Blogs > HNN > Nicholas Kristof reviewed Bradley K. Martin's "Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea & the Kim Dynasty" (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's) and Victor D. Cha & David C. Kang's "Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies," (Columbia

Jan 30, 2005 10:15 am


Nicholas Kristof reviewed Bradley K. Martin's "Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea & the Kim Dynasty" (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's) and Victor D. Cha & David C. Kang's "Nuclear North Korea: A Debate on Engagement Strategies," (Columbia




Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times columnist and co-author with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn, of “Thunder from the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia,” reviews two books about North Korean the “most repressive and brutal country in the world…by far the most totalitarian.” Kristof, incidentally, has been banned for life from NK for his own reportage.

He describes Bradley Martin’s work, twenty-five years in the making, as the finest book ever written on NK.

The last US effort to strike a deal with NK was in 1994, when President Clinton “almost went to war with NK. It was averted when NK agreed to suspend its nuclear work if the US, among other trade-offs, called off sanctions and helped it erect nuclear reactors for civilian activities. It did prevent a war and “halted NK’s efforts to make nuclear weapons by using plutonium.” But, Kristof continues: “If it weren’t for the 1994 agreement, NK would now have at least one hundred nuclear weapons, perhaps two hundred.” Both NK and the US, he writes, “didn’t live up to its promises,” NK secretly enriching uranium and the US neither ending sanctions nor granting diplomatic recognition.

But it is “President Bush,” writes Kristof, who “ has most seriously bungled US foreign policy, and has made the world more dangerous and unstable” not only in Iraq but also in NK. Neither isolation nor containment will work, having “failed for decades, while a vigorous attempt at engagement has never really been made. And even if trade, investment and tourism didn’t improve the regime’s tolerance, they would undermine it.”

Martin’s book offers fascinating details about the late Kim Il Sung, whose father was a Christian but who eliminated Christianity once he assumed power. As for his son, the current “Great Leader” Kim Jong Il, there is no consensus as to whether he is “a playboy or a savvy leader who constantly monitors the Internet and CNN.” His son, Kim Jong Nam, and possible future leader, is even more intriguing. Educated in Switzerland, he speaks and reads English, German and French fluently and has traveled extensively. No one outside NK knows his political views.

The second book under review, “Nuclear North Korea,” by Victor Cha of Georgetown University and now President Bush’s main advisor on Asia, and Dartmouth professor David Kang, disagree on much. But still, Kristof believes the book is “important.” Kang"takes a much more benign position" while Bush advisor Cha,“seems to [have] a much more realistic view" and argues,"persuasively," for “hawk engagement” and incentives if NK conducts itself peacefully. Yet he too argues for “isolation and containment,” two policies Kristof condemns as failures. “If we want to change NK, we should not be sanctioning it but sending in Western investors.”

In the end, no one can say with certainty whether there will war or peace, how weak or strong the current regime may be. Martin cites NK defectors who believe a second Korean War can well happen and that many Koreans would prefer war to their miserable existence. “And while American policy toward NK seems based on the idea that just a little nudge and the entire dictatorship will come crashing down, [Martin] doesn’t believe it’s that fragile. I [Kristof] fear he is right.”

He concludes: “ Maybe NK is on its last legs, but I doubt it. I’m afraid the US will be wrestling with Kim Jong Il and his nuclear arsenal for many years to come. 0r even with his son, Kim Jong Nam, and his even bigger arsenal.”

New York Review of Books, February 10, 2005



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