The North Korean Defense Minister Hyon Yong-Chol (right) stood in February with the North Korean ruler Kim Jong-Un in the Kumsusan Palace in Pyongyang.
YONHAPYONHAP / AFP / Getty Images
Brent Scowcroft, the former National Security Advisor, was known for falling asleep at high-level meetings – so much so that George HW Bush gave him a lighthearted award in his honor. According to Robert Gates, the Scowcroft Award goes to the “person who most demonstratively falls asleep when meeting the President.”
The President, Mr. Gates, once stated, “Evaluated candidates on three criteria. First, duration – how long did you sleep? Second, the depth of sleep. Snoring always earns you extra points. And third, the quality of the restoration. Did you just quietly open your eyes and return to the meeting, or were you startled and maybe spilled something hot? “
It turns out that there is a version of this award in North Korea too, only the consequences are not irritating.
North Korean Defense Minister Hyon Yong Chol fell asleep during a military exercise that Kim Jong Un was present at, according to South Korean intelligence officials. Bad move. On April 30, he was taken to a location north of Pyongyang and executed there with anti-aircraft guns. A 14.5mm burst of fire at close range won’t leave much of a corpse for burial, a point that is certainly not missed by the hundreds of North Koreans who attended the execution.
Hyon, a lifelong officer, served in less than a year and the fourth secretary of defense in less than three years. Since he came to power in 2011, Kim has executed his uncle, his building and finance ministers, among others. These executions are often described as “purges” or “consolidation of power”, ie as murders with political justification.
Whatever the motivation, the murders reveal ongoing unrest at the top of Pyongyang, which is why the US is at the wrong time to “re-engage” with the regime over its nuclear programs, as some reports suggest the government is doing would like. Even a murderous regime like North Korea cannot execute every dissatisfied officer and minister. Maximum international pressure could take advantage of the rifts and potentially turn dissatisfaction into regime change.
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