With the news of Kim Jong Il’s illness becoming an established fact, whether the North Korean leadership system will turn into a third-generation hereditary system or a military based-collective leadership system is generating interest.
Discussing the possibility of a collective leadership system begins with acknowledging North Korea as a “normal country.” However, in actuality, North Korea is closer to Kim Il Sung’s and Kim Jong Il’s private property. From such a perspective, one can probably arrive at the correct answer to questions regarding the post-Kim Jong Il leadership system.
In North Korea, Kim Jong Il has used the land and everything on it to their heart’s content–the factories, enterprises, public buildings, all facilities, the political and economic system, and even the citizens. In North Korea, all property is considered to be “national property” or the “possessions of the people,” but in reality the only people who can truly deal with these properties are Kim Jong Il and his family.
From the Marxist historical materialism perspective, North Korea is on a par with an ancient slavery society and relations between Kim’s family and the average citizens can be thought of in terms of a ruling class of slave owners and a class of slaves. Spontaneous markets have risen up and have slightly changed the landscape, but since the 1970s, North Korea has essentially become the “property” of Kim Il Sung and his son.
Consequently, the possibility of a father-son succession, as in the dynastic age, seems highly likely. That is, it is difficult to imagine Kim Jong Il handing over North Korea to a military group or another group as long as he is alive.
◆ Can the military really overcome the Workers’ Party?
Some believe a military-dominated collective leadership is possible because they recognize the fact that the military elite can seize power relatively easily in extreme situations with their forces.
“Military-first politics” is a key foundation supporting such logic. However, the problem with this analysis is that the military is merely Kim Jong Il’s “means of governing” and is not the main player that drives the regime.
The real core of North Korea’s politics is clearly the “Workers’ Party.” One who is not a member of the Party cannot rise as an official, and no matter how powerful one is, s/he is strictly monitored by Secretaries of the Party.
The fact that the National Defense Commission or the Defense Security Command of the Korean People’s Army could not even receive permission to inspect organizations of the Provincial Committees of the Party also hints at how much more powerful the Party is than the military.
Furthermore, since last year when Jang Sung Taek took over the operations of the Ministry of Administration of the Workers’ Party, the authority of the People’s Safety Agency (PSA) has been strengthened further and the officers belonging to the PSA can directly inspect the vehicles of soldiers or their possessions. They can even inspect the homes of army officials.
With Kim Jong Il reigning as the Chairman of the National Defense Commission, some view the National Defense Commission as an organization with power on par with the Chosun (North Korea) Workers’ Party. However, that only signifies that the status of the Commission has been raised by Kim’s leadership of it, and does not mean that it has assumed power at the summit of the decision-making apparatus. A National Defense Commission without Kim Jong Il merely amounts to being an accessory of the Party.
The final reason which could account for difficulty in establishing a group-based leadership system is that the leading figures in the Party do not hold positions of power within the National Defense Commission.
So, the concept of the army mobilizing military power to reign over the Party is unimaginable. If the National Defense Commission were to mobilize the army and try to launch a coup, there would almost certainly be no officers or soldiers that would attack Kim Jong Il’s family or the Party big-wigs.
◆ In order to acquire information on a successor, raise an antennae in the Escort Bureau
However, the media has zealously watched the North Korean military authorities, but has ignored Kim Jong Il’s private guard unit, the “Escort Bureau.”
The Escort Bureau, which has camps near Kim Jong Il’s special villas scattered all around the country and especially in Pyongyang, has been strictly monitoring key figures in the army for Kim Jong Il’s safety, along with the National Security Agency and the PSA.
Thus, if army figures jump into a power struggle, or if the Escort Bureau senses that someone can muster a coup, then the individual as well as his/her family can be destroyed in a single swoop.
Further to which, Kim Jong Il has not placed the Border Patrol Guard, the Anti-aircraft Battery of the Worker’s and Peasant’s Red Guard and the People’s Safety Troops in the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, but has established a system that is directly overseen by the Party and the PSA. Moreover, North Korea’s Civil Defense Corps is directly maintained by the Party’s Civil Defense Unit. This is partly because North Korea can more expediently mobilize and equip them for some emergencies in this way, but it is an important tactic for decentralizing military power.
So while North Korea itself is an untouchable property of Kim Jong Il’s family, there is only the merest hint of possibility that the country can be turned into a military-based collective leadership system, and if we accept that such a possibility is close to zero, who will be Kim Jong Il’s successor? To obtain the answer, an antenna should be set up at the Escort Bureau.