ultimately unification did not happen has been very frustrating for the North Korean
leadership to deal with. There is a sense that even though the North Koreans claimed
victory—North Korea’s official name for this war is the Victorious Fatherland Liberation
War—it is a victory never achieved and something they would aspire to in some form in the future.
That has been a driving force ever since. I argue in the book that it is much more than
just the division of the Peninsula that has created the hostility between North and South
Korea still existing to this day. That is one reason the Korean division is very different
from the German division. If East and West Germany had fought a war with each other,
German unification might not have gone as well as it did—although it certainly had
its problems. Because of the Korean War, unification has
been much more difficult to achieve. The North Koreans do not trust that the South Koreans
will treat them humanely should unification be on South Korean terms. The war, and the
memory of that war, has perpetuated the division of Korea more than any other single factor. As to the point about Stalin, you note that
Khrushchev discussed that in his memoirs published in English in 1970. You do an excellent job
of framing that in a much broader way with your mention of the close relationship between
Kim Il Sung and Erich Honecker—of understanding Kim Il Sung’s successful manipulation, if
you will, in dealing with the Chinese, with the Germans, with the Soviets and with playing
the Great Powers off of themselves. Most of us here in the United States think
of the Cold War in terms of the U.S.-Soviet conflict. You rightly point out that from
a North Korean perspective the Cold War was really three different wars. Yes. The North Korean point of view is that
there were three Cold Wars. The first was the U.S.-Soviet Cold War. The second was the
thirty-year Sino-Soviet Cold War—a war that at times became very heated and briefly became
a shooting war on the borders between the Soviet Union and China. Third was the North-South Korean Cold War.
After 1953, neither side could entertain the open conflict and hostility; and this developed
a rivalry that mirrored or encapsulated, in a microcosm, the global Cold War fought on
the Korean Peninsula. And, as we know, the third Cold War has not ended as of today. North Korea’s great advantage was its ability
to maneuver between the Soviet Union and China during the Sino-Soviet Cold War that lasted
from 1959 (when the Sino-Soviet split came about) until 1989 when Gorbachev visited Beijing
(and the Soviet Union and China sort of patched things up). Many countries within the Communist bloc had
a great deal of difficulty dealing with this. Vietnam used a similar approach, but after
unification fell into the Soviet camp. North Korea, meanwhile, managed to maximize concessions
from the Soviet Union and China by playing each against the other thereby threatening,
in a sense, to defect to the other side. Both the Soviet Union and China were quite concerned
about this. From the 1950s onward, the Soviet Union did
not want North Korea to fall into the Chinese camp. They wanted to keep North Korea as an
ally. China wanted to retain North Korea as a friendly nation on its border. The North
Koreans handled this very shrewdly and gained a great deal economically—as well as in
terms of military and political support—from both sides in this very tense and hostile
relationship between these Communist Great Powers. In terms of this contest for legitimacy between
the North and the South, you guide us through a period in the 1960s and early 1970s when
North Korea was perceived as being in a stronger position. Then you get to the apex, from 1972
to 1973, where the Non-Aligned Movement and North Korea presented themselves as something
of a model. This was a period we tend to forget where North Korea enjoyed a level of support
that has been greatly reversed relative to the amazing strength of the Republic of Korea
internationally today. That’s correct. At the beginning of this period,
North Korea was less connected to the broader world than South Korea. It had few diplomatic
partners outside of the immediate Soviet bloc (the Soviet Union, China, Mongolia and the
Soviet alliance states of Eastern Europe). And, of course, North Korea was much weaker—having
half the population of South Korea—and both North Korea and South Korea were devastated
by war. But North Korea recovered from the war much
more quickly than South Korea. It had an extremely impressive record of industrial development
after the late 1950s—although I found, looking at the East European records, that the economic
success of North Korea was much more problematic at that time than we thought. For example,
there were food shortages in 1955 and 1959. But, in terms of developing an industrial
economy, North Korea did quite well. It was in the early to mid-1960s—when decolonization
began and there were a lot of newly independent countries in Asia and Africa—that North
Korea came into its own. Many of these newly independent nations tended to look at North
Korea as a more attractive model for development. South Korea was seen as a client state of
the United States—as a corrupt regime that had a very dire economic situation—and North
Korea claimed to be independent. It was not aligned in the Sino-Soviet conflict. It had
developed (at least on the surface) this impressive industrial economy and it had done so on its
own. This idea of Juche (of self-reliance and independence) was something that resonated
widely in the post-colonial world in Asia, Africa and the Middle East—from about the
early 1960s to, say, the mid- to late-1970s—and before the South Korean model began to look
much more attractive. By the early 1970s, North Korea had more or
less reached parity with South Korea in terms of the number of countries with which it had
diplomatic relations. Whether you look at voting in the UN or the appeal of economic
models of development, North Korea was clearly ahead of South Korea from approximately 1972
to 1975. Hence, the cover of the book—a 1976 Korea
Daily piece that shows that alignment across developing-country representatives. Exactly. But what a different day. South Korea begins
its economic juggernaut followed by its democratization process—something of a diplomatic miracle
that mirrors the Miracle on the Han—and sees the disintegration of the Soviet Union
and the former Eastern bloc. Membership in the United Nations in [1992] is a very different
reality for the Koreas—both North and South—certainly in terms of international recognition. Then we get into the 1990s. Yeltsin’s Russia
wants very little to do with North Korea and North Korea was losing its past patrons. South
Korea picked up both recognition and a new economic relationship—certainly with Russia.
There was that transformation. Towards the latter section, you guide us to this last
decade and a half of reality—of back and forth—and North Korea struggling relative
to the policies of the United States and others. How does that process lead us to the North
Korea we see today? To the crises of March and April of 2013 where North Korea is the
leading news event on all major networks for close to twenty-six straight days? And to
its rather bellicose rhetoric—particularly in the wake of the missile and nuclear tests—leading
to a great deal of international concern? What does it say about North Korea and how
does this book help us better understand the North Korea of today? I think that all countries are products of
history and all foreign policies, are, as the political scientists say, to some degree
past-dependent—they are following up from decisions made in the past. What I say in
the book is that, in part, North Korea is a victim of its own success. It seemed to
do well in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, but it was unable to adapt to the changes going
on around it from the late 1970s onward and was unable even to recognize that until it
was too late. There’s a very interesting incident I recounted
in some detail of Kim Il Sung’s last tour of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe—which
was, appropriately enough, in 1984—and he seems unable to see that the Soviet bloc,
itself, is on the verge of momentous change and that this model is not working. At the
very moment when the model is about to collapse, he declares that North Korea is and always
will be a socialist country in solidarity with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe—and
they give up on the third-world model idea. Then Gorbachev comes along and China engages
in reform under Deng Xiaoping. The North Koreans are caught off guard and unsure how to handle
this. They aren’t willing to accept it. They take some steps toward their own economic
reform—but it’s too little too late—and they become trapped. To some extent, I think
they are still trapped in this older model of the internal development of their political
system—of their way of dealing with the world that is really out-of-date and unable
to work well—in terms of both economic development and becoming, as we might call it, a “normal”
country. That problem has its roots much deeper in North Korean history. I do say toward the end of the book that North
Korea is not “the land that time forgot.” There was a serious attempt at reform in the
late 1990s and early 2000s; but there were other concerns about security and so forth
that overrode the impetus toward economic reform. North Korea is still in that position
right now and I think it will be very difficult—perhaps not impossible—for it to be transformed
into a new kind of system that can adapt to the challenges of the 21st century successfully. That’s certainly a question the audience would want to pursue. One of my favorite photographs in the book
is that of Chernenko and Kim Il Sung together. The reason I particularly like it is the placement
of the Nicaraguan crocodile—which was one of the state gifts to the Kim family. It makes
for an amusing juxtaposition of photographs. The rest of the photos inside are quite interesting,
as well, and I assume gathered over the course of your research. Yes. I gathered many photos, but the publishers
really liked those you’ll see in the book—particularly the crocodile photo. For some reason, that
was very popular. But Chernenko, in the photo, looks like he’s already been embalmed… Yes. A few of us made that same comment before… …and Kim, at the age of 72, is full of life
and vigor. Like other leaders of his type (Mao, for example) Kim perhaps ruled a little
bit too long. Had he not continued on the path he took—if he had stepped down or if
there had been some other kind of leadership—it might be a very different North Korea today. Let’s get into some of that in our discussion
with the audience here on where we find ourselves relative to Kim Jong Un, the Rodman visit
and other things. I find very interesting your general observations
about this notion of the so-called Great Power relations, the “tyranny of the strong” and
“the tyranny of the weak.” I think in terms of the current Syria debate, some of the observations
you make about the asymmetrical levels of influence, considerations and contests certainly
play out. I find the book very timely for a modern history—and a modern history that
covers the dates 1950 to 1992—but one that really says a lot about where North Korea
is today and really helps us understand North Korea better. One of the interesting things before we end our
discussion and turn to the audience is we begin with you tonight here to kick-off our fall season.
We will conclude
this season around December 10th, discussing the release
of The Two Koreas—Don Oberdorfer’s great book re-released with an update by Robert
Carlin—a book widely regarded as the best contemporary history of Korea, both North
and South. Tyranny of the Weak and The Two Koreas make
wonderful bookends for our season. I believe these books will be widely used in university
and certainly well beyond—including here in New York to better inform our business
community, assist others interested in assessing strategic risk and provide a better understanding
of where Korea is today and the dynamics on the Peninsula. Let us now turn to the audience to entertain
a few questions. I will be repeating the questions for the benefit of our streaming
online viewers. The question concerns the effect on Kim Jong
Un’s calculation in terms of what’s happening with Syria now (and perhaps we could add what
happened earlier in the year) and how that informs us by way of the disproportionate
influence. What are some of your thoughts on how that will play out? The North Korean leadership—and Kim Jong
Un in particular—will of course be looking at this very closely. If we go back to 2003
and the North Korean reaction to that attack—it did not have quite the effect that I think
the Bush administration had hoped. It did not shock and awe Kim Jong Un into submission—quite
the contrary. It convinced the North Koreans—and they are still convinced of that to this day
(perhaps now more than ever)—that you must have a nuclear arsenal, you must stand up
to the Americans, and that is the best way to prevent an attack. You have to defend yourself. I think the regime of Kim Jong Un is not only
a product of North Korea’s internal history and development, but is very much (in the
way that it interacts with the outside world and the U.S. in particular) a product of the
post-Cold War U.S. policy toward the so-called “rogue states” or these small regimes. I certainly
don’t think that an attack on Syria, if it is successful (whatever that may mean) will
convince the North Koreans to lay down their arms and surrender. I think it will actually
make them more determined than ever to maintain their weapons of mass destruction and defend
their sovereignty. There has already been talk of the interdiction
on April 3 of a Libyan-flagged North Korean vessel that had material destined for Turkey
(to be taken over to Syria) of gas masks and small arms. If further links appear between
North Korea and Syria, does that change the calculation? If I recall, Kim Jong Il went
into hiding for something like forty-seven days when the coalition attacked Saddam Hussein.
Are these valid considerations? I think so. I believe the North Korean leadership
was very concerned after the attack on Iraq and that there were people in the Bush administration
who thought that might not be a bad idea. I’m sure North Korea is very concerned about
this now. I doubt that North Korea would engage in a provocation such as a nuclear test. My
guess is they will lie low and see what happens. North Korea, as I allude to in the book, actually
has a longstanding relationship with Syria going back to the early 1960s. Syria is one
of the first post-colonial Middle Eastern nations to establish diplomatic relations
with North Korea. As we know, they’ve had technological exchanges for a long time—including
the building of a nuclear energy plant. The connection, actually, between North Korea
and Syria is much more real than it ever was between North Korea and Iraq, Iran or the
other so-called members of the “axis of evil.” They are concerned about this. The interdiction
of the North Korean ship coming from Cuba is a very significant event. How much effect
this will have on the regime I’m not sure, but I would be surprised that there would
be enough
effectively enforced sanctions, particularly with Chinese participation, to change much
in the way of North Korean behavior. But, we’ll see. I’d like to ask a methodological question.
Since you spoke about the “tyranny of the weak,” how different is your approach from
James Scott’s book, Weapons of the Poor, as it relates to human rights and Vietnam? It’s in relation to the James Scott book. That’s actually one of the inspirations of
my title. I have faithfully read James Scott for many years and I think his work is great. A weapon of the weak can be very terrifying—although weak—and for obvious reasons. Scott gives a kind of “moral superiority”
to the weak (as he calls it) resisting the strong. I think sometimes it’s much more problematic than that. Although not everything about North Korea is necessarily something to be condemned—some
interesting developments have happened. I think it’s a regime that certainly bears a
great deal of criticism. That’s why I don’t call the book, “Weapons
of the Weak” but Tyranny of the Weak. Again, I don’t know whether that’s too strong a word,
but I think it does reflect a criticism of what regimes of this kind can do—and I consider
that very important. Assuming that the strong and more powerful countries or parties can
tell weaker countries what to do is one of the important lessons I hope readers come
away with—and it’s certainly relevant to Syria today. We should neither underestimate
the power of the weak nor overestimate the ability of the strong. That is a lesson I
would hope we have learned from Vietnam and Iraq—but perhaps we haven’t learned it yet. Professor Armstrong, you also write at one
point, “To be sure, this state of conflict is used by the North Korean regime to justify
internal oppression; as is often the case, tyranny within is directly related to a sense
of weakness toward external threats.” Certainly one of the great issues of international concern
presently is that of human rights—especially with the ongoing Commission of Inquiry. Have
you any thoughts on that relative to your work here? There certainly is a great deal about the
human rights situation in North Korea worthy of criticism. The question is what we on the
outside can do about it. I don’t believe confronting the North Korean government directly about
their human rights policy will get us very far. I end my book with a quote from Dr. Leo Strauss—the
godfather (as some people refer to him) of neo-conservatism and a philosophy professor
at the University of Chicago. I had never read Strauss before, and I started to interpret
his writings in terms of what he actually said—as opposed to what people think he
said or taught Paul Wolfowitz to say or whatever. Dr. Strauss maintained that we couldn’t eliminate
a tyranny. The best we can do is try to push a tyranny to be a little less tyrannical and
a little less irrational. We shouldn’t overestimate that we on the outside of North Korea will
change the situation within North Korea—and isolating and pressuring North Korea has never
been effective. That is another thing I hope readers of the book come to understand better. Change in North Korea has to come from the
North Koreans—from within the society. The best we can do and what we should do is inform
North Korean citizens as much as possible about the reality of their situation—in
comparison to the outside world—and to attempt to bring North Korea out. I do not believe
pushing the regime to change will have any effect and will most likely be quite counterproductive. And how do we go about informing the North
Korean citizenry? First of all, the North Korean citizenry is
not as ignorant of the outside world as many think. There’s a great deal more communication
beyond North Korea’s borders than is often assumed. There are people traveling to China.
News information is being brought into North Korea from China, South Korea and beyond.
Although this is risky for the North Korean people, there is a great desire by the citizenry
to learn as much as possible and to have at the very least an acknowledgement that things
going on in the world are not quite what they’ve been told. I think that we can and should
do our best to communicate and inform them—but also to become informed ourselves about what’s really going on within North Korea and what the North Korean people are really about. North Koreans are not slaves. North Koreans
are not robots. North Koreans are human beings just like us. They’re intelligent and thoughtful
people. We need to interact with them and try to understand each other as much as we
can. Thank you. We at The Korea Society are starting
our third year of our series, “Knowing North Korea,” available at koreasociety.org. The
gentleman in the back? The next question is how important was the
Cuban Missile Crisis to North Korea’s understanding of the outside world? The Cuban Missile Crisis was a hugely important
event for all small third-world Communist countries—and the largest one, as well—China.
It was perhaps the single greatest moment of disillusionment about the reliability of
the Soviet Union for North Korea. We know now from the released Cold War International
History Project records that Castro wanted to say to the Americans, “Bring them on.”
He was willing to risk nuclear war and never forgave the Soviets for backing down to Kennedy.
The North Koreans said exactly the same thing—that the Soviet Union buckled under the Americans.
Once the Soviets gave into pressure, they could never again be relied upon as a stable
and strong ally. This was linked to personal issues, as well.
I gathered from the records that Kim hated Khrushchev, but had great admiration for Stalin.
Stalin, after all, helped get him into power and was a role model for him. Khrushchev was
a wishy-washy kind of guy. He told the smaller socialist countries they could have more freedom
of maneuver on the one hand—but on the other hand, he tried to incorporate North Korea
into what he called a “socialist division of labor,” which essentially meant extracting
North Korean primary products in exchange for Soviet manufactured goods. Khrushchev’s greatest sin from Kim’s point
of view was denouncing Stalin. And even at the very end of Kim’s life—indeed even after
the end of Kim’s life because his book came after he died—Kim is quoted as saying that
Khrushchev committed the unpardonable act of being unfilial (of betraying his political
father Stalin) and that would never happen in North Korea. Since you’re a historian, you can speculate.
Would Kim Il Sung have liked Vladimir Putin? Probably a lot more than Boris Yeltsin. [Laughter] The next question relates to the driving forces
of unification in relation to the nuclear development issue. Does diplomacy not work? I think diplomacy does work. I think the North
Koreans are realists. After all that I’ve said this may come as a surprise—but I don’t
think it is a particularly ideological regime and it never has been. I find the Communist
allies of North Korea had serious questions about whether North Korea was truly Communist
after about 1956. There is a wonderful excerpt from an East
German embassy report on North Korea in 1961 (which is one of the epigraphs of the book)
saying that North Korea is not Marxist-Leninist. They’ve developed an ideology that is associated
with mystical ideas of Confucianism, which shade into nationalist tendencies. I’m not quite sure what “mystical ideas of
Confucianism” are, but I think the nationalist tendencies are very real and what drive North
Korea. Should they see it in their national interest to improve relations with the United
States—to connect to the outside world in what we would see as a more positive way—I
think they will. The question is what we can do, as diplomatic partners of North Korea,
to convince them that it is in their interest to do so. The next question is about North Korean policy
toward the United States, particularly in the 1970s. I started this research with the belief that
the North-South agreement of 1972 (the July 4th communiqué) was a symmetrical result
of both sides being shocked by the fact that China, in North Korea’s case (and the United
States in South Korea’s case) had abandoned them. What I discovered is that South Korea
might have felt that way, but North Korea had a great deal of confidence that history
was on their side. They were much closer in coordinating with the Chinese on this than
the South Koreans were in coordinating with the Americans. One of the first things North Korea did as
a way to deal with South Korea was to reach out to the United States through China—through
the meetings between Chou En-lai and Kissinger (and John has done research on this). North
Korea attempted to meet with American diplomats in Beijing. And there seems to have been a
genuine impetus toward improving relations with the United States at that time. However, that was premised on the assumption
that the United States was weak; that it was losing Asia; that it was about to withdraw
all of its forces from South Korea and that Korea would be unified under North Korean
auspices. One of the inspirations for that was, of course, Vietnam. The North Koreans
were looking at Vietnam very closely and seeing the Americans lose there. Kim Il Sung said repeatedly (to the extent
that I think he really did believe this) that this would be the future of the Korean Peninsula.
In April of 1975, he went to Beijing and declaring that the Asian revolution was on the march—that
North Korea had nothing to lose but the Demilitarized Zone and that Korea would be unified. Whether
that meant he was actually going to attack South Korea I doubt—but the Chinese apparently
were a little concerned and tried to temper his enthusiasm. I think that the North Koreans came into the
early 1970s feeling very confident that they were winning in the competition with South
Korea and that the Chinese and North Koreans were pushing the Americans out of Asia. Let’s come forward forty years to 2013. Do
the North Koreans consider it as vital to normalize relations with the United States,
or is it all about China? The North Koreans (and I also try to show
this in the book) have never been comfortable being anybody’s lackey. They don’t want to
be dependent on anyone, including the Chinese. At the present time, it is my view that North
Korea is trying to reach out and diversify its relationships with the outside world.
It is far too much of a stretch to say it wants to be an ally of the United States against
China—but it does want, I think, to balance the situation in Asia between China and the
United States. It is very different from the 1970s. It’s
not so much trying to push the United States out because they know it’s not possible. I
think the North Koreans understand their position is really much weaker now than it was forty
years ago. But they also dislike the deep dependence
on China that has developed in recent years and would like to have greater independence
and the freedom of maneuver as they have always had dealing with multiple partners and at
times playing them off against each other. And in a certain sense, I think that for the
last ten years or so, they’ve been trying to play off the United States and China in
a way somewhat analogous to how they played off the Russians and the Chinese during the
Cold War. Please help me in thanking our goodfriend and scholar, Professor Charles Armstrong, and thank you all for joining us. [Applause] Charles, good luck with the book tour and
good luck at the Wilson Center next week. We look forward to seeing you
back here very soon. Thank you.

1 Comment on "Tyranny of the Weak: North Korea and The World, 1950-1992 with Prof. Charles Armstrong [FULL VIDEO]"


  1. People need to be free..! Pray these people are set free..
    The U.S. Department of the Treasury added the young ruler, along with 10
    other North Korean individuals and five entities, to the U.S. sanctions
    list today. "Human rights abuses in the DPRK are among the worst in the
    world,"  U.S. Department of State spokesman John Kirby said in a
    statement today. "The government continues to commit extrajudicial
    killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention,
    forced labor and torture.  Many of these abuses are committed in the
    political prison camps, where an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 individuals
    are detained, including children and family members of the accused."
    The department added that this is part of "the most comprehensive U.S.
    government effort to date" to identify and sanction North Korea's
    leaders responsible for the widespread abuses — which they hope will
    "send a signal to all government officials who might be responsible for
    human rights abuses." Kim is among 23 total North Korean individuals and
    entities cited in a report released by the U.S. Department of State
    today for their role in serious human rights violations, hunting down
    defectors or censorship in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
    U.S. officials gathered the names with the cooperation of other
    governments, international organizations and civil society groups
    http://www.ohchr.org/en/hrbodies/hrc/coidprk/pages/commissioninquiryonhrindprk.aspx

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