Predictors of Kim Jong-Il's On-the-Spot Guidance under Military-First Politics 1

By Kim, Insoo; Lee, Min Yong | North Korean Review, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Predictors of Kim Jong-Il's On-the-Spot Guidance under Military-First Politics 1


Kim, Insoo, Lee, Min Yong, North Korean Review


Introduction

North Korean "military-first" politics (son'gun chongch'i) is known to privilege the Korean People's Army (KPA) as "an important resource and catalyst for developing the national economy."2 As the role of the KPA in the national economy and national defense has increased, there has been speculation that the military will ascend to power in North Korea under military-first politics. The difficulty of collecting internal information on the political situation in North Korea has made Kim Jongil's reported public appearances a useful source of information for researchers. Many researchers have thus analyzed the public appearances of the North Korean leader to understand military-first politics. The conclusion has been drawn that the KPA has taken priority over all North Korean state affairs, since the number of Kim's public appearances at military installations and the number of military officers among his entourage have increased.3 Still, the question of which factor causes Kim to appear where and when in public, under military-first politics, remains unanswered. Predictors of Kim Jong-il's on-the-spot guidance are thus necessary in an effort to address the question. The application of a predictive model furnishes a meaningful estimate of the frequency of Kim's on-the-spot guidance visits to the military sector and other sectors, with the corresponding implications.

Avoiding Circular Reasoning

Kim Jong-il's on-the-spot guidance is conducted in order to inspect implementation of national policies and to discuss state affairs with his entourage, who have allegedly gained an upper hand in the decision-making process.4 "Military-first politics" brought about a significant change to Kim's on-the-spot guidance, as his visits to the military sector have increased, as well as the number of military officers among his entourage.5 This change has been interpreted as evidence that military-first politics prioritizes the KPA over all affairs of state.6 If this interpretation is correct, the number of Kim's on-the-spot guidance visits to the military sector should remain at a relatively high level under military-first politics.

Demonstrable statistics, however, are not in favor of that proposition. Figure 1 on page 95 shows that the number of Kim's visits to the military sector has not been constant, but has fluctuated over time. This might indicate that the priority of the KPA rises and falls according to certain variables. If one accepts that Kim's increased visits to the military sector are prioritizing the KPA, it is relevant to ask, "What makes Kim Jong-il visit the military sector?"

Assuming that Kim visits the military because the KPA is a top priority, one needs to inquire as to why prioritization has occurred. Yet if one suggests that the increasing number of visits to the military are in themselves proof of the priority of the KPA, the result is the fallacy of circular reasoning. A cause is simultaneously considered an effect. Avoiding circular reasoning, one must attempt to identify predictors that might correspond to the frequency of Kim Jong-il's on-the-spot guidance to the military sector and other sectors under military-first politics. The first step must begin with an analysis of the origins of military-first politics in North Korea.

Origins of Military-First Politics

The origin of military-first politics can be explained as a response to external and internal factors. On one hand, the priority given to the North Korean military can be seen as a self-defense tactic, reacting to the breakdown and collapse of the Soviet bloc in the period 1989-1991.7 On the other hand, military-first politics has been interpreted as a way for Kim to consolidate his political power since the sudden death of his father, Kim Il-sung, in 1994.8 Some scholars following these lines of reasoning perceive the role of the military as one of preventing large-scale social disruption derived from the post-Soviet economic crisis of the 1990s. …

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