It appears that Minister of the People’s Armed Forces Jang Jong Nam has been demoted from general to colonel-general, and this is attracting attention.
In a Chosun Central TV broadcast on February 4th covering news of the 111th Mt. Baekdu electoral district campaign meeting that chose Kim Jong Eun as candidate in upcoming Supreme People’s Assembly elections, Jang appeared dressed in the stripes of a colonel-general.
North Korea’s Minister of the People’s Armed Forces position was formerly held by Kim Kyok Sik, the former 4th Corps commander thought to have led the sinking of the Cheonan and Yeonpyung Island attacks in 2010. Jang replaced Kim in May last year.
Jang was adorned as a four-star general when he went to pay his respects to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at Kumsusan Palace of the Sun with Kim Jong Eun on New Year’s Day, meaning that the demotion happened in January. He had only been promoted to general during an expanded meeting of the Workers’ Party Central Committee held on August 25th.
Given Kim Jong Eun’s apparent tendency toward frequently changing, reinstating and demoting leading members of the Chosun People’s Army for political purposes, it seems likely that such officers could be reinstated to their former positions in due course.
Expert analysts agree that Kim is carrying out the demotions to bring leading military personnel to heel, particularly those whose power he fears may grow in the absence of Jang Song Taek, who was executed in December.
Further, frequent reshuffling of staff is one simple way for a leader to show off his or her power both domestically and abroad, at the same time as securing the loyalty of surrounding officials.
Lee Su Seok of the Institute for National Security Strategy told Daily NK, “After Jang Song Taek’s execution, this demotion seems intended to straighten out unsettled military personnel and firm up military loyalty.” He continued, “He probably also aims to eliminate the concern that the military’s power could increase.”
Lee went on, “Kim Jong Eun, by way of these demotions, is showing that ‘even top officers can be chased out of their posts at any time,’ so they must be loyal.”
Cheong Seong Chang of the Sejong Institute added, “In the Kim Jong Eun era, frequent armed forces rank changes show that army officials are weak and unstable,” and that “in this situation, army officials have no choice but to offer absolute loyalty to Kim Jong Eun and battle to show that loyalty to him”.