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NAPSNet Special Report

Recommended Citation

Alexandre Y. Mansourov, "NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR IS SOUTH KOREAN CIA’S TIME-BOMB", NAPSNet Special Reports, July 27, 1994,


written by Alexandre Y. Mansourov, with substantial editing by 
Nautilus Institute (

July 27/94

The news that Kang Myong-do defected from the DPRK is not 
significant for what he said at a news conference about 
Pyongyang's alleged possession of five nuclear bombs. Rather, if 
he is who he says he is, then Kang is no ordinary North Korean. 
He was one of the members of the ruling clan. Hence, according 
to ROK laws, he faced the prospect of trial in the ROK because 
the National Security Law of the ROK still treats all the North 
Korean leaders as criminals. In this vulnerable position, he 
must have been very susceptible to what the KCIA pressure.

His story is tantamount to to saying that Kim Il Sung was a 
malicious liar in all his pronouncements about the nuclear 
weapons in the DPRK. Unfortunately for Kang, it is actually not 
very difficult to show from basic physical principles that it is 
highly improbable that the DPRK could have produced, extracted, 
processed and machined into warheads enough fissile material from 
its small plutonium production and research reactors. Nuclear 
physics do not bend to the will of political leaders, not even to 
that of Kim Il Sung or his son. Also, it is very unlikely that 
someone of Kang's stature (or even his father, and least of all, 
military friends) would have access to this kind of information 
in the DPRK. Such information is highly compartmentalized all 
the way to the very top on a "need to know" basis. Every nuclear 
weapons program in the world has been organized this way, and the 
DPRK's is no exception. Moreover, if Washington and Seoul really 
viewed Kang's testimony as credible, then the United States would 
not be about to commence talks with Pyongyang. Instead, it would 
be boosting its forces to offset the DPRK's alleged nuclear 

The real meaning of this defection is that within the inner 
circle, there is growing disenchantment with the Kim family rule-
-including that of the former Kim senior. Premier Kang Song-san, 
his father-in-law, is No.3 man in the North Korean government. 
Obviously, personal loyalties are not as firm as one might 
expect. It seems possible that Kang Song-san will be removed from 
his position shortly, and Yon Hyun-muk might be reappointed as 
the Prime Minister of the DPRK again. 

Also this defection may turn out to become a new bone of 
contention and finger-pointing between the old guard and the 
younger elite members. On the one hand, Kim Jong-il is likely to 
use this opportunity to increase his pressure on the old-timers 
(one of whose kids, born with silver spoon, proved to be unloyal 
to the regime) by saying that it is time for them to go. 

On the other hand, since Kang Myong-do is of middle age, 
hardliners would try to exploit this situation to give the whole 
new generation of politicians a black eye and to stall important 
policy changes, proposed by leaders who "lack patriotism, display 
"lackeyism" towards foreigners, and undermine the foundations of 
the system laid down by the Great Leader". 

As a result, the power struggle within the North Korean 
leadership which everybody has been awaiting for so long but 
which has not materialized so far may erupt and intensify 
rapidly, even destabilizing the regime.

The main beneficiaries of the defection are those circles in 
Seoul that knew all along that Kang Myong-do had arrived in Seoul 
in late May this year. They held him in custody and under 
interrogation until now and decided to release the news of his 
defection only today--on the eve of the DPRK-US third round of 
high level talks. 

Of course, a defection of such magnitude becoming public is 
likely to throw off balance the current leadership in Pyongyang. 
Kim Jong Il may be forced to react promptly by reshuffling top 
Cabinet posts on the eve of or right after the talks with the US 
side. Consequently, less attention would be devoted to the talks 
themselves, which may leave North Korean negotiators with less 
clear political support and instructions from home. Hence, their 
hands may be tied and they may be less flexible. As a result, 
the third round of US-DPRK talks could fail and end up in growing 
US suspicions over the North Korean nuclear intentions. At 
least, this outcome may be the goal of those who kept Kang 
sequestered while he was being debriefed and prepared for the 
public announcement.

Secondly, this revelation gives more ammunition to hawks on the 
US side to press the Clinton administration to get tough with 
Pyongyang because Mr. Kang Myong-do "confirmed" that the DPRK 
already had five nuclear bombs and because Mr. Kim Il Sung is 
alleged to have lied to President Carter when he said that the 
DPRK neither had the capability nor intention to build a nuclear 

In short, the timing of the release of the news of Kang's 
defection is obviously intentional. It is the KCIA's second 
recent attempt to provoke the North (the first one was the 
release of documents on the origins of the Korean war which 
accused Kim Il Sung of starting the war and consequent 
description of him as a war criminal). These conservative 
elements aim at destabilizing the current regime in Pyongyang. 
It is clear that these political forces do not appreciate the 
fact that the succession appears to be proceeding rather smoothly 
in the DPRK. And the fact that the North has not replaced Kang's 
father even though it would have known about his son's defection 
since May indicates that either Kang Jr. is not who he says he 
is, or if he is, that the North Korean ruling circles are 
unruffled; or that Kang Jr. is who he says he is, but may have 
had mundane, non-political reasons to defect.

Moreover, these elements of South Korea's establishment resent 
the fact that the US continues to talk to the North even when the 
South-North talks have been put on hold indefinitely because it 
is below Kim Yong Sam's dignity to sit down to talk with Kim 
Jong-il who has not consolidated his power yet. It may signal 
the revival of pull-again, push-again policies which the Kim Yong 
Sam administration pursued vis-a-vis the US in 1993. This time 
around, the United States is unlikely to allow the South to stall 
the US-DPRK talks again. 

Ironically, the ROK's actions are actually forcing the Clinton 
administration to decide what it really wants on the Korean 
peninsula--confrontation or detente. If the first, then it will 
follow the South's lead. If it is the second, then it will 
follow American interests and move to an officially recognized, 
two-Korea policy. Russia could do it, China could do it, Japan 
is happy to do it if the United States takes the lead. Doing so 
is what used to be called leadership during the Republican 
presidential era in the United States.

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