Kim Jong-un's Long Battle to Rein in Military

      November 12, 2013 08:29

      In an apparent attempt to bring North Korea's all-powerful military to heel, the country's young leader Kim Jong-un has reshuffled all the top brass over the last two years.

      Hardline officers who were purged or replaced include the military Politburo chief, the Army chief, the director of the General Reconnaissance Bureau and the minister of the People's Armed Forces.

      In April last year, Kim appointed Choe Ryong-hae, who has no military background, as Politburo chief and replaced the military, security and intelligence chiefs several times.

      Several lower-ranking officers have also been demoted and then restored to their original posts, which resulted in weakening their control over troops.

      Lee Soo-seok at the Institute for National Security Strategy said Kim sees the military as a threat because it had grown too powerful as a result of his father's "songun" or military-first doctrine. He said Kim reshuffled officers to "weaken the power of the military and eliminate threats like a coup d'etat." Instead, he has been trying to strengthen the Workers Party.

      The regime's two-track strategy of bolstering nuclear weapons and pursuing economic development also undermined the military's power.

      Chung Sung-jang at the Sejong Institute said it seems Kim Jong-un wants to break with his father's "military first, economy second" policy because he believes that he cannot stay in power for long without some tangible achievements.

      Kim's focus on the economy over the military can be traced in his public appearances. Out of 151 public appearances he made last year, about one-third involved the military, while only around 20 percent had to do with the economy. But until the end of October this year, one-third each of his 176 public appearances involved economic matters and the military.

      Also, the military dominance of state businesses is weakening. One researcher at a state-run think tank here said Kim has transferred control of money-making businesses from the military to the party. He added that Kim is trying to emerge from his father's shadow and establish his own power base "by sacking the old guard to weaken the power of the military while strengthening the power of the party."

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