Yongusil 16: Conceptual Transfer and the Nordic Model–Robert Winstanley-Chesters at the Nordic NIAS Conference
Governments and institutions the world over have watched in awe and jealousy at the social, economic, and health metrics of the Nordic nations, who apparently developed a seemingly magic formula for social cohesion, educational excellence and general happiness. While recent violence rooted in issues of race, poverty and immigration and the capture of politics by conservatives in Sweden—and simple racism in Denmark—has taken the edge off the wider world’s metaphorical buffing of Scandinavia’s political silverware, the institutional and social equilibrium arrived at by the most northern European nations still gives the analyst ground for interest in their local conception of geo-political issues.
Nordic politics have in recent years also engaged in interaction with East Asia both from more conventional positive directions (see the mobile phone diplomacy between Finland and South Korea, most infrastructurally represented by Finnair’s direct flights from Helsinki to Incheon), and through engagement with Asian problematics (Martti Ahtisaari, ex-President of Finland and current member of The Elders and his interaction with the Korean Peninsula, for example). How intriguing, therefore, that the latest Nordic Institute for Asian Studies, NIAS Nordic Council conference should focus on intellectual transference on a geo-political scale, but obviously with particular reference to Asia.
Robert Winstanley-Chesters has long argued for a more holistic and considered understanding of North Korea’s information transfers across the world. Pyongyang’s history of engagement of less developed nations through the non-aligned movement in the agricultural and developmental sectors serves as a key example and one which is generally extraordinarily under researched. More deeply considered has been the technical and intellectual exchange between nations of the Warsaw Pact and North Korea; both Nicholas Levi and Balazs Salontai having written very interestingly on intellectual and academic exchange between Poland and Hungary respectively.
In the modern era, however, the transfer of concepts, ideas, and capacity between North Korea and nations external to it has become even more subjected to contest and dispute, and this has clouded analysis and investigation. This contest has not been diffused by Pyongyang’s inept collection and analysis of empirically generated data and extreme partiality when it comes to making any collected information available and accessible. But the modern era has in fact seen wide ranging and extensive progress in the North Korean context when it comes to information and conceptual exchange.
Winstanley-Chesters in his paper “From Pyongyang to Kojetin: Conceptual transfer between external environmental actors and the DPRK, the CDM and UNFCCC process and beyond” examines historical examples of intellectual and conceptual transference between the foreign nations and institutions and North Korea, before examining more contemporary examples of this practice. Particularly, he focuses on matters following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the incorporation of environmental thematic and approach within new paradigms of institutional functionality in North Korea and specifically on the post-arduous march exchanges with United Nations organizations and other foreign NGOs.
While it is extremely unlikely that Pyongyang will ever adopt the Nordic model as it is commonly categorized, North Korea has engaged with the UNFCCC process and other new developmental modes. Those modalities which could be perhaps designated as demonstrative of environmental awareness (such as organic farming and faunal conservation), surely if not generative of too much hope or positivity towards the North’s future direction, at least underline the possibility of more positive conceptual exchange in the future. Winstanley-Chester’s intriguing paper again asserts ultimately that in Pyongyang’s case, all things are possible… even the export of organic dairy products.