Park_Military_First_Politics

Park_Military_First_Politics - ACADEMIC PAPER SERIES ON...

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Unformatted text preview: ACADEMIC PAPER SERIES ON KOREA VOLUME 1 Korea Economic Institute W Series ; {MILITARY-FIRST POLITICS (SONGUN): DERSTANDING KIM JONG-IL’S NORTH KOREA by Han s. Park Introduction Republic of Korea (DPRK) under Kim long-i1. Characteristics of Songun: What Is Military-First Politics? Militia the Center of the Political System Since the death of Kim H-sung in 1994, the cone of the Korean Workers’ external hostility. Instead, it provides all of the other institutions of the government with legitimacy. All policy goals are articulated by the military and then disseminated to other organizations with specific strategic and tactical recommendations for implementation. After policies are implemented, their effectiveness will be evaluated by the military. In this way, the military serves as the brain in the nervous system of the body politic. When the new (current) constitution was adopted in 1998, Korean observers around the world became puzzled by the fact that Kim J ong—il assumed only the chairmanship of the Military Commission, while he permitted the office of head of state to be assumed by the chairperson of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly (the current occupant is Kim Yong-nam). This rather unconventional arrangement would not have been regarded as puzzling if viewed through the lens of songun doctrine, however, because the constitution itself specifies that the military and civilian sectors are one and indivisible (Article 61) and that the Military Commission makes decisions and issues directives and orders (Article 104). Military the Deliverer and Provider To North Koreans, the military is not an abstract authority but a practical performer. It responds directly and effectively to people’s needs and wants. It delivers in a way that no others can: it delivers services and goods to the people and provides security. When I asked a farmer about his understanding of the songun doctrine, he offered that “it is the military that makes farming possible as the soldiers come into the village to perform the complete range of farming tasks from toiling the soil to seeding, irrigating, and harvesting.” He continued, “The military not only protects the people’s lives from foreign hostility, but it also delivers food and services.” It is common to notice in the streets of North Korea that soldiers carry bags of grain to civilian homes. The concern commonly expressed by the foreign providers of food aid that the military may snatch the food away from the civilians is in fact rather speculative. The reality is that the military has food and other necessities in relatively ample supply because of its independent accounting system whereby the military retains the revenues it generates from exporting military equipment—including both missiles and conventional weapons. In this way, the military is in a position to share its resources with the public. This also allows the military to perform the service of delivering foreign aid food to the civilians in even the most remote villages. In fact, the delivery and provision functions of the military are not limited to services and food; they include virtually all commodity goods. Military the Problem Solver Not only is the military regarded as the embodiment of legitimate power and authority, it is also considered the most able problem solver in practically all spheres of people’s I 20 Academic Paper Series lives. Each unit of dwellers (called a ban) is assigned to a military post that is responsible for looking after all the occupants’ needs, ranging from repairing household electrical appliances to fixing faucets and sewage systems. Under songun society, the people are supposed to trust that the military is equipped with the resources, knowledge, and skills necessary to sclve such problems encountered in people’s daily lives. In this way, the doctrine calls for the complete dependence of the people on the military. The popular belief being promoted under the banner of songun is that “no problem is too big or too small for the military to solve.” In this way, the idea is promoted that, without the military, people cannot sustain their existence. Militiry the Engine for Social Engineering The military is also the prime opinion leader. People trust that soldiers are the best educated in ideological preparedness. In fact, military education always places ideology and politics at the top.. The soldiers are the ones who teach the common villagers. When soldiers are on leave from their military barracks, they are in essence assigned to their hometowns to teach the villagers in such a way that thecommoners will be prepared to carry on the “revolution” just as effectively as the soldiers themselves. In my numerous trips to North Korea, I have consistently been amazed by the ability of soldiers to spell out in most specific terms their mission as soldiers and, hence, as leaders of the so-called revolutionary struggle. It might be appropriate to characterize the mission of the military in North Korea today as that of social engineering. The concept of social engineering is one of future orientation. Social engineering requires designing society for the future and, thereby, directing the course of social change toward desired goals. People are expected to look up to the military for its visionary leadership; they supposedly need only follow its guidance. The norms and values desirable for the society will be created by the military, which is also designated to disseminate them to the people. In this sense, the military is society’s greatest educator. At the heart of military education is the Military University. This institution is central to developing the ideology of songun, training military officers, and disseminating the songun philosophy throughout the other educational institutions in the country. Military the Creator and Advancer of New Culture ‘ Cultural change occurs in every society, and North Korea is no exception. The fact that there seems to be no appreciable cultural generation gap in the country defies the common expectation that, as society becomes modernized, the youthful population should become disillusioned with the establishment and attracted to a consumerist lifestyle. There also seems to be little difference between the rural and urban areas in “Anny—H, - .0... .. --..._.. ‘..-..°i.._,. _ . u this regard. The country has maintained a remarkable degree of uniformity in the cultural orientation of its populace. This uniformity has been created and maintained largely through the institution of the military. With a 10-year compulsory military service and a large portion of the p0pulation (in excess of one million) serving at any given time, virtually every family has at least one soldier in military service. In fact, there is hardly any separation at all between the military and civilian sectors. The military performs an extensive role in the civilian villages, and the military’s role is further heightened by the fact that practically all physically functioning people in the country are mobilized in the People’s Militia. It is no surprise that the military’s culture is the North Korean culture. Thus, the country’s cultural traits include uniformity, obedience to authority, a clear definition of a common enemy, and resolve and determination as the highest virtues. The songun doctrine has created a belief system in which the public must follow the military because the military is always right. It is no longer the Korean Workers’ Party that leads the way, neither is it the government that assumes the role of leadership. One intriguing feature of the North Korean culture is the pervasive sense of equality. The participation of average citizens in decision-maldng processes provides a significant sense of self-worth and a morale boost to the population. Except for the office of the Supreme Leader, everyone is supposed to be equal in the sense that all are involved in making decisions that affect everyone. Life in North Korea, therefore, is one of successive meetings and deliberations at all levels of society, including the military itself. Typical meetings begin with self-criticisms (confessions) by every participant and conclude with remedial recommendations for any wrongdoing committed by any member, regardless of that person’s standing in the social and political strata. The principle 0 “one for all, and all for one” is not just a slogan anymore. It works and is felt in the country. This doctrine epitomizes the “military way.” Thus, the same practice is emulated in civilian life. Every administrative unit, the ban, convenes a regular weekly meeting for the purpose of information dissemination from the center (the Supreme Leadership) and to stage the process of self-criticism. Milifly the Smthesizer of Body—Mind—Spirit Unlike juche, which primarily emphasizes self—defense, songun is a much more comprehensive doctrine; its concern is not limited to the physical and material aspects of existence but rather extends just as importantly to the psychological and spiritual domains. In this way, songun has become the contemporary fountainhead of political and social philosophy, just as juche was during the Kim ll—sung era. One should remember that the doctrine of juche reached its height as it advanced the philosophical 122 Academic PapeVrVSeries‘ ‘ concept-,xof the “political—socialbody’? (PSB), inthe late, 1.980s. With the P83, juche attempted to articulate a theory ofrhumanzdevelopment (maturation) by providing, a progressive theory of personal developmenttone is saidtobecome a social body as. one undergoes the process of transformation from a biological being to a social being. ' The biological being is one full of instinctive desiresrfor physical comfort. The social being, however, is charged with social and political consciousness (eusiktong). Hence, the concept of human development became an important feature of the juche philosophy » N ow the philosophy of songun is attempting to integratethe three components of human existence, the bodyemind—spirit. Here, as before, the notion of an ideal personhood isbeing created, but this time with three elements: one becomes ideally developed through the attainment ofmarti—alart (body), education and training in the arts and sciences (mind), and devotion to a sense of mission for life (spirit) The cumculum for education, inboth the military and civilian sectors is designed to promote all three. . v Military the Exemplar ’ During my frequent travels in North Korea, my favorite questionto pose to a single womanor girl is to» ask what kind/of man she-would wish to marry. Of late, I have noticed that the most common answer is “a soldier,” One has to appreciatethis inthe context. of song-an, aforthe military institution houses the best manifestations of all three components (body-:Inind-spirit) of human existence.) For instance, military artists are revered, as theirranks include most of the accomplished artists in the country; the military houses the best scientists, as demonstated byathe advancementof nuclear physics and the engineering of the bomb; and, of course, themilitary shows resolve and unwavering loyalty to the cause of fighting the“ most powerful enemy” in the world, the United States ' - Even this cursory review of songun clearly suggeststhat it is a peculiar system of ideas that are not commonly foundin world politics. If it is so unique, how has the pattern of thought cuhninating in this doctrine come about? What conditions or causes may have been responsible for the birth and development of such an ideology? Origins and Causes of Songun Remote Origins _ Kim l-sung as guerrilla fighten Militarism in North Korea cannot be properly comprehended without anappreciation of the formation of Kim Ilrsungis charisma as a young guerrilla fighter in Manchuria. When he returned home after theJapanese "4-9.”...J ‘ "up )- vvbr-vu ‘uv-vowyrlu an”... u..umy.»° ”a... "Una .. u Avv- .,.. qhv-vw k..- surrender, he was heralded as a military general although he never attained that rank. The most popular song about him, in fact, was promoted at the very time of his homecoming and has since become deeply entrenched in the North Korean soul: its title is “General Kim 11-sung.” This set the stage very early for a militarism whose development remains unimpeded even today. _ Hiroshima-Nagasaki shock. When Kim Il-sung was active as a guerrilla fighter, he lamented the fact that he and his comrades did not have enough guns and grenades, and he was awed by the military might of the imperial army of Japan. He thought that the Japanese military, which was able to attack the United States at Pearl Harbor, was indeed invincible. But such a military power had to surrender almost instantly to the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Judging by Kim Il- sung’s remarks in his writings, he must have been shocked by the force of the bombs. It is not far—fetched to infer from this that the North Korean nuclear program may have started as early as in the late 19505, when Kim solidified his leadership, and that the program has been nurtured ever since. In fact, during the 1950s and 1970s, Pyongyang sent scores of scientists to Moscow for long periods of study and established Soviet scientists in residence in North Korea in order to contribute to the development of North Korea’s indigenous nuclear science and technology. J uche ’s self-defense. The ideology of juche was initially prompted by the passionate desire on the part of Kim ll-sung forkeeping the country from repeating its experience under Japanese colonialism. When the Japanese colonial power was removed, it did not take much time for the Korean War (which began in 1950) to introduce yet another “imperialistic” power that occupied the southern half of the nation and posed a constant threat to the peninsula’s security. Juche was Kim ll—sung’s response to this string of foreign ambitions and dominations. It was natural that juche started out as a doctrine of antiforeignism and self—defense. For self-defense, the ideological preparedness was not enough; as Kim Il—sung used to say, “a soldier without a gun is a straw man [puppet].” When he criticized South Korea, he always aimed his condemnation at Seoul’s dependence on the US. security umbrella. Althoughjuche developed a diverse set of ideological properties over time, the backbone of its philosophical premises has always been military self—defense: “You must have a nation before working on its prosperity.” The much—used notion of a revolutionary struggle must also be seen in the ideological light of protecting the nation from imperial forces and achieving national unification as a sovereign and integrated nation— state rather than in terms of the realization of a Marxist proletarian classless society. 124 Academic Paper Series Intermediate Orig'm _s_ Demise of the Communist bloc as a support system. Until the early 1970s, North Korea maintained a level of economic developmentthat was superior to that of South Korea. This was possible in part because of economic, technological, and military assistance from the Soviet Union, China, and, to a lesser degree, the Eastern European countries with which Pyongyang had; maintained trade and-diplomatic relations; The 1970s, though,marked the onset of a series of alarming changes for North Korea, beginning with the deepening rift between the two superpowers of China and the Soviet Union and the ensuing demise-of the socialist countries in Europe Eventually the fall of East Germany as it was absorbed into the West caused extreme alarm among the North Korean leadership; Kim Il-sung attributed this massive change in the world political landscape to the lack of solidarity and ideological cohesiveness on the. part of the socialists,,and he began to tighten up political education and accelerate Encirclement by enemies. While North Korea waslosing its international support system, South Korea was allied with, theUnited States and J apan, By the end of 1980s, South Korea had become a formidable economic power in the region and the world and had staged a hugely successful Summer Olympic Games in 1988. Furthermore, the U.S.—South2— Korea joint militaryexercise (Team Spirit) that took place annually, in South Korea was regarded by,- the NorthKorean leadership as a warning that the country could be attacked at any time, Reminding themselves of the devastation of the Korean War in, which the US. air assault virtually flattened Pyongyang and other maj or cities, they began creating bomb shelters- The subway system in Pyongyang, which extends some 34 kilometers. andis 100 meters in depth on average, was designed as a massive bomb shelter for the two million residentsvof that city. In addition, it is believed that Virtually every town is equipped with similarly secure - shelters, This sense of fear of the threat of a ,U.S.-backed South Korea acceleratedthe developmentof the nuclear weapons program. - Legitimacy war with the South. Since the inception of the political system in 1948 and especially since the Korean War (1950—5 3), the divided Koreas have constantly engagedin acompetition over legitimacy forruling the entire peninsula An unmistakable reminder of this competition is the fact that each of the Koreasofficially(constiu1tionally, in fact) claims tobe the sole legitimate regime. As it became evident that the North could no longer compete with the South on economic terms, the North began to see a clearadvantage in its ideas of national sovereignty and self-defense. In advocating nationalism vis-a—vis the South, nothing proved handier than the North’s juche and its doctrine of military self-preparedness- Mllztary-fi'zrst Politics (Songun): Understanding Kim Jong-il’s North Korea 125 Immediate Origins Death of Kim ll-sung and consolidation of military. The abrupt death of Kim Il- sung in July 1994 meant a profound turning point for North Korea in many ways, none more important than Kim Jong—il’s succession to power. When the senior Kim held control, the young Kim was primarily responsible for the ideology and propaganda functions of the Korean Workers’ Party. The military at that time was still in the hands of members of the “old guard,” such as Marshall 0 J in-u; but Marshall 0 died in February 1995, one year after Kim ll—sung. The young Kim was left with the huge task of consolidating the military under his control. Upon assuming leadership, he never neglected to pay attention to the army, as his almost exclusive visits (“on-the—spot guidance”) to the military barracks attest. At the same time, he worked on replacing the old guard with young soldiers loyal to him. In this process of leadership consolidation, Kim Jong—il devised a strategy, and ‘ that strategy came in the form of songun. This new doctrine gave him a new version of legitimacy and the rationale required for restructuring the military elite. Kim J ong- il’s strategic move was also necessitated by his need to prevent the possibility of a military coup d’état. Need for solidification of political power. Once the military was consolidated under his leadership, ‘Kim J ong—il never overlooked the importance of solidifying political power. This prompted the promulgation of a new constitution in 1998, which was designed to accomplish two separate but related objectives. The first was the creation of Kim J ong-il’s own basis of power legitimacy, not by denouncing his father but by deifying him as an eternal, soulful leader of the nation. In the real and unforgiving world of power politics, Kim Jong—il needed his own basis of legitimacy, and he found one in the doctrine of songun. This doctrine was embedded in the constitution, as well, because the chair of the Military Commission is elevated to the top of the authority structure. It was envisaged then (just as it is now) that songun was and would continue to be Kim J ong—il’s legacy. One might note that ...
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