North Korea’s State-Loyalty Advantage

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Although North Korea’s northern border remains easy to cross, and North Koreans are now well aware of the prosperity enjoyed south of the demilitarized zone, Kim Jong Il continues to rule over a stable and supportive population. Kim enjoys mass support due to his perceived success in strengthening the race and humiliating its enemies. Thanks in part to decades of skillful propaganda, North Koreans generally equate the race with their state, so that ethno-nationalism and state-loyalty are mutually enforcing. In this respect North Korea enjoys an important advantage over its rival, for in the Republic of Korea ethno-nationalism militates against support for a state that is perceived as having betrayed the race. South Koreans’ “good race, bad state” attitude is reflected in widespread sympathy for the people of the North and in ambivalent feelings toward the United States and Japan, which are regarded as friends of the republic but enemies of the race. But North Korea cannot survive forever on the public perception of state legitimacy alone. The more it loses its economic distinctiveness vis-à-vis the rival state, the more the Kim regime must compensate with triumphs on the military and nuclear fronts. Another act of aggression against the Republic of Korea may well take place in the months ahead, not only to divert North Korean public attention from the failures of the consumer-oriented “Strong and Prosperous Country” campaign, but also to strengthen the appeasement-minded South Korean opposition in the run-up to the presidential election in 2012.
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