Viewing cable 06SEOUL657
Title: PROMINENT SCHOLAR SAYS U.S. SHOULD UNDERMINE DPRK

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06SEOUL6572006-03-02 07:53:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Seoul
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DE RUEHUL #0657/01 0610753
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O 020753Z MAR 06
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6267
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0173
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 7138
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0255
RUEHUM/AMEMBASSY ULAANBAATAR 1096
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR
RHMFIUU/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR
UNCLAS SEOUL 000657 
 
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SENSITIVE 
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E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PREL ECON SOCI KS KN
SUBJECT: PROMINENT SCHOLAR SAYS U.S. SHOULD UNDERMINE DPRK 
THROUGH LOW-KEY ENGAGEMENT; CONDEMNS ROK POLICY 
 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
¶1.  (SBU)  Andrei Lankov, a prominent authority on the DPRK, 
told the Ambassador on February 27 that the United States 
should ignore the DPRK at a political level, as the Kim 
Jong-il regime was a threat only to its own people.  He 
argued that a low-key effort to provide greater information 
to North Koreans, particularly members of the elite, was the 
best way to undermine the regime.  Lankov was scathing in his 
denunciation of the ROK's engagement policy, saying that by 
propping up the Kim Jong-il regime without a serious effort 
to demand reforms, Seoul was unwittingly worsening the 
situation it would inherit once the inevitable collapse 
arrived.  Lankov predicted that the Pyongyang political elite 
would not fracture, as it viewed its fate as tied to Kim 
Jong-il.  He was dismissive of DPRK economic reforms and said 
Pyongyang's nuclear program had evolved from a bargaining 
chip into a deterrent.  END SUMMARY. 
 
VIDEOS, THE SEEDS OF THE REGIME'S DESTRUCTION 
--------------------------------------------- 
 
¶2.  (SBU) The Ambassador met on February 27 with Andrei 
Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University, for a wide-ranging 
discussion of the DPRK.  Born and educated in the Soviet 
Union, Lankov has devoted most of his professional career to 
studying North Korea and writes a regular column for the 
Korea Times.  Lankov emphasized the importance that greater 
exposure to outside information would play in changing the 
country.  Saying the Soviet Union was "ruined by short-wave 
radio," Lankov asserted videos were playing a similar role in 
the DPRK.  He described proposals to send radios into North 
Korea by balloon as unnecessary, saying smugglers were 
already playing the role of the balloons through their 
effective introduction into the DPRK of South Korean and 
Western videos and other sources of information, primarily 
across the border with China.  Lankov expressed 
disappointment that the United States was not making greater 
efforts to broadcast into North Korea, describing the hours 
that Radio Free Asia was on the air as inadequate. 
 
¶3.  (SBU) To the extent possible, said Lankov, the United 
States should simply ignore North Korea, as the DPRK thrived 
by having an outside threat.  Kim Jong-il was not a serious 
threat to anyone but his own people.  The DPRK would never 
initiate a war, which it knew would end quickly and 
disastrously.  Similarly, Pyongyang knew better than to 
transfer its nuclear weapons and materials. 
 
¶4.  (SBU) The DPRK would engage if faced with a bold approach 
by Washington, Lankov predicted, although Pyongyang would not 
accept assistance if it were conditioned on economic or 
political reforms.  He was skeptical about North Korea's 
interest in pursuing normalization with the United States, 
saying Pyongyang would view such an offer as either a trick 
or a sign of weakness, in which case it would push for 
still-greater benefits.  The best way to engage with North 
Korea, and simultaneously undermine the regime, was to 
sugarcoat the medicine, for example by inviting children of 
the elite to study in the United States.  Lankov asserted 
that no member of the North Korean elite would turn down the 
opportunity for his child to study in the United States; 
allowing a few thousand young people to study in the United 
States would have a significant effect in changing North 
Korean attitudes.  He also advocated cultural exchanges, 
suggesting Washington allow the North Korean soccer team or a 
North Korean cheerleading squad to visit the United States. 
 
ROK ECONOMIC ASSISTANCE POSTPONES REFORMS 
----------------------------------------- 
 
¶5.  (SBU) During the Cold War, said Lankov, North Korea had 
brilliantly played China and the Soviet Union off against one 
another, as the two competed for influence in Pyongyang by 
providing ever-larger amounts of assistance with ever-fewer 
conditions.  Now, Pyongyang was attempting to employ the same 
strategy to extract assistance from China and South Korea. 
In this regard, Lankov noted recent reports that Pyongyang 
may be reviving the Sinuiju project and speculated this might 
be an effort by China to "balance" the ROK's Kaesong 
Industrial Complex. 
 
¶6.  (SBU) Lankov complained that Seoul's strategy of 
"showering North Korea with aid" was good strategy but bad 
tactics, as it helped keep the Kim Jong-il regime in power 
but did not lead to any positive changes in the DPRK.  On the 
contrary, supporting the regime without inducing changes 
merely postponed the inevitable collapse, while the 
underlying problems worsened and thereby exacerbated the 
ultimate crisis.  By obviating the need for Pyongyang to 
reform, said Lankov, the ROK's unconditional assistance would 
ultimately kill more people than it would save. 
 
DPRK DOES NOT REFORM, BUT SURRENDERS TO PUBLIC PRACTICES 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
 
¶7.  (SBU) Lankov pointed out that economic reform in China 
had been a top-down process in which the government steadily 
and deliberately introduced market reforms by relaxing 
economic controls.  In contrast, "reform" in North Korea was 
a bottom-up process in which illegal economic activity 
eventually became so widespread that the government was 
forced to legalize what it could not eradicate.  The recent 
effort to reinstate the Public Distribution System for 
rationing food, however, showed that Pyongyang believed it 
had received enough assistance from China and the ROK that it 
could reassert control of the food market. 
 
RULING ELITE WILL NOT FRACTURE 
------------------------------ 
 
¶8.  (SBU) Lankov was doubtful that the Pyongyang ruling elite 
would ever fracture.  Members of the elite recognized that 
they must hang together or they would hang separately.  In 
the Soviet Union and China, members of the political elite 
had realized in the late 1980s that they could prosper in a 
capitalist system and had effectively opted out of the 
government system.  In North Korea, however, members of the 
elite recognized that if the political system were to 
collapse, the ROK would take control of the country and they 
would lose all of their privileges.  Moreover, members of the 
elite had done terrible things to their people, they knew it, 
and they knew there would be an inevitable day of reckoning 
if the ROK took over.  (Lankov added that for this very 
reason he believed there should be a general amnesty if it 
ever appeared the DPRK was about to collapse.)  In fact, the 
North Korean elite probably thought their fate would be worse 
than it actually would: they knew what they would do to their 
South Korean counterparts in the event they were able to take 
over the ROK and presumably assumed that the South Koreans 
would treat them in the same brutal manner. 
 
¶9.  (SBU) As long as Kim Jong-il did not die unexpectedly, 
and China and the ROK continued to prop up the regime, said 
Lankov, the DPRK could probably survive for another 7-10 
years.  In the event that Kim Jong-il died suddenly, however, 
Lankov predicted the regime would collapse very quickly. 
 
NUCLEAR PROGRAM FIRST A BARGAINING CHIP, NOW A DETERRENT 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
 
¶10.  (SBU) Lankov speculated that the DPRK nuclear program 
had originally been intended primarily as a bargaining chip 
that Pyongyang wanted to exchange for benefits, with 
deterrence as a secondary purpose.  In the wake of the Iraq 
War, however, these priorities had been reversed, with 
deterrence now the program's primary raison d'etre.  In 
addition, generous assistance from China and South Korea 
meant that Pyongyang no longer needed American assistance as 
much as it had in years past, hence it had less incentive to 
compromise on its nuclear program. 
 
RUSSIA:  FOCUSED ELSEWHERE 
-------------------------- 
 
¶11.  (SBU) Asked about Russia's policy toward the DPRK, 
Lankov opined that Moscow considered North Korea strictly a 
secondary issue.  Russia did not consider the DPRK nuclear 
program a threat, but wanted a Korean Peninsula that was 
stable, divided and non-nuclear (in that order of priority). 
Noting that North Korea's trade with the Netherlands and 
Thailand was greater than with Russia, Lankov characterized 
Russian policy as "broad smile diplomacy on the cheap." 
VERSHBOW