AUGUST 2021 DIRT PROJECT: NORTH KOREAN COLLAPSE SCENARIOS Part I

In the 21st Century, North Korea has demonstrated an almost uncanny ability to always land on its feet no matter the challenge faced. This has especially held true since 2011 and the death of Kim Jong Il. The ascension of his son Kim Jong Un to the position of Dear Respected Leader led to a wave of warnings from analysts and observers around the world forecasting an imminent collapse of North Korea ‘in the near future.’ These predictions have become commonplace ever since, popping to the surface in the wake of North Korean nuclear tests or reports of worsening conditions inside of the country. It’s fair to say the North, and Kim have dodged a number of bullets over the last ten years. To the point where it would appear North Korea has nine lives. Saber rattling, economic downturns, food shortages and political crises have been cited as events which could lead to a collapse. The North has weathered all of these at one point or another, sometimes in rapid secession.

There are multiple entrants from that pool of crises in play at the present time, creating an unprecedented, ambiguous dynamic. As well as a new one: Global pandemic. Despite official claims coming out of Pyongyang, COVID-19 did land in North Korea at some point. The spread of cases in the past year, and the course of action taken by the North Korean government to combat it has certainly led to a more unpredictable situation for the hermit kingdom. COVID forced lockdowns and borders to be closed, which led to an increase in economic hardship and food shortages. Continued UN sanctions have also played a role, as has the rash of typhoons the North has experienced in the past two years. The end result has been a North Korea sagging deeper into crisis.

As a rule, North Korean leaders never openly reveal hints about problems the nation is dealing with unless the situation is approaching dire status. Thrice this year, Kim has spoken publicly about the situation in the North, even going as far as making comparisons to conditions in the late 1990s at the height of the North Korean Famine. Naturally, this has brought about questions and concerns about how bad conditions in the North are and might become in the near future. Regional analysts are attempting to downplay the crisis North Korea is facing, pointing out that conditions are not as bad as in the 1990s and predicting China will do what is necessary economically to keep the country afloat and stable. In fact, China and North Korea are expected to resume cargo train service later this month. A positive development to be certain, but one that might not become reality at all, or if it does, may not have the impact anticipated.

So, this is the situation facing North Korea at present. Certainly enough to bring on a national collapse under certain circumstances. While the North has an admirable track record when it comes to getting itself out of tight spots, nothing lasts forever. Eventually, Kim and company will find itself in a position it cannot extricate itself from. That could occur in the next month, or years down the line. The point of this month’s project is to examine how a North Korean collapse can come about in the near future. In the next project entry next weekend, we’ll discuss why a North Korean collapse is considered a nightmare scenario by so many. Specific collapse scenarios will also be discussed briefly and then in depth later in August.

US-North Korea Talks Postponed

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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and high-level North Korean official Kim Yong Chol were supposed to hold meetings today in New York. The White House announced yesterday that the meeting was being postponed until a later date. Today, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha revealed it was Pyongyang that had requested a delay. Sanctions appear to be the reason behind the request. Pyongyang has been pushing for the US and UN sanctions in place against them to be lightened before serious talks on denuclearization progress farther.

The two sides view the future of sanctions quite differently. The Trump administration insists on keeping sanctions in place until a final agreement on denuclearization is reached. The North Koreans, on the other hand, want sanctions to be relaxed at least somewhat. Kim Jong Un is seeking victory of sorts. A sign that can be touted at home and overseas as proof that the US is treating North Korea as an equal and negotiating in good faith. Unfortunately for them, the United States appears unlikely to deliver such a gift at the moment.

It’s unclear when the meeting will take place, or whether it will at all. This delay needs to be taken with a grain of salt, however. Pauses in dialogue, and brief volleys of heated rhetoric have become recurrent events in the US-North Korean relationship. This is simply part of the process and following this latest pause, the talking will resume at some point.