Congressional Research Service: Report for Congress, No. 94-578 F July 20, 1994 -ti- North Korea After Kim Il Sung By Rinn S. Shinn, Analyst in Asian Affairs & Robert G. Sutter, Senior Specialist in International Politics Foreign and National Defense Division & Office of Senior Specialists SUMMARY Kim Il Sung died on July 8, 1994, the only leader North Korea had since its founding in 1948. His death raises several questions about future stability and the strong U.S. interests on the Korean Peninsula. Kim Jong Il, son of the elder Kim, has been groomed to succeed for over 20 years. Indications so far point to an orderly transfer of power, as Kim Jong Il is believed to have a firm control of the party, military, and state bureaucracies. There seem to be no overt signs of any organized or even isolated pocket of opposition. Two formal steps must be taken to make his ascent to power official. These steps involve his election as president of North Korea and as general secretary of the ruling Korean Workers Party (KWP). These could come soon after Kim Il Sung's funeral is over on July 19. In short, his short-term succession seems virtually assured, but his long-term success is another matter. The long-term uncertainty stems from the fact that Kim Jong Il must solve all the problems that his father could not resolve, even in better times. These problems include: a steady economic downturn with no hopeful signs of recovery in the near future; and the current controversy over North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program. Kim Jong Il faces a predicament: the status quo, or continuity in Pyongyang's domestic and foreign policies, will mean more of the same unresolved problems; on the other hand, a radical departure will potentially undermine political stability. Thus, at least in the short run, Kim Jong Il may be constrained to adopt a cautious balancing act to cope with the immediacy of his stable transition. The uncertain situation in Pyongyang could affect U.S. policy in several ways, at least over the short term. American leaders may avoid statements and actions that could be misinterpreted in Pyongyang and precipitate a crisis on the peninsula; they may endeavor to scour available channels of information for data useful in determining appropriate U.S. policy; and they may give more immediate attention to a wide range of policy contingencies in the months ahead--ranging from collapse or conflict to accommodation and negotiation. TABLE OF CONTENTS U.S. INTERESTS IN KOREA 1 SUCCESSION AND STABILITY 2 ROLE OF KIM JONG IL AND POTENTIAL RIVALS 2 MILITARY LOYALTY 3 ECONOMIC ISSUES AND PROSPECTS 4 FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES 5 POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS FOR U.S. POLICY 6 FOR ADDITIONAL READING 7 APPENDIX: KIM JONG IL--A PROFILE 8 NORTH KOREA AFTER KIM IL SUNG U.S. INTERESTS IN KOREA Proper U.S. policy during the delicate leadership transition in North Korea is particularly important because of the large U.S. stake in the Korean peninsula. The United States has remained committed since the 1950-1953 Korean War to maintaining peace on the Korean Peninsula. This commitment is backed by 37,000 troops deployed in South Korea against the North Korean threat, and other forces stationed in Japan. The U.S. troops in Korea provide a "trip wire" that is sure to engage the United States in the event of a North Korean attack. The U.S. forces support South Korea's 650,000 forces who face North Korea's 1.2 million person army deployed in forward positions and in a high state of readiness along the Demilitarized Zone dividing North and South Korea. The U.S. stake in South Korea is widely seen as supporting U.S. security, economic, and other interests in Japan, and strengthening U.S. ability to manage complex relationships among the four major powers--Russia, China, Japan, and the United States--whose interests focus on the peninsula. The American hope that the post-Cold War era, marked by the collapse of the Soviet Union and much of international communism, would lessen tensions in Korea proved illusory. Pyongyang's nascent nuclear weapons program has led in recent years to occasionally very high levels of tensions, as the United States and its allies have felt compelled to employ pressure tactics along with positive incentives in order to curb the illegal and seriously destabilizing North Korean program. (See North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Program, CRS Issue Brief 91141, by Larry Niksch.) The passing of Kim Il Sung inserts new security concerns into the American strategic calculus. In the past, American planners could reasonably assume that North Korea, although subject to unpredictable actions ordered by the Kim Il Sung leadership, remained under the "Great Leader's" firm control. Because of the leadership change, U.S. concern over the stability of the North Korean regime has risen markedly. It is assumed to be in U.S. interest to avoid a chaotic and militarily violent situation emerging in Pyongyang that could spill over onto South Korea and possibly China and even precipitate a major war on the peninsula. Although Americans often favor a rapid demise for the communist regime in North Korea, few wish it to be chaotic to the point of endangering the well-being of our allies South Korea and Japan, as well as nearby China and Russia. U.S. economic interests focus on South Korea and the importance of the broader northeast Asian area for the development of the American economy. The United States is South Korea's largest trading partner and the largest export market. South Korea is the U.S. eighth largest trading partner. The U.S. trade deficit in 1993 was $2.3 billion in a total two-way trade of $31.9 billion. Also some American business people see possible future targets of opportunity in developing markets in North Korea. These economic interests would be in jeopardy in the event of hostilities on the peninsula. ________ page 2 The United States also has actively supported the impressive progress toward greater democracy and political reform in South Korea, and hopes to see North Korea move from the deep repression and isolation of the past. At the same time, U.S. leaders generally eschew political initiatives that would fundamentally endanger stability on the peninsula and promote chance of war involving U.S. forces. SUCCESSION AND STABILITY Kim Il Sung died on July 8, 1994, reportedly of heart failure brought on by what Pyongyang called "heavy mental strains." The only leader North Korea had since its founding in 1948, his death raises uncertainties and questions: who is Kim Jong Il, soon to become Kim Il Sung's successor? Can he effect a stable transition without chaos or internal opposition? Will Kim Jong Il be able to steer North Korea in a new direction? Will his stewardship affect vital U.S. interests in peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula? Answers to some of these questions could come as soon as the end of this month when the formal political succession may be completed. Two steps are needed to make succession official, but there is no precedent or constitutional provision relevant for naming a successor in North Korea when a sitting president dies or is incapacitated. The first step involves the election of the president of North Korea by the Supreme People's Assembly, North Korea's rubber-stamp parliament; and the second step will entail the election of a general secretary of the Central Committee of the ruling Korean Workers (communist) Party (KWP). The two steps have not yet taken place, at least publicly. But judging from North Korea's state-controlled media, all indications, at this point, point to a transfer of power under Kim Jong Il so that short-term succession appears virtually assured; his long-term success is another matter, however. ROLE OF KIM JONG IL AND POTENTIAL RIVALS Kim Jong Il, aged 52, has been groomed to succeed for 21 years, beginning in 1973, when he was first named to a fairly significant post in the Central Committee Secretariat of the ruling KWP (For more on his career, see Kim Jong Il--A Profile below). His stature has grown steadily particularly since 1980, when he was assigned to key party and military posts, making him the virtual second-in-command to Kim Il Sung. His status as co-leader has not been overtly disputed; in fact, it can be seen that he was preordained to succeed the late leader at the KWP's Sixth Party Congress in October 1980.(1) 1. For more on this point, see Rinn-Sup Shinn, "North Korea in 1981: First Year for De Facto Successor Kim Jong Il," Asian Survey, v.xxii, No. 1, January 1982, 100-102; for broader context in which to assess the implications of Kim Jong Il succession, see North Korea: Policy Determinants, Alternative Outcomes, U.S. Policy Approaches, by Rinn-Sup Shinn. [Washington] June 24, 1993. 23 p. CRS Report 93-612 F ________ page 3 For years, speculation was rife that Kim junior might not survive long after the demise of his father-mentor. Kim Jong Il was often said to be impulsive, unstable, or even reckless, but we do not have sufficient information to confirm these reports. Nonetheless, indications from North Korea's state controlled media suggest that he will formally assume the two posts vacated by the elder Kim's death: president of the state and general secretary of the KWP Central Committee. There is some possibility that he might pass up the largely ceremonial presidency to devote full-time as general secretary, the most important focal point of power in North Korea. An educated guess at this time is that leadership will not be collective; the idea of a collective leadership is alien to Korean political culture. Dejure succession may be the easiest part of a daunting challenge awaiting Kim Jong Il. Observers judge that if he stumbles badly, he might face a potential opposition from among members of his own Kim clan, notably from Kim junior's stepmother Kim Song Ae (chairwoman of the Korean Democratic Women's Union and a member of the KWP Central Committee) and his halfbrother Kim Pyong-il (age 40), Pyongyang's ambassador to Finland. According to recent North Korean defectors, Kim Pyong-il has a certain "charismatic presence" about him and is personally engaging--traits some analysts say are lacking in Kim Jong Il. If the much rumored family rivalry persists, Kim Yong Ju (the late Kim's 72-year old brother) might be tasked to restore intra-clan harmony; in the early 1970s, observers saw Kim Yong Ju as a possible successor to Kim Il Sung--and thus a potential rival to Kim Jong Il. However, as Kim Jong Il's stature began to grow after 1975, Kim Yong Ju's standing declined proportionately. He suddenly dropped out of sight from May 1976--until just as suddenly he emerged in December 1993 as one of the four vice presidents and a member of the KWP Political Bureau. MILITARY LOYALTY The military is pivotal to the physical survival of North Korea, or more to the point, to Kim Jong Il's transition. Given the inter-Korean confrontation since the 1950s, the 1.2 million-strong military always had a special preferential status under the late leader, enjoying a lion's share of state resources and thus remaining a major drag on the economy. Since the early 1970s, with his fathermentor's blessing, Kim junior has placed his own politically correct loyalists (now regiment-level commanders) in the Korean People's Army (KPA) hierarchies; the moves seemed to upset some of the professionally minded KPA officers as an unwelcome political intrusion. Nevertheless, by mid-1985, Kim Jong Il had gained a firm personal control of the military, prompting his father to remark in 1986 that "the leadership succession issue was brilliantly solved." By implication, the military was and will remain the dominant institution that can make or break Kim Jong Il's succession. In an apparent effort to channel military allegiance to the two Kims, Pyongyang promoted senior officials, including some 700 generals, between April 1992 and July 1993. ________ page 4 ECONOMIC ISSUES AND PROSPECTS The economy is not as manageable as the military but just as critical to the success of Kim Jong Il. Now in the fourth consecutive year of negative growth and with no hopeful signs of any turnaround in the near future, the North Korean economy reportedly shrank by 20 percent between 1989 and 1993. Pyongyang's Third Seven-Year Plan (1987-93) fell far short of its target goals; as a result, the fourth 7-year plan that was to begin in 1994 had to be put off until 1997 to allow more time for Pyongyang to regroup in the face of steady economic deterioration since the collapse of the Soviet Union and cutoff of Soviet assistance. To cope with growing shortages of food, consumer goods, and other essentials, North Korea stepped up austerity measures, urging the people to conserve and to "produce more with less" and reducing already meager food rationing. North Koreans now are told to get by with "two meals a day." Industrial facilities are running at 40 percent of operating capacity due to shortages of fuel, electricity, and raw materials. Factors contributing to the worsening of North Korea's economic plight include: the structural distortion favoring heavy industries at the expense of agricultural and consumer-oriented sectors; emphasis on the putative power of ideological motivations to compensate for an absence of production incentives in a socialized economy; politically-motivated allocation of scarce resources for showcase but nonproductive public projects; antiquated production facilities that cannot be replaced due to lack of funds; and a high level of annual defense spending estimated at nearly a quarter of GNP. North Korea is now trying to remedy its economic problems by rapidly increasing production in grains, consumer goods, and foreign exchange earnings. There can be no quick solution, however. North Korea's basic problem has always been that economic management was subordinate to Kim Il Sung's political/ideological priorities. Now, Kim Jong Il's dilemma is how to restructure the economy without disowning the party line that Kim Il Sung has never failed in his economic leadership. There are some hopeful signs. Even before Kim Il Sung's death, North Korea was trying new economic experiments. It set up a Chinese-style special economic zone in the northeastern corner adjoining the Tumen River in an effort to induce foreign investment and joint ventures. It also informally asked South Korean firms to participate in North Korean projects, something that would have been unthinkable several years ago. On July 11, 1994, South Korea's Economic Planning Board disclosed that recently [before Kim's death] an American management consulting firm was "allowed" to open an office in Pyongyang to do a preliminary analysis on the North Korean economy--possibly in anticipation of economic assistance from the United States, South Korea, and Japan.(2) If true, this can be seen as a step in the right direction. But it should be noted that unless the current issue over North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program is resolved soon, the economy is bound to get worse if only because talks of foreign assistance are conditioned on nuclear transparency. 2. "North Korea Asks U.S. for Economic Diagnosis," Choson Ilbo [Seoul], July 12, 1994. ________ page 5 FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES Before Kim Il Sung's death, Kim Jong Il's contact with foreign leaders was limited, as was his foreign travel. But he may not have been a stranger to foreign policy issues, as he is believed to have played a pivotal role, with the elder Kim, as an architect and overseer of Pyongyang's negotiations on the nuclear issue with the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Thus, Kim Jong Il could be the among the first North Koreans to realize that Pyongyang's foreign policy is at once interlocked with the immediacy of his succession stability, or the very survival of North Korea itself. Kim Jong Il faces two key foreign policy problems: the ongoing dispute with the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and South Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program; and the issue of North-South Korean reconciliation. Pyongyang's refusal to allow international inspections of its nuclear facilities except on its own terms has heightened international concerns over its nuclear intentions. If Pyongyang's nuclear program, coupled with a deliberate game of nuclear ambiguity, is largely for selfpreservation, as some analysts suggest, then it could be inviting an unintended outcome: more insecurity stemming from economic pressures inside North Korea. In other words, greater economic deterioration would result not from a U.S./South Korean military threat, as North Korea has long alleged, but from denied access to foreign resources it needs for its economic turnaround. Time is not on Pyongyang's side. The third round of high-level U.S.-North Korean talks on the nuclear question, now on hold until after Kim Il Sung's funeral, could provide an important clue to the extent of Kim Jong Il's grip on power, particularly on the military whose support he may need, as he seeks to balance his regime's compelling and often conflicting security and economic interests. South Korea looms large, in Pyongyang's eyes, as a potential threat to the very existence of North Korea. The scheduled historic summit talks between Kim Il Sung and his South Korean counterpart, Kim Young Sam (which would have occurred July 25-27, 1994, in Pyongyang) could have helped put North Korean anxieties to rest and also softened the Cold War enmity between the two arch-rivals. Will Kim Jong Il be ready anytime soon for the summit talks, now postponed indefinitely at Pyongyang's request? For North Korea, top on its summit agenda will have been the issue of long-coveted unification based on Kim Il Sung's terms; the South Korean agenda will have included, in descending order, issues involving the inter-Korean denuclearization accord of 1991, reunion of separated families, and a wide range of functional cooperation. South Koreans hope that Kim Jong Il's policy toward South Korea will be different from that of his father. They hope that the new leader will recognize South Korea as independent and not as an alleged colony of the United States as Kim Il Sung had long claimed. They hope that Kim Jong Il will strive for reconciliation and coexistence, something Kim Il Sung gave lip-service to but on which he was unwilling to compromise. Despite their hope for a better interKorean relationship, South Koreans are skeptical about Kim Jong Il, since he is suspected of masterminding such terrorist acts as the 1976 axe-murders of ________ page 6 two American servicemen in Panmunjom, the 1983 bomb explosion in Rangoon that killed 7 South Korean cabinet members accompanying their president then on a state visit to Burma, and the bombing of a Korean airliner in 1987. South Koreans also suspect that Kim Jong Il, in an attempt to court his security conscious generals, has taken a hardline position on the nuclear issue. POSSIBLE IMPLICATIONS FOR U.S. POLICY The uncertain situation in North Korea after the death of Kim Il Sung poses several potential implications for U.S. policy. Over the short term, American decisionmakers appear to be concerned about avoiding statements and actions that could be misinterpreted in Pyongyang and precipitate a crisis on the peninsula. Thus, the sometimes strident rhetoric and forceful military initiatives advocated by some U.S. leaders in the American debate over the North Korean nuclear program earlier this year have been toned down, at least for a time. U.S. military deployments have remained "normal," as the United States has not followed South Korea's lead by putting forces on a higher stage of alert. Although acknowledging that they have little concrete information about the problems, prospects, and policy priorities of the new North Korean regime, U.S. leaders may endeavor to glean available channels of information for data useful in coming up with an appropriate U.S. policy. Thus, the U.S.-North Korean talks in Geneva on nuclear issues are not only important for their own sake, but they could provide a barometer of broader North Korean foreign policy concerns. North-South Korean contacts could be similarly useful, as could information conveyed as a result of Chinese communications with the North Koreans Uncertainty in Pyongyang also would seem to require careful U.S. attention to a wide range of contingencies in the months ahead. These could range from greater military readiness to deal with the outbreak of war or the violent collapse of the North Korean regime, efforts to assist South Korea and possibly others to deal with possible massive refugee flows if the North Korean regime splits or collapses, and diplomatic efforts to provide a common front in dealing with North Korea's nuclear program or other issues. Most important in U.S. diplomatic contingency planning presumably would be U.S. interaction with allies like South Korea and Japan, followed possibly by China, North Korea's main trading partner and strategic neighbor. An obvious contingency that will presumably require considerable U.S. attention in the months ahead has to do with the danger posed by North Korea's reprocessing of nuclear fuel rods now in cooling ponds at the North Korean nuclear complex at Yongbyon. U.S. policymakers would presumably need to be prepared to deal with this issue by negotiation when the North Korean regime decides to resume the Geneva talks or otherwise reach an accommodating agreement over the issue, as well as by measures involving negative and/or positive incentives designed to press the North Koreans to avoid breaking KimINRS-7 ________ page 7 Il Sung's pledge to former President Jimmy Carter to "freeze" the North Korean nuclear program. FOR ADDITIONAL READING Rinn-Sup Shinn. "North Korea in 1981: First Year for De Facto Successor Kim Jong Il," Asian Survey. v. 22, No. 1, January 1982, 99-106. Donald N. Clark (editor). Korea Briefing 1991. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1991 (Published in cooperation with The Asia Society). [Consult particularly 89-91, 122-123] Research Institute for National Unification. Power Structure in North Korea and Prospects for Policy Direction After Kim Il Sung. Seoul: May 1992. 174 p. [In Korean] The Institute for South-North Korea Studies. The True Story of Kim Jong-Il. Seoul: 1993. 145 p. U.S. Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service. Korea: U.S.-South Korean Issues in the 1990s, by Robert G. Sutter. [Washington] (updated regularly) CRS Issue Brief 94038 ---- North Korea: Policy Determinants, Alternative Outcomes, U.S. Policy Approaches, by Rinn-Sup Shinn. [Washington] June 24, 1993. CRS Report 93-612 F ---- Korea Crisis 1994: Military Geography, Military Balance, Military Options, by John Collins. [Washington] April 11, 1994. CRS Report 94-311 S ---- North Korea's Nuclear Program: U.S. Policy Options, by Richard Cronin (coordinator). [Washington] June 1, 1994 CRS Report 94-470 F ---- North Korea's Nuclear Weapons Program, by Larry A. Niksch. [Washington] (updated regularly) CRS Issue Brief 91141 ________ page 8 APPENDIX: KIM JONG IL--A PROFILE Few leaders of the world are as enigmatic or reclusive as is Kim Jong Il. He is variously depicted as bizarre, weird, erratic, impulsive, distracted; and intelligent, pragmatic, bold, sincere, and hard-working. Some even claim that he suffers from manic depression, but these have not been confirmed. He was born Feb. 16, 1942, to Kim Il Sung's first wife, Kim Jong Suk (who died in 1949) in the vicinity of Khabarovsk, Siberia, where the elder Kim led an anti-Japanese Korean guerrilla detachment. (North Korea claims, however, the junior Kim was born in a "secret camp" at Mt. Paektu, the tallest peak in Korea, straddling the Korean-Chinese border). Kim Jong Il was reared under a stepmother, Kim Song Ae, whose son, Kim Pyong-il (40) is seen by some as a potential rival to Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Il's personal life is little known even to North Koreans. He is said to be between 5'3" and 5'5", overweight for his height. Many sources claim that he was married twice, fathering two daughters and one 23-year-old son. Upon graduation from North Korea's elite Kim Il Sung University in 1964, Kim Jong Il joined the KWP to become a deputy director of the party's cultural and performing arts affairs in addition to its propaganda and agitation matters. In 1973, he became a central committee secretary in charge of propaganda and agitation and the following year became a member of the influential Political Bureau. Kim Jong Il's status as Kim senior's right-hand confidant was made official at the party's Sixth Congress in October 1980, when he was named to the inner circle of the Political Bureau and the party's military affairs committee. At the time of Kim's death, the younger Kim was the supreme commander (since December 1991) of the Korean People's Army (KPA--the collective term for the armed forces) and chairman of the state's National Defense Commission (since April 1994), in addition to his No.2 spot on the most influential three-member Political Bureau Presidium of the KWP Central Committee. He also was a secretary of the party central committee that, along with the military, served as the two most important institutional focal points of power. Kim Jong Il, or "dear leader," as he is called, has since the early 1970s figured as the prime force behind Pyongyang's campaign designed to elevate Kim Il Sung to the status of a virtual demi-god. Since the early 1980s, Kim Jong Il himself has become the focus of an intensified personality cult. His peerless revolutionary feats inspired 1,400 poems, 20 novels, more than 200 songs, countless essays, and television series. The "dear leader" is extolled as a genius at everything he does, from composing epic operas to film-making to philosophizing to monument-building; a species of begonia is named after him: "Kimjongilia." For political and ideological purposes, he began to be quoted in party literature in late 1982 as an authoritative voice, along with his father, on all party, state, and military affairs. Since then, the two Kims have been the only two authorized sources North Korean media are told to quote for domestic and foreign consumption. From observers' perspective, without his father's guidance, or moderating influence (the closest thing to check and balance in ________ page 9 North Korea, if there was one at all), Kim Jong Il will need to have a coterie of dedicated confidants, not sycophants, willing to speak out and provide the best possible recommendation on pressing policy issues pro and con.