Small Wars Journal

N. Korean Soldier Kills 2 Before Defecting to South

SWJ Comment: While reports from and concerning the Northern area of the “Hermit Kingdom” are sketchy and very questionable at best - there is something boiling under the surface and implosion is not necessarily out of the question. Granted, this is one “tactical” small event, but I have to ask, are we ready if and when the nuclear-capable North collapses on its house of cards?

N. Korean Soldier Kills 2 Before Defecting to South

Voice of America

A South Korean official says a North Korean soldier has defected to the South after killing two officers.

A South Korean Defense Ministry official says the defection took place around noon on Saturday across the western section of the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries. The South Korean military says the soldier used a loudspeaker to inform the South Koreans of his intention to defect.

The official said the soldier is being interrogated and has confessed to shooting two of his superior officers before crossing the border.

The senior analyst in Seoul for the International Crisis Group, Daniel Pinkston, says defections across the DMZ are rare. The border is tightly sealed and heavily armed, and the personnel staffing the area are hand-picked.

"Those who are stationed in the border area, around the DMZ and especially right on the DMZ, are those who are considered to be loyal to the regime. They've been screened and they do not put people there who would be considered disloyal," said Pinkston.

The last known incidence of a North Korean soldier defecting across the DMZ was in 2010.

Under North Korea's collective punishment system, an act of this magnitude would mean harsh treatment for the soldier's family, extending for three generations.

More than 23,500 North Koreans have escaped and resettled in South Korea since the Korean War ended in 1953 with a cease-fire agreement. But nearly all of them make their way through China and Southeast Asia to get to South Korea, risking repatriation if they are caught in China.



Bill M.

Sun, 10/07/2012 - 12:19am

Define readiness? Ready to do what? Are we ready to deploy forces then the answer is most likely yes. Are we ready to assist S. Korea achieve relative control and unification? Probably not, but that is impossible to assess with any degree of accuracy since no one knows how a collapse will play out and what our policy will be, or what other key actors will do including the Rep of Korea, China, Russia, Japan, etc. All existing plans are based on assumptions of what we think they'll do, but I think most are folks are wise enough to know these assumptions probably won't reflect reality.

I suspect the reality is that we will quickly respond with varying levels of competence and capacity to a rapidly evolving situation. As soon as there is an intervention there will be reactions to it that ripple far beyond Korea which in turn will cause the strategic landscape to change under our feet making most existing plans irrelevant after intervention starts.

I think there are three elements of readiness we can accurately assess. The joint force is adequately trained and equipped to conduct high end combat operations and stability operations, the force is ready logistically, and we have adequate understanding of the situation to develop informed and realistic objectives and plans to achieve them. Most things beyond that are probably just an illusion of readiness based on perception of what we think will happen.

This is a scenario where an operation design approach to planning and constantly adapting may be critical to success, because we will have to reframe our logic repeatedly based on changes that will be largely unpredictable.

Dave Maxwell

Sat, 10/06/2012 - 5:58pm

I would be slightly more worried if there were more than one defector because it is when Soldiers are able to conspire and defect it indicates a breakdown of the internal security controls within the military. (I think the defection of the Camp Commander and Deputy Camp Commander and their families at Camp 22 is also a significant event that bears watching because there was a real breakdown in the security services in that incident).

However, being able able to kill the platoon and company commanders may be an important indicator that needs to be assessed. Questions I would like to have answered: why were both at the DMZ at the same place at the same time and why did other Soldiers who were most likely with them not stop this Soldier from crossing? Were the other Soldiers "paralyzed" because their leaders were allegedly killed? Or did they support this Soldier's actions – if so why did not more defect? Family considerations? We should know that if the facts are as they outlined in the article from the alleged defector the entire unit will be immediately replaced and these Soldiers will be punished if not sent to the gulag with their families (as the shooter's will also). To put it in terms of our Generation Y or the Millennials – this is an "epic fail" by the members of the nKPA unit and they will be dealt with accordingly by the regime.)

But Dave D's question is an important one. Being ready is one concern but the other about active preparation for this very likely and most dangerous event. As I have written here previously (…) while we have done a lot of planning within the ROK-US alliance, the real question is have we (the ROK-US alliance not just the US) been conducting sufficient preparations to deal with the "fall-out" (pun intended) of regime collapse.