Implications Behind North Korean Soldier’s Defection
On November 13, one of the most shocking moments in the history of North Korean defections took place: a soldier directly ran across the DMZ. Such act of resistance is unprecedentedly symbolic due to the widely recognized difficulty associated with land border escapes from the North to the South. Notwithstanding the extremely low rate of success, it alludes to the mounting desperation permeating throughout the country. That “even trusted soldiers suffer terrible malnourishment” to the extent they would go on a suicidal bolt shows how dire circumstances have grown inside North Korea.
In diverting all resources to fuel an unsustainable nuclear program, the regime is inadvertently fueling civil discontent. Anything becomes possible as grievance escalates beyond the threshold of state-sponsored terrorism, a definition restored to North Korea by President Trump. If not completely disillusioned with the regime, a figure as loyal as a border guard, whose promotion was literally based on how many people he caught, would not have retracted to a do-or-die plan to survive. On the bright side, his defection inspires hope that the populace is finally willing to speak out.
Oh’s “high profile” defection is tremendously embarrassing for the regime not only due to the nature of his escape, but also because numerous parasitic worms were found inside his body. Such combination in addition to gunshot wounds evidences nation-wide abuses that North Koreans suffer. That Oh is now in a stable condition underlies prospects for change. He somehow survived a journey to “no man’s land” in an unthinkable move of defiance against the regime. Meanwhile, other guards on shift that day will most likely be tortured and charged with treason.
Everything about Oh's defection breaks the norm. That an elite man of good songbun directly ran across the DMZ stands in stark contrast with the typical scenario where women defectors are trafficked to China before reaching South Korea after many years of sexual slavery and forced repatriation. For this reason, South Korea seized the opportunity to bombard the North with propaganda on a resuscitated Oh, who showed immense gratitude towards brave South Korean soldiers pulling him to freedom as he collapsed after an array of shots.
However, the power balance on the Korean Peninsula stays undetermined. Some speculate that since North Korea has not carried any military provocations for more than two months, the regime must be backing down. Others consider such prolonged silence the calm before the storm, that the regime is simply experiencing technical difficulties with ballistic missiles and will resume its nuclear project once it finds a cure. Either way, Oh’s defection serves a wake-up call that change is underway and should change happen, the world needs to be prepared.