Read 'Em and Weep

Stephan Haggard (PIIE) and Jaesung Ryu (East Asia Institute)



We recently noted the pattern of missile test, UN condemnation, DPRK indignation, provocation, which seems set to repeat itself. But this cycle overlaps with the succession and an effort by the new leadership to lay down some ideological markers. Moreover, some of these recent statements seem to escalate an already over-the-top rhetoric, particularly toward the South.  On the principle that we should look at what the North Koreans are actually saying, we comment briefly on three recent communications:

  • Kim Jong Un’s Day of the Sun (April 15) speech.
  • A DPRK radio broadcast from an apparently new organization called the KPA Supreme Command Special Operations Action Team [t'u'kpyo'l chakcho'n haengdong sojo t'onggo] Youtube has the actual KCTV clip announcing the statement; its worth watching for 30 seconds or so to get a sense of the martial tone.
  • Summary of a speech by Ri Yong Ho, still unavailable to our knowledge in English, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the founding of the KPA. We identified Ri as one of the Gang of Eight who walked alongside Kim Jong Il’s bier in the funeral procession. (Full transcript in Korean here)

Our conclusions are simple. Whatever tack may be occurring with respect to the economy, it is occurring in the context of firm—even heightened—commitments to "songun." We have noted before that this combination is possible in theory—think the Meiji restoration, Ataturk or Park Chung Hee. But whether it is possible in practice is far from clear given two constraints: the disincentives to foreign investment and trade from the DPRK’s military provocations; and the incredible drain of resources into the military. The Park Chung Hee--and for that matter Chinese--model requires a commitment to stabilize foreign relations and reallocate resources. That is harder than making speeches.

1. Kim Jong Un, Day of the Sun speech, Kim Il Sung Square, Pyongyang April 15, 2012 (Source: North Korea Tech)

In an earlier post on the SPA, we speculated on whether the leadership was combining a continued commitment to “songun” or military-first politics with some subtle signals on economic reform. The evidence was an April 6 speech given by Kim Jong Un to the party leadership and subsequently published in the Rodong Shinmun that talked of the need to increase cabinet responsibility. Even if this thin reed is worth holding to, we should not forget the basics: the unrelentingly “songun-esque” nature of the April 15th speech.

However, we did note several references of interest to the suryong concept. In 1952 Kim Il-sung was promoted to the rank of “great leader” (위대한 수령,  wiedeahan suryong), entering the Marxist pantheon with Lenin and Stalin. In the 1970s, Kim Jong-il was called “the Party center” (당중앙, dang chungang) and later became dear leader and then great leader, but with leader as chidoja (지도자) or ryongdoja, (영도자) but not suryong. Even if the suryong title has been retired, Kim Jong Un takes pains to remind the military of the leaderist nature of the political-military system by once again invoking the concept. “The noble spirit of death-defying defense of the leader — which was created by anti-Japanese guerrillas — has served as the absolute motto and fundamental source of spiritual strength and combat strength of our army, and has become a noble tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation.” You can’t be more clear than that: the central job of the military is to protect Kim Jong Un and the Kim family dynasty

The Speech

“Heroic officers of the army, the navy, the air force and the strategic rocket unit of the Korean People’s Army (KPA), and officers of the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces; members of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards and the Young Red Guards; working people of the entire country and citizens of Pyongyang; the people in the South and overseas compatriots; comrades and friends,

Today, we proceed with a grand military parade to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung, while embracing the greatest national pride and self-esteem.

Today’s military parade, which is unprecedented in the history of the founding of the army, is a grand festival of the winner that has been prepared based on great Comrade Kim Jong Il’s noble intention and direct suggestion to forever glorify Comrade Kim Il Sung’s immortal achievement of building the military and let the whole world know about the splendor of the socialist powerful state.

On this meaningful occasion, I express the noblest respect and the greatest honor to great Comrade Kim Il Sung, who is the founder and the builder of the revolutionary armed forces and the banner of ever-victoriousness, and to Comrade Kim Jong Il, with the heart of endless admiration by all of the officers of the people’s army and the people.

And I express my respect to the anti-Japanese revolutionary patriotic martyrs and the people’s army patriotic martyrs, who sacrificed their invaluable lives for the fatherland’s independence and the people’s liberation.

I passionately congratulate the officers of our people’s army and the officers of the People’s Internal Security Forces, members of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards and the Young Red Guards, and all the people, who glorified this year’s meaningful holidays with strengthened fighting power and proud achievements of the revolutionary great upswing by displaying matchless heroism and dedication at every sentry post on the 1,000-ri defense line and every battle field of building a powerful state in the fatherland.

Moreover, I convey warm greetings to compatriots in the South and overseas compatriots, who are dedicating everything to the patriotic cause of the reunification, wealth, power, and prosperity of the fatherland. I express gratitude to foreign friends, who are extending their positive support to the just cause of our people.

Comrades, the great 100-year history of the Kim Il Sung nation is a history that proves the iron truth that dignity and great prosperity of a country and nation exist only when an excellent leader is served.

While prided itself on a 5,000-year-old long history and brilliant culture, because it was not under correct leadership and lacked the power to defend itself, the very appearance of our nation a century ago was a small and weak, pitiful colonial nation that had to endure flunkeyism and national ruin as its fate.

However, the 100-year history of the Kim Il Sung nation put a permanent end to the stormy history of suffering, and lifted the dignity of our country and people to the highest state in the history of the nation.

Then or now, there is no change in the geopolitical position of the nation, but the small and weak nation of yesterday – which had been mercilessly trampled upon at each festival scene of the powers – has today changed into a dignified political and military power and our people are displaying dignity as independent people who can never be toyed with by anybody.

This phenomenal event that has taken place in the destiny of our nation is no accident brought about by time, but an inevitable history brought about by great Comrade Kim Il Sung and Comrade Kim Jong Il, who are the pioneers and leaders of the military-first revolution.

It was for serving the extraordinary great men — w ho built the most elite revolutionary strong army while putting forward of attaching importance to the gun barrel as the basis of revolution — that a fundamental turnabout was brought about in the destiny of our fatherland and people, and that today’s grand festival site displaying the national power of military-first Korea have also been staged magnificently.

Great Comrade Kim Il Sung early on elucidated the philosophical principle that the gun barrel is the life of the nation and also victory of the revolution, and founded the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army — which is the first revolutionary armed forces of chuch’e-style — with brilliant sons and daughters of the people in the forest of Paektu, 80 years ago from now. With the founding of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army, our people came to have a true army of their own for the first time in history, and the honorable history of the Korean Revolution which advances through the might of the gun barrel started from this.

Comrade Kim Il Sung — who paid foremost attention to strengthening the revolutionary armed forces throughout the entire period of the long revolutionary activities — performed the military miracle of the 20th century of defeating the two most outrageous imperialisms in one generation, and prepared a powerful military guarantee for sovereignty of the country and prosperity of the nation for all ages by raising the people’s army into a revolutionary strong army of one-a-match-for-a hundred, and arming all the people and fortifying the whole land. Great Comrade Kim Jong Il — who put forward inheriting and completing the military-first revolutionary cause of chuch’e pioneered by Comrade Kim Il Sung as his lifelong mission — opened the highest stage of the development of our revolutionary armed forces with his extraordinary sagacity, outstanding art of command, and matchless pluck. During the period of the gravest ordeal for our revolution, Comrade Kim Jong Il strengthened! and developed the people’s army into the most elite combat ranks, led to constant victories, the unprecedented battles to protect socialism, and achieved the great historic feats of enhancing our country to the status of a world-class militarily powerful state through the ever-victorious military-first politics.

Under the care of great Comrade Kim Il Sung and Comrade Kim Jong Il, our revolutionary armed forces have displayed in full, the majestic appearance as the revolutionary strong army with clear revolutionary character and infinitely strong military temperament and might. On the path of proud struggles on which our revolutionary armed forces have walked were grand construction battles to consolidate an everlasting foundation for the prosperous and powerful fatherland as well as grave life-and-death decisive battles against powerful imperialists. In those days, our revolutionary armed forces were infinitely loyal to their foremost mission as the true army of the leader and true army of the party and brilliantly answered the expectations of the fatherland and the people. The noble spirit of death-defying defense of the leader — which was created by anti-Japanese guerrillas — has served as the absolute motto and fundamental source of spiritual strength and combat strength of our army, and has become a noble tradition that has been passed on from generation to generation. Holding aloft the banner of death-defying defense of the leader before everything else and resolutely defending the lifeline of the chuch’e revolution at the forefront in days of honor and in days of ordeal as well is the greatest exploit of all the exploits that our people’s army has made before the revolution.

The history of our army — which started from two pistols and has grown into the matchless powerful army that makes the imperialist aggressors shiver — is unprecedented in the world’s history of military development. During the long period from its founding until today, ou r people’s army has come to have the almighty chuch’e-based art of war and the experience of winning constant victories in the process of waging guerilla warfare and regular warfare and confrontational wars without the sounds of gunshots and the roars of cannons, and grown into an infinitely powerful strong army fully equipped with means of attack and means of defense of our style with which it is fully capable of responding to any modern warfare. Military technological supremacy is not a monopoly of imperialists any more, and the time has gone forever when the enemies threatened and intimidated us with atomic bombs. Today’s solemn military demonstration will clearly confirm this.

Our people’s army has left clear traces also in the construction of a prosperous and powerful fatherland, not only as a defender of the fatherland, but also as a creator of the people’s happiness since it engraved the word people in its name. The invaluable blood and sweat of our people’s army officers and men have penetrated into the monumental creations that have risen up at every nook and corner of the fatherland and the numerous socialist assets that contribute to the people’s living standards. The revolutionary strong army of Mt Paektu — which has high pride and displays the majestic invincible, ever-victorious appearance as the army of the leader, the party, and the people — is truly the greatest patriotic legacy left by the great generalissimos, and it is the great luck and pride of our party and people to have inherited such a noble legacy.

Because the history of hundred victories that the heroic KPA has been engraving exists, the glorious 100-year history of chuch’e Korea exists and the ten million year-history of the Kim Il Sung nation and Kim Jong Il Korea is firmly guaranteed.

The sacred revolutionary chronicles and immortal achievements of great Comrade Kim Il Sung and Comrade Kim Jong Il — who, while making their way through the thorny new road of the military-first revolution, opened up a new era of national independence and prepared a strong foundation that guarantees the great prosperity of the country and the happiness of all the generations to come — will shine forever in the history of the fatherland.

Comrades, today we are standing at the watershed of history, when a new chuch’e century begins. More than any other time, this is precisely a responsible and important period when we who have learned the revolution under the care of Comrade Kim Jong Il must set out resolutely to make strenuous efforts.

At the historic fourth Party Representatives Conference and the fifth session of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly that took place a few days ago, great Comrade Kim Jong Il was held in high esteem as the eternal leader of our revolution, as the eternal general secretary of the Workers Party of Korea, and as the eternal chairman of the National Defense Commission of our Republic.

This is an indication of the steadfast will of our party, army, and people to inherit and complete to the end the chuch’e revolutionary cause, which was pioneered at Paektu, without an inch of deflection or a step of concession, only in the style of our leader and general, under the uplifted banner of the great Kimilsungism and Kimjongilism.

The farsighted strategy of our revolution and ultimate victory lie here in directly proceeding along the path of independence, the path of military-first, and the path of socialism unfolded by the great Comrade Kim Il Sung and Comrade Kim Jong Il.

In order for us to eternally glorify the dignity of military-first Korea and successfully accomplish the cause of building a powerful socialist state, first, second, and third, we must strengthen the people’s army in every way. The people’s army must in the future as well, become a reliable reconnaissance party of the military-first revolution, an unyielding point of support that steadfastly guarantees the cause of the party with the gun barrel, while plowing through snowy paths at the forefront, following the guidance of the party.

Things that cannot change even with the passing of time and the overturning of tens of hundreds of generations are the revolutionary characteristics of our people’s army, who took after our leader and general, and the struggle method of the Mt Paektu revolutionary strong army, which is advancing forward holding high the red flag of the WPK as the first battle flag.

In line with the demands of the development of reality, should further intensify the movement to win the title of the O Chung-hu’p Seventh Regiment, and turn the entire army into today’s version of the seventh Regiment, that is completely filled with the anti-Japanese guns-and-bombs spirit.

The people’s army should become an ideological purity and organizational integral whole, which join its ideas, breaths, and footsteps with the party, by thoroughly embodying the chuch’e-oriented military idea and line of our party in the military’s political work and by more firmly establishing the revolutionary leadership system.

By more fiercely raising the hot wind of Paektu training in the entire army, we should strongly prepare all people’s army officers and men as full-blooded fighters who have mastered the ever-victorious strategies and tactics of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, transformative attack methods, and thorough practical capabilities, and we should further equip ourselves with regularized aspects of the most elite revolutionary strong army, who are gallant within and without, with strong discipline.

The invincible unity of the entire army strongly united around the party as one comrade-in-arms and the millions of soldiers and people forming a harmonious whole is the true might of our people’s army, and here lies the basic key to the reinforcement of military power.

Holding high the slogan Let the entire army become true comrades-in-arms, the people’s army should make the traditional virtue of the unity between officers and men flower more brilliantly, and the entire army should become a comrades-in-arms unit which shares blood and life on the single path of the military-first revolution.

Commanders and soldiers are all equally valuable comrades-in-arms of the supreme commander. What we trust is not rockets or any other modern arms and equipment, but our loving soldiers. Commanders exist for the soldiers, and the supreme commander also exists for the soldiers.

All commanders should adopt as their inveterate traits, heartily taking care of the soldiers with the feelings of an elder brother, elder sister, or true comrade-in-arms, and running again and again for the soldiers until their shoes wear out.

Army-people unity is the root of our society and the greatest foundation of the military-first revolution. The people’s army must take the lead and be a forerunner all the time also in consolidating great unity between the army and the people as firm as a rock, succeeding to the tradition of the anti-Japanese partisans.

Our people’s army must continue to advance, upholding the slogan, let us help the people, presented by the great general. The officers and men of the people’s army must fulfill their duty as the army of the people by doing more good deeds for the people, as if they were caring for their own parents and brothers and as if managing their own home gardens.

It is our party’s resolute determination to let our people who are the best in the world — our people who have overcome all obstacles and ordeals to uphold the party faithfully — not tighten their belts again and enjoy the wealth and prosperity of socialism as much as they like.

We must well grow the valuable seeds, which the great Comrade Kim Jong Il sowed to build an economically powerful state and improve the people’s liveli hood, and lead them to bloom as a glorious reality.

The addition of the industrial revolution of the new century to single-hearted unity and invincible military power makes none other than a powerful socialist state. We will have to embark on the comprehensive construction of an economically powerful state by kindling more fiercely, the flames of the industrial revolution of the new century and the flames of South Hamgyong Province.

The officers and men of the people’s army must make a breakthrough in the march of great upswing, continuously demonstrating the might of the revolutionary strong army, which knows no impossibility, at every major battle area for the construction of an economically powerful state and the improvement of the people’s livelihood.

All the functionaries, party members, and working people must follow the struggle trait and creative characteristics of the people’s army, which finishes at a breath what it decides to undertake, and fiercely stir up the hot wind of great innovations and great leap that survive the ages at all the fronts of socialist construction.

For our party and the Republic’s government that consider powerful state construction and people’s livelihood improvement to be their general goal, peace cannot be more valuable. However, for us, the nation’s dignity and the country’s sovereignty are more valuable.

To safeguard the dignity and sovereignty of our Republic like an iron wall and defend true peace and the country’s security, all the officers and men of the people’s army must firmly guarantee with the gun barrel, our party’s cause of building a powerful state at a full combat mobilization posture without losing their revolutionary true character any time.

It is truly heartbreaking that our brethren are suffering the agony of division for nearly 70 years after living for a long time as a single nation in the same land. Our party and the Republic’s government will go hand in hand with anyone who truly desires the country’s reunification and the nation’s peaceful prosperity and will make responsible and patient efforts to accomplish the historic cause of the fatherland’s reunification.

Comrades. Our cause is just and the might of Korea that is united with truth is infinite. We will surely win as the great Comrade Kim Il Sung and Comrade Kim Jong Il, who are eternally living in the hearts of all the officers and men of the people’s army and all the people of the country, are blessing our bright future; as we have the matchless Mt Paektu revolutionary strong army and the invincible great unity between the army and the people; and as long as there are the faithful people who uphold the cause of the party with conscience and loyalty .

I will be a comrade-in-arms who always shares life and death and destiny with comrades on the road of the sacred military-first revolution and will fulfill my responsibility for the fatherland and revolution by upholding Comrade Kim Jong Il’s behest.

Let us all unite firmly and fight powerfully with one mind and with one accord, as befitting the descendents of the great leader and as befitting the warriors and disciples of the great general.

The sun flag of the great Comrade Kim Il Sung and Comrade Kim Jong Il will forever flutter in the van of our revolutionary ranks that display only victory and honor and will always encourage and drive us toward a new victory.

Move forward toward the final victory!”

2. KPA Supreme Command's Warning of 'Special Actions' on ROK

In an earlier post, we reported on some research by Vito D’Orazio that showed how difficult is to read what the North Koreans really mean. D’Orazio shows that despite the apparent invective around the timing of joint military exercises, it is in fact hard to show that the level of invective is any higher than at other times; put differently, the signal to noise ratio is low.

But we don’t recall this sort of direct threat to the South Korean leadership, and interestingly, to the media as well. Moreover, the particular phrasing of the threat—that it would “last three to four minutes” and be carried out "by unprecedented peculiar means and methods of our own style” left everyone scratching their heads. But as we noted yesterday, the mystery was solved when it was revealed that the North Koreans were jamming aircraft coming in and out of Seoul. Although a South Korean official sought to calm nerves by noting that there were no adverse effects, this is serious business.

The immediate trigger appears to have been the announcement by the South of a cruise missile, the Hyunmoo III, which has adequate range to strike anywhere on the peninsula regardless of where launched—implying a range well over 1000 km—and with accuracy down to a couple of meters (a compact summary of the South Korean missile program can be found here; DailyNK covers the announcement here ). But the South Korean military spokesman apparently added the gratuitous detail that the cruise missile could even be put through “the window of KWP First Secretary Kim Jung Un located at the KWP complex in Pyongyang.”

Pyongyang Korean Central Broadcasting Station, April 23, 2012

["KPA Supreme Command Special Operations Action Team Notice [t'u'kpyo'l chakcho'n haengdong sojo t'onggo] -- [We] Can No Longer Tolerate Gang of Traitors' Provocation Madness Which Has Reached a Dangerous Level"; all quoted passages confirmed as quoted passages in identical KCNA in Korean version.]

“The indignation of our army and people at the Lee Myung-bak group of rats has reached the sky. The indignation is shaking the earth and heaven through the shouts: "Crush," "Beat to death," and "Tear to death." Still not coming to its senses, the Lee Myung-bak gang of traitors is visiting here and there and committing mischief.

Appearing at the Institute for Unification Education, which is a den of rats, in Suyu-tong, Kangbuk-ku, Seoul on 20 April, [Lee] again let loose presumptuous remarks about moving in the "direction of paying attention to North Korea's system change" if we do not give up the will for nuclear or missile development and making "North Koreans dismantle cooperative farms and carry out agricultural reform to improve their livelihood," saying that not only bread but also individual freedom and human rights are currently needed in the North.

Prior to this on 19 April, they appeared at the place called the puppet Agency for Defense Development, and while stroking a few rounds of shabby missiles, snobbishly blabbered that they have the precision and might of immediately striking any location in our sacred Republic. At the same time, they began to display an extremely grave frenzy of provocation by daring to imprudently spread the theory of striking the supreme headquarters [ch'oegosunoebu] through an office window.

In addition, puppet Defense Minister Kim Kwan-chin and other warmongers of the military circle danced to this tune together.

The reality shows that the provocation frenzy by the gang of traitors has long lost its discretion.

In the meantime, the conservative media sources, which long ago became the maids of the gang of traitors, are running amuck with blood-shot eyes in carrying out the disgraceful conduct of building up public opinion on the ugly, rash acts of the group of rats.

Even media outlets such as Dong-A Ilbo, which is located in downtown Seoul, and KBS, MBC, and YTN [television stations] are participating in this.

Instead of apologizing tens of thousands of times for the eternal high treason committed thus far and choosing their own death, which would not even be nearly enough, the gang of traitors are grinding their teeth and putting forth a challenge.

Regarding the situation that is gravely spreading with each passing day, the KPA Supreme Command Special Operations Action Group, upon authorization, issues the following notice:

[We] hereby notify that special actions of our revolutionary armed forces to smash the gang of traitors' reckless challenge will start soon.

Our special actions are an eruption of the angry people's rage and a sacred war of the millions of soldiers and people to defend our supreme dignity with our lives.

The targets of the special actions are the Lee Myung-bak gang of traitors -- the culprits -- and the group of rats which includes the conservative media which are destroying the pillar of fair public opinion.

Our revolutionary armed forces' special actions, once started, will devastate in a flash all groups of rats and the origins of provocation within three to four minutes or shorter through unique, unprecedented means and a method of our own style.

Our revolutionary armed forces do not know of empty talk”.


3. Ri Yong Ho (KPA Vice Marshal, KWP CC Politburo Presidium member, KPA Chief of the General Staff) Speech at the April 25 National Meeting celebrating the 80th anniversary of the KPA

This speech has received press coverage because of its reiteration of a threat to “launch a retaliatory war in our own way... to cut the throats of the reckless provocateurs and crush the source of provocations without a trace."

But the speech also mentions “songun” 21 times in the course of providing a summary of the historical role of the military, divided roughly into a discussion of each of the country’s three leaders. The speech wraps up by praising KJU’s Day of the Sun speech, but throughout it uses language that harkens back to the so-called Four Military Lines that was first introduced at the 5th plenum of the 4th meeting of the KWP in December 1962. The Four Lines constituted a statement of the principles undergirding military self-reliance, include commitment to an all-cadre military, a focus on modernization through the development of a military-industrial complex, arming the whole population, and expenditure of resources—including labor—on defensive fortifications. In 1992, then-chief of the general staff of the KPA, Choe Kwang, reiterated their importance on the 60th anniversary of the KPA and although not specifically referenced as such, the exact same commitments come through.

To restate our conclusions, whatever tack may be occurring with respect to the economy, it is occurring in the context of firm—even heightened—commitments to songun. We have noted before that this combination is possible in theory—think the Meiji restoration, Ataturk or Park Chung Hee. But whether it is possible in practice is far from clear given two constraints: the disincentives to foreign investors from the DPRK’s military provocations; and the incredible drain of resources into military white elephants.

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