The sinking of the South Korean corvette Choenan was mystifying to many outside observers, and an outrage to South Korean citizens. Some has mused that the crisis was initiated by Kim Chong Il to cement the military behind his chosen successor. Despite the best inventions of his biographers, the younger Kim has never had the charismatic appeal of his father, the “Great Leader.” His scion is a mystery outside of the gulag state, and the North Korean military is increasingly made up of rigid ideologues and potential adventurers who may badly misunderstand the correlation of military and economic strength between their own forces and the South.
The North Korean military occupies a privileged place in the Hermit Kingdom, at least in relative terms. They have first access to the sere economic fruits of that country, including foodstuffs.
This, then, could be a significant indication of internal unrest:
An upsurge in the number of North Korean soldiers defecting into China fuelled fears of food shortages and an imminent military clash.
Previously considered to be among the regime’s most important assets, the North Korean People’s Army has always been well provisioned in order to ensure the troops remain loyal.
But a poor harvest and the disastrous revaluation of the North Korean currency in November of last year has worsened the nation’s already dire economic straits.
Defectors have claimed that they were required to survive on noodles made of ground corn and that meat or fish were a luxury, a journalist for Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported from the Chinese city of Shenyang…
The defectors have claimed that senior members of the party and the armed forces were stockpiling provisions, another indication that the regime is steeling itself for a military confrontation…
The defectors apprehended by the Chinese were reportedly returned to North Korea, where they face execution.
These are mere footsoldiers, acting in the extremities of desperation. It will be interesting to see if more senior officers attempt to flee the sinking ship of the North Korean state.