Korea: The Generals Are Also Being Bought


September 26, 2011: Traders and smugglers living on the Chinese border are relieved that the month long campaign by troops from the elite Escort Bureau (the personal security force for the ruling Kim family) are gone. For a month (August 4th to September 4th) these "storm troopers", as they came to be called, terrorized the border area, making over a hundred arrests. But now that the elite troops are gone, it's been revealed that the main result of the storm troopers visit was to inflate the size of bribes required to avoid trouble. The Escort Bureau troops were thorough, and largely immune to the usual bribes. But those willing, and able, to offer larger bribes, and some information on what is going on at the border, could avoid punishment. What the Escort Bureau troops brought back with them was a lot of loot, and a clearer picture of the extent of illegal activity on the border. Thus the government now realizes that the border is very porous, with far more goods, and people, moving back and forth, than previously believed. The extent of the corruption up there was also demoralizing. These truths were only whispered, because officially, the Escort Bureau troops took no bribes. Officially, the traders and officials who bribed their way out of trouble were officially pardoned. Partly, this was because these guys knew too much about senior government security officials who were regularly on the take. This was scary news for the Kim family, who had been largely ignorant of how thoroughly corrupt the government had become. The Kims have always bribed senior officials (to remain loyal) with access to scarce consumer goods. But in the last decade, traders and smugglers have been a greater source of goodies, and have managed to buy more loyalty than the Kims imagined. The Kims are still around because they control the military. But the generals are also being bought, and loyalty isn't what it used to be up north.

The corruption is increasingly more open. People are going through the motions of being loyal. For example, the large emergency exercises held each year (where cities and towns are evacuated, as they would be to avoid wartime air attacks) are now seen as opportunities to spend a few days relaxing in the countryside. Same thing with the regular levies of city people to help with the harvest. These "volunteers" were never much help, because they didn't have any agricultural experience, and the farmers were expected to feed them. Now, the urban volunteers pay the rural officials to report everyone showed up, and then do what they please for a week or so. About the only mass use of citizen "volunteers" that goes according to plan are the well-publicized parades and ceremonies the government is so fond of. But the government has found that the participants and spectators require more "gifts" to ensure enough people show up. Everything has a price these days, including being able to avoid parading past the Kim family.

Even the soldiers cannot be trusted anymore. And that's because the troops are going hungry. Rations (normally 800 grams/28 ounces a day) have been cut by a third for most troops, and are lower quality (maize instead of rice). It's become increasingly common for soldiers to sneak out of their bases and steal food and goods (which are promptly sold on the black market for food). Punishment (a potentially fatal spell in a work camp) is not stopping this criminal activity. In fact, it is becoming more common. Naturally, morale among the hungry troops is plunging. Most elite units have not suffered cuts in quantity, but have seen reductions in the quality of food.

It gets worse, for the government up north. In the midst of all this privation, the frightened, and hungry, population has come to see South Korea as a paradise. This is despite decades of government propaganda depicting the south as an economic and cultural failure. But the growing number of South Korea TV and movie videos getting into North Korea (via Chinese traders and smugglers) has changed all that. North Koreans view all this with envy and wonder, taking pride that under the right conditions, Koreans can be rich and happy. Naturally, this causes North Koreans to lose faith in their own government and its policies. The government recognizes this, and the official list of 51 social classes in North Korea notes that 29 of these classes are either hostile to the government or leaning that way. Alas for North Korea, most of the population falls into these 29 social classes, and they are getting increasingly hostile to a government that seems to do nothing but create one disaster after another. The colder weather is now arriving, meaning food shortages will be joined by heat and lighting shortages. The Winter of their discontent might be the season of change. The people are hungry, the soldiers are hungry, the secret police are stealing whatever they can get their hands on and the senior officials are planning their escape routes.

In response to North Korean use of GPS and communications signal jammers several times this year, South Korea had ordered four radar aircraft (militarized Boeing 737s) that can also be used for electronic warfare (as well as controlling combat aircraft). South Korea is also going to launch six or more communications/electronic warfare satellites.

September 24, 2011: Japan launched another reconnaissance satellite, to maintain a spy satellite network it began building after North Korea fired a missile over Japan in 1998. The Japanese satellite network is primarily to monitor military developments in North Korea and has become a major source of such information. The data is shared with allies (especially the U.S. and South Korea.)

September 21, 2011: A French firm has won the contract to upgrade the navigation systems on South Korea's nine type U-209 submarines.

September 16, 2011: South Korea police revealed that they arrested a North Korean defector (who arrived in the late 1990s) on September 3rd and found he was carrying poisoned needles. The defector was on his way to meet with another defector who had been leading a growing anti-North Korean government movement in South Korea. Police believed the arrested defector was another one of the sleeper agents the north has been sending south, under the guise of being a refugee from the north. Most sleepers have been caught spying, but several were apparently assigned assassination missions.






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