Songun Politics–Soon to be a Relic of the Past?
DongA Ilbo, citing an expert on North Korean affairs, speculates that the end of “Songun,” or military-first politics. As of late, some North Korean scholars have wondered whether Kim Jong Il intends to focus less on military issues and more on economic matters.
A knowledgeable source on North Korea said yesterday, “[Leader] Kim Jong Il has ordered the military to transfer its foreign operations to his cabinet and is implementing radical reform of military authorities.”
Kim ordered to reduce the number of executives and the size of the ruling Workers’ Party, government and military by 30 percent at the end of last year.
The source also said officers in the chain of command including the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, the National Security Council, the Ministry of State Inspection and the General Staff Department began retiring in January.
The North Korean leader is also reportedly streamlining troop distribution. The North’s Border Guard Brigade has removed regiments and the role of the minting agency has shrunk.
The Ministry of People’s Security, considered the North’s main police organization, is seeing its status rise. No longer under the control of the prosecution, the ministry can now probe corruption in the prosecution and civilian damage caused by the military.
Songun politics (from the Sino-Korean words “seon (先, ‘first’)” and “gun (軍 ‘military’)”) prioritizes the Korean People’s Army, so that the army gets first dibs on all resources. It also granted the KPA the primary position in the North Korean government. Songun emerged after Kim Il Sung’s death in 1994. Several theories for Songun’s emergence have been put forward. Some scholars, such as Bruce Cumings (see: Bruce Cumings, North Korea: Another Country (New York: The New Press, 2004): 102.), believe Songun was designed to strengthen North Korea’s international position in the face of collapsing international socialism and threats from the United States and other countries. Others, such as Byung Chol Koh (see: here), believe Kim Jong Il used the military to strengthen his own position and consolidate power.