One month ago, when a North Korean soldier fled through the ultra-high security Demilitarized Zone amid a hail of gunfire from his comrades, he arrived in South Korea severely wounded. But Thursday, when another soldier of the communist dictatorship made a run for freedom, no shots were fired by North Korea’s elite guards.
Could the world be witnessing a repeat of 1989, when East Germans began crossing the border into Hungary and then to freedom in Austria, leading to the collapse of Eastern European communist regimes and, eventually, the Soviet Union?
That’s a question American Spectator writer and blogger Don Surber is posing amid other major developments that threaten the third generation of the Kim dynasty.
“I ask this because it seems like Kim Jong Un’s most elite troops – the ones he places along the border with South Korea – no longer protect that border,” Surber wrote. “If people figure that out, they will start walking south by the dozens, then hundreds, then thousands.”
The optimism may be premature, but the Daily Telegraph of London reported this week, citing an unnamed source within the Trump administration and two former officials, that the U.S. is drawing up plans for a “bloody nose” military attack on North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons program. In addition, foreign military forces told FoxNews.com that U.S. military forces trained earlier this month for a mission that would put them on North Korean soil with the aim of “infiltrating” and “removing weapons of mass destruction.”
In October, a defense source said a unit of U.S. special forces tasked with carrying out “decapitation” operations against the Kim regime may be aboard a nuclear-powered submarine docked in the South Korean port of Busan, the Telegraph reported at the time.
The U.S. Navy insisted the USS Michigan, known for carrying special-ops teams, was docked in a “routine port visit,” and the U.S. military also denied training for decapitation missions or regime change. But the presence of what appeared to be silos for tiny submarines used to transport Navy SEALs for their most covert missions increased speculation.
The Yonhap news agency reported the defection of the North Korean soldier early Thursday is being being investigated by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was the fourth defection across the DMZ this year. Last month, North Korean soldier Oh Chong Song, 24, was shot in his knee, arm, back, chest and through his shoulder. Surgeons also found that his body was riddled with parasites and Hepatitis B, which was seen as an indication of the poor state of the economy.
On Wednesday, two other North Koreans aboard a “non-powered” fishing boat defected to South Korea, according to officials in Seoul.
The Wall Street Journal reported North Korean soldiers crossed into South Korea Thursday in pursuit of their missing comrade – about one hour after he escaped – and were forced to turn back when South Korean guards fired warning shots. There was no immediate reaction from North Korea through its state media.
The Journal noted that the dash across the DMZ isn’t a typical method of escape. Most seeking freedom from Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship cross into China. Often they then seek to cross into Mongolia or a Southeast Asian country, where they make themselves known to South Korean officials.
Nam Sung-wook, a professor studying North Korea’s economy at Korea University, told the Journal the recent increase in North Korean fishing boats washing ashore, combined with defections across the DMZ, support the notion that international sanctions in response to Pyongyang’s weapons program are beginning to work.
“Winters are always tough in North Korea” due to shortages of food and heating, he said.
The Daily Telegraph said the White House has “dramatically” stepped up preparations for a military solution to North Korea’s nuclear threats in recent months amid fears diplomacy is not working.
One option to show Kim that the U.S. is serious about stopping his nuclear development is to destroy a launch site before it is used for a new missile test. Another is to target stockpiles of weapons.
“The Pentagon is trying to find options that would allow them to punch the North Koreans in the nose, get their attention,” a source told the Telegraph.
FoxNews.com reported photos of a recent exercise by a U.S. military unit known as “The Black Jack Brigade” were published on the unit’s Facebook page. In the exercise, dubbed Warrior Strike IX, the U.S. personnel trained alongside their South Korean counterparts at Camp Stanley in Korea.
Yonhap news agency quoted anonymous military sources saying the combined exercise was designed to simulate “infiltrating North Korea and removing weapons of mass destruction in case of conflict.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, FoxNews.com noted, has said the U.S. wants to avoid sending U.S. forces into North Korean territory, but he apparently conceded last week that it might be necessary.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Dec. 13 Tillerson has a list he calls the “four no’s.”
“We are not seeking the collapse of the North Korean regime. We are not seeking regime change. We are not seeking the accelerated reunification of the Korean Peninsula. And we are not seeking an excuse to send our military north of the [border with South Korea],” Nauert said.
Tillerson was asked at the 2017 Atlantic Council-Korea Foundation Forum on Dec. 12 about concerns China could receive a flood of refugees if the Pyongyang regime were to collapse.
The secretary of state said that wouldn’t be the biggest problem.
“The most important thing to us would be securing those nuclear weapons they’ve already developed and ensuring that they – that nothing falls into the hands of people we would not want to have it,” Tillerson said.
John Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said one of the only solutions to North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is to convince China to support regime change.
He suggested the U.S. could soon be forced to make a difficult decision.
“We’re either going to have to kind of play it using military force, or accept that North Korea will be the nuclear arms sale center of the world – to Iran, to terrorist groups, to other third-world countries that have nuclear aspirations,” Bolton said, according to FoxNews.com.
“That is not a future I look forward to,” he said.
Since the early 1990s, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the U.S. has engaged in a “pattern of offering carrots to North Korea, only to get smacked with sticks in return,” Bruce Thornton, a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, observed in 2012, during the Obama administration.
“That is how the North got the bomb in the first place, engaging in ‘negotiations’ and dangling promises of cooperation in exchange for aid and time,” he said.
Now, however, President Trump’s more confrontational approach appears, at least, to have sent a message that is being taken seriously.
Last summer, Fox News reported a South Korean lawmaker said the country’s intelligence agency had determined Kim is so terrified of being targeted that he travels incognito.
The lawmaker said the dictator is “obsessed with collecting information about the ‘decapitation operation’ through his intelligence agencies.”
In a 2016 letter to the Security Council, North Korea’s U.N. representative said joint military operations regularly conducted by the U.S. and South Korea to “behead” the regime “constitute a grave threat to [North Korea], as well as international peace and security.”
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