“My Life as a Diplomat”: A Q&A Session with Stephen W. Bosworth


On January 24th at the Tufts University ASEAN Auditorium, Stephen Warren Bosworth answered questions before a packed room about his life as a diplomat. So who is Stephen Bosworth? Currently, he is finishing up over a decade-long post as Dean of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. In addition to his post as Dean, Stephen Bosworth was the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy (2009-2011), U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (1997-2000), U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines (1984-1987), and U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia (1979-1981).

Dean Bosworth began the informal Q&A session by talking about what it meant to be a diplomat. To Dean Bosworth, being a diplomat required him to learn everything about a host country in order to become an expert of that country – the history, the culture, everything. But, equally as important was the task of knowing about his own country, the United States. The goal of a diplomat, according to Dean Bosworth, was simply to explain to the host country the goals and interests of Washington D.C. and to explain to Washington D.C. the goals and interests of the host country. However, Americans, in the words of Dean Bosworth, “have a hard time understanding negotiation… people in the Regan administration refused to compromise with anything!”

Dean Bosworth responded to three direct questions regarding North Korea.

The first question was one that I asked: “Would the removal of all US forces be a prerequisite to unification and if that were to happen, how would that change the dynamics of relations between the U.S. and South Korea? Also, given the amount of economic and military assistance China has given to North Korea, in the case of a sudden collapse, is it conceivable that China could come in to fill the vacuum? What would be America’s response to this scenario?”

The answer Dean Bosworth gave was: “We should deal with North Korea as it is now and not as it could possibly be in the future… We have been waiting for North Korea to collapse for 30 years but when last I checked it still hasn’t… I would like to deal with that problem as a reality (collapse of North Korea/unification) but as of now, it is all speculation.”

The second question asked was: “How much of a hindrance is it for the U.S. not to have diplomatic relations with North Korea?”

Dean Bosworth answered by saying: “I am a great believer in the need to engage. If we don’t engage, they [North Koreans] will not want to compromise… Engagement is key for all negotiations… I am all in favor of having a mission in North Korea and we have tried several times in the past but the North Koreans simply are not interested… The North Korean regime is one of the most repressive and they don’t want Korean speaking Americans walking around in Pyongyang.”

The final question was: “Is it more important to face the human rights issue or the nuke issue in North Korea?”

Dean Bosworth answered with: “Without a doubt the human rights issue… Human rights is atrocious in North Korea but nothing can change this without some sort of momentous change… North Korea is not willing to open up at all and it seems that we are too focused on the nuke issue but as we all know there has not been any progress on that front… And with regards to the nuke issue, we need to broaden our sights… it is not a popular viewpoint but I think that we should find a way to buy out North Korea – it is a lot less expensive than what we are doing now and of course it would be much, much less expensive than a conflict.”

Photo Credit: Meredith Klein / Tufts Daily



Testing International Security

The recent nuclear test North Korea launched significantly deepens the concern for international security. The actors involved, South Korea, China, the U.S., the UN and the rest of the international community are all eyes and ears on the actions to follow, as the security remains frail and unstable.

On Tuesday, North Korea threatened South Korea with “final destruction” during a debate at the U.N Conference on Disarmament, saying it could take further steps than their nuclear test a couple of weeks ago. The tension between South Korea and North Korea has definitely heightened, especially with South Korea undergoing a transition in presidency.

The UN and U.S. have both continuously disapproved on North Korea’s nuclear tests. The North Korean threat provided justification not only for the UN to impose harder and stricter sanctions, but also for the U.S., Japan and South Korea to strengthen their defense capabilities and military activities, while strengthening their diplomatic ties with the U.S. in a manner that undermines China’s regional security priorities. As these alliances seem to provoke North Korea to react by testing more nuclear arsenals, China may seem to be the final hope in providing security in East Asia.

Despite being a long-term ally and a strategic friend of North Korea, China has consistently shown its disapproval of its neighbor’s nuclear test due to its fear of such activities bringing instability in the region. An unstable Kim Jong-Un’s regime might not only provoke a North Korean collapse, triggering a flood of refugees across China’s border, but also creating a power vacuum that could be filled by South Korea and the U.S.—posing a geographically proximate strategic challenge to China’s security.

Security is a major issue as well as a goal for all East Asian nations and the international community. However, the responsibility and solution regarding the issue do not lie solely in China’s hands. North Korea would probably wish to have lasting security as well—without succumbing to the wants and needs of the international community. China wants security to preserve its national power interests. The U.S. hopes to promote stability by dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program. South Korea hopes to dismantle nuclear programs and promote stability, which will eventually and hopefully lead to unification.

Military escalation, defensive threats and continuous joint-military practices are not the only way forward in Northeast Asia as it has been in the past. Each country needs to reflect on what has happened, what is happening and what will happen, then resume on diplomatic talks. The countries should continue diplomatic talks until the region is secure and stable.

Personally, I hope that such diplomacy will bring us one step closer to the stability and reunification. But looking at this pressing security issue at large, it seems that we have no other choice but to turn to diplomacy in order to avoid military conflict.




Faces of North Korea



I recently came across a blog post by fellow MOU correspondent Jay McNair that I felt addresses a topic that is frequently overlooked when the subject of North Korea arises. With the recent provocations, North Korea has been at the forefront of debates and discussions in my political science classes. Most in my class seem convinced that there are only two types of people living in the DPRK: those that commit atrocities and those that atrocities are committed against… put another way: the gun-toting, nuke-button pressing type and the starving type.


In fact, I was quite shocked when one of my professors stated: “North Korea is pretty simple: it’s Heaven for the Kim family and Hell for everyone else.” Granted, he wasn’t a North Korea specialist, but still his assumption regarding North Korea seems to be the universal sentiment, even at institutes of higher learning.


The photos we are inundated with in the media nearly always fall into two camps: the military and the human rights violations. To be clear, I am not denying that human rights violations are taking place or that the military has a central role in the country. What I am trying to get across is that the majority of North Koreans are neither in gulags nor standing post at the DMZ.


             The quote that I liked most about McNair’s piece was the following: “Understanding all of North Korea – not just its generals – is an important goal in and of itself; it’s also an important element of any dialogue that aims toward unification.” I could not have put this better myself — understanding that the North Koreans are “just ordinary people like you and me” is an important step we must take to change the overriding perceptions ingrained in our minds that North Korea is nothing more than a desolate, irrational, Mordor-like place.


Photo Credits: In-Goo Kwak / ingookwak.com


For more pictures: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqKzTyWnhCQ







Citizens’ Perspective: South Korean Reactions to Nuclear Tests


North Korea has now performed its third nuclear test, the latest since two previous tests in 2006 and 2009. Analysts around the world are scrambling to decide what the test reveals about North Korea’s capabilities and intentions, and politicians around the world are scrambling to decide what will be done to discourage further development of nuclear weapons in North Korea, and how to send a message to other nuclear developers like Iran.

How will China respond to the tests? A state-owned newspaper ran a February 6 editorial (before the test) saying, “If North Korea insists on a third nuclear test despite attempts to dissuade it, it must pay a heavy price. The assistance it will be able to receive from China should be reduced.” Is the newspaper voicing the policy of the Chinese government, as most media maintain (e.g. Business Insider, MSNBC)? Or does the editorial reflect the more populist stance of the paper? Either way, what action would China actually take against its ally?

These are interesting questions, but Markus Bell and Geoffrey Fattig, writing at NKNews.org, ignore them “in an attempt to offer balance to the mountains of analysis being churned out.” Bell and Fattig decide to focus on the average South Korean’s response to the nuclear tests instead of the response of world governments. Their conclusion? Most South Koreans aren’t paying much attention. Bell and Fattig write, “The prevailing response [in South Korea] to the third nuclear test is much more likely to be a ‘there they go again’ resigned acceptance.”

In the recent South Korean presidential elections, the authors note, North Korea’s nuclear program was not a major political issue. Most citizens perceive the North’s nuclear program as being aimed at the United States, not South Korea. North Korean scholar Brian Myers would probably agree, as he points out that internal propaganda very intentionally makes the United States an enemy, so that North Korean citizens will feel a sense of unity in opposition, and of legitimacy in their government’s focus on military defense.

So, while the third nuclear test is a very big deal for governments around the world, including the United States, Bell and Fattig think it is worth remembering that for the average South Korean citizen, it’s more of a minor nuisance than major issue. It offers little new insight into the North Korean government’s intentions and capabilities.

Bell and Fattig are also interested in the test’s effects on the lives of North Korean defectors currently living in South Korea. There are some 24,000 of them, and integration continues to be a difficult process even after the help they receive from the South Korean government. The nuclear tests make it harder. Bell and Fattig recall having lunch with some North Korean defector friends in 2009, when news of the second test came on the TV. The table went silent. After a moment one of the North Korean defectors said, “These crazy bastards make it so hard for us to be here. Every time this happens, we feel some guilt.” Even though it’s unjustified, it’s also understandable that they feel a collective guilt about their home country’s belligerent actions, and it certainly makes it more difficult for them to integrate successfully into South Korean life.

Bell and Fattig are right that the analysis in these cases focuses too much on rarefied politics. It is too easy to neglect the effects of these actions on ordinary citizens. It’s good to have some voices restoring the balance.



North Korea and the European Media

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Even prior to North Korea’s recent rocket launch and nuclear test, the European media generally and the German media particularly have been publishing an ever-increasing amount of articles about North Korea. In general, this should of course be supported because it raises awareness. However, some of the information provided is at best misleading and at worst plainly wrong. I don’t know if the German media is particularly uninformed or if this can be said about most Western news outlets. This article therefore aims at pointing out two major misconceptions that I have noticed over the last months and which have been repeated quite often.

1) North Korea claims a higher standard of living than South Korea

Just recently, an article in “The Economist” claimed that smuggled memory sticks could “confront North Koreans with the potentially revolutionary fact that their brethren in the South live in comfort and plenty”1.

This fact is not is true and certainly not revolutionary. While North Korea has historically claimed higher living standards, this is no longer the case. Pyongyang has long admitted higher living standards in South Korea, in fact since the 1990s2, but is “blaming” this fact on international sanctions, particularly the ones imposed by the United States.

2) Juche (Self-reliance Policy) vs Sŏn’gun (Military First Policy) and Kim Jong-il vs Kim Il-sung

Juche has been introduced by Kim Il-sung and not Kim Jong-il. It was put in place as a response to growing Soviet influence and in trying to “stimulate their [Korean’s] national pride and rouse the broad masses to revolutionary struggle”3. This policy has obviously not been abandoned by Kim Jong-il, but he incrementally replaced it with his own Military First policy.

Especially the misconception about North and South Korean living standards has been repeated over and over again, each time not being true. The same can be said about the confusion that sometimes arises when European newspapers try to distinguish which Kim is responsible for which policy. As such, I hope that this article can help to clarify some basics facts. Lastly, it should be said that when preparing for unification and raising awareness, news coverage is vital. However, it is equally important to not take all the information for granted and keep basic facts in mind.


Citation Credit:


2: Myers, B. R. (2011). “The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves – And Why It Matters”. New York: Melville House Publishing.

3: Cumings, B. (2005). Korea’s Place in the Sun: a Modern History. New York: W.W. Norton

Photo Credit:


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Hanging Out with Hangyeorae Students in NYC


When we entered the subway at Spring Street, the students joked that it looked like they were back in North Korea.

Yeong Cheol and Bong Choon* had a brief layover in New York on their way back to South Korea, where they’ve lived since 2007. The two students had just finished a two-week visit to the United States hosted by Duke. The students had spoken (a lot, they said) to people there about their childhood in North Korea, their experiences leaving it, and their lives since coming to South Korea. Their visit to the United States had been arranged by fellow MOU-intern Kelly Heo, and she invited me and a few others to help show them the big-city sights before they had to go back to Seoul.

It’s true that New York’s subway is no match for Seoul’s. Rats scurry in the tunnels, and you can jump down from the platform to the rails below, which are littered with trash and abandoned construction materials. Seoul’s stations are clean, well-lit, and they have WiFi on all the trains. WiFi on the trains!


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At left, New York’s Spring Street station. At right, Seoul’s Itaewon station. Photos credit Liang Jinjiang and Michele Molinari via Flickr.

So we ate dinner with them and then saw the sights. I was very happy to see how well they were doing. I had met Yeong Cheol two years before when I briefly taught English at his high school (you can read about some of my experiences there in this article). Yeong Cheol, 21, has just graduated from the high school and is about to start his first year at university in March (the Korean school year begins in the spring, not fall). Bong Choon, 19, is still in high school. Both students are older than most South Koreans of their school year, a consequence of very different educational systems in North Korea and time lost with no chance for school in transit to South Korea.

Yeong Cheol had lived in North Hamgyong province, near the border with China; Bong Choon was from a small city just south of Pyongyang. Bong Choon had watched a lot of foreign TV when he lived there; he said many people in his area had been able to watch TV shows and films from South Korea, China, and even the United States.

Yeong Cheol told me that my former mentee James, who I wrote about in a former post, is doing well. Although James graduated before Yeong Cheol, they keep up with each other through KakaoTalk, a popular mobile messaging application. James is at university in Seoul, studying political science–my old major. He’s specializing in international relations.

We gave them what we hoped were good tastes of New York: pizza at Lombardi’s for dinner and then some good old-fashioned sightseeing in Times Square. They took pictures of the tall buildings, the glaring billboards, and the street musicians. They particularly liked seeing the ads for Samsung, LG, and Hyundai—reminders of home, now.

* Their names have been changed in this article.


Book Review Part III: “No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and International Security”

This is part III of a three-part series on the book “No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and International Security” by Jonathan Pollack  

             Since the publication of Pollack’s book, there have been two significant events that warrant a new edition: (1) the death of Kim Jong-il and successful transition of power to Kim Jong-un, and (2) successful launch of a satellite into orbit and test of North Korea’s third nuclear bomb that is hypothesized to be in the 6-7 kiloton range. Toward the end of Pollack’s book, he raises numerous questions regarding the impending leadership transition and whether or not Kim Jong-un would be able to successfully take the reins from his father. Over a year later, it seems that most of those questions have been answered. Furthermore, while the first two nuclear tests were small in scale and considered by some experts to be a flop, the recent third test disproves the notion that North Korea is a technologically backwards nation living in the stone age. (The number of nations that have both launched a satellite into orbit and successfully tested a nuclear weapon stands at just seven: USA, USSR/Russia, UK, France, China, India, and North Korea.)

Jonathan Pollack’s book offers a concise, though extremely dense, historical backdrop and analysis of why North Korea developed nuclear weapons and why it has “No Exit” strategy of dismantling its program anytime soon. As he states early on in his book:


“… no state has ever developed nuclear weapons by accident or inadvertence. It reflects purposive long-term commitment and the large-scale mobilization of scientific, technological and material resources… the DPRK’s nuclear development is thus inseparable from the history of the North Korean state.” (Pollack, p. 24)


Obviously, the book needs to be updated with new facts, dates, and people, but the original analysis is still as relevant today as it was the day the book was published in May 2011. His conclusion that North Korea wishes to:


“… posit a ‘no landing’ scenario – that is, the perpetuation of the existing system based on the unquestioned power and authority of the Kim family and of the ruling elites that support it, retention of its nuclear weapons capabilities, and a measure of economic recovery.” (Pollack, p. 192)


Along with the idea that:


“Periodic hints by the North that it might be prepared to exchange its nuclear capabilities for economic aid cannot be taken seriously…. The ultimate goal remains nuclear abandonment by the North, but a more practical objective is risk minimization, both in relation to the DPRK’s extant weapons and in any potential transfer of technology and materials beyond North Korea’s borders.” (Pollack, p. 209)


Pollack’s book does a fantastic job of seamlessly weaving together hundreds of interviews with the countless works of other experts in the field to present a coherent (though extremely dry) narrative to give the reader a chance to literally step into the shoes of the North Korean leadership and follow their journey toward nuclear weapons from 1945 to 2010. It is highly recommended that this book be read by officials directly involved with North Korea along with scholars and students who are learning about North Korean affairs or Northeast Asian security.



Book Review Part II: “No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and International Security”

This is part II of a three-part series on the book “No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and International Security” by Jonathan Pollack.


At its core, this book is about the decision-making process within the elite circles of Pyongyang aimed at maximizing the state’s survival in a hostile world. The greatest strength of this book is that the sources used consist primarily of interviews and Cold War archives. Moreover, Pollack makes use of primary sources within North Korea like its official newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, to provide a “first-person” narrative of North Korea’s nuclear pursuit from its origin to 2010.



“My analysis draws extensively on the DPRK’s official media. Without access to decision-making in Pyongyang, careful scrutiny of these materials is crucial to understanding the language, logic and rhythms of North Korean policy.”  (Pollack, p. 8)


Another strength of this book was its sole focus on the North Korean nuclear issue. While some could consider this a weakness, it is actually its strength because the book does not claim to be a comprehensive overview on North Korea – rather, this book focuses on just one facet of North Korea and successfully does so in great detail and analysis. There are no unneeded tangents that distract the reader from the subject at hand. This is also the reason why I recommended in the previous section of this review that North Korean neophytes steer clear of this book until they gain some background knowledge on the other major issues regarding North Korea. (Topics like defectors, gulags, human rights, cult of personality, unification, daily life, climate, geography, etc. are all almost entirely absent from the book.)

I also liked that the book was written chronologically with no major time jumps or lapses. The book was keenly organized and very straightforward (albeit dry at points). The chain of thoughts and actions that led to particular decisions were also coherent and simple to understand.

The book itself was printed in easy-to-read size and font and despite the hundreds of sources used to write the book, there were no cluttering footnotes or in-text citations (the notes were all neatly situated at the end of the book).

The biggest drawback of this book is that it is not up-to-date. Although printed less than two years ago, this book is already seriously outdated. (The reasons are listed in the following section of this review.)

             Another weakness of this book is that, in the words of Pollack, “Those analyzing the North must do so from a distance. It remains largely sealed from the outside world, with observers at best having episodic and highly constrained access.” As a result, after providing a transcript of an interview or archive document, much of the analysis Pollack presents is the best any of us could do— an educated guess. Most of the analysis Pollack provides is prefaced with words like: “purportedly”, “allegedly”, “apparently”, “ostensibly”, “supposedly”, “seemingly”, “outwardly”, etc.

             Also, I would have liked to see more pictures and graphs. Although this may seem elementary, there were one or two pictures/graphs in the book and I would have liked to see many more. As more of a visual learner, I find pictures/graphs to be tremendously helpful in being able to better understand the content.

             Finally, Pollack’s book does not introduce any radical or new ideas on North Korea’s future prospects. He sums up his thoughts (that most experts already share) with the last two sentences of his book:


“When, whether and how major change occurs in North Korea remains to be seen. Until such time, the United States, its regional allies and partners, and the international community as a whole must seek to ensure that this embattled system does not do larger damage to peace and security in Northeast Asia and beyond.” (Pollack, p. 209)


Despite the lack of definitive conclusions/new ideas on how to rein in North Korea, a need for a new edition, and most of the analysis being based on conjectures and extrapolations, I highly recommended that this book be read by officials directly involved with North Korea along with scholars and students who are learning about North Korean affairs or Northeast Asian security studies. While this book may be informative to the layperson, there are more suitable articles and books that can get the basic message across without such painstaking detail.


Book Review Part I: “No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and International Security”

The following will be a three-part series on Jonathan Pollack’s book“No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and International Security” which came out in 2011. The reason for writing this book review is because it is highly relevant today given the third North Korean nuclear test in defiance of the international community.

Jonathan Pollack’s book is, in my opinion, the single best work that explains in great detail why North Korea continues to insist on developing and testing nuclear weapons despite international condemnation and the further risk of punitive sanctions.

Part I of this series will introduce the book, the author, and provide a synopsis of the book and an overview of Pollack’s analysis.

Part II of this series will continue with my personal thoughts, perceived strengths and weaknesses of the book, and also what other experts in the field have to say about Pollack’s book.

Finally, Part III of this series will wrap up the discussion with what has changed in North Korea since the book’s publication and whether or not the book needs to be revised, updated, or scrapped in light of recent developments.


Part I


Released in May 2011 and written by Jonathan Pollack, “No Exit: North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, and International Security” follows the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea since the end of WWII. In following such a path, North Korea’s pursuit of what Pollack describes as “the forbidden fruit of global politics for non-nuclear states” has affected the stability of East Asia and influenced U.S. policy for decades.

The author, Jonathan D. Pollack, is a recognized and accomplished specialist on East Asian international politics and security having published extensively on the topic. Jonathan Pollack is currently a Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Program of the Brookings Institution. Prior to his appointment at the Brookings Institution, he was a professor of Asian and Pacific Studies and former chairman of the Asia-Pacific Studies Group at the Naval War College. He has also taught at Brandeis University, the Rand Graduate School of Policy Studies, and UCLA.

So, who should read this book? Firstly, before diving right into this book, the reader should have a basic understanding of North Korea – the history, the ideology, and the politics. Only then should students and scholars with an interest in North Korean affairs and Northeast Asian security read this book on the history and analysis of North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. 

Although only 209 pages in length (excluding the notes), this book is very dense with facts, dates, and people. This book is not intended for causal enthusiasts curious about why North Korea continues to test nuclear weapons despite strong international condemnation. This book reads very much like an academic textbook rather than a simple non-fiction narrative – you have been forewarned.

 Pollack’s book provides a highly detailed narrative beginning from the end of WWII and follows the major actors within North Korea, in particular Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, as they work towards the development of nuclear weapons.

             Pollack begins by exploring the formation of the DPRK and its traumatic past. Pollack uses this approach because he is, “convinced that the how and why of the Korean nuclear impasse must begin with the DPRK system and its history.”

             In short, with regime survival of paramount importance, the actions of North Korea stem largely from deep mistrust of both the United States and it’s supposed allies: China and the former USSR.


“In North Korean eyes, Moscow’s failure to ensure the security of another small, distant socialist state meant that the DPRK stood alone, and could depend on no one to uphold its fundamental strategic interests.” (Pollack, p. 57)


North Korea distrusts its allies because it is unsure of whether or not they would truly honor North Korea’s defense commitments in the event of an attack by the West. And North Korea distrusts its sworn enemy, the United States, for intervening in a civil war, devastating the country with massive aerial bombing campaigns, and keeping the country under the constant threat of nuclear strike for over a half-century (with nuclear weapons actually kept on the southern half of the peninsula for more than a quarter of a century). Adding to the mix DPRK’s desire to avoid becoming like another Iraq and the uncertain impending leadership succession, Pollack makes the argument that North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons was the most rational thing to do.


“… the United States was preparing for preventive war in the Middle East, and the Bush administration had placed North Korea in the same category as Iraq and Iran… as [North Korean Senior Vice Foreign Minister] Kang stated caustically in October 2002, ‘we are part of the axis of evil and you are a gentleman. This is our relationship. If we disarm ourselves because of U.S. pressure, then we will become like Yugoslavia or Afghanistan’s Taliban, to be beaten to death.’” (Pollack, p. 141)


The traumatic past and mistrust of foreign powers lead to the idea of juche, which translates to “self-reliance” or more accurately “self-determination”. North Korea refuses to be controlled by external factors or powers and as such seeks to make North Korea an “impregnable fortress” in a hostile environment. Nuclear weapons are an essential part to this strategy. In conclusion, to the leadership in Pyongyang, nuclear weapons are intrinsically linked to regime survival, self-identity, power, and pride and nothing the United States or China says can change that.


That Bizarre YouTube Video


The word “bizarre” most aptly describes a three and a half-minute long YouTube video released by North Korea’s quasi-official website Uriminzokkiri.(Uriminzokkiri/우리민족끼리 is Korean for “Our Nation” and is affiliated with the Korean Central News Agency.)


The YouTube video in discussion was released on February 5th and was quickly picked up and reported on by the mainstream media. What did they have to say about the video?


Washington Post: “As North Korea threatens to carry out measures ‘stronger’ than a third nuclear test in response to what it believes are ‘hostile’ sanctions imposed after its December rocket launch, its state media also released a bizarre new video in which a North Korean young man apparently dreams about the destruction of what appears to be New York City.” (1)


Yahoo! News: “In what appears to be a provocative PR stunt, a bizarre video uploaded to YouTube by North Korea over the weekend shows a dream sequence that includes a U.S. city resembling New York under an apparent missile attack.” (2)


Huffington Post: “In a bizarre dream sequence of events, North Korea posted a video to its official YouTube account showing an American city left destroyed following an apparent missile attack.” (3)


Fox News: “North Korea, already gearing up for yet another nuclear test, has posted a bizarre online video depicting New York under an apparent missile attack with “We Are the World” serving as a soundtrack.” (4)


Yes, I’ve seen it and the video really is, well… bizarre.


It starts off innocently enough with a sleeping (presumably North Korean) boy being filmed with an archaic Canon EOS 20D camera(a camera which actually does not have video recording capabilities) dreaming of flying around the earth in an animated space shuttle to the backdrop of “We Are the World”. Things take a disturbing turn, however, when we cut to what appears to be New York City ablaze draped against the backdrop of an American flag with missiles raining down from the sky. The Korean-language caption: “Somewhere in the United States, black clouds of smoke are billowing. It seems that the nest of wickedness is ablaze with the fire it set upon itself.”


To add to the strangeness of this story, shortly after the launch of the North Korean YouTube video, Activision (a large American video game publisher) had the video taken down citing copyright violations (5). The scene of the unidentified U.S. city under attack was taken from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, a best-selling first-person shooter video game released in 2011.


My personal take on the whole situation is that North Korea is attempting to swagger in the spotlight and cash in on its successful rocket launch last year on December 12thand the recent successful nuclear test on February 12thto bring the U.S. back to the negotiating table with a stronger hand and to simultaneously deter any acts of aggression (e.g. further sanctions) that would negatively affect the North.


Although still a long way from being taken seriously as having a real nuclear deterrent (i.e. the ability to successfully launch and strike a target at any time), the past two months have challenged the notion that North Korea is a technologically inept nation living in the stone age. (The number of nations that have both launched a satellite into orbit and successfully tested a nuclear weapon stands at just seven: USA, USSR/Russia, UK, France, China, India, and North Korea.)


Many unfamiliar with North Korean propaganda fail to realize that the bellicose, sensational rhetoric is nothing new; in fact, the bizarre video is in line with bombastic North Korean messages of the past – North Korea regularly threatens to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire” during their annual military drills.


However, with the nuclear test and launch of the satellite (said to be a cover for a ballistic missile test) so close together, some are taking the North Korean threat seriously. My advice: take the truculent and pompous language with a grain of salt, gather your friends, and enjoy the bizarre video below.


See the “bizarre” video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hK8zQIsMmnk


(1) http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/02/05/bizarre-new-north-korea-video-shows-destruction-of-new-york-city/


(2) http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/north-korea-dream-video-us-missile-attack-140005920.html


(3) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/05/north-korea-dream-video-us-city-missile-attack_n_2622559.html


(4) http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/02/05/north-korea-video-depicts-smoldering-us-city-under-apparent-missile-attack/


(5) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-21351051



Instagramming North Korea

The month of February witnessed ever-rising tensions on the Korean peninsula. From test-firing short-range missiles to declaring the 1953 Korean War armistice nullified, North Korea has been under constant watch for possible provocations that may follow its strong remarks. Despite of rising tensions, the world of Instagram has been rather fascinated by unusual pictures taken by David Guttenfelder, the Associate Press Chief Photographer. On his 20th trip to North Korea, North Korea’s mobile phone service provider, Koryolink, announced that it would allow foreigners an access to its 3G network on mobile phones for the first time ever. Guttenfelder took a full advantage of this opportunity and began instagramming pictures of North Korea.


A North Korean popcorn vendor works at a snack bar on the ground floor of a grocery and department store in #Pyongyang.


Painted #Propaganda, showing North Korean children in armed services uniforms attacking U.S., Japanese & SKorean soldiers, hangs in a room inside a #Pyongyang kindergarten.


And a shadow of Juche Tower is cast over the east side of #Pyongyang, #NKorea.

And a shadow of Juche Tower is cast over the east side of #Pyongyang, #NKorea.

This little North Korean dude and his school buddies were playing with one of my cameras this morning at Mansu Hill in #Pyongyang.


For those of you who are not aware, Instagram is an online photo-sharing application that allows its users to take pictures and share them on a variety of social networking services. People usually take pictures of events from their daily lives and that’s exactly what David Guttenfelder did – but in North Korea, perhaps the most isolated country in the world. His pictures included snapshots of street scenes, architecture, propaganda posters and people’s daily lives in Pyongyang. These pictures quickly went viral as Instagram users from all around the world were fascinated by the idea of peeking into a country so unknown and isolated.

These pictures also represent a strikingly different experience for the photographer himself. According to his blog, Guttenfelder’s first trip was in 2000 when he accompanied former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on her trip to meet the now-deceased leader, King Jong-il. During that trip, he said, “we were told not to take photos from the bus we traveled in and my hotel window was covered with a black plastic sheet.”[1]


Although the intentions behind allowing Internet access to foreigners are unclear, the rare opportunity has enabled Guttenfelder to share his unusual trip to an unusual destination. Granted, he was only able to take snapshots of Pyongyang, which is known to be the wealthiest place in the country and therefore, his pictures do not show the lives of less privileged North Koreans in rural areas. Ironically, while North Korea giving foreign visitors the permission to use Internet is a remarkable progress, its citizens have never been granted a chance to experience the online world – those boys playing with David Guttenfelder’s camera may never find out that a picture of them has attracted nearly 3,000 “likes”. Given the current situation, it is unclear whether or not North Korea will continue to provide such opportunity for foreign visitors any time soon, but one photographer’s effort to create a peep-hole into this isolated country will continue to have a powerful impact on many around the world.

[1]Red David Guttenfelder’s blog at http://www.davidguttenfelder.com/tagged/North_Korea

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