Lee Chung Min on "Misreading North Korea"
On Tuesday, I read one of the most interesting analyses of North Korea that I've come across in a long time. Lee Chung Min's Korea Herald article, "Misreading North Korea," explains in clarifying detail that "Kim Jong-il is unable to give up nuclear weapons because" he -- as second generation of the Kim Family Dynasty (i.e., KFD) -- is "beholden to the Korean People's Army" (i.e., KPA). Lee maintains:
One of the most important lessons in coping with the three North Korean crises [of the past two decades] . . . is the fact that six decades of a unique totalitarian system has resulted in structural constraints that even Kim cannot readily control.Kim Jong-il may be "in full control of his organization, his government . . . [and] still be the one who is in charge," as National Security Adviser James Jones stated August 9th on Fox News, based on Bill Clinton's report, but as Lee notes, "more relevant is to understand what exactly Kim is in control of":
The KPA under Kim Jong-il has become a state within a state that exercises more direct political influence than any other military in the world. Although it is true that Kim "controls" the KPA and that the army remains "loyal" to him, he has created a Hydra-KPA: a military that has, for all intents and purposes, become so strong that it no longer really needs the leader that created it, but at the very same time, a military that has become so intertwined with its founding family and decades of political intrigue that the KPA has become "operationally anemic," and at its core, absolutely and thoroughly corrupted.The Korean People's Army thus has as two of its three primary purpose the protection and enrichment of the Kim Family Dynasty, but there was a price to pay:
As senior echelons of the KPA begin to line up behind [Kim Jong-il's third son and heir-apparent,] Kim Jong-un, it has become, in reality, "three armies" under one roof: (1) the top echelons of the KPA and loyal units that serve with one sole function -- protecting and preserving the KFD at virtually all costs; (2) a two-tiered armed forces whereby a "powerful, modern" military comprises the top 20 percent marked by nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and an array of special forces but a "hollowing out, third-rate" military that comprises the remaining 80 percent with soldiers that are barely fed, have extremely limited operational training, and soldiers who are, in reality, conscripted laborers rather than professional combatants; and (3) perhaps most importantly, a military which has become totally, thoroughly and irreversibly corrupted through state-run companies attached to virtually ever[y] major organ of the armed forces not only to raise foreign currency for the "Dear Leader" and his family, but increasingly, to bolster their own private coffers.
Whatever ideological commitment the KPA may demonstrate in public and however many soldiers may shout their lungs [out] to become "human bombs" in defense of the "Dear Leader," the reality is that the KPA poses a clear and present danger not just because it has access to nuclear devices and other WMD assets, but because it is on a path to self-destruction.
The Faustian bargain that Kim signed with the KPA as soon as he gained official power was to retain and strengthen their loyalty in exchange for giving the KPA the most prominent role as the vanguard of the DPRK.And there is a consequence from this for the outside world:
[T]he most important and enduring reason why . . . [Kim Jong-il] isn't willing or even able to give up his nuclear weapons is due to the central role of the KPA in maintaining the Kim regime.In short, Kim Jong-il cannot risk alienating the military's support if he wants the Kim Family Dynasty to survive. But can the "third son and anointed heir, 26-year old Kim Jong-un," retain the military's loyalty and exercise the "power and authority to effectively control the KPA" even if it is mostly a hollowed-out, third-rate military? Or rather, because it is a hollowed-out, third-rate military led by its corrupt, self-serving higher echelons down a path to self-destruction?
That is the question.