2003 May 12 Monday
Story Of Defector From North Korean Army Women's Artillery Unit

Writing from Seoul South Korean for The Christian Science Monitor Robert Marquand reports on the story of Baek Yi, a defector from an elite women's artillery unit.

After she joined, Baek was no longer allowed to speak to ordinary North Korean citizens, on pain of being discharged. She was told that mixing with civilians might cause her to "go soft," as she puts it. "Being soft is the worst thing that can happen to you in the People's Army," because it means you are not thinking from the basis of going to war.

Unfortunately Marquand either did not ask her what most other soldiers in the North Korean Army believe about the regime and the rest of the world or she provided little insight when asked. His article is interesting but doesn't provide enough information about the core question of the state of mind of most of the soldiers serving in the North Korean military today.

My guess is that most of the people serving in the North Korean military simply do not know enough about the rest of the world to realize just how much worse off they are than South Koreans or Americans. The United States should carry out various sorts of covert operations to circumvent and defeat the mechanisms which the North Korean regime uses to keep the North Korean people ignorant of the outside world. The North Korean people live in an information monopoly controlled by the North Korean regime and even a partial defeat of that monopoly will weaken the control that the regime holds over the populace.

At this point the United States is many months or even years away from an outright war against the North Korean regime. Also, a formal UN agreement for economic sanctions that would include a closing of North Korea's border with China to aid and trade seems a distant prospect. The United States can not carry out preemptive air strikes against North Korean nuclear weapons development facilities because US intelligence has not been able to identify the locations of the North Korean uranium enrichment facilities. Under these circumstances in which multilateral sanctions and military attacks are not likely I see several major initiatives the United States could work on that would help American strategy against the North Korean regime:

  • Pursue covert operations designed to reach the North Korean people with news and information about the outside world.
  • Pursue covert operations designed to corrupt any portions of the North Korean government that have contact with the outside world.
  • Make a major effort to help North Koreans who have made it to China to escape from China. Also, help them simply to live and to learn more about the larger world
  • Develop weapons systems that can rapidly destroy the artillery pieces that the North Koreans have dug into the sides of hills and mountains.
  • Develop and deploy theater missile defense systems in the region.
  • Develop and build the assets needed to conduct an amphibious invasion of North Korea without South Korean help.
  • Assign many US and allied law enforcement and intelligence agents to the task of penetrating and shutting down North Korean trafficking operations in drugs and other contraband that generate revenue for the regime.

Out of all of the above items my guess is that the only one has been targeted by the Bush Administration for a substantial effort is the interdiction of contraband smuggling. It is an appealing way to try to cut the flow of funds to North Korea. Recent news reports suggest that Japan may also make a bigger effort to stop North Korean drug smuggling. Given that Japan is probably North Korea's biggest market for black market amphetamines a bigger Japanese effort to cut down on drug smuggling from North Korea could lead to a substantial reduction in funding for the North Korean regime from drug smuggling.

The United States needs to pursue a broader range of efforts to deal with the threat from North Korea. The narrow range of options mentioned in most debates are just not sufficient to deal with the problem that North Korea poses.

Update: Reaching the North Korean populace with information about the outside world is valuable for any of three major future scenarios:

  • Suppose the US reaches the point of launching a military attack on North Korea. A key element of an attack should be to reduce the motivation of the North Korean people to resist an invasion. The more they know about how much better off they would be if post-invasion the less motivated they would be to resist the invasion.
  • An internal revolt would be more likely to happen and, if it happened, to bring down the regime if the people in the North Korean military and populace knew just how much worse off they are living under their current system of government.
  • If the people are less motivated to fight an invasion and are more likely to support a revolt then Kim Jong-il's negotiating hand will be weakened. He will feel more pressure to agree to terms to eliminate his regime's nuclear weapons development program.

A massive effort to reach the North Korean populace with news about the outside world makes good strategic sense.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 May 12 10:29 PM  Korea

Larry M said at March 2, 2004 5:50 AM:

I like your proposed strategy, very well thought out. Unfortunately, a year later we haven't acted on it with the exception of the drug interdiction actions that you mention. I would really like to see the US adopt all of the strategy simultaneously - it could work.

andie said at July 13, 2004 10:27 AM:

Interesting. However, as a Korean linguist and a scholar of Korean diplomatic relations I am forced to point out that your plan relies very heavily on things that are not as pausible as they may seem. Foe example, who would you get to go on these 'covert operations' you speak of? True that the US Army has several native Korean soldiers, however the proper affectation of north korean dialect and slang is almost an impossible thing, since all colloquialisms and manners of speech vary from province to province. Also, there are very real physical changes that have affected the two sides of the peninsula, added to that no one knows the extent of the typical North Korean's devotion to dogma and the ideals behind chuche. Allthough we know that thinking only of the greater good of the whole and not the individual is a way of life to the North Koreans, it is an alien concept to most of the free world, and despite what non military members may believe, even the most vigorously trained and elite of our special forces would be hard pressed to keep from conveying at least a twinge if forced into a society where there are no individual freedoms or rights except for those officials at the top of the food chain. Besides all of this no North Korean without an impeccable political background for both themselves and all of their tracable familiy members has any hope of securing any kind of job that would keep them fed and clothed long enough to accomplish this mission. As to the idea of possibly making several trips over the border, maybe blending in with refugees cross ing the yalu river into china, I suggest that watch a BBC documentary called "Children of the Secret State" in which a NK defector crosses a few times and is, by virtue of the government warnings and pictures posted everywhere with an offered reward for his arrest, never seen or heard from again.
Lastly, the people in NK, even the poorest of the poor have been taght since birth that every hardship they and their country suffers is purely the doings of the US and their allies, anyone spurting anti NK propaganda is immediately turned in and generally taken to prison camps where they are tortured to death.

John said at December 3, 2009 9:41 PM:

If I wanted to broadcast or drop leaflet propaganda into North Korea my chosen message would be:
Your Government thinks you (and the rest of the world) are too stupid catch them in their lies.
Remember how the North Korean government keeps telling you that it has discovered the latest American attack plan?
Why any American counter spy who heard your government boasts would compare the broadcast plan with the real plans.
If he found any trace of the actual plan in what was broadcast, a spy hunt would start.
Two or three groups would be given new attack plans that varied in details.
Then he would listen to hear what details came out of North Korea to find the spies.
By repeated changes of plans and listening he would find the spies.
Your government thinks it is smart enough to get away with telling you the most hysterical lies.
I think you are smart enough that if you stop and think you will figure out the truth.

For a couple of thousand dollars a GPS guided drone could be built to drop leaflets on Pyongyang stadium during the big twice a year propaganda show.
Every leaflet should contain the fact of how cheap(in hours of a worker's pay)the drone was to build.
The other facts should be how much people around the world pay for their food, bread,rice,potatoes,fish,meat,oils,honey,etc. in hours of work to buy a kilo.

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