North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

KN-02 Tests Not for an Outside Audience (Necessarily)

The DPRK knew that conducting tests on the KN-02 surface-to-surface missiles would attract external attention.  Despite brushing off the tests as routine military exercises, South Korea is entirely justified in its concerns.  The South Korean Foreign Affairs Ministry announced that it may raise the issue with the UN Security Council, under the pretext that the North’s missile test contravenes the UNSC’s resolutions/sanctions.  But this diplomatic maneuver may be a panacea for inadequacies in South Korea’s defense capabilities: concurrent to the Foreign Affairs Ministry blowing the whistle on the DPRK came an allegation from GNP Rep. Kim Dong-sung that South Korea’s internal communications system was outmoded.  Mr. Kim’s allegation was denied, and it also applied to early alert systems monitoring the DPRK’s artillery on the border between the two countries (hey, doesn’t the American presence in South Korea mean we have our Korean ally’s back in an exigency such as this?).  And yet, this allegation appeared at the same Dong-A Ilbo reported an SK National Police Agency report found broken radar equipment on Dokdo Island on South Korea’s east coast during the North Koreans’ April satellite/ballistic missile test.  The KN-02 missile seems to present strategic concern to South Korea because potentially decrepit communications equipment may not sound the siren for a missile that, once operational, has an estimated range of 130 km to 160 km (81 to 100 miles).

These were merely Seoul’s local circumstances surrounding the Columbus Day missile tests (insert your Marx-based notions of imperialism here).  In Belfast and Moscow,  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton conveyed that the missile tests did nothing to alter the US approach to nuclear negotiations (without, of course, joining Six Party Talk partners South Korea and China and saying they were routine).  Then again, in meetings with the Russians, Secretary Clinton learned the Federation was not as eager to immediately sanction Iran for its Qom adventures, as the US, UK or soon-to-be constituted EU.  Russia’s policymakers and elites are generally divided on how both to view and handle the Iranians, but the stated  preference for Iran is the P-5+1 forum (does P-5+1=Six Party Talks: Geneva Edition?).

This all presupposes that when the National Defense Commission authorized testing of the KN-02,the North Koreans were asking for external attention.  They know that amid motions to bi-lateral and multi-lateral negotiations over their nuclear program, external scrutiny and huffy speculation is a by-product.  Unlike previous strategic weapons tests in 2009, the DPRK did not precede the test of the KN-02 with a Rodong Sinmun editorial or the appearance of a KPA propaganda official reading a statement on KCTV.  This missile test came rather quietly and it is only reasonable to assume that it was (from a DPRK perspective) routine.  The April 2009 satellite launch, the May nuclear detonations in Kilju County and the July missile tests were conducted in the context of the 150 Day (Battle) Campaign.  The 12 October missile test occurs just as the Korean Workers’ Party begins another 100-Day (Battle) Campaign–these are labor mobilization campaigns intended to increase production in  light and heavy industry and complete badly-needed infrastructure projects (e.g., Huichon Power Plant).  They originated with post-war rebuilding efforts, and are correlated in current propaganda in the Chollima Movement of the 1950’s.

These campaigns’ current doctrine is the construction of the strong and prosperous fatherland  (kangson taeguk) in advance the 2012 anniversary of the birth of the late (and eternal) DPRK President Kim Il-sung.  Because the Battle Campaigns are labor-based, then arguably broad swaths of North Korean citizens are engaged in the prosperous half, and strategic weapons’ tests are the strong half.  As to prosperity, the results of the 150 Day Campaign were not what the Party and State wanted.  Production ceased in certain factories and construction projects were not completed.  There were reports of raw materials diverted through corruption or simply not delivered because the resources were not available when ordered.  Certain factories tasked with boosting production could not operate because of energy shortages, as well as high absentee rates among workers due to hunger and fatigue.  Local Party cadres and local Public Security officials were waiving age restrictions on market trading permits if they participated in the “volunteer” construction and road labor.  These Battle Campaigns, then, become a tool of population control.

The Korean Workers’ Party currently contends with waning influence in many North Korean quarters.  Since the economic collapse of the 1990’s, the communications and power monopoly the KWP previously enjoyed has dropped.  The formal gedogen policy of the 1 July Decree toward markets further undercut Party control on the minds, and the hearts, of North Korean citizens.  So, if your population has commenced to buying imported Chinese goods, is watching bootleg Chinese, South Korean and even US media and employees of state-owned factories are spending more time in the markets, then one solution is to make very attempt to relocate them away from such distractions.  The Battle Campaign has also become an opportunity for the DPRK’s internal security apparatus to commence audits of local agencies and offices tasked to monitor and control the population.  The KWP Organization and Guidance Department in coordination with the KWP Administration Department and the Central Public Prosecutor’s Office are using the campaigns as a pretext to investigate corruption within the Public Security Ministry and State Security Department, as well as their own subordinate officers.  These security agencies’ inspection regime are not responding with a light hand, and the number of forced labor sentences seems to be going up, as well as public, summary executions.

The announced detonation of a nuclear device or testing new missiles in Kangwon Province might attempt to placate a hungry, exhausted population, beset by official corruption and resorting to desperate means to earn money to purchase food.   North Korean citizens seem well aware that the DPRK’s military-defense industry expenditures are diverting badly needed materials and human resources from a population that need them the most.  Propaganda is only so useful in addressing the “strong” half of  “strong and prosperous” state.  But the Central Party could be gambling on a message that collective sacrifice to weapons’ programs always grabs the world’s attention and gains respect (or fear) for the DPRK.

That written, it is entirely a flight of fancy if one believes that Kim Jong-il can magically shut off the spigot of money and resources consumed by the military-defense industry in the form of the Second Economic Committee.  We should stop viewing the North Korean military as a monolithic, unitary institution, but as a group with diverse and competing interests.  The security and control mechanisms on the Korean People’s Army are likely quite effective.  When dealing with possible and powerful military factions in the DPRK, General-Secretary Kim is not concerned with the general-grade officers and NCO’s of the KPA.  Nor should is he likely concerned with the NDC Operations Department, commanded by loyalist Gen. O Kuk-ryol.  The Operations Department (formerly the KWP Operations Department) has been a constituency which General-Secretary Kim cultivated in the 1970’s, and recent reports say he is further building up.  Kim Jong-il is also well protected behind three concentric layers of security (Military Security Command-State Security Department-Guard Command) whose mission is thwarting any military coups against the Supreme Commander.

So, when a nuclear device is detonated or the KN-02 is tested, and Pyongyang watchers speculate that General-Secretary Kim is pacifying the hawkish elements of the KPA, the biggest known-unknown for him are the powerful managers of the Second Economic Committee.  Theoretically, the Second Economic Committee reports directly to General-Secretary Kim, and is organizationally subordinate to the constitutionally enhanced National Defense Commission.  It is also a constituency to which he has given his attention for almost thirty (30) years.  But the 2EC is a hybrid organization that draws its personnel equally from highly intelligent civilians who conduct its research and development and well-trained members of the KPA.  The 2EC has one-quarter (25%) of the NDC’s membership and its managers are long-term and politically entrenched individuals.  The 2EC’s  knowledge of North Korean weapons systems, its monopolizing the country’s finite resources and its access to military personnel certainly provide leverage and policy pressure it can exert on General-Secretary Kim.

Kim Jong-il has announced an intention to pursue a course of action that could portend decreasing the resources and attention for the Second Economic Committee.  It is more likely, however, that relations between General-Secretary Kim and the North Korean military-defense industry are hunky-dory.  But if an institution’s future becomes uncertain, and the masses support for the Suryong is shaky, perhaps a missile test is in order to pacify a more powerful constituency.  After all, the most capacious question mark when observing the DPRK Leadership is how these people and institutions truly interact with one another.

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