This article was prepared by colleagues from Sinonk.com, a major platform for research on NK issues.
ommentators and analysts whose focus is north of the DMZ are kept mightily busy by their investigative and research charge, a truth especially so in recent months. Nicolas Levi, a long-time associate of and contributor to Sino-NK, and currently an Assistant Professor of the Polish Academy of Sciences, has been one of those kept working by the latest activities in Pyongyang. Levi’s interests are wider than simply the field of contemporary North Korean politics, extending into philosophic and structural contribution made to society and culture in the wider Korean Peninsula.
Levi’s policy paper for The Polish Institute of International Affairs entitled “Insanity or Part of a Plan? Prospects for Changes to North Korean Domestic and Foreign Policies” refers to Hazel Smith’s conceptualization of the analytic triad: North Korea as “mad, sad or rational actor“ Levi’s well structured review and coagulation of themes in contemporary systems and political scholarship is therefore well grounded theoretically.
Primarily Dr. Levi seeks to place the developing themes of economic and developmental reform within North Korea’s institutions in the wider frame of institutional developmental, especially post-Jang. Levi sees, intriguingly, the consolidation of power around the person and institution of Kim Jong-un in his initial years of reign as a diminution of the power, place and authority of the Korean People’s Army and the wider institutional complex of the North Korean military.
Levi’s analysis might also feed into the direction of last week’s Yongusil focusing on Green and Denney’s utilization of Peter Evan’s “pockets of efficiency” within a North Korean developmental context. We might see Jang’s death and the inevitable collapse in its wake of those “pockets of efficiency” controlled by him or his connected cohort as a reassertion of military control over those pockets, those institutions forming them and the streams of trade and capital around which they were constructed.
Levi also raises the issue of North Korean foreign policy and how this diminution of military influence within its governmental and developmental institutions might relate to the Special Economic Zones such as Kaesong and Rason, the majority of which are connected, at least in terms of their supply lines to external/foreign partners.
Levi posits the possibility that a pre-Jang reduction in military authority might give Kim Jong-un and the North Korean leadership apparatus some scope for loosening to reducing the level of hostility it exposes foreign nations to in its media and official narratives and perhaps some possibility for diplomatic breakthroughs. Dr. Levi sets out his framework for diplomatic action and engagement given this context, but it will be fascinating to watch the impact of the collapse of Jang’s ‘faction’ or support network on Pyongyang’s future relations with those with whom it engaged.
Nicolas Levi has also contributed a more trans-peninsular and East Asian analysis of the impact of Confucianism on contemporary South Korean and Japanese culture to the latest edition of the Polish Academy of Sciences’ Journal Acta Asiatica Varsoviensia. In his article for this journal, Levi tracks the impact of Confucian filial principles in the modern age on the differing nationalisms either side of the East Sea/Sea of Japan. The same issue also includes work from the esteemed Russian academic Larisa Zabrovskaia (a member of the Institute of History, Archaeology and Ethnography of the People of the Far East, Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladivostok, whose work we have covered before at the Yongusil) writing on diplomatic relations in East Asian following the Fukushima incident and Frauka Kempka (of Martin Luther University, Halle Wittenberg), on the contrasting conceptions of ethnic homogeneity between Germany and East Asian nations. It seems that Levi (and others’ work), is representative of a vibrant and multi-focused Polish academy, busy, as usual at analysis and investigation.