A number of recent news items, superficially unrelated, indicate that a few small changes are occurring in North Korea. One can look at an individual change and not see much of great significance. In the aggregate, however, these small adjustments in the political and social fabric of North Korean life could be the sign of something bigger.
For example, a recent story about how an order, allegedly from Kim Jong Un himself, has made warrantless house searches illegal may seem unimportant to those living in less dictatorial circumstances.
Looking a bit deeper into this matter reveals that the executive order likely came about in response to increasing push-back from residents who have learned a bit about the rule of law and personal rights from having access to outside information smuggled into the country.
Last June, I wrote a piece about protest and resistance in North Korea. To that, add yet another article that discussed anti-Kim Jong Un slogans that were recently distributed in parts of North Korea.
There have even been reports of discontent in the capital about the forced participation in the seemingly endless series of domestic labor campaigns. It is clear that a new grade of protest and a new level of resistance has been established, although how this will play out in the future is as yet unknowable.
OUTSIDE INFORMATION GETTING IN
Is it outside information that has – to some degree – led to the courage to protest? The answer to that is a resounding “Yes!” And equally important as pointed out in another essay, any attempts by Pyongyang to stifle the inflow of news and information about the outside world are doomed to failure. One could make a good case that of all the illegal goods entering into North Korea, information is one of the most sought-after imports.
When average North Koreans learn about life in other countries, primarily South Korea, it sparks interest in how that knowledge could be put to good use in their own lives. And news of recent community meetings held by authorities that were intended to discourage accessing foreign media have only fanned the flames of desire for that outside information.
There have even been reports of discontent in the capital
To make matters even worse, another article pointed out that the North Korean party’s own newspaper Rodong Shinmun was inadvertently creating interest in democracy. It seems that its coverage of the current South Korean presidential impeachment crisis has not had the intended effect of ridiculing Seoul.
Instead, it has focused the attention of its North Korean readers on how the protests against the government in the South are allowed without reprisal and how such demonstrations show the will of a free people.
OUTSIDE INVESTIGATORS LOOKING IN
Is Kim Jong Un bowing to pressure from citizens – or is it merely enlightened self-interest? Is it basically the case of looking to make life more tolerable for the common man, or is Kim actually only looking out for himself in the long run?
Most likely it is merely enlightened self-interest. An example is a recent decision to have no more public executions. That doesn’t mean no more executions, it just means no more public ones. It is unlikely that this move was in response to the delicate sensitivities of the average citizen, for the regime used such executions to instill fear in and secure compliance by citizens.
Holding executions in private is more likely a response to investigations by the United Nations and other outside non-governmental aid organizations that are looking into Pyongyang’s abysmal human rights record.
Small changes such as these in North Korea are undoubtedly a combination of news and other information getting into the North as well as Pyongyang becoming increasingly concerned about outside agencies looking at its treatment of its citizens. It is essential to note that these changes also present glorious opportunities for more changes.
One could make a good case that of all the illegal goods entering into North Korea, information is one of the most sought-after imports
LEVERAGING THE SOURCE
As the diplomatic world is finally coming to realize, neither diplomacy or sanctions – with or without China’s assistance – are going to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and intercontinental missile programs now that success in becoming a world nuclear power is so close at hand.
As for direct action, that door is all but closed regarding the option of pre-emptive military strikes. Unavoidable collateral damage to the most populous areas of South Korea would be unacceptable.
What is left for use is what has been shown to work. The injection of information about the outside world has had a recognizable and substantive effect. Getting in more information – hard news, culturally-related entertainment, practical do-it-yourself seminars – is what will make even more of a difference. The cost is negligible. Thumb drives are a cheap commodity these days and filling them with data is a trivial task, even in bulk.
However, balloons are yesterday’s mode of content delivery. The future is drones, as they are not dependent on the vagaries of wind currents. Using remotely-controlled or programmable small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), cities and areas can be targeted. With fresh news of the North developing a drone with a ten-hour flying capability, the West ought to be ashamed that its equivalents are not already in use.
With mapping software, such UAVs could be flown stealthily at low altitudes for great access to the North. Although one aim would be for the machines to be able to make their way back home to the South, losing a few to achieve deeper penetration would be worth it.
This seems to be the option with the greatest potential for long-term success at the lowest possible cost. Do the right people recognize that the noise we hear is opportunity knocking at the door?
Featured Image: DMZ - South Korea by Konrad Karlsson on 2013-03-28 07:29:40