It could be argued that North Korea qualifies as a failed state. The regime is so unstable and insecure it requires a totalitarian grip on every citizen in order to survive. The government aspires to control every aspect of life to ensure the perpetuation of its power. It mainly achieves this by indoctrinating its citizens from birth and maintaining an atmosphere of fear and constant battle against invisible foreign enemies.
In reality, the allegedly perfect regime is ludicrously incompetent and inconsistent. Supposedly, there is housing for everyone, but no citizen can choose where to live. Supposedly, there is schooling for everyone, but no one can choose what they want to learn. Supposedly, there is universal healthcare, but there are no medicines to cure patients. On the one hand, individual initiative of any kind is stamped out, on the other hand, the government cannot provide basic necessities for its citizens, most importantly, food. On top of that, dissenters, nonconformists, critics and others who are considered traitors to the regime are regularly imprisoned, tortured or executed, often together with their entire family. (The list of known human rights violations is too long to go into any further.)
This begs the question, with such a tenuous grip on power, how does the North Korean regime manage to survive?
That question seems to have an easier answer than expected. When we consider the interests of the major players in Northeast Asia, it is not difficult to see that it is in no-one’s interest to unite Korea, save for 24 million North Koreans.
- North Korea: Obviously, it is not in the regime’s interest to terminate its own existence.
- South Korea: Presuming the South Korean government would become the government of a United Korea, the costs of rehabilitating the North would be absolutely crippling the South Korean economy. As long as it never again comes to a war on the Korean peninsula, the South can continue to prosper.
- China: A United Korea under a Seoul government would become a westernised American ally who would share a border with China. Also, at present, China maintains friendly relations with North Korea (i.e. they supply bailouts for the regime), if North Korea seized to exist the Chinese would lose their power over the regime and therefore lose a bargaining chip with the United States. Finally, in the current situation, everything the Chinese government does is vanilla compared to its wacky neighbour.
- Japan: The Japanese do not like the idea of a United Korea because of its military potential. Furthermore, in the long run, a United Korea could become an even more successful economic rival of Japan than South Korea already is now.
- United States: The unification of Korea would most probably diffuse all current political and military tension; the Koreans would, therefore, no longer require American military presence on the peninsula. Furthermore, stability in the region would no longer justify the currently substantial American military presence in Korea, Japan, and the Pacific Northeast. Also, the knock-on effect of the lack of possible conflicts would most probably lead to a drop in the sale of arms to South Korea and Japan.
- Russia: A similar objection as China. A South Korean-style unification of the Korean peninsula would mean a stronger American ally in Northeast Asia.
“Ask yourself if you really wish it was true that there was a celestial dictatorship that watched over you from the moment you were born, actually the moment you were conceived, all through life, night and day, knew your thoughts, waking and sleeping, could in fact convict you of thought crime, the absolute definition of a dictatorship, can convict you for what you think and what you privately want, what you’re talking about to yourself, that admonishes you like this under permanent surveillance, control and supervision and doesn’t even let go of you when you’re dead because that’s when the real fun begins. Now, my question to you is this, who wishes that that were true?” – Christopher Hitchens