Red Rogue: The Persistent Challenge of North Korea

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Red Rogue: The Persistent Challenge of North Korea by Bruce E. Bechtol Jr. Potomac Books (http://, 22841 Quicksilver Drive, Dulles, Virginia 20166, 2007, 288 pages, $23.96 (hardcover).

Deciphering the enigma that is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has become somewhat of a cottage industry, even more so now that the Hermit Kingdom has become the newest member of the family of nuclear powers. The general consensus among Korean scholars is that, far from perpetuating the popular madman myth, Kim Chong Il and the North Korean leadership have adroidy leveraged their limited options to skillfully employ the art of brinkmanship, with the effect of driving the political and military agenda of northeast Asia to maintain their hold on power, regardless of the negative impact on the North Korean people. In Red Rogue: The Persistent Challenge of North Korea, Bruce Bechtol updates this thesis by expounding on how the North Koreans have changed dieir military, diplomatic, and economic strategy since 11 September 2001 to achieve these ends.

Bechtol acknowledges that the nuclear situation in the region has become more critical but believes it is a mistake to concentrate efforts solely on weapons of mass destruction. Although the author concedes that the North's weakened military makes forced unification of the peninsula under a communist regime unlikely, he contends that the DPRK's conventional forces still pose a considerable threat and can influence the political environment. Bechtol points out that the concentration of artillery and rockets aimed toward Seoul can be as much a deterrent as nuclear warheads. His analysis of a 2002 naval skirmish between North and South Korean vessels further supports his point. Bechtol submits that the clash along the Northern Limit Line separating the two countries off the western coast was most likely neither a navigational error by the Nordi Korean sailors nor a staged confrontation by military hard-liners opposed to Kim Chong Il's policies. Radier, the naval engagement was almost certainly a deliberate provocation by the North Korean leadership. He extols several possible motives for the North Korean decision to initiate the scuffle, to include highlighting the disputed border, and suggests that the timing of the event to correspond with Seoul's hosting of the World Cup soccer games supports his theory. Bechtol also provides a comprehensive study of the DPRK's nefarious international business enterprises, perhaps one of the least-covered aspects in the study of Nordi Korea. He does an admirable job of describing how the Nordi Koreans depend on selling illegal drugs and counterfeiting US currency and American cigarettes to prop up their ailing economy and applauds the efforts of international law enforcement to deal with these issues. But he laments the failure of the US State Department to confront the North Koreans for fear of complicating efforts to reach a nuclear agreement.

In the debate of engagement versus isolation of Nordi Korea, count Bechtol among the supporters of the latter policy. Red Rogue was published prior to both the Soudi Korean presidential elections in 2007 and the shutdown of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear facility in July 2007. …