Byungjin Lives as Kim Seeks Guns and Butter

North Korea adopted a new political and economic line during a plenary session of the Party Central Committee held yesterday in Pyongyang.

The new line, which can be characterized as ‘simultaneous development of nuclear weapons and the economy (the ‘byungjin line’),’ came in response to the agenda item, “On the tasks of our Party to bring about a decisive turn in accomplishing the revolutionary cause of Juche as required by the present situation and the developing revolution.”

The adoption of the new line is intended to send minds back to December 1962, when Kim Il Sung oversaw a plenary Central Committee meeting that adopted a similar ‘byungjin line’ covering simultaneous development of the economy and national defense. The new line is, thus, “a brilliant succession and development onto a new, higher stage of the original line of simultaneously developing the economy and national defense that was set forth and had been fully embodied by the great Generalissimos,” the North Korean media noted following yesterday’s meeting, adding, “When the Party’s new line is thoroughly carried out, [North Korea] will emerge as a great political, military and socialist economic power and a highly-civilized country which steers the era of independence.”

Although the word “byungjin” actually means ‘progress in tandem’ or ‘move two things forward simultaneously’, Kim Il Sung’s ‘economic and national defense byungjin’ leaned very heavily toward defense. The line, which was adopted by North Korea at the time of the Sino-Soviet conflict and Cuban missile crisis, prioritized the allocation of limited resources to the defense sector at the relative expense of economic development. As a result, North Korea delayed declaring the completion of the seven-year plan it had launched in 1961 until 1970, some nine years later. Its goals were also not met.

Nevertheless, it is a point of interest that, although yesterday’s new ‘byungjin’ line still calls nuclear arms the “people’s lifeline” and the “treasure of a unified country” that must be strengthened, there was such a substantial rhetorical emphasis placed on developing the wider economy.

“The true superiority of the new byungjin line is that, by virtue of decisively improving our deterrent and national defense capabilities without spending more on defense expenditure, we will be able to concentrate on improving people’s lives and economic construction,” the meeting report emphasized.

This is intended to convey the idea that nuclear arms are an essential tool, one that can allow for reduced spending on conventional weapons, funding that can then be used for economic development.