Monday, 2 January 2012

Kim Jong-Un Promises Continuity in North Korea's Policies

Well what better way to kick of the New Year(1) then with a update on one of last years last stories?


"In the wake of the funeral for North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, North Korea said the world should not expect change in its leadership style or policies. In the first formal policy message since Kim Jong Il’s death earlier this month, North Korea condemned South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak and affirmed the leadership of Kim Jong Un, who was officially declared supreme leader yesterday in a ceremony in Pyongyang. We’re joined by Christine Ahn, executive director of the Korea Policy Institute. She's been to North Korea several times."

In summary given that the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea's third leader shares the same family name as his two predecessors, the announcement that he and the leadership of the Workers Party of Korea (WPK)(2) are going to stay on the course set for them by Jong Il shouldn't come as a surprise. Even if Jong Un had like his elder brother Nam proven unworthy of the mantle of Leadership and was forced to look outside the family its doubtful much would have changed. Despite the popular need to personalise regimes particularly Dictatorships (though those ego stroking cults of personality don't help matters) its easy to forget that it takes a lot of manpower to run a program of state control. In North Korea not only do we have the Kim' but we also have the WKP which is the nations supreme decision maker as its Constitution makes clear
"Article 11. The DPRK shall carry out all its activities under the leadership of the WPK." And the WPK is further supported by the other two parties in a "United Front" and a state controlled Trade Union Movement(3).

The Flag of the Workers Party, representing the organisation that underpins North Korean society, just not in the way its designer intended.

And of course we can't forget North Korea's most (In)famous sector its Military; in particular the Korean People's Army Ground Forces(Worlds fourth largest army)

And the Artillery Guidance Bureau (Missile Command)

As well as raising tensions and bargaining for aid this rocket(Ro-Dong) is North Korea's most lucrative export.

Of course its natural for an oppressor to want to build a strong military and keep its officers sweet but North Korea takes it a few steps further then most tin pot Dictatorships. Since the death of Kim Il-Sung and the end of the Cold War North Korea has been slowly but surely chucking out every reference to Communism, Marx and Lenin and replacing them with references to the nation and Korean People and Race. In fact its latest Constitution adopted in 2009 has no mention of the M or C word, though it is still peppered liberally with mentions of Socialism the more popular buzz words in Pyongyang are Juche (which roughly translates to self reliance or Autarky) and Songun (Military First) self reliance is ideologically speaking quite vague and could fit in with many political movements, but Songun is much more explicit. It makes North Korea a De-facto Stratocracy like Burma and again reaffirms the link between the military and political leadership.

Kim Jong Il despite working in North Korea's Propaganda Industry for many years, highest rank before his father died was Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and had little experience at the highest levels of the WKP making the transition from party to military Dictatorship a natural choice especially given the turmoil of the 90's famine. And Kim Jong-Un's only posting of note before succession was as a General in the KPA in fact his only title until recently was "Young General" so any return to civilian rule seems unlikely.

However I think Christine Ahn has a good point in regards to the possibility of change in regards to other nations dealings with the regime. Since Kim Jong Il was vilified to such a degree (rightly in my opinion though in many cases people were quick to embrace out of context stories and inaccurate information) that it made any meaningful dialogue or relationship with him almost unthinkable. Again that is perfectly understandable to spend all those years exposing the repression over the DMZ only to suddenly embrace him because he was willing to do a deal or made pleasant sounding regrets would have been unthinkable. But sadly despite the impression North Korea is not an isolated little corner we could afford to ignore. Not only does it have the military capabilities to threaten and at least damage its neighbours, but even if it were to peacefully collapse the humanitarian crisis it would create for both China and South Korea not to mention the trauma of re-unifying to completely different systems at polar opposites of living standards and structure would have a major impact on the region and the world.

The alternative to repairing relations with North Korea are sanctions which due to the weak economic structure mean severe deprivation and suffering for the Korean people, or another invasion and given the track record of that in just the 21st century alone its probably not even worth mentioning why that shouldn't be "on the table".

(1) In North Korea the new year isn't until the 15th of April since they've modified there calender to incorporate the birth of Kim Il-Sung in 1912, while odd the practice does have precedent in Korean history as well as in neighbouring China and Japan.
(2) There are two other political parties in the DPRK, the Social Democratic Party, and the Chondoist Chongu Party, however they are both part of the "Fatherland Front" run by the WKP and have questionable independence. Social Democracy shouldn't need and explanation, but Chondo might, in English it roughly translates to "Party of the Young Friends of the Heavenly Way" and is in practice a party built around the Korean Chondogyo religion. So I supposed a bit like the Muslim Brotherhood or Christian Democrats.
(3) To me the most convincing argument for a strong independent Trade Union Movement is the fact that every Despot and Oligarchy whether on the Left or the Right has sought to crush/outlaw/or Co-opt workers organisations.

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