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Looking at Things Like the Regime

[Sohn Gwang Joo Column]
Sohn Kwang Joo, Gyeonggi Research Institute  |  2012-05-07 14:38
When analyzing North Korea objectively, it is important to look at things from the ‘regime’s perspective’. Indeed, the North Korean regime being a ‘Suryeong system’, it would be reasonable to say that we must observe things from the ‘perspective of the Suryeong.’

What this means in reality is coming to a full understanding of the domestic and diplomatic strategies connected to rule in Kim Il Sung-Kim Jong Il-Kim Jong Eun North Korea, then analyzing the situation Kim Jong Eun and the ruling elite finds itself in at the moment in question, all so as to finally be able to predict the strategies and tactics the regime will employ to ensure its survival. The most important thing is to keep in mind this question: “Under the current conditions, what tools and methods does the Suryeong possess by which to preserve and strengthen his role and authority?” Personally, I base 50% of my analytical work on this.

Recently, some analysts have concluded that North Korea already has a collective leadership system, but I think not. Currently, Kim Jong Eun rules the North Korean leadership in the Suryeong-ist style of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, with implementation of decrees led by Kim Kyung Hee, Jang Sung Taek and Choi Ryong Hae. Kim Jong Eun is the ruler; in other words, he has the authority of the Suryeong.

Just because the name has changed and Kim Jong Eun became 1st Secretary of the Chosun Workers’ Party and 1stChairman of the National Defense Commission, it does not mean that the status of the Suryeong has changed.

It is unclear at the time of writing whether North Korea will utilize the Kim Jong Eun + Kim Kyung Hui, Jang Sung Taek, Choi Ryeong Hae system to achieve stability over the long term, or whether Kim Jong Eun will revert fully to the Kim Jong Il approach once he has more confidence in how the system works. Though unclear, I personally presume the latter to be more likely.

Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il were consistent in that their power was heavily concentrated. And thus, internally things were stable. Now, North Korea’s power structure is still formally a Suryeongist system, and Kim Jong Eun is at the core, but the operation and contents do not match like they did. This is a risk factor.

We all noticed Kim Jong Eun looking uncomfortable and swaying back and forth during his first public address at the military parade on the Day of the Sun. In medical terms we say that this is a ‘tic-disorder’, arising when two situations contradict each other. (In this case the contradiction is the objective Suryeong image in the public view vs. the inner self who is not yet ready to be an authoritarian leader.)

Communist systems have always been unstable when in the kind of ‘transition’ period North Korea is now in. Looking back at the Soviet Union and China, periods of transition inevitably led to power struggles. It seems that there are no internal power struggles in North Korea as of now. Perhaps this is because of Kim Jong Il’s ‘last instructions’, the core of which was to ‘safeguard the Suryeong’.

However, it is questionable whether the ‘last instructions effect’ has the vigor to last three years, similar to the length of time Kim Jong Il himself was able to rule in the name of his own father. It will not last longer than a year or two. Firstly, swelling problems can cause internal power conflicts, and those internal conflicts can link to the military and, over time, spread to public opinion in the markets.

And so, from 2012 to 2016, approximately for four years, there will likely be a compressed instability on the peninsula. The reason why I look to the year 2016 is because US-ROK Combined Forces will be dissolved on December 1st, 2015. US-ROK Combined Forces is the main manifestation of the military alliance between the U.S. and South Korea, and although its dissolution will not mean problems, the military alliance is bound to loosen. The U.S. and South Korea may feel a sense of psychological loss.

My story seems to be skipping around, but one point is that the original schedule for dissolution was April 17th, 2012, which would have been in the middle of North Korea’s 100th anniversary celebrations just last month. However, after the switching of South Korea-U.S. wartime operational control in 2010, the dissolution was deferred to December 3rd, 2015 for logistical reasons.

Naturally there is a link between North Korea’s nuclear and military strategy towards South Korea and changes in the U.S-ROK alliance of this type. North Korea, which is on the brink of completing phase 3 of its nuclear strategy; 1) making nuclear weapons; then 2) establishing a production system, and then 3) completing a missile-based delivery device, sped up the third phase to show off on April 13th; ‘new leader’ Kim Jong Eun was too greedy. Regardless, a third nuclear test and follow-up missile test are set to follow.

The Kim Jong Eun system is continuing down the ‘military-first’ route. North Korea’s problems include international community sanctions and shortages of foreign currency, food and energy, the collapse of the planned economy and market expansion, internal divisions due to information inflows and others, all of which would have been familiar to Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Il stuck hard to ‘military-first politics’ for regime survival, and Kim Jong Eun will struggle to break away from it.

However, North Korea’s military-first political line is slowly losing its effect in South Korea and the U.S. The ‘provocation reward cycle’ that has been going on since the early 1990s is no longer working on President Obama and Lee Myung Bak, while Chinese President Hu Jintao seems to be getting gradually tired of it as well.

And so, I think it likely that North Korea sees 2012 to 2016 as a period with some potential for the emergence of a ‘victory’. That is, to find peace with the U.S. and get it to withdraw its forces, shake internal South Korean power up and create a reliable lifeline/strengthen cooperation with China.

Of, course this is no easy thing for North Korea to accomplish. They lack the ability. North Korea claims ‘economic cooperation’ with China but all this actually means is selling raw materials and cheap labor to China to secure finance to stabilize its power elite. Therefore, those who harbor the expectation that Kim Jong Eun, the ‘young leader’, will move towards reform and opening should let them go.

But although they are weak, the problem is that North Korea does still have ways to shake South Korea. On April 23rd, North Korea released news that it was soon to attack South Korea in a new and unprecedented manner, and that this “3-4 minute” attack would be enough to sweep away the “Lee Myung Bak traitor puppet party and conservative media gang.”

Revealing that the target is the “Lee Myung Bak traitor puppet party and conservative media gang,” is North Korea’s way of dividing South Korean society. Kim Il Sung said once, “South Korea is divided into two parties, the ruling party and the opposition party, and must use this well. South Korea’s population is 40 million, if we take half of the population in South Korea then we will win”. How much simpler and clearer can North Korea’s strategy be made?

However, it is realistically impossible to terrorize the “Lee Myung Bak traitor puppet party” in totality; simply, North Korea is looking to disrupt South Korean society.

First, South Korea needs to stay awake to what North Korea said about the conservative media. If North Korea were to attack the facilities of the Chosun Ilbo and DongA Ilbo, pro-North Korea groups would welcome it and the rest of the people, who do not know the reality of North Korea’s strategy towards South Korea, will take quite a time to understand the situation.

According to Yoo Dong Reul, a North Korea policy strategy expert from the Policy Science Institute, it is assumed that North Korea’s ‘Special Operations Team’ will attack online networks, broadcast networks and electrical grids. If South Korea’s broadcasters, media, electric power, stock market and government computer networks were to be down for a few days it could cause extreme chaos.

Second, defectors who are involved with human rights movements need to take care. North Korea tried three times to assassinate the late Hwang Jang Yop, and tried to assassinate Park Sang Hak, a leaflet activist, but was blocked by South Korean intelligence.

North Korea wants to assassinate North Korean defectors to show the cruel things that ‘happen to traitors’, while dividing the South Korean people and North Korean defectors. Broadcasters towards North Korea and North Korean human rights organization activists must take extreme care.

I feel also that nuclear facilities should be protected. These can be attacked online and offline by special forces.

But in essence, the North Korean authorities are aiming to create an atmosphere of fear, and thus the important part is that the media, people and government must emphasize facts, use reason and stick to scientific bases for their assertions. Over time, South Korea’s view of North Korean issues will naturally move in the right way. The public can solve this problem.
 

이광백

-원광대 법대
-(現)자유조선방송 대표
-(前)북한민주화네트워크 연구위원
시민행동21 지방자치센터 소장
시대정신 편집위원

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2014.12.15
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