- North Korea’s guiding philosophical tenets have been its militarism and independence.
- Political loyalty has long been a prerequisite for advancement within the regime, and Kim has ruled with the support of the WPK, the government, the military, and the security services.
- The use of punitive measures against Pyongyang appears to have strengthened Kim’s resolve to bolster the military.
- Russia has been a key ally in discussions regarding sanctions to be implemented in response to North Korean nuclear and missile tests.
The first ten years of Kim Jong-Un’s rule in North Korea were marked by economic failures, stalled nuclear negotiations, and a steady increase in military power. Kim Jong-il appointed military and governmental officials to help him transition to leadership, but after taking office in December 2011, Kim consolidated his position by removing them. He punished perceived disobedience and brutally eliminated potential rivals, including his half-brother and uncle. In order to normalize the Worker’s Party of Korea’s (WPK) governing structures, Kim also reinstated a timeframe for conferences, which are currently the main instruments of leadership and governance in the WPK.
The majority of Kim’s contributions were made on the military front, particularly in the field of ballistic missile development. Byungjin, or the simultaneous development of the military and the economy, was pursued by Kim as the main ideological tenet of his rule, and he established North Korea’s nuclear program as the main legacy of his paternal grandfather and father. He emphasized these military victories more in the wake of North Korea’s diplomatic failures at summit meetings with Washington and Seoul in 2018 and 2019.
Contrasting Kim’s rule with his Predecessors
Kim has gradually shifted from holding the position of central leader (Suryong) in reliance on the achievements of his father and grandfather, North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung, and his grandfather, Kim Jong Il. Political loyalty has long been a prerequisite for advancement within the regime, and Kim has ruled with the support of the WPK, the government, the military, and the security services. By relying on his sister Kim Yo-jong for crucial support, he has instead extended and reconsolidated Kim’s family rule rather than departing significantly from the fundamentals of North Korea’s political structure. Kim has purposefully evoked memories of Kim Il-sung’s rule by adopting his policies, leadership style, and sense of style.
But there was a significant dilemma that both Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un had to deal with: they pursued economic reform avenues while being constrained by the need to maintain political legitimacy. Reform initiatives, like the creation of fifteen special economic zones throughout the nation and the decentralization of the agricultural industry, were ultimately hampered by worries about the viability of the regime, which led to a cutback in reforms and a reassertion of centralized government control over the economy. These parallel strategies help to highlight the intractability of the North Korean conundrum, which is that economic reforms must be prioritized over regime survival in order for the
Missiles Tested by North Korea
More than a hundred nuclear-armed ballistic missiles have been tested by North Korea. According to Pyongyang, the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile was tested in November and reportedly ascended to a height of 4,475 kilometres, well above the International Space Station. The missile travelled approximately 1,000 kilometres (590 miles) before crashing into the ocean off the coast of Japan.
Analysts estimate that the Hwasong-15 can fly up to 8,100 miles (13,000 kilometres) when fired on a downward trajectory before touching down on the U.S. mainland. American analysts and international experts continue to disagree about the nuclear payload and reentry survivability of North Korea’s ICBMs.
Why is North Korea expanding its military?
North Korea’s guiding philosophical tenets have been its militarism and independence. Throughout the Kim dynasty, the military steadily increased its influence in political affairs and was heavily involved. The North Korean government is concerned that hostile outside forces, such as South Korea and the US, may launch an attack. The only way to guarantee national survival, according to Pyongyang, is to develop asymmetric military capabilities to counter its perceived threats.
The Pyongyang regime has grown increasingly isolated since the end of the Korean War, largely due to its ongoing nuclear aspirations and other military provocations.
There are few options for obtaining the necessary hard currency, and the 25 million impoverished residents of the North are becoming more cut off from the global economy. Despite Pyongyang’s reputation as a pariah state, Kim Jong-un is still committed to a national strategy of increasing the economy and nuclear capabilities at the same time. Kim, who has struggled to keep his economic promises, wants to prove his undisputed military might in order to gain more support. Thus, the nuclear program has two goals: to defend against external threats and to strengthen Kim’s position.
The use of punitive measures against Pyongyang appears to have strengthened Kim’s resolve to bolster the military. Furthermore, previous diplomatic attempts to stop North Korea from conducting nuclear tests only temporarily succeeded in doing so.
Russia has been a key ally in discussions regarding sanctions to be implemented in response to North Korean nuclear and missile tests. But Russia has not consistently abided by UNSC decisions. Russian companies have transshipped oil and petroleum as well as reexported North Korean coal to other countries in violation of UN sanctions. Russia still allows more than 10,000 North Koreans to work there, despite international efforts to prevent Pyongyang from obtaining foreign currency through forced labour abroad.
In his post-summit press conference, Putin praised North Korean workers as “diligent, law-abiding people” and said there should be “solutions available that would allow us to avoid confrontation.” Furthermore, Russia has attempted in vain to have the UNSC sanctions against North Korea lifted.
Russia and North Korea’s trade in 2018 was only $34 million, a 56 percent decrease from 2017, in contrast to China and North Korea’s $2.43 billion in trade. China is the destination of almost 90% of North Korea’s recorded exports to other nations. Russian interests in North Korea over the last ten years have primarily been economic. Energy exploration and the transhipment of goods to South Korea via pipelines and railroads through the North are two of these interests.
However, Russia has found it challenging to invest in North Korea’s infrastructure due to financial constraints and a hostile business climate. According to Putin, the alliance between the United States and South Korea is another obstacle to the growth of Russian-Korean energy cooperation.
(The author is a post-graduate student in International Relations at Kalinga University, Raipur. The opinions expressed are the author’s own)