The Melbourne Metropolitan Korean Studies Seminar Series:
‘Is the DPRK really a ‘Train Wreck in Slow Motion’? The Prospects for a People’s Power Rebellion in North Korea’
Dr Andy Jackson (Monash University Korean Studies)
Date: Wednesday 28th March 2018, 1pm-2pm
Location: Japanese Studies Centre Auditorium, 12 Ancora Imparo Way
Predictions of the collapse of North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) have arisen repeatedly in the last thirty years. One scenario put forward by both researchers and journalists has been a People’s Power (or popular) rebellion. Victor Cha, for example, argues that cases of unrest since the 1980s show that an ideological clash between official state policy and a rapidly marketizing society will result in an imminent rebellion. This paper uses theories about (1) regional occurrences of rebellion and (2) military defection from autocratic regimes to opposition movements. It analyses data about unrest (food riots, protests and violent clashes) taken from researchers, defector testimony and South Korean media reports since the 1980s and examines the military institutional structure of the DPRK. The available data indicates there is a highly uneven pattern of unrest that does not spread beyond remote coastal or border regions in the northeast and northwest. Reduced levels of violence during unrest suggest authorities have developed new strategies using counteractive methods targeted at individuals rather than opening fire on crowds. These new strategies may have helped hinder the spread of violence. The overall patterns of unrest do not point to the type of central state collapse that occurred in Romania in 1989 or Tunisia in 2011, but a regionally restricted and potentially bloody conflict. The DPRK lacks a dissident political elite capable of leading an opposition movement, and neither does it have the type of personalistic institutional ruling structure that increases the likelihood of military defection to an opposition movement. In sum, the likelihood of a popular rebellion in the DPRK is far from certain.