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Rise of Elite’s Defection in North Korea

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                                                           Rise of Elite’s Defection in North Korea

                                                               College of Liberal Arts

                                                Political Science and International Affairs

                                                                November 29, 2016



  1. Problem:

Throughout the history, defection has always been with people for the reason of the difference of religion, ideologies, and political belief.[1] Knowing why defection occurs and what makes defection happen is a key point to getting a sense of understanding of political issues in those countries that you’re interested in. In many Eastern European nations, such as the Soviet Union, every aspect of human lifestyle was being regulated and oppressed to the point that people couldn’t leave their countries due to the emigration restrictions. Regulations on emigration was a serious violation of human rights, so from then on many soviet union’s scholars and intellectuals tried their best to defect from Soviet Union to western European nations or to the U.S to avoid such government oppression and inequality.  Also, since Mao Zedong took office in mainland china in 1949, more than 2 million defectors fled mainland china. Until Tiananmen Square protest in 1989, many Chinese defectors also defected to Taiwan or the U.S.[2]   

When it comes to North Korean defectors, many North Koreans defect from North Korea to South Korea even after the installation of the Demilitarized Zone and 1953 ceasefire. In the 1990s, the number of defectors reached a three-digit figure, and the figure reached four digits in 2002.[3] Between 2006 and 2011, around 2,500 North Korean defectors came to South Korea every year, and the profile of defectors started to get diversified, ranging from the poor to diplomats and soldiers. In 2011 when Kim Jong-un took office, the number of defectors decreased to 1,400 for about three years because of his harsher punishment and stricter policing. However, recently mostly in 2016 the figure started to experience a 15.6 percent of increase, reaching 815 defectors as of the end of June.[4] Out of these number of defectors, many of North Korean elites have been included in this statistics, which have never been seen in Korean history after Korean war. The most recent case is Tae Yong-ho who was based in Britain was one of the high-ranking North Korean diplomats defected to South Korea on this August.[5] This paper will investigate why there are sudden increases in the number of high level defectors. Diplomats and soldiers in Communist countries such as North Korea are really important figures to maintain the communist regime and it must be important indication that something is actually happening in North Korea. Therefore, this paper will seek to explain why the number of North Korea elite defectors has been on the rise recently.

  1. Two Alternate Hypothesis
  1. International level: If a nation is being isolated diplomatically from the world, then there will be an increase of defection of elite leaders.

Theory A is not as strong as my primary hypothesis. At the international level, North Korea has been isolated since Korean war, and it was their national principle to be independent from western power; principle of independence, self-reliance, and self-defense was their principle to defend and maintain the country’s sovereignty.[6] Therefore, there is no direct correlation between the fact that North Korea is being isolated diplomatically and the rising number of North Korean elite defectors because North Korea has been isolated for a long time diplomatically, but the number of North Korean elite defectors is on the rise recently.

  1. Individual decision-maker: If a leader is paranoid, then there will be an increase of defection of elite leaders.

Theory B is not as strong as my primary hypothesis as well because there is no clear correlation between the defection and a leader being paranoid. At individual level, a leader could be worried about his positions and kill other top elite leaders around him to maintain his regime. In this sense, just because a leader kills and purges other elite leaders doesn’t necessarily mean that he is paranoid and megalomaniac. It might be true that if a leader is paranoid, then there will be an increase of defection of elite leaders. However, in the case of North Korea, it’s hard to argue that Kim Jong-un is paranoid and megalomaniac just because there has been an increase of defection of elite leaders.

  1. Hypothesis and Methodology
  1. Testable Hypothesis ( Domestic Level)

If there is a fear of collapse of a nation, then there will be an increase of defection of elite leaders.

  1. Definitions of DV and IV

Defection can be used in lots of different situations because it basically means desertion from allegiance, loyalty, duty, a country, or a party. In other words, it’s implying the act of leaving a country, political party, etc. to go to another one. In this paper, it’s implying leaving a country to go to another one for better life, explaining about North Korean elite defectors.

Independent Variable: IV is a fear of collapse. Collapse means an inability to continue or stay in operation. In this paper, it’s not just a collapse of a nation, but it’s more like regime change and the economic instability. Since Kim Jong-un took the throne in 2012, unlike his father and grandfather, his style of leadership has been significantly different in terms of killing top officials. His father and grandfather were not willing to kill their top official leaders, but rather sent them to prison camps.[7] Also, the economy of North Korea is on the verge of collapse due to several reasons such as sanctions against North Korea, natural disaster, and the drop of its mineral exports. Therefore, the fear of collapse here is meaning slightly different than what it actually means because it’s having a couple of different meanings.



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