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The Belligerent North Korea, NK’s Political Logic & the Seventh Congress

The Belligerent North Korea

The year 2016 has seen a lot of provocations from North Korea. After conducting a series of missile tests in complete defiance to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, went on with its intransigence by hitting the button on its fifth and potentially most powerful nuclear test on 09 September. Since these tests will potentially jeopardize peace on the Korean Peninsula, and the world at large, the country has earned the wrath of world community in form of oppressive sanctions which are going to be tightened further, yet these have not been able to have any significant impact on the demeanor of the North Korean government.

North Korea is a tiny country that has been in the news since long; for all the wrong reasons. The country entered the year 2016 with the test of a nuclear weapon in January. This belligerence continued and the country fired three intermediate-range missiles followed by the tests of submarine-launched missiles. Now it has conducted its fifth nuclear test which has earned a strong rebuke from the world community. In the wake of the test, the Security Council met and “strongly condemned” the test as “a clear threat to international peace and security.”

“The members of the Security Council also recalled that they have previously expressed their determination to take further significant measures in the event of another Democratic People’s Republic of Korea nuclear test,” the Security Council statement said. “In line with this commitment and the gravity of this violation, the members of the Security Council will begin to work immediately on appropriate measures. …”

The rapidity of nuclear and missile tests has left the world flabbergasted and the scientists and missile experts perplexed, to say the least. The device detonated on Friday looks to have had a force equivalent of 10 kilotons of TNT, according to the South’s Defense Ministry. In contrast, the last device tested by the North, in January, had a force equivalent of six kilotons of TNT, the South’s intelligence agency said. The aboveground Trinity Test in New Mexico in July 1945, which ushered in the nuclear age, had a yield of 20 kilotons.

North Korea conducted its most powerful nuclear test to date on the eve of the 68th anniversary of its founding. This gives an impression that NK’s testing schedule is driven more by political imperatives rather than the military ones. This apprehension is further augmented by the fact that the first Musudan test was conducted on the 104th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung, the grandfather of current North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and the founder and president for life of North Korea who ruled the country until his death in 1994. The analysts see these tests — and the much-anticipated fifth nuclear test — as scene-setters for the seventh congress of the ruling Korean Workers Party that was held on May 05.

In North Korea’s political culture a party congress is a rare, yet highly important, event. The importance of the Congress can be gauged from the fact that it is being held after a gap of almost 36 years — the last was held in 1980where Kim Jong Il, the father of current supreme leader Kim Jong Un, was officially declared successor to Kim Il Sung.

At the seventh Congress meeting, the current ruler Kim Jong Un, who has been first secretary of the ruling party, became its chairman. The Congress also touted Kim’s successes on the nuclear front and promised economic improvements to boost the nation’s standard of living. Mostly, however, the congress has put Kim himself front and center in the eyes of the people and the party as the country’s sole leader. Kim Jong Un delivered a three-hour speech to delegates to review the country’s situation and progress since the last congress was held in 1980. He announced a five-year economic plan, the first one made public since the 1980s. The Congress also vowed to strengthen country’s defensive nuclear weapons capability.

Just in case anyone still had the slightest doubt, the congress underlined that North Korea intends to push full steam ahead with its nuclear weapons programme in defiance of UN sanctions and near universal condemnation. Actually, the Congress’s decision on strengthening the capability of its nuclear weapons formalizes North Korea’s position. It has also emerged that the official rationale for all the provocations is the “hostile behaviour” of the United States and its ally, South Korea. Pyongyang protests against the annual military exercises the two allies hold, insisting that they are preparations for a decapitating first strike against North Korea and a prelude to war. The North Korean Foreign Ministry has declared that it needs a “powerful nuclear deterrence” to check US hostility.

5 Key Takeaways from Seventh Congress

1. Workers’ Party of Korea Resurrected

Through its seventh convention, the Congress finally sealed the political comeback for the Workers’ Party of Korea. The party had been forced to cede decision-making influence to the military during the rule of late leader Kim Jong-Il from 1994-2011. Kim’s “songun,” or military-first policy shifted the power the party had enjoyed during the rule of his father Kim Il-Sung to the generals. He never convened a single party congress during his 17-year rule.

Since taking over after his father’s death in 2011, Kim’s party has regained the lost ground. He has replaced scores of powerful military commanders and forged alliances with influential party officials.

The congress reasserted the party leadership as the top decision-making body, its supremacy supported by the election of Kim Jong-Un as party chairman.

2. Bolstering Nuclear Programme

The congress also underlined that North Korea intends to push full steam ahead with its nuclear weapons programme in defiance of UN sanctions and near universal condemnation. Kim praised the “magnificent and exhilarating sound” of NK’s last nuclear test, and delegates adopted his report calling for an improved and expanded nuclear arsenal.

Kim’s promises to pursue a policy of non-proliferation — North Korea withdrew from the global Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003 — and to push for global denuclearisation were largely dismissed as token nods to his insistence that North Korea was a “responsible” nuclear weapons state.

Kim went to great lengths to stress the prime role of the nuclear-armed military in guaranteeing the country’s survival.

3. Consolidating Kim’s Position

If being supreme leader of a one-party state wasn’t enough, Kim Jong-Un was formally elected to the position of Workers’ Party chairman by the congress delegates.

The post adds to Kim’s already impressive list of high-ranking titles, including chairman of the central military commission, chairman of the national defence commission and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army.

But titles are important in North Korea and the party chairmanship carries a strong symbolic resonance as it was last held by Kim’s grandfather, the country’s revered founder leader Kim Il-Sung.

Kim has played up his physical likeness to his grandfather, and the post of chairman suggests he wants to rule like him as well.

4. Economic Planning

Kim Jong-Un unveiled a five-year economic plan, the first such document for decades. Few details of the plan were provided, beyond a general ambition to boost output and efficiency across every key economic sector. But the fact that it was presented by Kim himself was seen as significant, with the young leader assuming personal responsibility for an economy that had been driven into the ground by his father.

5. Control over Foreign Media

North Korea tightly controls reporting in the country and is second from last (after Eritrea) on the World Press Freedom Index.

Around 130 foreign reporters were invited to cover the congress, but were only given access to the actual event on the very last day and that too for five minutes only.

For the rest of the time, they were carefully martialled by groups of minders, with all movement outside their island hotel subject to tight restrictions.

The Belligerent North Korea

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