Thankfully, just south of the Demilitarized Zone lies the world's 10th largest economy and a highly developed, fully functioning democracy. South Korea happens to have one of the largest standing armies in the world (useful for stabilizing North Korea post-Kim), and also happens to be currently debating collection of a "reunification tax" to help underwrite expenses involved in absorbing a free North Korea into a Unified Korea. The importance of this good southern twin cannot be overstated -- South Korea's economy is an order of magnitude larger than that of the North, with double the population. It can handle, with international support, the absorption of North Korea, and provide reassurances to China and Russia that instability will not prove to be a problem. The concern with refugee outflows can also be mitigated with immediate and adequate deliveries of food, safety, and medical care into the country. There's no doubt that this will be difficult, but it would be nearly impossible without South Korean leadership.
But what of the most important question: Is revolution from within possible? Absolutely. Despite a lack of civil society organizations, North Korea's history is dotted with uprisings, including large armed clashes in the 1980s in Chongjin, Hamhung, Musan, and Sinuiju. In 1987, North Korea's Concentration Camp Number 12 in Onson reportedly saw a mass prisoner uprising -- with 5,000 inmates slaughtered by a military battalion in response. Since then, Pyongyang has witnessed uprisings and coup attempts almost every other year, to varying degrees. In 2005, during a World Cup qualifying match in Pyongyang between North Korea and Iran, a crowd of 50,000 began to riot, throwing bottles, chairs, and punches at police and soldiers. Displeased with their team's loss, the North Korean fans continued facing off with authorities for over two hours, resulting in stunning, inconceivable photos captured by international media there to cover the sporting event.
More recently, a disastrous currency reform effort in Dec. 2009 resulted in destruction of the personal savings of thousands of North Koreans, sparking widespread riots -- an act of open defiance that is perhaps, increasingly thinkable in the Hermit Kingdom. Stunningly, government backed off and made concessions, and even executed the official who had conceived of (or been blamed for) the idea.
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This much is clear: North Korea will fall. It is simply a question of when and how. But it is far better to have a coordinated, controlled landing, at the time of one's choosing, instead of waiting for the worst to happen at any moment. And a reunified, free Korea can be a powerful force for good in the world, and a potent economic engine.
But missing this opportunity to bring Pyongyang into the international community would be a grievous error. North Korea's crimes do not end at its own borders. Beyond state-sponsored acts of terror, kidnappings, and assassination attempts of foreign government officials, human rights activists, and defectors, it has also sold weapons, missiles, technology, and nuclear materials to a who's who of unfriendly countries, including Egypt, Iran, Libya, Myanmar, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. It has engaged in the counterfeiting of U.S. currency, mass government-sanctioned insurance fraud, and the exportation of North Korean slaves all over the world.
North Korea is not a modern nation-state. It does not exist for the welfare of its populace, nor to safeguard the rights of it's citizens. It exists for the sole benefit of the king and his barons -- a ridiculously-scaled Mafia criminal state -- and must be treated as such.
The very progress of our global civilization is for naught if we continue to let the very idea of North Korea exist. North Korea is not a failed state, with warlords fighting for land and treasure. Its atrocities do not stem from factional fighting, crimes of passion, or mob violence. It is on another level entirely -- a staggering system entirely built and mastered for the express purpose of propagating human suffering and ensuring the continued exploitation of the people so that the very few can benefit.
It is a moral obligation of the highest order that the international community intervene. What can be done, we must do -- and now is the time.