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Capsule Review

The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future

In This Review

The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future
The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future
By Victor Cha
Ecco, 2012 544 pp. $29.99 Purchase

This is a meaty, fast-paced portrait of North Korean society, economy, politics, and foreign policy by an expert who has studied the regime as a scholar and interacted with its officials while serving on the National Security Council under U.S. President George W. Bush. Cha explains, among other things, why the much-abused North Korean people seem to love the ruling Kim dynasty, why life in Pyongyang looks normal despite a long-running famine, why the West underplays human rights when negotiating with North Korea, and why Beijing supports Pyongyang despite tensions between the two governments. He defends the Bush administration’s tough talk and the short-lived agreements it reached with North Korea in 2005 and 2007. Cha claims that Pyongyang’s goal is not just American acknowledgment of its right to keep nuclear weapons and a U.S. guarantee not to attack but also an American pledge to protect the Kim dynasty’s rule. He concludes, however, with the prediction that the regime will fall within ten years. The United States needs to talk with a reluctant China about how the two sides would handle this eventuality.

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