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Reviewed by:
  • North Korea After Kim Il Sung
  • Andrei Lankov (bio)
North Korea After Kim Il Sung, edited by Dae Sook Suh and Chae-Jin Lee. Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998. 275 pages. $55.00 cloth.

Since the death of Kim Il Sung and the dynastic succession in North Korea, many scholars and officials have been trying to predict the country's uncertain future and examine the impact which the changes in North Korea will have on the international situation. This book, edited by two leading experts on North Korea, is an attempt to analyze what little is known about the current situation [End Page 151] in the DPRK, arguably the most secretive society on earth, as well as to predict its likely developments.

In order to answer the uneasy questions of a North Korean present and future, the book relies on the best expertise available. The list of contributors is impressive indeed. The editors managed to gather essays from almost all prominent experts on North Korean politics and economy currently active in the United States. Dae Sook Suh, Chae-Jin Lee, Doug Bandow, Sellig Harrison, B. C. Koh, Chong-sik Lee, Marcus Noland, Robert Scalapino and other contributors are all well known to anyone dealing with the problems of North Korea. Apart from the academics, the contributors also include foreign policy officials who offer the book their own specific and often valuable perspective. At the same time, one has to praise the editors for one remarkable achievement: the book does actually look like a book, not a "collection of articles," a loose assemblage of unrelated and mutually irrelevant pieces of scholarship. The articles are not only interesting in their own right: when combined, they constitute a markedly coherent work.

The book's major concerns are North Korean foreign and military politics or, more precisely, the interaction between the DPRK and the outside world. Only two out of eleven articles deal with North Korea's domestic problems (an essay on Kim Jong Il by Dae-sook Suh and Marcus Noland's review of the North Korean economy, both useful surveys based on the best available data). The other nine essays dwell on international and/or security issues, with five articles specifically discussing the DPRK–U.S. relationship. The major questions the authors strive to answer are "what can be expected from North Korea?" and "how can we deal with North Korea in future?" Not unsurprisingly, the book offers some useful policy suggestions as well.

The contributors are rather united in their perception of the current situation and in their principal conclusions. If they make suggestions at all, they stress that the keywords of the ideal U.S. policy toward North Korea should be "engagement" and "self-restraint." Doug Bandow's remark summarizes the approach of most of the other contributors: "[T]he United States and South Korea should continue to pursue diplomatic options to reinforce Pyongyang's apparent decision to forego its nuclear course and to improve its relations with its neighbors" (p. 140). Like most North Korean experts these days, the book's contributors decisively favor the "soft landing" approach, that is, gradual and slow reform of the current North Korean regime. They also believe that a "hard landing," an implosion of North Korea, must and can be avoided, since "the costs and risks of the DPRK collapse are so high" (p. 6). Engagement and negotiation, rather than pressure and old-fashioned "containment" will be conducive to achieving this goal. Tellingly, the essay by Kenneth Quinones is titled "North Korea: From Containment to Engagement."

The contributors also generally agree in their assessment of the North [End Page 152] Korean policy toward the United States, which "can be rated as a success" (p. 94). Indeed, using blatant brinkmanship and a good understanding of Western motivations and worries, the North Korean leaders have demonstrated their ability "to make most of their meager bargaining chips" (p. 4). However, North Korea had to negotiate, and it has been possible to reach some understanding with Pyongyang. This understanding may be a foundation for the future.

It looks like that this book is yet another indication of ongoing changes in the perception of North...


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pp. 151-153
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