B.R. Myers Responds to Criticism About His Belief that North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Are Intended to Unify the Peninsula


ROK Drop favorite B.R. Myers has been one of the strong advocates of the viewpoint that the overall goal of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is to force the withdrawal of US troops and create a confederation of the Korean peninsula under North Korean terms.  This viewpoint has apparently led to a lot of criticism by people who think the nuclear weapons are just to keep the US from trying to militarily remove the Kim Regime and that the North Koreans are not stupid enough to think they can actually unify the peninsula on their terms:

Image of B.R. Myers from the Korea Herald.

Oddly enough, the most furious people are on the softline or apologetic part of the Pyongyang-watching spectrum. They never get this worked up when North Korea is called a gangster state, a drug-running operation or a giant gulag. Nor do they express such fervent opposition to (say) imperialist proposals for the US and China to get together and decide the fate and political character of the peninsula on their own.

No, it seems that the craziest, most reprehensible thing one can possibly say about North Korea is that it wants to unify the peninsula with as little bloodshed as possible. And apparently the worst thing one can say about the South Koreans — “INSANE” “psychobabble” even – is that the North might have reason to believe they wouldn’t fight to the death against such an effort. (Needless to say, I never said South Koreans are ready to “give away” their republic, as “T.K.” is no doubt well aware.)

I repeat: it is self-styled progressives and liberals who find these ideas so scandalous. True, I have often clashed at conferences with South Korean conservatives who bristle at my emphasis on the North’s nationalism. Being nationalists themselves, albeit of a more moderate sort, they think it makes the regime look too respectable, dignified, legitimate. I am told to chalk up the unification drive to a communizing urge — “it sounds scarier that way,” I was helpfully advised — or to the regime’s evil desire to cause as much suffering as possible. But the other side of the spectrum now seems far more upset.

Particularly striking is the general tendency to identify the idea as my personal thing. “T.K.” has not yet questioned the sanity of South Korea’s Minister of Unification, though he too is alarmed by increasing signals that Pyongyang wants to use its nukes to take over the peninsula. And many quite moderate analysts in South Korea have been saying much the same stuff since the 1990s. But for the Westerners now raging on Twitter, this is my trademarked idea. (As it becomes harder and harder to refute, the tendency will no doubt go in the opposite direction.)  [B.R. Myers]

You can read much more at the link, but B.R. Myers is not the only person who has been advocating this viewpoint.  It makes me wonder if the criticism he is receiving is caused more by the fact that his viewpoint is gaining traction with people inside the Trump administration?

B.R. Myers Calls Out the Wishful Thinking of So Called North Korea Experts

A ROK Drop favorite B.R. Myers has a lot to say about the wishful thinking of so many so called North Korea experts:

Image of B.R. Myers from the Korea Herald.

What looks like bellicose behavior to the shallow-minded is but additional code for the select few to decipher. The North’s deadly bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010 was thus a plea to be taken more seriously in peace talks (as Jimmy Carter said at the time). And the signing of the Agreed Framework of 1994, in which North Korea and the US promised to work toward normalizing relations, something that would have deprived the North of all reason to exist as a separate state? No code there, just politically suicidal good faith – on Kim Jong Il’s part at least.

These acrobatics are very much an American thing. No one does wishful thinking like we do. I don’t see South Korean progressivists pretending that the regime’s every word and deed can be boiled down to the same reassuring message. In fact, part of the reason many of them feel a sneaking admiration for the North is because it follows through on its Yankee-defying rhetoric. But that’s another topic.  [B.R. Myers]

So what does Myers think is really going on with North Korea?  It is what I have been saying for years North Korea wants to create tension in the US-ROK alliance that would lead to the ultimate withdrawal of USFK:

The next stage of inquiry is learning to discern the real from the sham, the heartfelt from the feigned. This is not an exact science, I admit, but neither is it mere guesswork. When a regime’s fundamental, unchanging interests line up with a seventy-year pattern of behavior, and an equally old ideological tradition, and now with its “outer-track” propaganda, we can be as sure of its intentions as we can be about anything in world affairs.

So I’m going to say this once again: North Korea’s immediate goal is the withdrawal of US troops. Its ultimate goal is the unification of the peninsula under the star flag. And yes, it has good reason to believe this can be done without a war.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing at the link.

B.R. Myers Take On Kim Jong-un’s Supposed “Byungjin” Strategy

Below is an interesting read from a ROK Drop favorite, Professor B.R. Myers who criticizes a fellow professor, John Delury who has long been a go to quote person for the New York Times in regards to North Korea issues:

Image of B.R. Myers from the Korea Herald.

Let me say straight off that I like Professor John Delury very much on a personal level. I defy anyone to spend time in his company (as I did recently at a conference in Macao) and not like him. But I’m losing patience with this sort of thing:

“The key to understanding Kim Jong-un’s long-term strategy has to do with ‘byungjin,’ ” said John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in Seoul. Byungjin, or parallel advance, is Mr. Kim’s policy of developing the economy alongside the nuclear program.

“Ideally, from his perspective, he could replicate the Chinese model by normalizing foreign relations, from the U.S. down, on the basis of a nuclear deterrent,” Mr. Delury said. Only then, with its economy, in theory, allowed to catch up to its neighbors’ and its leadership accepted abroad, could North Korea feel secure.

Make that: Ideally, from the West’s perspective. There is no basis in North Korea’s domestic discourse for such an interpretation of Kim Jong Un’s vision. None whatsoever.

The Yonsei professor belongs to a group of frequent Air Koryo flyers whose usual response to such criticism is to allude pregnantly to discussions they had with North Korean officials just the other day, on their fortieth or fiftieth trip to Pyongyang.

And a fat lot of good all that inside info has done them. No faction of the commentariat has been so spectacularly wrong so often. A list of the alleged breakthroughs, game-changing reforms and historic agreements these people have rushed to herald over the past 25 years would make for sobering reading.  [Sthele Press]

You can read the rest at the link, but Myers believes the engagement crowd is now attempting to use a new term “byungjin” to essentially make excuses for Kim Jong-un’s provocations as being part of larger strategy to develop the economy much like the term “juche” was thrown around during Kim Jong-il’s reign over North Korea.

I just find it amazing that after all these decades the engagement crowd still thinks the Kim regime wants Chinese style reforms when clearly opening the economy would put the regime at risk.

ROK Drop Book Review: The Cleanest Race by B.R. Myers

I get asked quite often by people not familiar with North Korea what book I would recommend they read to become more familiar with the country?  I have always believed that , “The Two Koreas” by Don Oberdorfer is the best book to read for those wanting to learn about the contemporary history of the Korean peninsula.  However, after reading “The Two Koreas” I would highly recommend for those wanting to get a deeper understanding of North Korea to then read, “The Cleanest Race” by B.R. Myers.

This book I believe is currently the best read about North Korea simply because of the analysis done by Myers in regards to interpreting North Korean propaganda that has provided a whole new perspective on why the country behaves the way it does.  Something else I liked about the book was that it was a quick read.  Unlike other books about North Korea that can be quite an effort to read due to the huge amount of information cited, Myers’ book to me appeared to be written to where the author figured that people reading his book have already read up quite a bit on North Korea so he doesn’t add a whole bunch of additional pages to his book rehashing in depth North Korean history.  Instead Myers keeps the book centered around his analysis of North Korean propaganda that explains why the regime behaves the way it does.

Myers makes it quite evident early in the book that he despises the left and right ideological battles that often encompass debates about North Korea.  Myers believes that people fall back on these ideological biases to explain North Korea simply because so few analysts can understand Korean to be able to read relevant official texts put out by the regime.  I think Myers does have a valid point here that many people who do opine about North Korea do not have the language skills that he has used to develop his views on the North Korean regime.  I don’t think that not being able to speak Korean completely invalidates someone’s opinion, but I do think it enhances the creditability of the viewpoint of someone who does have a deep understanding of the Korean language.

Image of B.R. Myers from the Korea Herald.

That is why I think that Myers’ viewpoint that North Korea is not a hard line Stalinist or Communist government should be taken very seriously.  By the way I don’t believe North Korea is a Stalinist or Communist state either, I have viewed it more of a Soprano State.  Anyway instead of using these common terms to describe the government in North Korea, Myers instead believes that the country is a military dominated society led by a racist and maternal regime.  Myers’ then goes on to provide example after example of North Korean propaganda and other anecdotes that show how the regime brainwashes its people to believe that the:

“Korean people are too pure blooded and therefore too virtuous, to survive in this evil world without a great parental leader. “

That parental leader was at first Kim Il-sung and after his death in 1994 his son Kim Jong-il began to fill that same role.  Myers even goes on to write about how the North Korean regime’s racist propaganda efforts are actually very similar to those of the old Imperial Japanese government that once colonized the Korean peninsula.  As much as the North Koreans proclaim to hate the Imperial Japanese they have in fact perfected their racist policies.  The bottom line is that outside observers need to realize that the North Korean regime uses paranoid race based nationalism to guide their policy decisions.  When looking at North Korea in this context then much of their belligerent actions makes sense.

Something else Myers comments on in the book are that he believes the North Korean refugees in China are “economic migrants” because half of them voluntarily return to North Korea.  I disagree with this because the North Koreans he is referring to I don’t believe should be considered under the term refugee.  That is because it is well known that many North Koreans shuttle back and forth across the border due to the poor economic and food situation in North Korea.  The term refugee should apply to those who want to defect to South Korea or some other nation like the US.  He also claims that the rest of the refugees that do defect remain admirers of the Cult of Kim.  This is not true of all refugees that come to South Korea, though there has been plenty of refugees who have said that due to the brainwashing they have received their entire lives it is hard to let go of the Cult of Kim especially when they hear someone criticizing Kim Il-sung.  I guess it would be like hearing someone criticize George Washington with facts that you believe to be untrue simply because of what you have been taught about the man your whole life.  I think the fact that North Koreans are often treated as second class citizens in South Korea and are not accustomed to a capitalist system that rewards hard work may cause some of the refugees to long for their home land as well.

Though I disagree with him on the refugee issue, I do agree with him on another major point in the book that the North Korean regime does not fear an external attack more than an internal legitimacy crisis.  Myers points out that many foreign observers read the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and assume it mirrors what the North Korean propaganda outlet is putting out to its domestic audience.  Instead here is how Myers says KCNA presents itself in Korean:

“……the DPRK presents itself to the outside world as a misunderstood country seeking integration into the international community, it presents itself to its own citizens as a rogue state that breaks agreements with impunity, dictates conditions to groveling U.N. officials, and keeps its enemies in constant fear of ballistic retribution.  Generally speaking the following rule of thumb applies: the less accessible a propaganda outlet is to the outside world, the blunter and more belligerent it will be in its expression of the racist orthodoxy.”

This fear of an internal legitimacy crisis is why I have long supported that South Korea and the US should fight an information war within North Korea by using defector radio broadcasts and smuggling in subversive media such as Korean dramas into the country to erode the Cult of Kim.  This eroding of the racist and paternalistic ideology of the Cult of Kim is why the regime has so strongly responded to the propaganda balloon launches by North Korean refugee groups within South Korea.

Like I mentioned earlier in this posting I highly recommend that everyone who has basic knowledge about Korea pick up and read this book.  I would not recommend this to be the first book someone reads about Korea because I really think to appreciate this book readers need to have some background in Korean contemporary history.  Once readers have that background, this book is definitely an eye-opening and informative read that will leave people interested in North Korea with a much better understanding of why the regime acts the way it does.

I’ve read his book and it was an eye-opening experience. I agree with your that North Korea is neither Stalinist nor Communist. It’s a kleptocracy. Murder, corruption, and theft…every one from the highest ranking official down to the lowly army private are complicit.

Ya know what… Koreans have never had a nuclear weapon. North Koreans are Koreans too … if they develop ICBM pointed right at Tokyo, Washington DC,& Beijing, Moscow then wouldn’t that make NK / SK an inpregnable fortress? ^^

Thanks for the review, going to pick this one up.

Yes, excellent book and he’s an excellent speaker if you get a chance to see his lecture in person. I too think he’s got nK pegged better than any of the other well-known nK experts though it is interesting to see him and Andrei Lankov debate.

@1 – That is why I consider North Korea to be a Soprano State considering all their criminal enterprises they are engaged in. After reading Myers I now think of it more as a Soprano State supported by a race based ideology that backs the Cult of Kim which helps keep the status quo iin place for the regime elite.

@3 – Definitely pick this book up and it is available on Kindle which is how I read the book.

@4 – If I ever had the opportunity Myers does seem like a very interesting person to listen to. A debate between him and Lankov would be very interesting but I think they would actually be in agreement on most NK issues.

I’ve read this book and think Myers makes some great points. I think he disregards some factors too much such as the role of Confucianism and Kim Il Sung’s use of Protestant Christian themes. That said, his theories make a lot of sense. Personally I think we always get the stinky end of the stick when dealing with DPRK because we operate under the “Communist Oligarcy” template with these guys when it is only partially relevant!

I also enjoyed his dis-assembly of the Korean nation myth. I’ve used the knowledge gained here a couple times to shut down the “we’re a 5,000 year old country” claptrap. You want to look back to Tongun and Old Chosun? Well, I’ll just have to counter that with Pericles and Athens !

I have not read the book so the review by GI Korea is excellent and appreciated.
I could not help but think of the rise of similar race themes in the PRC’s internal propaganda. It would be interesting to see a similar analysis of China’s domestic targeted news and information. In China’s case it takes on a much bigger scope, involving far flung islands and people of Chinese “blood” born in other countries. One has to wonder if China did not learn some lessons from DPRK propaganda, considering the PRC’s history of leaving the international camp, following the break with the USSR and China’s ongoing need to mold a domestic and even off shore population in the free information age.