By Park Sang-seek, The Korea Herald/ANN
North Korea and Syria are two powder kegs in the world at the moment, and by comparing them, we may be able to find solutions to both crises.
The North Korean crisis is directly related to the division of Korea into two separated states by the Allied Powers in World War II in 1945, whereas the Syrian crisis was touched off by a domestic democratic movement influenced by the Arab Spring in 2011.
The main cause of the North Korean crisis is the North Korean regime’s complete distrust and antagonism toward South Korea and the U.S. Since the U.S. and China are allied with South Korea and North Korea respectively, they are deeply involved in the inter-Korean conflict.
In the Syrian case, the democratic movement turned into an inveterate antagonism between the Alawites (a Shiite sect) and the Sunnis. Since the al-Assad regime is supported by the Alawites, the democratic movement turned into a sectarian war between the Shiites and the Sunnis within the country and in the Arab world — the former supported by Iran, the leading Shiite state, and the latter by Saudi Arabia and other Sunni neighbors.
Antagonism between the U.S. and Russia is also pulled into this domestic conflict in which the U.S. supports the pro-Western rebel forces and Russia directly supports the al-Assad regime. Russia wants to keep Syria as its foothold in the Middle East.
In contrast, the U.S. is interested not so much in supporting the democratic forces as in preventing the Islamic extremist groups, particularly the Islamic State group, from taking over Syria and spreading their influence to other parts of the world.
There is a similarity between the Syrian and Korean situations in this sense.
The only difference is that in the case of the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. and China are the main external competitors, whereas in the Syrian case the main non-Arab competitors are the U.S. and Russia.
Kim Jong Un and Bashar al-Assad share a similar view of the outside world. Al-Assad once said that “the conflict in Syria is due to enemies outside of Syria and they would be taught a lesson.” Kim will completely agree with this view. Both look for a scapegoat for their internal difficulties.
The North Korean delegation told Assad in 2015 that North Korea and Syria are targeted because they are among those which enjoy “real independence.”
Real independence implicitly refers to WMDs (nuclear and biological weapons). It should be noted that North Korea has once aided Syria for the latter’s development of nuclear and missile programs.
North Korea and Syria also share similarity politically: Both are ruled by a totalitarian dictatorship. Kim and al-Assad are political twins: They will never abandon their absolute political power in any circumstances. They identify themselves with their own state, and therefore they are willing to die with their own state.
On the other hand, it is much easier for Kim than al-Assad to indoctrinate his people because Koreans are secular and homogeneous but Syrians are divided into different religious and sectarian groups which seek autonomy.
The North Korean regime is strongly and tightly armed with one single ideology and spiritual determination. They are “juche” (self-reliance) ideology and the partisan spirit. Juche ideology stands for the independent spirit in all aspects of the state – political, economic and socio-cultural.