Why do North Korean diplomats not defect while stationed abroad?

Anand Nyamdavaa
2 min readAug 18, 2020


Many people who write about socialist countries make these classic assumptions:

  • Assumption#1: All North Koreans are forced to do whatever they are doing.
  • Assumption#2 Anybody from North Korea, given the chance, would escape.
  • Assumption#3: People would escape, but their loved ones would be executed. That’s the reason why they don’t

And we know what happens when we assume…

As a son of a Mongolian diplomat who lived through the communist era, I have some unique understanding of how North Korean diplomats feel about themselves. Let me try to briefly explain why the above assumptions are erroneous:

Being Part of the Elite: A lot of diplomats from Mongolia were sons (they were mostly men) of regular herders. They were chosen on a lot of criteria; being children of the poor herder was one of them. Today, most of them would probably not be able to enter diplomatic service.

Education: They received the best education in the Soviet Block. Studying in Soviet MGIMO (Moscow Institute for Foreign Relations)and Diplomatic Academy was a prerequisite to enter diplomatic service. These higher learning institutions were and still are one of the best in the world. As part of the studies, reading foreign journals, newspapers, and watching BBC was part of the training. They knew about the “capitalist society” quite well.

Party: Being a member of the Communist party was a required prerequisite to work abroad. And you couldn’t join the party as you wish, you had to be recommended by a Communist member.

So all the above-mentioned points make these diplomats the best their country ever produced. They were the smartest, best educated, the real crème de la crème. They loved their job of representing their own country.

Now lets look back at the question:

Why do North Korean diplomats don’t defect while stationed abroad?

Would crème de la crème defect? Highly unlikely.

Has it happened? Yes. Just recently the Deputy Ambassador of North Korea to the UK defected.[1] So if North Koreans want to defect, nobody can stop them. All these hundreds of diplomats can defect at any moment, but they don’t.

Because they are part of the system, and happy to be. Nobody is forcing them and threatening their lives…


[1] Senior North Korean defector says his sons were reason he fled