The North Korean Paradox
This remarkable satellite photograph shows the technicalities of the North Korean paradox.
Take a close look at the area within the red boundaries. That’s North Korea. Notice anything unusual? Look how dark this part of the map is. North Korea is nearly as black as the two seas surrounding it, which have no electricity — and therefore no light.
Contrast North Korea with South Korea, nestled directly beneath the red outline on the peninsula. See any disparity? Like night and day.
Examine the land mass off to the far right. That’s Japan, which resembles the Las Vegas Strip in stark comparison to the dreary void of North Korea.
Finally, glance to the upper left hand corner of the map. That’s the world’s most populous nation. Even energy-starved China, which engulfs its neighbor by land, appears positively joyous when compared to the bleak situation within the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (an oxymoron if there ever was one).
This stunning satellite photo reveals a great deal more, when examined further. See the bright dot in the map center located just to the south of the North Korean border? That’s Seoul — South Korea’s capital city. Seoul is now the second-largest metropolitan area in the world, with a booming population of 25 million.
The only area with any significant light radiating anywhere within North Korean territory lies near the center of the country, in the capital city of Pyongyang, with nearly 3 million residents. Listing specific numbers is important here because the DPRK’s national population is estimated to be around 24 million. What’s revealed is — these are not scarcely-populated areas shivering in the black. About 21 million people are living in a state of perpetual darkness, both literally and figuratively speaking.
From this extraordinary photo we can deduce several things. First, North Korea is about half-a-century behind the rest of the world when it comes to modern amenities. Even basics including electricity and light are scarce — especially outside the capital.
The photo also reveals Seoul’s obvious vulnerability, burdened by an unfortunate geographical location. Millions of residents of South Korea’s capital are living next door to a madman, subject to an abiding state of fear over what the lunatic might do next. And there’s little they can do about it.
This troublesome image reminds us the world has indeed become a small place. Actually, the world is now a more interdependent place, thus making it seem smaller, with strong evidence suggesting this will be the case even more so in the future.
North Korea has been in a news a lot lately. That’s not a good thing — either for us or for them. Current international tensions are made worse by a prevailing American attitude — frequently advanced by neoconservatives — that America must continue its international role (proponents would argue — obligation) as the world’s “policeman.” However discredited by repeated failure these ideas may be, this doctrine persists as the flagship of our foreign policy for little reason other than abiding allegiance from the American political right and those who share that philosophy, unwaveringly burrowed into national defense establishment. Wars, they now insist, are entirely justifiable, not just as acts of self-defense — but as preemptive attempts to avoid future chaos and catastrophe. We’ve already crossed the Rubicon of high-moral groundedness by waging war as the aggressor rather than defender, twice now in this new century. And we may not be done just yet. It’s still relatively early.
So, might North Korea become our next target? Let’s hope not. But there’s an all-too-familiar sound ringing in our ears, the unmistakable echo of banging war drums. Again. Whether it’s Belgrade or Baghdad, Beirut or Bamiyan, the battle cry is always the same….“let’s bomb the hell out of them.”
And so it is with North Korea.
Giving credit where it’s rightly due, at least the neoconservatives have one thing right. North Korea is a fearfully evil state, one of the worst regimes since the post-industrial age began — and that’s really saying something on the grand scale of evil perpetuated upon the world since World War I.
This time, North Korea is rattling its sabres louder than ever before. And the sabres they rattle are soon likely to be bigger and sharper than anything we’ve seen before. I’m talking about increasingly sophisticated weapons, including a nuclear capacity. This is nothing like the previous threat during the Korean War. Back then, it took weeks if not months to mobilize forces and plan battle strategy. Armies could move only so fast as tanks could trans-navigate mountain ranges — no small task.
But today, an order from Pyongyang can essentially wipe out millions of people to the south, almost in an instant. There simply is no way to defend Seoul from what would be an onslaught of terror from the sky. This renders just about any American military aggression (or threat thereof) ineffectual.
Seoul lies 35 miles from the North Korean border. The so-called “De-Militarized Zone” is anything but that. Just beyond the delicate territory between North and South, the DPRK has positioned thousands of missiles along the border, all pinpointed straight towards Seoul. Alas, this stands as the Achilles Heel of the civilized world’s ambition to overthrow the government in Pyongyang. To go after “Dear Leader” would be potentially suicidal for millions of citizens in the booming city of Seoul. Firing a single shell to the north risks everything.
And the contemporary threat is merely conventional — for the time being. We apparently haven’t reached the real elephant everyone in the room fears which is escalation into nuclear weapons. A sport metaphors might be highly inappropriate here, but North Korea essentially has the ball on South Korea’s 2-yard-line, and it’s first and goal. No one wants to see a nuclear touchdown, of course. But we still better get the kickoff team ready to take the field because North Korea is mostly likely going to score.
This seeming inevitability, that a lunatic government is probably going to have a nuclear option sometime soon, only makes neoconservatives more openly critical of negotiation and appeasement. During the last election cycle, President Obama was repeatedly called “weak” in his dealings with the North Korean threat. This charge stems largely from the Obama’s preference for a diplomatic solution. Such is the lowest form of political demagoguery, when national security gets reduced to a campaign sound bite. Alas, it’s easier to crow chicken-hawk criticism from some think tank in Washington D.C. some 16,000 miles away from the conflict. Instead, let the conservatives who criticize President Obama on North Korea do the same from an apartment in Seoul, five minutes from being annihilated by the rain of Russian-built SS-22 missiles.
And so we now find ourselves in what will at best be a lingering stalemate. The Berlin Wall — Asia style. Deja vu all over again. Only this time we aren’t dealing with hard-line, but at least certifiably sane Soviets. This time, we’re dealing with the world’s most terrible place, most evil government, and most unpredictable leadership. Moreover, we might as well get used to these kinds of face offs. They’re likely to happen again and again as other nations join the nuclear fraternity — Iran being the most obvious next domino in the teetering line of threats.
Rarely does an international conflict lack a solution. Not even one viable option. North Korea is that rarest of castaways, living in an alternate universe of persistent paranoia. We’ve now entered unchartered territory. And as the map shows, the prospects appear quite dark, indeed.