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NEWS | March 12, 2014

Former North Korean spy addresses ROK and US senior enlisted leaders

By Cpl. Choi, Ho Gyu, U.S. Forces Korea PAO

A former North Korean spy and defector discussed the motivations of North Korean Soldiers and the hardships they endure during a U.S. Forces Korea noncommissioned officer professional development lecture March 12 at the Memorial Chapel.

“As our officers continue to focus at the strategic level, we senior enlisted leaders are really focused on the human dimension so we can understand the motivations and resolve of the North Korean population, and the readiness of their military forces,” said Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command and U.S. Forces Korea.

The speaker, whose name is withheld by request of the Republic of Korea Defense Security Command, defected to the ROK in 1995 after being wounded in a gunfight and captured by ROK authorities. He is a member of the Institute for National Security Strategy and works as a professor of North Korean Studies at a prominent university in Gyeongsangnam-do.

He discussed North Korea’s treatment of its citizens. 

“The human rights situation in North Korea has remained gruesome, and the people are having their rights trampled on,” said the speaker. “North Korean politics are focused on a ‘military first’ policy.”

He said there are 1.19 million active duty troops in the hermit kingdom, as well as 7.7 million reserve forces. All men are conscripted and must serve 10 years. For women, service is voluntary but carries a seven-year service obligation.

Soldiers are often malnourished, and are sent home to recover when they get too weak to perform their duties, but must return when they recover, he said.

“North Koreans actually have been shrinking, through successive famines,” said the speaker. “In late May and June, soldiers from the front are even mobilized to plant rice, which means less training.”

The regime spends millions of dollars on idolization efforts, he said. There are more than 38,000 statues of Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un in North Korea. Indoctrination begins in school and is carried out through a variety of means. To disparage the leader is an automatic death penalty.

After the lecture, senior enlisted leaders got the opportunity to ask a few questions.

When asked about the possibility of war, he said Kim Jong Un is fully aware of the capabilities of the ROK-US alliance and unlikely to enter into a conflict that would mean the end of his dictatorship.

“In my opinion, there’s very little chance that North Korea starts an aggressive full frontal war, but we can’t assume that the enemy nation will not stir up things again,” he said. “They will do things at the slightest provocation, like in the case of the sinking of the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.” 

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