There was something very telling left out of this tentative agreement between North Korea and the United States. Although the last hope for peace, justice, and goodness on Earth insisted that the distribution of food be rigorously monitored “to ensure that the aid goes to the neediest”, there was no mention of the North’s internal propaganda apparatus, or whatever you want to call it.
The question is not will the North stop making nuclear weapons, or will the North stop diverting all of its food aid to the rich and the military, but will the North stop depicting the United States as the Great Satan, South Korea as a terrified capitalist puppet, and its own government as the only hope for the salvation of the Korean people?
Will the North stop being itself?
We have to look at the North’s other recent actions to determine if anything else dovetails with this recent announcement. Just yesterday they were threatening, like clockwork, to kill everybody; and for the last week there has been a modest protest movement in the South to prevent the repatriation (and certain death) of several North Korean refugees who were captured in China. This all sounds very much like the North Korea we have all come to know and love over the past six or seven decades of its glorious existence.
Now if North Korea had ignored the joint US-ROK military drills, and if the North had simply let those refugees go—as I don’t think the Chinese really want to give them up to the North’s concentration camps—then I think we would have something to talk about. But since they behaved as they usually do in these situations, it’s safe to assume that they’ll behave as they usually do in the case of food and nuclear weapons: they’ll take as much of the aid as they can, they’ll find a way to funnel it to the military and to the elite, and then as soon as they think they have enough they’ll expel the weapons inspectors and resume the development of their nuclear program.
So don’t hold your breath. It would be suicidal for the elite in North Korea to give up on their raison d’être—naturally! obviously!—which is that they are the true leaders of the Korean people, and that one day they will control the entire peninsula. To officially accept food aid in exchange for abandoning their nuclear weapons, and to announce these changes in a truthful fashion to the proletariat of the North, would be the equivalent of saying something to the effect of, that’s it, the jig is up, the game is over, we’re tired of this shit, let’s just surrender to the South and get it over with. It ain’t gonna happen. You’d have better luck getting Rick Santorum to admit that god is a superstition.
I just told my Korean wife about this. “North Korea said they’re going to stop making nuclear weapons. America is going to give them food.” “Huh,” she exclaimed, “Liars. Fucking liars.”