Book review: Chan Young Bang, Transition Beyond Denuclearisation: A Bold Challenge for Kim Jong Un

AuthorHong Kong Nguyen
Published date01 August 2022
Date01 August 2022
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews
Chan Young Bang, Transition Beyond Denuclearisation: A Bold Challenge
for Kim Jong Un. Palgrave Macmillan, 2020, pp. xiii + 169. (ebook).
ISBN: 978-981-15-4316-6.
A rogue state armed with nuclear weapons, like North Korea, poses infinite threats
to international security. To address these threats, there has been no shortage of
studies on the North Korean puzzle, particularly how, ever since the partition of
the Korean Peninsula in 1945, such an increasingly embattled regime has survived
to this day and what prospects lie ahead. Explanations have focused on debunking
North Korea’s possession and development of nuclear weapons, its deterrence
strategies and the regional security countermeasures. The book Transition Beyond
Denuclearisation: A Bold Challenge for Kim Jong Un by Chan Young Bang is
thus an unexpected and refreshing addition to the literature saturated with talks
of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Born and raised on the Ongjin
Peninsula (present-day North Korea), Bang experienced first-hand the devastating
consequences of family separation and execution when the Korean War broke
out in 1950. With his expertise in economic transitions in both academic and
practical realms, the author offers not only an authentic voice on the topic but also
a systematic and nuanced cost-benefit analysis of the North Korean path towards
economic modernisation.
In five succinct chapters, the author delves into the roots of economic reform
failures, calculates the economic—and eventually political—costs of nuclear
brinkmanship and sanctions and lays out a viable transition blueprint for North
Korea beyond denuclearisation. The decay of North Korea’s socialist system is
attributed to the distortions and erosions of five pillars for regime viability,
namely, (a) the ideology and indoctrination, (b) the successful development of the
nuclear programme, (c) the tools of political repression and social control, (d)
bottom-up marketisation and (e) the small elitist coalition leadership. Bang’s
methodical analysis upholds the well-known image of North Korea as a failed
state grappling with structural economic issues and juggling its evermore limited
options. In arguing that Kim Jong Un would be a ‘rational actor’ and that an
insistence on nuclear armament would risk regime survivability, the author makes
a case of pursuing economic opening and reform as a trade-off for denuclearisation.
He estimates that North Korea needs at a minimum of USD 30 billion per year
over the coming decade in order to achieve an annual GDP growth rate of 10%,
and this USD 300 billion economic development fund would be mobilised by all
five stakeholders—the USA, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
9(2) 347–361, 2022
© The Author(s) 2022
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23477970221098502

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