Promoting Kim Jong Eun to ‘marshal’ and issuing an announcement containing the news this lunchtime with considerable fanfare is Pyongyang’s indirect way of informing the outside world that Kim Jong Eun is in complete control of the North Korean military, analysts believe.
The decision was jointly issued in the name of the Party Central Committee, Party Central Military Commission, National Defense Commission and Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly at 12PM. Through it, the four formally expressed their respect for Kim Jong Eun, as they did when awarding Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il the title ‘Marshal’ and then ‘Grand Marshal’ in the past.
The announcement untangles some tricky military knots; namely, that Kim Jong Eun only received the title ‘general’ on the day before the Chosun Workers’ Party Delegates’ Conference (September 27th, 2010), and stayed that way thereafter despite being elevated to supreme commander after his father’s death in December. Therefore, for six months his position as supreme commander did not match his rank, ‘general’, in the system as a whole.
It could also be said that Kim Jong Eun receiving the title ‘marshal’ is long overdue, given that Kim Jong Il made the same rank in early 1992, albeit far later in terms of absolute age.
It can also be considered a necessary adjustment following the elevation of Kim Jeong Gak, Hyun Cheol Hae, Choi Ryong Hae and Hyon Yong Chol to ‘vice-marshal’ in recent months. Given the weight of military men above him in the ranking, it would not have made sense for Supreme Commander Kim Jong Eun to remain ‘Gen. Kim Jong Eun’.
Cheong Seong Chang of the Sejong Institute explained, “Elevating his rank has solved the irony whereby North Korea’s supreme commander, Kim Jong Eun, was ranked lower than most of the senior cadres he commanded,” before adding, “Kim Jong Eun’s grip on military power just got much bigger.”
North Korea Strategy Center director Kim Kwang In agreed, saying, “The title ‘general’ does not go well with that of supreme commander of the military. From the Party, politburo and military perspective, Kim Jong Eun is now at the pinnacle of power.”
Analysts also point out that this week’s purging of ex-Chief of Staff Lee Young Ho and Hyun Yong Chol’s promotion to ‘vice-marshal’ were both acts designed to show that Kim Jong Eun has leadership and power, whether true or not.
A government source noted, “North Korea is giving off the message that Kim Jong Eun was solely in charge of Lee’s purging, rather than Jang Sung Taek or Choi Ryong Hae having anything to do with it.”
Meanwhile, there are conflicting interpretations as to who North Korea was aiming at when it reported the news by pre-announcing an upcoming “important announcement at 12PM.”
But what is not in doubt is that it was an attempt to maximize the propaganda effect of the announcement to the target audience. A former senior ranked officer in North Korea commented, “There have been many cases in the past where North Korea gave advance notice of important announcements or important reports to draw more domestic and foreign attention.”