[A-List] Korea

Bill Totten shimogamo at ashisuto.co.jp
Fri Dec 10 04:59:35 MST 2010

The Fate of a Cold War Vestige

by Dmitry Orlov

Club Orlov (November 28 2010)

We are currently witnessing increasingly nasty displays of deadly force on
both sides of the Korean divide. The North appears to be getting ready to
call America's bluff. What will the South do, faced with growing
belligerence from the North and progressive paralysis in the US? Our
thoughts should be with the Korean people - both North and South. What
follows is the introduction to the Korean edition of Reinventing Collapse
(2008) which I wrote earlier this year.

Update: Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University, Seoul, South Korea, has a
singularly lucid view of the recent cross-border shelling: North Korea is
peculiar (we knew that) and this is how it asks for money. South Korea
must not overreact and provoke a hugely destructive military conflict when
all it has to do is part with a little bit of money.

Over the course of the Cold War, the two superpowers - USA and USSR -
built up an inventory of unresolved conflicts, which they, by tacit
agreement, placed in deep freeze for the duration of their combined
existence. In some cases, ethnically homogeneous entities were split up
across artificial political boundaries, while in other cases disparate
ethnic groups were held together by force within a single artificial
political unit. Once the USSR collapsed, the multi-ethnic entities -
Georgia, Moldova and Czechoslovakia - did their best to break apart, while
the partitioned ones did their best to try to reunify. While some of these
frozen conflicts - most notably Germany - needed both superpowers to
remain refrigerated, one particular example - Korea - remained
well-preserved even after the collapse of the USSR, with the North
providing its own, self-sufficient source of refrigeration.

For now, the US military continues to maintain over a thousand foreign
military bases around the world, including South Korea. Most of these
serve no real purpose. Even while it was still opposing the Soviets, the
US military morphed into a sort of grand extortion scheme: the American
intelligence community exaggerated global threats, and the military spent
copious public funds pretending to counter them. To this day the military
remains Washington's single most powerful political lobby (Israel is a
distant second) and thanks to its efforts America spends more on defense
than most of the other nations of the world combined. But what it gets for
all this money is in fact quite meager. There are just two things that the
US military can do well: it can shoot civilians and blow things up with
wild abandon (as it has been doing in Iraq and Afghanistan); it can also
hold a proud and purposeful pose while doing nothing (as in South Korea
and many other countries around the world). There is not a single country
that is sufficiently defenseless, defunct and impoverished - not Iraq, not
Afghanistan, not even Somalia - so that the mighty US military can
successfully conquer and control it. (Perhaps Haiti - but only just after
a major earthquake.)

It is something of a law of history that sooner or later all empires must
collapse. It is also something of a law of group psychology that people
always underestimate the probability of large and sudden changes, and so
are they are always taken by surprise when they occur. Nobody was more
surprised by the collapse of the USSR than the professional
sovietologists. As Reinventing Collapse explains in detail, the collapse
of the United States of America is already a given. Only the timing of its
collapse remains uncertain, because it can be triggered by any number of
relatively minor, unexpected events. Inevitably, the US will be forced to
repatriate its troops and to liquidate its overseas military bases, in
order to concentrate its efforts on attempting to reign in the forces of
chaos on its own territory. We can only hope that the unwinding and
scrapping of the US military empire will proceed in a controlled manner.
There are few countries in the world that have more of a reason to think
forward to that day and to plan accordingly than South Korea, and so it is
quite appropriate that Korean is the second language, after English, in
which Reinventing Collapse has been published.

The collapse of the American empire is certain to be accompanied by a long
cascade of global crises. International trade and finance are sure to be
disrupted. Countries around the world will be subjected to an experience
similar to what countries in the former Soviet sphere went through after
the USSR collapsed. They are sure to experience economic dislocation,
numerous bankruptcies, mass unemployment and impoverishment, political
crises, and many lives will be cut short as a result. Some countries did
better than others in adjusting to the new circumstances, and can offer
useful lessons. For instance, when Cuba was cut off from the Soviet oil
supply, it pioneered the use of organic urban agriculture, and it did
succeed in feeding its population without the use of fossil fuel inputs.
North Korea is generally not seen as a success story, but it too may be
able to offer a few useful lessons on surviving superpower collapses.
Moreover, it does have a population accustomed to extreme hardship, and
that, in the new circumstances, may itself turn out to be an asset.

Over the course of my life I have known many Koreans, both in the US and
in Russia. (There is one particular North Korean student of nuclear
engineering I remember: a very serious and sober young man living quietly
in a fraternity of hard-drinking Russian engineering students. "Our little
Chernobyl" we called him.) From what I have been able to piece together
based on what I've been able to observe, Koreans are quite patriotic, very
resourceful, detest foreign meddling in their affairs, and are exactly
like everyone else in wanting a peaceful and prosperous existence for
themselves. It may very well be that Korea's 21st century will make up for
the horrors of the 20th, while most of the former USA devolves into a
collection of lawless, ungovernable, sparsely populated territories that,
gradually or abruptly, fade from the world scene. But such a positive
result for Korea is by no means automatic. Fierce beasts are at their most
dangerous right after they have been fatally wounded, and it is hard to
predict what sort of damage a fatally wounded America might cause in its
agony. Korea will have to reinvent America's collapse to its own
advantage. Being a foreigner, and not wishing to meddle in Korean affairs,
all I can say is, think ahead, plan ahead, and may you have the best luck



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