Impossible State

North Korea, Past and Future

“An eye-opening view of the closed, repressive dictatorship of North Korea.... Cha aims to get at some of the pressing questions since Kim Jong-il’s death and the succession of the utterly unknown younger son, Kim Jong-un… A useful, pertinent work for understanding the human story behind the headlines.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Victor Cha pulls back the veil on the Hermit Kingdom to reveal the secret trials and contradictions of the enigmatic land where time stands still. The Impossible State is provocative, frightening, and never more relevant than today as an untested new leader takes charge of the world’s most unpredictable nuclear power.” —Andrea Mitchell, NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent

The Impossible State is a powerful portrait of one of the world’s most troubled and troublesome countries by a leading regional expert.  It is also a fascinating, behind-the-scenes account of recent American foreign policy by a leading official.  Two major books for the price of one—a must-read combination for anybody interested in Korea, East Asia, or global security more generally.” —Gideon Rose, Editor, Foreign Affairs

“Ask those who deal with national security what worries them most and at the top of the list or near it you’ll always find North Korea, a place about which we know little to nothing. That’s why Victor Cha’s book is so valuable. He gives us the best picture yet of a country so cut off from the rest of the world that its people have never been told America landed a man on the moon. One of America’s leading scholars on North Korea, Cha brings insight that comes from years of research combined with on the scene observation of those he writes about.” —Bob Schieffer, CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent, and Host, Face the Nation

There is no society more closed off from the world today then North Korea. Not even Burma or Syria rival the level of control found in the country. From an intelligence perspective, North Korea is one of the hardest to penetrate. What can be seen from satellites is only a small portion of that which is buried deep underground in 11,000 tunnels and caves. With the death of Kim Jong-il in December 2011, it has become more paramount than ever to understand this mysterious country. In his new book, The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future, former director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council Victor Cha argues that North Korea is in an untenable and combustible situation—one that the next U.S. president will have no choice but to confront.

How did North Korea become the “Impossible State”? How has it survived when many others have long since collapsed? How could the leadership have made so many poor decisions? Why don’t people rise up against the injustices? What does the leadership ultimately want? The answers to these questions require complex answers. As Cha explains:

  • To understand the affection the North Koreans have for the Kim family you must look to the history of the ideology and the cult of personality.
  • To understand the nuclear weapons threats requires a close look at the bad economic choices that have been made for the past 60 years.
  • To understand the human rights abuses requires an examination of the intense paranoia of the regime.

More often than not, the news coming from the country is negative—horrifying human rights conditions, military provocations or threats of nuclear attack. To outsiders, the country seems isolated—few are allowed in and even fewer leave—and led by an unpredictable leadership. But as Cha points out in The Impossible State, this view merely scratches the surface. Drawing on his academic and policy expertise, as well as details of his time on the ground in Pyongyang, Cha outlines the history, ideology, and mission of North Korea’s leadership to explain why the regime may be closer to its end than many think.

Engagingly written and authoritative, The Impossible State offers much-needed answers to the world’s most pressing questions about North Korea and ultimately warns of the regime’s potential collapse—a fate for which the United States and the rest of the world is woefully unprepared.

Victor Cha
Senior Vice President for Asia and Korea Chair