▲ The spoils of (non) war
Another factor is military trends. Even today, the North Korean military enjoys many economic benefits under military-first politics. Obviously, there are power struggles within the military. There was once a fierce battle between Lee Young Ho’s up-and-coming military faction and the former generations like Oh Keuk Ryul’s camp.
According to information obtained from a senior North Korean cadre, the newer group actively revealed its hostility toward the ‘6.28 Policy.’ This was because they discerned Jang Sung Taek’s emphasis on the need for economic development. This is a hint at the power struggle within the regime.
The military trend is in accord with the Chosun Workers’ Party’s reactionary element. If the opposition forces moving towards reform gain more traction in the future, then a fierce dispute among Kim Jong Eun’s close personnel will likely occur. The problem is that Kim Jong Eun lacks the ability to neutralize conflict between military and Party.
Signs of danger are already apparent. The dismissal of Chief-of-Staff V. Mar Lee Young Ho is one of the signs. Jang Sung Taek will have pushed for his dismissal. These two men were the representative great men of the North Korean military and Party. They worked together as comrades during Kim Jong Eun’s transition to power.
But the relationship between the two began to fall apart early on. A year after Kim Jong Eun was nominated as successor, one of the members of the new-military group summoned a member of the Jang Sung Taek clique to warn, “We will not forgive anyone who gets in the way of Kim Jong Eun.”
At that time, Jang Sung Taek refrained from responding to the provocative behavior. But this could not last forever. Lee Young Ho’s hot temper could not avoid colliding with that of Jang
It is difficult to predict at this point whether Lee Young Ho’s purging was a mere warning towards the new military group or a flare signaling their eradication by Jang Sung Taek. However, what is clear is that Kim Jong Eun cannot control these internal power struggles.
Already the regime is displaying a lack of leadership and a weak power base. This makes the prospect of a successful ‘6.28 Policy’ dim. At first glance, Lee Young Ho’s dismissal appears advantageous for reform. However, ‘economic reform’ under Jang Sung Taek is not what you think. This ‘reform’ is merely a temporary expedient rather than the firm conviction to change.
▲ 60 years of scooping off the top
The last factor is the widespread practice of self-protection and opportunism within the regime. Those managing economic reform are supposed to take on the role of both supervisor and controller of the policy. However, theses managers, who should have the will and momentum to implement reform, will likely be intimidated and, as a result, managers will be lost in self-protection. This will cause them to seek expedient solutions rather than true reform.
The insecurity comes not only from Kim Jong Eun’s uncertainty about the policy, but also from fears of who will bear responsibility if it fails. North Korea usually points fingers for the failure of reform policies. In the past, two officials in charge of economic reform, Prime Minister Park Pong Ju (current head of the Light Industry Dept of the Party) and Secretary Park Nam Gi were blamed for policy failures and replaced or purged.
According to one overseas North Korean worker, it is the case that among economic mangers, “No one knows what economic development method is best suited for improving North Korea’s situation right now. And if the policy fails, the blame will land only on the project managers.”
▲ In conclusion…
The outlook for Kim Jong Eun’s ‘economic reform’ is dark. I predict that when this reform fails the regime will enter a major crisis. There needs to be caution here: North Korea may resort to military provocations and extreme measures like the 2009 currency redenomination if it senses the need to avoid internal tension.