A New Reign of Terror in North Korea

Ryan Mauro is a fellow with the Clarionproject.org, the founder of WorldThreats.com and a frequent national security analyst for Fox News Channel. He can be contacted at ryanmauro1986@gmail.com.


south_korea_koreas_kim_s_uncle1The North Korean regime announced the execution of its second-in-command yesterday; the latest casualty in a far-reaching purge by Kim Jong-Un. The rift may increase the chances that the world’s largest exporter of WMDs and persecutor of Christians will collapse, but that scenario opens up dangers of its own.

The excellent One Free Korea blog says that the execution of Jang Song-Thaek is “immensely important” as he was widely seen as the man pulling the strings from behind the curtain. He was Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission and had long personal relationships throughout the regime’s pillars of power. He was also Kim Jong-Un’s uncle and husband of the late Kim Jong-Il’s sister.

The regime’s announcement accused Jang of “attempting to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state.” The intelligence analysis firm Stratfor assessed that “there was a slow coup forming in North Korea.”

His death comes shortly after his public arrest and dismissal from all positions. He was charged with various offenses, including betraying the country and selling resources at unapproved low prices. This was a reference to trade with China. Shortly after Kim Jong-Un took over, he upped the cost of iron ore and minerals being sold to China.

The One Free Korea blog observed that China was enraged by the dismissal of Jang. It demanded that Kim Jong-Un immediately travel to Beijing and the Chinese military even conducted a simulation of a night landing on the Yellow Sea Coast with 5,000 troops.

Kim Jong-Un apparently felt there was a threat from a pro-Jang faction, though the killing of him can either be seen as a sign of confidence or of fear. Jong-Un’s older brother oversaw the arrest of Jang’s two closest aides last month.

Jang’s money manager defected shortly before or after Jang’s dismissal. It is the highest level defection in 15 years. It is unclear if the defection caused Jang’s arrest or vice versa. He is believed to have taken Jang’s assets and confidential information about the nuclear program to China, another indication that China favored Jang’s wing of the regime.

“Jang worked with the Chinese even before Kim Jong Il’s death to solidify his own power and effectively be China’s regent for running North Korea,” says Stratfor.

The crackdown goes beyond Jang and his associates. The South Korean President says a “reign of terror” is underway and experts see it as the biggest political purge in North Korea in 40 years.

Jong-Un sacked his father’s top financial advisor who had a close relationship with Jang. Even the elites that secured his own ascent weren’t spared, leaving behind only one senior official, the chief of the Politburo. About 44% of military commanders have been dismissed, as have 97 of 218 of the party heads, government ministers and senior military officers.

In one case, the regime made a dramatic public display with one official. The Assistant Chief of Staff for the Ministry of the Peoples’ Armed Forces was blown apart with a mortar round so, in the regime’s words, it’d “leave no trace of him behind, down to his hair.”

There is also a crackdown on outside culture to slow down the crumbling of the information blockade that has sustained the regime so long. He executed 80 people for allegedly possessing Bibles, having pornography and watching South Korean videos. In August, the regime killed a dozen entertainers by firing squad, including his ex-girlfriend. They were accused of being involved with pornography distribution.

Some experts interpret North Korea’s selling of its gold reserves as an indication of increasing economic troubles. It sold two tons to China last year to make $100 million. Other experts feel this is routinely done and is not an indication of anything abnormal.

These developments come shortly after the RAND Corporation concluded in a study that there is a “reasonable probability” that the regime will collapse in the foreseeable future. It predicts a massive humanitarian crisis requiring a major international intervention. The top national security advisor to the President of South Korea predicted the regime will collapse within 2 to 3 years after Kim Jong-Un’s takeover.

There are three ways that this regime change can happen and they are not mutually exclusive.

The most stable transition would be a coup, perhaps with covert Chinese assistance. However, even under this scenario, it is hard to believe that the bloodthirsty regime will non-violently step down. It could easily become a civil war or an insurgency.

The second scenario is a civil war. There is no viable armed opposition group, but that could change as Kim Jong-Un alienates large parts of the military. In 2010, about 200 former North Korean soldiers announced an armed campaign to overthrow the regime but it fizzled.

The third scenario is a popular uprising. In November 2009, plans to reform the currency sparked an unprecedented public expression of opposition. The frightened regime apologized and Kim Jong-Il executed the advisor responsible for the policy.

In February 2011, protests were again sparked in a market when promised goods didn’t arrive. Security forces intervened, beating one man unconscious and escalating the situation.

It is easy to hope for the commencement of regime change when you look at North Korea’s record on human rights abuses and WMD trafficking.

There are around 200,000 political prisoners. Testimony from escapees will one day be the basis of movies that will shock the world. There are countless stories of concentration camp-like persecution, cannibalism, torture, starvation and widespread human experimentation, including on children.

North Korea is the number one oppressor of Christians. If you are caught practicing the faith, you and three generations of your family are sent to a lifetime of labor. An estimated 400,000 of the 20-million population is Christian. One prison alone is thought to house 6,000 Christians.

If and when the regime starts falling, North Korea will be seen as a gold mine for criminals, terrorists and rogue states around the world. Huge stockpiles of unconventional and conventional weapons will be up for grabs. Between 2,500 and 5,000 tons of chemical weapons and 5,000 tons of biological weapons are there. Cyber warfare experts, special forces operatives, weapons scientists, and average soldiers will be looking for jobs.

In addition, there is a consistent pattern where North Korea engages in provocations during times of internal transition. Every major step in the succession process that brought Kim Jong-Un into power coincided with an outburst to draw international attention.

British intelligence believes Jong-Un has an “explosive temper” and suffers from severe hypertension. North Korea has carried out three nuclear tests. Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, one of the nation’s top experts, recently gave a bone-chilling webinar on the Electromagnetic-Pulse (EMP) threat, and included a frightening examination of North Korea’s capabilities in this area.

For things to get better in North Korea, things will have to first become far worse.

The Institute on Religion and Democracy contributed to this article.

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  • SoCalMike

    Kim Jong Un, you’re a punk.

    nothing but a BOY CK SUCKER.
    PREY YOU NEVER SEE ME OR COME WITHIN an ARM’S REACH.

  • SoCalMike

    ON THE DAY YOU DO, YOU’RE FISH FOOD.

  • UCSPanther

    It sounds like Kim Jong Un will make his late old man look sane in comparison.

  • HJK

    This is a high-quality article. Well done.

    From a cynical point of view the purges are necessary for Kim Jung-Un to stay in power. His uncle had plenty if ambitions of his own and was simply too powerful and too great a threat.

    North Korea really exposes the ugly face of Communist totalitarianism.

    • A Z

      Every flavor of the Left, socialism or Communism, always becomes an oligarchy.

      There is only so much room at the top.

    • Drakken

      Well, look at it this way, they really are good are eating eat other and sooner or later a nork soldier or the Chinese will take care of

    • doramin

      He might be saving his bacon or cooking his own goose with this killing spree. Remember Caligula and Nero. If the Inner Circle and the Praetorian Guard thinks the ruler has gone crazy and that loyalty no longer buys safety from his murderous caprices then why not take him out before he takes them out?

  • camp7

    A house divided against itself cannot stand. Kim Jong Un is the mad catalyst for collapse. Bye-bye. Take Rodman with you.

    • William_Bradford

      Certainly no more so than Stalin. While the issue is complex, it boils down to in the authoritarian society the prime enemy is not the external threat, but rather, is the less than fervent, less than dedicated internal threat. Public execution assures no one talks to anyone else, as everyone quickly realizes that only the zealot survives. From the outside, the transformation is difficult to understand. Essentially the more monstrous, and barbaric the action the greater the “merit.” Lack of zeal, and fervor are seen as treasonous – that others may see and understand the gravity of the transgression executions are oft public – the more graphic, and monstrous the means the better. No one is safe – one may bet that the 44% of the military officers replaced are not sitting at home drawing unemployment.

      • camp7

        A very astute perspective William, one I do not doubt. A country froze in fear mixed with nationalism.

        So where does that lead them? Even scrutinized by their allies. They’re not that big, they could be squashed by their neighbors if necessary, but most likely they will be their own worst enemy. They will cannibalize themselves with the self-absorbed ideology of supremacy, gone awry. Little in a big world.

        Thanks for you’re insight.

        • William_Bradford

          Destruction is usually the outcome – civil war, or destruction by those terrified of/by them, but not before they strew chaos, and murder many. And there is no history for nations with nukes degenerating into chaos. Certainly, as you note, they are little in a big world, but the nukes make them not insignificant. While the ultimate outcome may not be in question, what is in question is whether you, or I will survive to see that outcome.

  • Bamaguje

    How does being a Christian threaten his hold on power?
    Kim Jong-Un, like his father and grandfather before him, is a murderous psychopath.

    • A Z

      True Christians would not want to be prison camp guards and the NORK regime needs lots of those. A few of those Christians might martyr themselves buy giving gulag prisoners food or kind treatment.

      If Simon says “Jump!” and the inmates of the communist regime do not jump, then the game is over.

  • A Z

    “selling resources at unapproved low prices … China was enraged”

    China has gone to great length to by ore & oil. The state wants the ore to sustain its’ economy. The leaders took a hit on their cut. they are enraged.

    They summoned Jong Un. will they also retaliate and decide to raise the cost of oil they supply to the NORK regime?

  • http://eng.kremlin.ru/ RedPropaganda

    ★☭★

    • defcon 4

      Nice, he’s trampling the S. Korean and US flags. If the Israeli flag had been added into the mix the artist could’ve played to the delusional sympathies of the islamic world as well.

      • SCREW SOCIALISM

        Let’s all crap on the flags of norte korea and the islamofascist regime of iran.

        Extra points for crapping on pictures of ayatollah khomeni.

  • A Z

    Defense News (a Gannett Company) reported on September 9, 2010 that 200 North Koreans wanted to overthrow the North Korean government (story linked by Ryan Mauro). One of them was Hwang Jang-Yop. I did a web search of his name and did not come up with any hits on CNN, Fox, ABC, CBS or NBC.

    200 people, who are not forging cells (that we know of), is a flash in the pan. But 200 disaffected people is the tip of the iceberg. The 200 are in south Korea, where they can express themselves relatively freely. There are thousand or tens of thousands in North Korea.

    We have been going through this sh t since the the Clinton administration and spending a lot money, thought and effort.

    Yet apparently most of us do not want to know about it of do anything about it. You could build upon the efforts of those 200 and overthrow the regime that provide nuke tech to Uran and Pakistan.

    But it is much easier to give weapons the the Free Syrian Army and have Madeline Albright give basketballs to Kim Jong Il.

    Much easier to do that then the press to report accurately, the people to read it and politicians to act on it.

    Defense News is a niche newspaper. Obviously the rest of us want panem et circenses.

  • Crassus

    Maybe Kim will make Dennis Rodman his successor.

  • defcon 4

    “China was enraged by the dismissal of Jang. It demanded that Kim Jong-Un
    immediately travel to Beijing and the Chinese military even conducted a
    simulation of a night landing on the Yellow Sea Coast with 5,000
    troops.” The PRC could implement regime change in Pyongyang and there’s nothing any of the tin-pot dictators there could do about it. I doubt anyone in the N. Korean military would want to die in a hopeless cause fighting against the largest military on earth for their tinpot dictator.

  • defcon 4

    I wonder if Kim Jong-Un is a world leader admired by the zero?

  • WhiteHunter

    If/when the mad communist dictatorship collapses, I hope that, for once, we’ll just stand aside, shrugging, with our hands in our pockets, and watch the show from a safe distance, instead of rushing to the rescue with food, medicine, doctors, field hospitals, tents, vehicles, and everything else we usually send to ungrateful enemies who are choked with hate for us.
    There’s no way to rescue or rehabilitate 20 million brainwashed robots who’ve been indoctrinated from birth to worship three generations of their brutal dictators and hate us and their cousins to the south. And we’d damned well better NOT invite any of them here as “refugees” seeking “asylum.”
    We didn’t create this hideous, belligerent, lethally dangerous regime; Red China and the Soviets did, and they’ve nourished, sustained, and encouraged it as a festering, cancerous sore to us and its neighbors through thick and thin since 1950. Let them deal with the mess, and pay for it.

    • doramin

      I read the book by the guy who was born and raised in the Nork gulag. He was brutally candid as to the fact that, while escaped Norks are hard-working at the worst possible jobs as underground refugees in China, those who make to the ROK and are given a welfare check and an apartment turn overnight into dysfunctional, unemployable misfits whom no one can stand to be around.

      Germany notwithstanding, if ROK reunifies with NK it will be an act of national suicide.

      • Fritz

        I think you may have contradicted the point you thought you made, it isn’t the fact that they are North Korean refugees that makes them unemployable misfits, it’s the free stuff the South Koreans give them.
        You don’t even have to go there to find that, here in Canada one of the big scams for the past 25 years was to enter Canada and claim refugee status. If you could manage to get on that gravy train you got up to $2400 a month, tax free, and better heath care then the average Canadian citizen could get, and virtually unlimited appeals on your hearings if you were not granted sanctuary. If was such a plum that they were attracting so-called refugees from Great Britain, Australia, the U.S, and even E.U countries.
        But they have since turned off the taps, I think the motivation was thousands of Roma (AKA Gypsies) coming in, claiming refugee status, and then having someone here forwarding the cheques. In fact some were even claiming refugee status in E.U countries at the same time they were milking it here.

    • William_Bradford

      The nukes aside, perhaps you should consider what 5000 tons of genetically engineered bio weapons might mean – that would be weaponized anthrax, genetically modified smallpox, genetically modified tularemia… et al.

      While i might share you feelings, reality is another matter entirely.

  • Albert Darringdon

    Every nation that tries to stamp out Christianity is eventually totally dissolved. The DPRK will collapse soon and MILLIONS of North Koreans will come to Christ!

  • Clara T Ohare

    So let it collapse and China will get involved. This should be interesting. Instead of war with the South and the US there would be a Sino Korean War. Couldn’t happen to a nicer group of people.