A US soldier, Private Second Class Travis King, entered North Korea through the Joint Security Area (JSA) today for currently unknown reasons. “It’s clear that he willfully, of his own volition, crossed the border,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a briefing Tuesday afternoon. According to the Wall Street Journal, King apparently had “served time in detention” in the South and was heading back to the US when he decided to participate in a tour of the JSA. Another individual on the tour says that King laughed as he crossed into the North.
The reasons for King’s actions are still not clear. US soldiers have deserted and defected to North Korea before, often to get out of service, but it is an exceedingly rare occurrence. If King was facing punishment, it is possible that he may have crossed the border to avoid the consequences. Gil Barndollar of Catholic University’s Center for the Study of Statesmanship told The Spectator that “It doesn’t, at first glance, look like any kind of ideological defection or anything; more like a knucklehead soldier taking an unconventional approach to a problem.”
Treatment at the hands of the North is unpredictable, to say the least. “I am absolutely foremost concerned about the welfare of our troop,” secretary of defense Lloyd Austin said at a briefing. King might find himself used as a bargaining chip should North Korea think it can extract something from the US.
If King wants to return to the US, it will likely come down to a prisoner swap. “We are probably going to trade somebody for this soldier when he comes to his senses,” said Barndollar. “I think the way this will play out is that we will have to make a pretty unequal trade.”
Upon his return, Barndollar expects that King will face some sort of court martial with the likely result of either a bad conduct discharge or a dishonorable discharge from the military. Jumping the border to North Korea — a sworn enemy of America — is not a light offense.