An evil regime

In 1987, Sun-Ok Lee, a North Korean materials supplier, was charged with negligence and imprisoned without a trial. Lee’s husband and son were also imprisoned. She spent seven years in an underground cell, working 18 hour days in an ammunition factory, and sleeping in a filthy cell shared with ninety other prisoners. Lee was tortured and beaten regularly, losing most of her teeth and suffering paralysis of her face. But her experiences weren’t as bad as some the things she saw. The price of pregnancy was forced abortion. The price of resistance was an execution by firing squad, witnessed by all prisoners. Prisoners were banned from talking to each other, or even looking in mirrors. After her release, Lee escaped to South Korea. The only knowledge we have of the lives of more than 200,000 North Koreans held in concentration camps is the testimony of survivors like Lee.

Those unlucky enough to live in the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea risk torture, public execution, or arbitrary detention for disagreeing with government policy. Women are sold into sex slavery or forced marriages, and are victims of ethnically motivated forced abortions. In prison camps, infanticide is common.

And in the 1990s, a famine killed three and a half million North Koreans. The famine was the result of deliberate government policies. It was used by the government of North Korea to get rid of perceived class enemies by starving them.

While his subjects die, Kim Jong-Il has a 10,000-bottle wine cellar, collects Mazda RX-7s, stages all-night banquets at which attendance and heavy drinking is compulsory for high officials, and has a troupe of strippers for his personal entertainment.

Kim spends 25% of North Korea’s GDP on the military – a higher proportion than any other country. He commands the fourth largest army in the world, along with a fleet of submarines and up to ten nuclear weapons.

Vile apologists

LibertyScott, a keen observer of the DPRK, drew my attention to the NZ-based apologists for North Korea, who are currently fundraising to send a tractor to a co-operative farm near Pyongyang.

One of the chief apologists for Kim Jong-Il, Tim Beal, is an international marketing lecturer here at Victoria University. He maintains webpages about the DPRK and the “Korean Peace Committee.” The list of members contains various prominent NZ peace activists. Green MP Keith Locke appears to be a fan.

Military options

According to the US has five main military plans for North Korea. There is no plan for a full-scale invasion, probably because it is considered unfeasible and unnecessary, and the plans for nuking it I assume are classified. That leaves air strikes, blockade, dealing with refugees in the event of a collapse, and defending North Korea from a US invasion.

The fifth option is the one I find intriguing. OPLAN 5030 is intended to rattle the Nokors enough to force a military coup or collapse. It bears some of the characteristics of fourth-generation war in that it attacks the unity and moral center of the regime in Pyongyang. Strategic disinformation, isolating the DPRK from financial networks (as in the large-scale sanctions which were pushed through by the State Department last month?), incursions into Korean airspace and military exercises at short notice close to the border would hopefully provoke a reaction. And that reaction would wear out Nokor interceptors, reduce supplies of jet fuel, expose plans for military deployments, and hopefully scare the more rational members of the regime into acting to ensure survival.

I also know that some people in the State Department would like to consider offering an amnesty to Kim and senior regime members. Since they are probably terrified of their own people taking revenge, an extended holiday in the Caribbean on a secluded island might appeal to them – and it might be tempting enough to convince them to give up power.

Suicidally devoted North Korean troops

North Korean submarineMidget submarines, armed spy vessels disguised as trawlers, hovercraft, and an unkown number of tunnels can be used to infiltrate into South Korea. Incidents of infiltration peaked in the late 1960s with hundreds of commandos landing, many on unsuccessful assassination missions. There are a some more recent incidents involving suicidally committed North Korean commandos which I find disturbing, if they indicate the level of training and determination of the million-strong DPRK armed forces as a whole.

  • September 19, 1996: Submarine runs aground on an infiltration mission. A massive manhunt for the heavily armed crew members ends with 24 North Koreans and 17 South Koreans dead. Many of the North Korean sailors were killed by their own officers.
  • June 24, 1998: Midget submarine runs aground. The nine crew members either commit suicide or are killed by their officers.

It seems many North Korean sailors and commandos would rather kill themselves – or their comrades – rather than surrender. What fate do they think awaits them in South Korea?


I took part in mock Six-Party Talks in an East Asia IR class last semester, representing the North Korean team. Our lecturer had organised a forum with Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and chief negotiator in the six-party talks, beforehand – it was a fantastic opportunity as Wellington doesn’t often host such a prominent US diplomat. So I know a bit about the situation. However this apparent nuclear test comes as a complete surprise for me, even after the inflammatory – and anticlimactic – missile launches.

Our team based our strategy in the mock talks on Kim Jong-Il’s primary desire for self-reliance (juche), using nukes as a deterrent and as a way of extorting aid. Our demands included cessation of US military exercises and a massive increase in aid; in return, we offered minor and mostly symbolic concessions, for example repatriating a group of Japanese Red Army terrorists from the 1970s and returning the captured USS Pueblo. We stonewalled any discussion about nuclear inspections, which the other teams wanted to tie to aid: however we were still eventually promised aid after giving up missile exports. Constant harping about starving civilians and an implied threat of refugees probably influences that. And our team got the highest mark – an A.

In my opinion that’s a fairly rational strategy to follow, if you’re a member of the Kim regime and want to preserve your life, and lifestyle. Extorting aid has been the modus operandi since the 1994 crisis – Clinton’s time (NB: Lefties, it’s not all Bush’s fault. Really). But being a member of such a regime must distort your views of reality, and it would increase paranoia and misperception. In fact the constant threat would encourage groupthink, where small groups make irrational decisions because they are scared to show disloyalty. The missile and nuclear tests basically indicate that whoever is calling the shots in the DPRK has gone off the deep end.

Luckily for us, the bomb is thought to have detonated with less power than intended, and the long-range missile exploded in midair. There is no nuclear threat to Tokyo or the US – not from a missile. Export of such a weapon in a cargo plane or shipping container is a huge worry, and I am glad that the Proliferation Security Initiative exists.

Unfortunately for Seoul however, there are something like 500 long-range artillery pieces in bunkers just over the DMZ, and several hundred fighters and bombers which could launch a suicidal first wave of attacks. In the first hour of bombardment – which could happen with no warning – estimated casualties start at 100,000. And that’s excluding the use of chemical or biological weapons, which North Korea also possesses. A sobering thought, and one which those advocating hasty solutions should keep in mind.


6 Responses to “North Korean nuclear test?”

There must be no mistake, the NK’s are genuinely evil.

On a visit to PyongYang in 1998, our guide (an army intelligence officer) quite openly advised that “we would rather a few million peasants died, than become dependant on aid”. This sentiment was repeated during briefings with NK Government officials who said “do not give us aid, we will support any scheme that provides hard currency”. In saying this they deliberately ruled out agricultural aid and food aid and pressed for the creation of export industry of any kind.

Frightening and bizarre to see the relative luxury of the party apparatus and the military brass. The people we saw and met however, were pleasant and friendly and would wave from tall buildings etc.

Mind you we were only exposed to that which we were meant to see.


One other point that isn’t easy to make without sounding bigoted, but there is a strong culture of violence promoted in the DPRK which can be seen in everything from education/media (inciting children to celebrate at very gory eviscerations/beheadings of US soldiers) to the military. Some reports of how North Korean soldiers treated captured enemy (i.e. US/allied) soldier are truly remarkable. Now there is always abuse of this power on both sides, there were plenty of US soldiers beating the shit out of “orientals” when “nobody was looking” – but it wasn’t official policy. The Korean People’s Army liked to bury US soldiers alive, eviscerate, behead and humiliate them – in other words, they were encouraged to be particularly cruel. This is fed by propaganda that shows the West as being like that – without the truth, the irony is obviously lost on them!


David, a very interesting report. Vaclav Havel believes that the worst thing about totalitarianism is the moral effect of having to repeat lies, and leave the truth unspoken. I’m sure the intelligence officer really believed what he was saying.

Scott – I didn’t know that. That’s VERY interesting. In fact the first thing that comes to mind is the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, a rebel cult which kidnaps and abuses children, forcing them to brutalize each other, kill and eat prisoners, and “serve” the leaders. The trauma acts both as an effective method of brainwashing, and as a barrier to their fighters ever returning home to rejoin society.

Maybe North Korea brainwashes soldiers in a similar way. If evisceration and beheading is what they expect from capture, no wonder they would rather shoot themselves or take a cyanide pill…


[...] When I saw the AP headline “Boyish US Envoy Becomes Hearthrob in China,” I knew immediately who it was about. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, Christopher R. Hill – chief nuclear negotiator with North Korea -made a brief visit to Wellington last year, and one of my lecturers arranged a roundtable discussion with Vic Uni IR students. He seemed genuinely enthusiastic about talking to us – unsurprising, maybe, when he spent most of the rest of the visit with Helen Clark and Winston Peters. He was charismatic, flattering us by saying our questions were far better than those of Clark or Peters, and deftly defusing the anti-American tone of some of the questions. Even better – his knowledge and analysis of the seemingly intractable six-party talks was unequalled. (More about that experience and the simulated six-party talks we did afterwards, in this post) This is the sort of publicity most politicians would kill for… “He’s so charming and attractive,” said Li Kenna, a desk clerk at the five-star hotel Hill stays at in Beijing. “He sometimes asks me how I am in the mornings,” she said. “He’s one of our nicest guests.” [...]


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