The Long View 2003-06-11: Unpalatable Measures

Let's talk about Korea. I don't know the area well enough to vouch for the accuracy of this article by Peter Lee, but one thing that seems clear is that a reunified Korea would be very rich, and very powerful, especially in comparison to Japan. The South Korean age distribution skews way younger than Japan's, and North Korea even more so, so we would expect to see Korea wax stronger even without reunification, but reunification would have a magnifying effect.

Korean and Japanese Age Pyramids 2015 CIA World Fact Book

Korean and Japanese Age Pyramids 2015 CIA World Fact Book

Economic strength wouldn't peak for a while, the North is in pretty sad shape right now, but there is tremendous opportunity in the Korean people. You could guess that eventually the North would converge with the South's level of development. There are about 50 million in South Korea, and about half that in North Korea. All else being equal, that will eventually result in an economy half again as big, or a little more once you subtract military spending that would no longer be needed.

Another thing that is clear is that some people would get very, very rich from reunification. Using China and Russia as models of what it looks like to modernize an economy held back by Communism, there will be immense opportunities, but the rewards will be distributed by political means, not economic ones.

Unpalatable Measures
Why may the current tit-for-tat attacks in the Levant be different from earlier tit-for-tat attacks? At the risk of sounding bloodthirsty, the latest exchanges may bring peace closer.
A quick review: President Bush just visited the region to preside over a handshake between the Israeli and Palestinian premiers regarding the "Road Map for Peace." Hamas almost immediately refused to take part in the cease-fire the agreement contemplates, and killed five Israeli soldiers over the weekend. Then the Israelis were rude enough to try to assassinate the Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, which made him visibly cranky on television. Just as I was writing this, a suicide bombing in Jerusalem killed 16 people; Israel struck at another two Hamas leaders in Gaza City.
One lesson we might draw is that prominent American officials who visit that area better have an awfully good reason for going there, because there are likely to be several more dead bodies soon after they leave. Something is different this time, though: the people exchanging fire are not the interlocutors. Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas agreed to the new peace process. His very office was created to pursue it. The people the Israelis are shooting at are Abbas's political enemies. (The position of Chairman Arafat is, as usual, ambiguous but unhelpful.) Eventually, it will occur to the leadership of Hamas that they are not only putting their own lives at risk, but that Abbas is likely to be the beneficiary. At that point, a cease-fire might look like a better idea.
* * *
Reports of cannibalism have been coming from North Korea. Supposedly, the combination of another bad harvest and drastic reductions in foreign food-aid has pushed people over the edge. One never knows what to make of reports of this type. Every famine occasions stories of cannibalism, oftentimes quite similar stories about a more or less open market in people parts. Such accounts are particularly hard to believe in a society as anti-commercial as North Korea. Still, there are other recent stories that suggest something may be about to happen there.
For one thing, the country is under increasing foreign pressure. Without quite declaring an embargo, the Japanese have become fussy about the regulation of the shipping to Korea, which means the North Koreans have been substantially cut off from foreign remittances and smuggled military technology. Meanwhile, the US is moving its forces back from the demilitarized zone. When the redeployment is complete, it will be possible to make airstrikes into the North without putting Americans at risk from the North's artillery. (The people in Seoul wish they could say as much.) What does the government of North Korea say about all this? They announced that they want to develop a nuclear deterrent, so they can divert to civilian needs the resources now dedicated to the huge army.
There are two problems with this. The first is that North Korea already has a nuclear deterrent. Even if it does not have a nuclear-armed ballistic missile, the US is not sure of that, so the US is reluctant to act preemptively. The other is that the era of nuclear deterrence is almost over, at least for small arsenals. The US will have some measure of defense against ballistic missiles next year. The Japanese will have it slightly later. It's hard to say what the North Korean government knows, but they surely know that. If the conventional military is going to be reduced, that will be because it is more of a menace to the regime than the US is.
* * *
No, I am not going to read Hillary Clinton's new memoir, Living History, not when I still have a perfectly good collection of the speeches of Neville Chamberlain to get through. (I do: a fine hardcover, entitled In Search of Peace; G. P. Putnam's Sons 1939.) The reviewer for the New York Times seemed less than pleased with Senator Clinton's book. However, I am not going to pan a book I have not read, even when it is written by one of Those People, who are once again up to Their Old Tricks.
A more obscure publishing event later this month will be the appearance of my own book, The Perfection of the West. This is another anthology, like Apocalypse & Future. Also like that book, it's a print-on-demand work published by Xlibris. I still have to approve an actual printed copy of The Perfection of the West before it becomes available; the Xlibris procedure involves working with PDF files before I see a final proof. When the time comes, I will put up a short promotional page about the book, as well as various little buttons and graphics on my site to draw people's attention. Anyone who decides to buy it will have the satisfaction of knowing that Barbara Walters played no part in the decision.
By the way, if you are ever given a choice between editing your own book and taking out your own appendix, don't dismiss the second option out of hand.
* * *
Speaking of clueless people being up to their old tricks, I see that NBC is likely to do a sequel to its 1980s miniseries, The Visitors. That's the one about a fleet of flying saucers that arrives on Earth, bearing aliens who look friendly and human but are actually man-eating reptiles.
This is an outrage. I have nothing against man-eating reptiles, but that series was a missed opportunity. The problem with The Visitors was that the writers had obviously started to adapt Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End but then chickened out. Childhood's End has some claim to being the most disturbing science-fiction novel ever written. In that book, the end of history comes in a way that is reminiscent of Vernor Vinge's "Singularity," or even Teilhard de Chardin's "Omega Point."
From what I have been able to determine, by the way, Teilhard and Clarke did not influence each other. Both may have been influenced by Olaf Stapledon, whose works feature the idea that the crown of evolution may take the form of a sudden, worldwide jump to collective consciousness.
That story would not have been too hard to tell. It would have required two sets of characters: one for when the spaceships arrive "now," and one for the end of days that comes 80 years later. However, the basic premise would have been no harder to get across than that of Forbidden Planet. There was even an X-Files episode about the Singularity. The people guilty of The Visitors attempted none of this, however. They took the image of the big flying saucers hovering over the world's major cities, and they took the idea that the aliens Are Not What They Seem, and then they turned their brains off. They even made the UN Secretary General a Swede rather than a Finn, as in the Clarke book, perhaps on the assumption the audience is ignorant of geography. [The assumption may be correct, but the audience has no more idea where Sweden is than where Finland is.]
NBC may get its comeuppance for this. The subtext for The Visitors was anti-militarist and mildly paranoid. The implication was that anyone wearing a uniform is a Nazi. These sentiments have become anachronistic.
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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