Inside the Red Box: North Korea's Post-Totalitarian Politics

In This Review

Inside the Red Box: North Korea's Post-totalitarian Politics (Contemporary Asia in the World)
By Patrick McEachern
Columbia University Press, 2010
320 pp. $35.00

McEachern is a U.S. Foreign Service officer based in Seoul who analyzes Pyongyang policymaking. Instead of the usual view of a one-man decision-making process, he proposes a "post-totalitarian institutionalist" model in which three bureaucratic actors with different views -- the party, the military, and the cabinet -- compete to shape the information and options available to Kim Jong Il and the ways in which his decisions are implemented. The approach helps explain many of the contradictions and oscillations of North Korean policy. The different positions of the three bureaucracies arise from their distinctive missions -- the party's, to protect its ideological vision; the military's, to defend state security; and the cabinet's, to promote economic survival. All elites, meanwhile, share an interest in the survival of their dysfunctional regime. Even the most pragmatic institution, the cabinet, is unwilling to trade away nuclear weapons in the face of what it sees as an existential threat from the United States. There are no real soft-liners.

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