Preface to my new volume

Shepherd Iverson

Scholars write prefaces to make personal statements and to explain why they worked for years writing a particular book. My interest in the Korean civil war and partition has evolved as my family and I have “gone native” in Korea, living in this wonderful country now for almost a decade. However, my epistemological approach to scholarship was formed many years earlier.

Attending the private Breck School in Minneapolis from the eighth grade and Brown University as an undergraduate, I was exceptionally fortunate to be taught at an early age not what to think but how to think, to reassess how I know what I think I know, to think outside the box, to accept that learning often includes the process of unlearning, and that there are times when one must quietly sit still and think hard about a problem in order to grasp its complexity. I try to draw an algorithm in my mind—then on a piece of paper—and follow interacting contours of causation and probability whichever way they turn.

Important insights rarely arrive all at once. In academic research and analysis there is usually not one large ‘aha’ moment, but many smaller instances of intellectual euphoria, as the dynamics of a problem surface, often unexpectedly. But there are times when one reaches a breakthrough in understanding—similar to reaching a new plateau in learning a foreign language—when one feels as if everything is falling into place. Reaching deeper levels of learning and surprising new integrative thresholds, and surpassing them, is part of the standard process of becoming an expert in anything, from auto mechanics to engineering.

There are no quick and easy answers to problems of complexity, and the solutions are often counter-intuitive, paradoxical, and seldom conform to intellectual expectations or emotional desires. We must be patient, open-minded, logical, pragmatic, and sometimes imaginative in order to find and grasp comprehensive answers to difficult problems. But if you want something done quickly, money often simplifies matters—as readers will learn in this volume.

In order to benefit from this writing, you must possess some of these attributes, or at least have the ability to appreciate them. This monograph was written for foxes, not hedgehogs; the nimble, not the feeble minded. I will not present another bland description of events or another ordinary history-laden political science perspective on the Korea problem. This will be different. We are dealing with matters of life and death, and the clock is ticking. There will be no candy coating, political correctness, careerist preening, or petty nationalist bias or intent; only a sincere attempt to find a way to reunify Korea before it is too late.

Several books on North Korea have captured the imagination of a great many readers by describing the pain and suffering, the intrigue of escape, and the jubilation of eventual freedom. These tales of heroism also strum at my heartstrings and inspire my research. However, this manuscript does not offer another description of suffering and escape to freedom. I am a social scientist, not a journalist or storyteller. My goal is not only to appeal to your heart, but also your head. Although I am deeply concerned about the 120,000 North Korea citizens presently interned in prison camps, and the two million children who struggle to survive on an inadequate diet, I am also concerned about nuclear proliferation and the geopolitics of the problem that potentially endangers many more lives.

A few years ago, I asked myself what is new and different today from twenty years ago that is influencing the personal and geopolitical choices and disposition of affairs inside and outside North Korea. In answer to this question, I noticed that revolutionary digital technology combined with financial globalization was creating an international commodity boom and that the spread of cultural products has profoundly influenced the attitudes and the aspirations of citizens inside North Korea, while the concentration of wealth and concurrent expansion of the global money supply—through corporate profits and the process of quantitative easing—has put an enormous amount of capital into play for the international investment community, and for geopolitical problem solving.

Extrapolating forward, without minimizing the effects of demographic and environmental change, it may be these two critical factors—global finance and innovations in communication technology—that will play the most influential and determining roles in selecting outcomes in North Korea. To avoid obsolescence, political theory and foreign policy must submit to the changing times in which we live and adapt to the rapid evolution of these seminal forces.

To better grasp this insight, and the impact of technology, let us go back in time to the year 1450 CE. It is unlikely the foreign policy arm of the Holy Roman Catholic Church realized the enormous impact the printing press would have on future claims to power and authority. Had the Holy See known at the time, it might have tried to destroy this innovative new technology, or to gracefully adapt to the fact that millions of “profane” books were about to be published for a growing urban middle class, and the Bible was about to be translated, read, and reinterpreted by the increasingly literate and curious late medieval masses. From this they might have projected the end of an era, the possibility of the Protestant Reformation, and perhaps even foresaw the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason.

There are indications we are in the early stages of a similar process today. The Internet may create a similar socio-political-economic revolution. This revolutionary technology is already changing who we are, what we think, and how we behave. But unlike in ages past, this process will not take centuries to play out. As we program our digital technology to perform tasks, it is programming us in the ways and means in which we live. Already our children would rather play on their mobile phones and tablet computers than at the park; they are being inured to complexity and learning in a nonlinear more associative manner, clicking links instead of turning the page. The Internet has already fundamentally changed politics in democratic and communist nations.

Global business elites are no longer nation-bound, but interact with a multiplicity of peoples and cultures—along with the travelling youth, they are truly among the first world citizens. As individuals around the world adapt and co-evolve with their digital technology, institutions will also change. If we follow the general path of increasing complexity in economic and political organization, from bands to tribes to chiefdoms to nation-states, one can easily imagine the next level of human organization will entail more unified political-economic agglomerations and the increasing prominence of supra-national political and economic institutions, perhaps eventually a world government and a global Constitution. Ironically, as this Leviathan grows in power, the Lilliputians will have more democratic or disruptive power to constrain its behavior.

We already have international non-governmental organizations, transnational corporations, multilateral alliances, a United Nations, World Courts, the evolution from a G-7/8 to a more inclusive G-20, the World Trade Association, regional and hemispheric free trade agreements, and the noble imposition of moral and ethical codes of conduct embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Progressive modern forces have necessitated the popular adaptive formation of functionally appropriate institutions, and more economically efficient, legally binding, and politically sensitive forms of human organization. The international system is evolving by increasing inter-human decency, financial diplomacy, and unified action in order to secure a more resilient global prosperity and prevent another world war.

In this regard, a global digital age may expel the Westphalian system, or rather, transpose a new world order of more aggregated inter-agreement over it. A readily enforceable international constitutional decree eliminating nuclear proliferation or to protect our environment might lead to another critical step in the cooperative civilizing and protection of our planet. To speculate further on this broad line of enquiry is beyond the pale of this monograph. Suffice to say, the challenges to domestic politics and international relations are evolving rapidly, as conventional wisdom becomes antiquated more quickly during the early stages of a worldwide technological revolution that is already fundamentally impacting domestic sentiment and elite fears in North Korea and in many other parts of the world. When material conditions change, so do behavioral incentives.

The turnkey that opened the door for me to a better understanding of the Korean situation is incentives. After much hard thinking—trying to see how the internal and external pieces of the puzzle fit together—it dawned on me that incentives—not punishments—were the key in Korea. I came to realize that peaceful Korean reunification was possible, but could only occur quickly and through innovative statecraft and a cooperative smart power geoeconomic intervention.

It is apparent that everyone involved has an intrinsic incentive to see a mutually beneficial solution; the United States, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea; corporations involved in mining, energy, construction, technology, railroads, tourism and the transportation and automotive industry, impoverished North Koreans, international banks and the Bank of Korea. And after applying the reunification model I have designed, so too will North Korea government officials and bureaucrats, Pyongyang political and military elites, and finally, young Kim’s inner circle and even Kim Jong-un himself.

Most conventional scholars and experts from the U.S. and South Korea present a narrow geopolitical perspective, but it seems obvious the future of the Korean partition is embedded in great power geopolitics. While most policymakers tend to be pessimistic about the future of U.S.-China relations, I remain guardedly optimistic, since I expect nonmilitary factors may mitigate the effects of the security dilemma, and as the interests of China and the United States converge, they may compromise and cooperate to reunify Korea.

There are global leveling and unifying forces abreast today that will fundamentally alter inter- and intra-state relationships. The world is experiencing the initial stages of a digital revolution—an unusually rapid expansion of the global brain—along with an unprecedented concomitant economic and cultural globalization that is changing the nature of political power (and most everything else). While the extent of this global phenomenon is mind-boggling for us all, political science and international relations (PS/IR) experts and the policy community are particularly under-equipped to understand such ubiquitous bottom up change from their more constrained and parochial top down pedagogical backgrounds. More humility, open-mindedness, and appeal to the insights of other disciplines would seem an intelligent adaptation in political science to the evolution of power in the early twenty-first century.

Unfortunately, many erstwhile political curmudgeons who control Korea policy in Beijing, Washington, and Seoul—and their army of obeisant mentees—seem to lack these connective attributes, and therefore continue expostulating tired old policies from the digital dark ages—as North Korea remains in a Cold-War time warp. As history marches on, these policymakers are quickly becoming obsolete and a hindrance to solving the critical problems of our time. We need new disruptive policy innovations to solve some modern complexities; we need to think outside the box.

In the following pages, I will argue that we must pay for reunification by offering personal financial incentives to North Korean citizens, and especially large payments to the elites who have their hands on the reins of power; a friendly corporate buyout. At face value, one may think this a preposterous idea. But if readers are willing to suspend judgment, they may eventually find themselves astonished by how prudent and sensible this approach actually is, from a variety of perspectives, not the least of which is the alternative solution—military action.

This was my personal process; skeptical of my own idea at first, I kept discovering reasons this model might work, and eventually became convinced of this plan. In fact, I am not only convinced this plan could unify Korea in a short time, but that it is the only process through which reunification and denuclearization can occur in a managed and peaceful fashion before North Korea has the capability of landing a nuclear-tipped ICBM on American shores.

I have worked through every possible scenario that does not include the influence of this fund, and there is no other plausible permanent near-term solution to prevent North Korea from obtaining a nuclear-missile, or that would prevent regional nuclear proliferation, or the United States from conducting its own unilateral preemptive military action. Although I am sure there is much I have left out of this rather unorthodox analysis, I am convinced Korea can be reunited through this Reunification-Investment Fund, and soon I think you will be also.

This is not a polemic, but a well-reasoned work of social science.[1] Therefore, it must be read as such, carefully and skeptically, while systematically analyzing the basis and credibility of each argument. I have, however, tried to make this book interesting and imaginative, within the constraints of a thoroughly social scientific approach.

To begin this odyssey, imagine that you control a multi-billion dollar capital fund and North Korea is a large underperforming corporation. You see it is undervalued and want to take it over, but it is controlled by an old-fashioned board of directors—the Kim family and a small number of ultra elites—who will not negotiate a deal. In this regressive situation it is logical to offer shareholders—the larger number of political and military elites, government managers and bureaucrats, and the general population—a higher price for their shares to convince them to overrule their board of directors.

Details for how and why this friendly corporate buyout might occur is the subject of this manuscript. We will close in on this goal chapter by chapter, and I expect readers to be convinced at some point that this cultural and geoeconomic approach has a chance to stop nuclear proliferation and unify Korea before it is too late.

[1] An earlier version of this manuscript is twice the length and contains over 800 footnotes and nearly 1,000 bibliographic references.

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