Korea, Russia and Eastern Europe

Korean Armistice, Ukrainian Ceasefire

In his famous essay about democracy, the British novelist E.M. Forster celebrated the political system’s encouragement of diversity and its tolerance of criticism. However, he only gave two cheers for democracy, rather than three, because democratic systems tend toward inefficiency and mediocrity. Forster believed that democracy, although better than the alternatives, deserves only qualified praise.… Continue reading Korean Armistice, Ukrainian Ceasefire

China, Economics, Environment, Korea

The Mineral Rush

Entrepreneurs and adventurers have long traveled the world in search of gold. European empires looted Latin America for its silver and tin. Diamonds attracted the rapacious to Africa. Oil has built enormous empires of wealth in the Gulf states. Today, an entirely different scramble for natural resources is taking place. These “critical raw materials” play… Continue reading The Mineral Rush


The Future of Korean Democracy

The German government recently arrested 25 members of a conspiratorial right-wing group plotting to overthrow the government. One of those arrested was a member of a defunct German royal family that the group hoped to install as Germany’s new leader. In the United States, the Republican Party did well enough in the mid-term elections to… Continue reading The Future of Korean Democracy


The Plot Against America

In the 2005 film The President’s Last Bang, Korean audiences were able to glimpse the behind-the-scenes events surrounding the assassination of strong-arm ruler Park Chung-hee. The movie is something of a satire, given the baroque murder plot and the incompetence of the perpetrators. Back in 1979, however, Koreans were shocked by the “10-26 incident” and… Continue reading The Plot Against America


North Korea’s Real Threat

A recent military parade in Pyongyang showcased the country’s intercontinental ballistic missile. Kim Jong Un used the opportunity of the spectacle to promise that he would push the country’s nuclear program forward at maximum speed. To top it off, North Korea has been improving its tactical nuclear weapons, which means that it may soon be… Continue reading North Korea’s Real Threat

China, Korea

South Korea’s New Foreign Policy of Two Nos and One Yes

South Koreans are still sorting out the implications of the recent presidential elections. Victorious conservative candidate Yoon Suk-yeol rose to prominence on an anti-corruption agenda and has various plans to shake up the way government functions. He has also pledged to reduce government intervention in the economy, boost incentives for business, increase the role of… Continue reading South Korea’s New Foreign Policy of Two Nos and One Yes

Book Reviews, Korea

Flower Swallows Sing (Review)

In the late 1950s, when he was in prison and expecting to be executed, the South Korean poet Ko Un vowed that if he lived, he would write a poem about every person that he’d ever met. This monumental project, Ten Thousand Lives, grew to 30 volumes. In memorializing people who might otherwise be forgotten… Continue reading Flower Swallows Sing (Review)

Book Reviews, Human Rights, Korea

Dying for Rights (Review)

In 2014, the UN produced a comprehensive report on the situation of human rights inside North Korea.  The result of a year-long investigation by a three-person Commission of Inquiry (COI), the report drew on 240 interviews and the public testimony of 80 people. It is a damning picture of human rights abuses inside a country… Continue reading Dying for Rights (Review)

Book Reviews, Korea

Environment, Politics, and Ideology in North Korea (Review)

Review of Robert Winstanley-Chesters, Environment, Politics, and Ideology in North Korea: Landscape as Political Project (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015), 102 pages and Jae-Jung Suh, ed., Origins of North Korea’s Juche: Colonialism, War, and Development (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013), 184 pages   Ideas have always played an important role in North Korean politics.  … Continue reading Environment, Politics, and Ideology in North Korea (Review)

Book Reviews, Korea

Being in North Korea (Review)

Review of Andray Abrahamian, Being in North Korea (Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University, 2020), 206 pages   North Korea, despite its reputation as the last communist holdout in the world, has no major problem with capitalism. It’s even willing to take lessons from the capitalist world on how to build a market… Continue reading Being in North Korea (Review)

Book Reviews, Korea

Rewriting Revolution

Immanuel Kim, Rewriting Revolution: Women, Sexuality, and Memory in North Korean Fiction (University of Hawai’i Press, 2018), 220 pages Immanuel Kim is determined to prove that “North Korean literature” is not a contradiction in terms. A professor of Asian and Asian American studies at SUNY Binghamton, Kim takes a close look at a number of… Continue reading Rewriting Revolution


The Real Meaning of Squid Game

You’ve either seen the Netflix show Squid Game, considered watching the South Korean series before giving it a pass because of its violence, or read about it and wondered what all the fuss is about. You know, therefore, that this global hit is about hundreds of indebted Koreans competing against one another for a huge… Continue reading The Real Meaning of Squid Game


Time to Rethink the US-ROK Alliance

North Korea has blown up the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong. It is threatening an all-out pamphlet war in response to defectors sending anti-regime propaganda to the north. South Korea’s unification minister has stepped down after failing to meet with his North Korean counterparts during his 14-month tenure. Pyongyang is not happy about the balloons… Continue reading Time to Rethink the US-ROK Alliance

Book Reviews, Korea

In North Korea (Review)

Review of In North Korea: A Trip to the Last Communist Dynasty (En Corea del Norte: Viaje a la Ultima Dinastia Comunista) by Florencia Grieco (Buenos Aires: Debate, 2018), 339 pages   The Argentine journalist Florencia Grieco took two trips to North Korea, in 2015 and 2017. Her account of those trips, along with some… Continue reading In North Korea (Review)


North Korea’s Momentous Transition

North Korea belongs to a dwindling category of countries known as “totalitarian.” Compared to their authoritarian cousins, totalitarian regimes aspire to control all aspects of society. As Italian fascist Benito Mussolini once put it: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” In such countries, there is no autonomous business sector… Continue reading North Korea’s Momentous Transition


Pyongyang on the Potomac

When Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un shook hands on June 30 at the line dividing the two Koreas, the pictures that appeared on front pages all over the world depicted two very different leaders. Trump is a tall, 73-year-old white man who leads the world’s most powerful democracy. Kim is a short, plump, 35-year-old… Continue reading Pyongyang on the Potomac


Summit Interruptus

Of all the bizarre things that Donald Trump utters — the lies, the garbled words, the fanciful stories — his comments on his relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are in a category by themselves. “I was really tough and so was he, and we went back and forth,” Trump told a crowd… Continue reading Summit Interruptus


The Next US-North Korean Summit

The second meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un is scheduled for next month. The most likely location will be Vietnam. The agenda is much the same as before: how to get North Korea to denuclearize and the United States to dismantle its sanctions regime. The question remains: which side will make the first substantial… Continue reading The Next US-North Korean Summit

Book Reviews, Korea

The Plotters (Review)

Review of Un-Su Kim, The Plotters (Doubleday, 2019), translated by Sora Kim-Russell Assassination has been an integral part of Korean history. So many leading political figures have been felled by assassins – or, at the very least, threatened by them – that you might think that plotters are constantly at work behind the scenes of… Continue reading The Plotters (Review)


The Great Successor (Review

Review of The Great Successor, Anna Fifield (Public Affairs, 2019), 308 pages   North Korea is a notoriously unchanging place. In its nearly 75 years of existence, the country has had only three leaders – and they were all related to each other. The Kim dynasty has presided over the closest thing to a totalitarian… Continue reading The Great Successor (Review

Art, Book Reviews, Korea, Uncategorized

North Korean Art (Review)

Review of BG Muhn, North Korean Art: Paradoxical Realism (Seoul Selection, 2018), 80 pages   Americans, if they have seen anything of North Korean art, have probably caught glimpses of the propaganda posters that occasionally appear in newspaper photographs of North Korean street scenes. The more knowledgeable North Korea watcher might be familiar with the… Continue reading North Korean Art (Review)


Is Korea’s Cold War About to End?

Remarkable changes are taking place on the Korean peninsula. The two Koreas are actually starting to demilitarize the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Just in the last couple weeks, they have taken down 22 guard posts, demined the Joint Security Area, and established a no-fly-zone about the peninsula’s dividing line. They’ve pulled back from confrontation along their… Continue reading Is Korea’s Cold War About to End?