North Korea: The Foundations for Military Strength -- Update 1995
December 1995

Chapter 1

A Post-Kim-Il-song North Korea

National Policy Goals

President Kim Il-song's sudden death in July 1994 placed responsibility for continued political stability of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the hands of his son, Kim Chong-il. As successor, Kim Chong-il's immediate challenge has been to resolve critical national policy issues, including balancing the need for economic improvements against the demand of maintaining political stability and national security.

Regime Survival/Security

North Korea's immediate policy relies on protecting its "own form of socialism" from foreign influence or eventual political collapse. Current leaders seem unwilling to undertake the extent of reform required to effectively address the mounting political, economic, and social problems or to open North Korea to the outside world.

The Korean Workers' Party (KWP) has launched an extensive campaign of political indoctrination in the past several years. At the center of this campaign is the attempt to tighten political and social controls over antisocialist behavior.

Leadership Succession

Kim Chong-il was formally designated his father's successor at the Sixth Party Congress of the KWP in October 1980. Since then, he has participated in all aspects of the government based on the mentoring and direct support of President Kim Il-song until the latter's death. Kim Chong-il was appointed Supreme Commander of the North Korean People's Army (KPA) in 1991 and Chairman of the National Defense Commission in 1993. Kim Chong-il probably will avoid controversial decisions that might contradict Kim Il-song's traditional policies until he has secured his political power base.

Chuche Ideology

Economic Development

North Korea's economy has been hobbled by the country's heavy defense burden, low productivity, lack of managerial expertise, and inability to pay its international debts. Economic performance turned downward in 1989 and continues in recession because of the dramatic reduction in support from China, the former Soviet Union, and socialist-bloc countries in Eastern Europe. Severe shortages of crude oil, food, raw materials, and electric power continue to impair industrial productivity as well as the quality of life of the population.

National Structure

Government Organization

The government system has not changed - being composed of the Supreme People's Assembly and an elected President. Kim Chong-il, in his capacity as the Supreme Commander of the KPA and Chairman of the National Defense Commission, acts as "supreme leader" of the country, controlling the party, government, and armed forces. Kim Chong-il has not yet assumed the two most important positions - President of North Korea and Secretary General of the KWP.

Party Organization

The highly centralized KWP continues to make policy, and the government executes and administers those policies. As implied in the Constitution, the KWP and the state are inseparable, but the party is superior to the state. Party officials hold all important positions in the government, the economy, and the military. The Party Congress nominally is the highest deliberative organization. It is slated to convene about every 5 years. However, only six Party Congresses have been held in the past 50 years, and none in the past 15 years.

Military Organization

At the core of the North Korean military structure is the Ministry of People's Armed Forces headquarters, which is responsible for overseeing the military. Since 1991, the KPA leadership has undergone significant organizational and personnel changes. A number of key figures have died from old age, and hundreds of general officers were promoted after Kim Chong-il's appointment as Supreme Commander.

Kim Chong-il's appointment as Supreme Commander in December 1991 may have been the catalyst for change in the KPA, but the pace has increased since the death of President Kim Il-song. There are indications that a generational shift within the military leadership is under way. From December 1991 through the end of May 1995, promotions and assignments of nearly 800 general officers (many only in their 50s) were noted in a general officer corps of approximately 1,200. On 20 April 1992, Kim became a marshal, and 3 days later, eight generals were promoted to the rank of vice marshal. A year later, Kim Chong-il became Chairman of the National Defense Commission.

The deaths of President Kim Il-song (Chairman, KWP Military Affairs Committee) in 1994 and O Chin-u (Ministry of the People's Armed Forces; Vice-Chairman, National Defense Commission) in 1995 created vacancies at the senior levels that were not immediately filled. In late 1995, Choe Kwang was promoted to marshal, with Yi Ul-sol, and named as O Chin-u's replacement.

The armed forces maintain a single command system. The Chief of the General Staff directly commands and controls ground force, navy, and air commands. As Supreme Commander of the People's Armed Forces and Chairman of the National Defense Commission, Kim Chong-il retains overall command of the military system.

President Kim Il-song's Foreign Policy Legacy

North Korea's self-imposed isolation has been deepened by South Korea's successful Nordpolitik, which achieved normalized relations with the former Soviet Union (30 September 1990) and China (24 August 1992), two of the North's closest allies. Pyongyang sees improving relations with Washington and moving the United States to a more equidistant position between the two Koreas as a key to broader diplomatic and economic openings to Japan and elsewhere. The North's handling of its nuclear program had been the most serious stumbling block to its efforts. The immediate effect of the Agreed Framework was to markedly ease tensions between the international community and Pyongyang.

Relations between China and North Korea have eroded since 1991. Shared revolutionary wartime experiences and geopolitical desires form the basis of North Korea's relationship with Beijing. Pyongyang still receives a limited amount of military equipment and support from China, but most Chinese military support is symbolic.

Despite the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, North Korea has maintained official ties with Russia, but at a much reduced level. North Korea still buys a limited amount of weaponry from Moscow. The Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries exists in name only; Russia has indicated a desire to change it. Moscow has offered a draft of a new treaty, but Pyongyang apparently has not officially responded. North Korea's relationship with Russia was already strained when Russia reaffirmed diplomatic relations and economic ties with South Korea in 1992.

President Kim Il-song's 10-Point Program for Korean Reunification