Last week, a 19 year-old North Korean army private fled “repeated physical abuse at the hands of his superiors” and “the realities of his impoverished country,” walked and rode for a week as a fugitive, crossed the heavily mined DMZ, and fell asleep next to a South Korean guard post.* Surely this young soldier knows that his family will now face terrible retribution for what he has done. We can even speculate that others have tried, and failed, at similar attempts that we’ve never heard about.
What conditions cause such desperation? How prevalent are they within the North Korean military? What can incidents like these tell us about morale and readiness in the North Korean armed forces? Finally, do incidents like this suggest different approaches for policymakers who seek to prevent war, and to make conditions inside North Korea less brutal for its people?
A careful review of open-source reports suggests a steady stream of defections and fratricides within the North Korean military, but that the largest-scale mutiny of which we know (since the 6th Corps mutiny in 1996) was at the brigade level:
June 2005: A 20 year-old private deserts his anti-aircraft unit and walks across the DMZ. A South Korean civilian finds him in the back of a truck, eating instant ramyeon noodles and ChocoPies.
Yet again, a news story is reporting that North Korea is sending workers abroad to toil in conditions tantamount to slavery:
When the North Korean carpenter was offered a job in Kuwait in 1996, he leapt at the chance. He was promised $120 a month, an unimaginable wage for most workers in his famine-stricken country, where most people are not allowed to travel abroad.
But for Rim Il, the deal soured from the start: Under a moonlit night, the bus carrying him and a score of other fresh arrivals pulled into a desert camp cordoned off with barbed-wire fences. There, 1,800 workers, sent by North Korea to earn badly needed foreign currency, were living together under the watchful eyes of North Korean government supervisors, Mr. Rim said. They worked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or, often, midnight, seven days a week, doing menial jobs at construction sites.
“We only took a Friday afternoon off twice a month but had to spend the time studying books or watching videos about the greatness of our leader back home,” Mr. Rim said at a recent news conference in Seoul, the South Korean capital. “We were never paid our wages, and when we asked our superiors about them, they said we should think of starving people back home and thank the leader for giving us this opportunity of eating three meals a day.” [N.Y.
Steinem, on the other hand, is known for her accomplishments fighting for the rights of women, so rather than rehash old arguments with Ahn, I’d prefer to focus on a point of potential agreement with Steinem — that the women of North Korea could really use the support of a fearless feminist. In that spirit, I decided to suggest a few questions that Steinem should ask her hosts in Pyongyang if she’s truly concerned about the status of women in North Korea:
In The Washington Post, Ellen Nakashima describes how Sony’s decision to cancel the premiere of The Interview catalyzed the Obama Administration’s decision to blame North Korea publicly:
The next day, alarmed by the surrender, President Barack Obama convened his top officials in the White House Situation Room and, based on their unanimous recommendation, decided to take an action the United States had never dared before in response to a cyberattack by another nation: name the government responsible and punish it. [….]
The blocking of Sony’s freedom of expression, on top of a highly damaging hack, is what ultimately compelled officials to act, in the name of deterrence.
“The argument I made was the whole world is watching how we as a nation respond,” said Adm. Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, who, other officials said, was at the previously undisclosed meeting.
“And if we don’t acknowledge this, if we don’t name names here, it will only — I’m concerned — encourage others to decide: ‘Well, this must not be a red line for the United States. This must be something they’re comfortable [with] and willing to accept,’ ” Rogers said at an international cybersecurity conference at Fordham University last week.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee held a briefing on North Korea and the Sony hack today. Three witnesses appeared:
The Honorable Sung Kim
Special Representative for North Korea Policy and
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan
U.S. Department of State [full text of statement]
The Honorable Daniel Glaser
Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing
Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence
U.S. Department of the Treasury [full text of statement]
Brigadier General Gregory J. Touhill, USAF, Retired
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity Operations and Programs
U.S. Department of Homeland Security [full text of statement]
Here’s Chairman Royce’s opening statement.
In all the years I’ve gone to these things, I don’t think I’ve ever seen more bipartisan unity about, or rage toward, North Korea. Some members continue to labor under misconceptions about what our sanctions are and what they can do, but all of them want sanctions intensified. One Democrat, Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, said the solution to the North Korea problem is “to end North Korea’s existence as an independent entity and reunify the Korean Peninsula.”
If anything, there was even more rage directed at China, for knowingly hosting the hackers who attacked U.S. interests and threatened Americans from Chinese soil, and for failing for years to enforce U.N. sanctions against North Korea.
I could be wrong, but I doubt even Vlad Putin would violate U.N. Security Council Sanctions so blatantly as this:
North Korea made an attempt to purchase advanced fighter jets from Russia by sending a special envoy, a senior South Korean military official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday.
“Choe Ryong-hae, who visited Moscow as a special envoy of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in November last year, asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to provide Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets,” the military source said.
Little has been disclosed about the discussions between Choe and Putin. Choe, a member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, met with Putin on Nov. 18 and delivered a letter from Kim, the Russian presidential office has said, without providing further details. The Kremlin said the meeting was not open to the press, and no press conference was arranged afterward. [Joongang Ilbo]
According to the report, the Russians gave Choe a tour of the factory in Khabarovsk where the jets are produced. The very fact that the Russians gave Choe a tour of a plant producing something that North Korea isn’t allowed to buy probably suggests what Putin’s real game is — to show much trouble he could make for us if he chose to, even as the Russian economy dissolves on his watch due to all the trouble we’ve made for him.
WASHINGTON, Jan. 5 (Yonhap) — A U.S. congresswoman said Monday she will introduce a bill calling for re-listing North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism in response to the communist nation’s alleged cyber-attack on Sony Pictures.
“North Korea should have never been taken off the state sponsor of terrorism list and should be reinstated immediately,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said in comments emailed to Yonhap News Agency. “I will soon be reintroducing legislation to redesignate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism and to ratchet up the sanctions pressure on the North Korean regime.”
The congresswoman welcomed the latest sanctions that the administration of President Barack Obama imposed on North Korea last week in response to the Sony hack, but she stressed that what’s more important is to enforce those sanctions.
“Simply talking tough on sanctions without enforcing them in order to manipulate public opinion, as this White House has done with regard to North Korea and other rogue regimes, will only diminish whatever credibility and influence the administration has left while putting the security of the United States at risk,” she said. [Yonhap]
Funny how the administration says an SSOT listing would be “symbolic,”yet so stubbornly refuses to do it. If it’s only symbolic, what are they afraid of?
Section 1. (a) All property and interests in property that are in the United States, that hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of any United States person of the following persons are blocked and may not be transferred, paid, exported, withdrawn, or otherwise dealt in: any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State:
(i) to be an agency, instrumentality, or controlled entity of the Government of North Korea or the Workers’ Party of Korea;
(ii) to be an official of the Government of North Korea;
(iii) to be an official of the Workers’ Party of Korea;
Emphasis mine. I’ll interrupt the list here to ask the obvious question: Does this mean that Kim Jong Un and his regime’s billions in offshore slush funds are blocked, to the extent those funds are denominated in dollars? If I’d only read the Executive Order, I’d answer “yes” unequivocally. If Kim Jong Un isn’t an “official of the Government of North Korea,” the Pope might as well be a Unitarian.