[Swiftwater Gazette] Mixed Signals in North Korea

Ed kroposki kroposki at att.net
Sun May 8 06:39:33 EDT 2016


 ShareARare Congress and Mixed Signals in North KoreaAnalysisMay5, 2016 | 09:15 GMT   NorthKorean leader Kim Jong Un delivers his televised New Year address on Jan. 1,2016. As Kim's Workers' Party of Korea prepares to convene its first PartyCongress since 1980, North Korea has apparently accelerated its nuclearmissiles testing. (JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)Summary Forthe first time in more than 35 years, North Korea is preparing to hold a fullCongress of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK). Originally intended to be aregular occurrence for the WPK, party congresses convened only sporadicallyuntil 1980, when Kim Jong Il was named as Kim Il Sung's successor, and juche(loosely translated as self-reliance) was formalized as the government'sofficial guiding philosophy. In the years since, though the WPK has officiallyremained at the center of the North Korean political system, party congresseshave lost their central role in the political cycle. Scheduled to begin May 6,the 2016 congress marks the revival of a more public political style in thecountry, playing on the formalism of party structure and events.Analysis Sincerising to power in North Korea, Kim Jong Un has emulated his grandfather, KimIl Sung, more than his father, Kim Jong Il — not only in his appearance butalso in his leadership style. Much more than Kim Jong Il, Kim Il Sung was apublic figure, more likely to press the flesh and more inclined to work throughthe party structure. In part, adopting his grandfather's mien enabled Kim JongUn to rapidly gain legitimacy and recognition as a leader: Unlike his father,he could not rely on nearly 15 years of public appearances as the chosensuccessor. Atthe same time, Kim Jong Un's divergent leadership style also reflects thedifficulties of managing North Korea in his father's backroom manner. Withoutknowledge of all of the various factions, personalities and side arrangements,the young leader found imitating Kim Jong Il's top-down approach to be adaunting task. Early struggles inside his administration, along with thevarious purges, represented an attempt to restructure the balance of poweramong North Korea's elite, break some of the backroom systems and reinstatemore formal channels of authority. Thoughmuch still happens behind closed doors, and though personnel changes stilloften occur long before they are announced, North Korea has moved back toward amore conventional structure of power and government. The2016 party congress, then, will not reveal anything significantly new, butrather will confirm the shifts and changes in the bureaucracy's structure andpersonnel. To a certain extent, this willmove North Korea a bit further from one-man rule as Kim Jong Un accepts andeven encourages greater responsibility among various departments andministries. Moreover, Pyongyang has opened the party congress to foreign reporters,using it as an opportunity to showcase Kim Jong Un's government not only toNorth Korea, but also to the rest of the world.Ona Mission for Missiles Meanwhile,a series of missile tests has been underway in the country. In recent weeks,Pyongyang has conducted several tests of both the Musudan road-mobileintermediate-range ballistic missile and a submarine-launched ballistic missile(SLBM). Although these systems are critical to a viable nuclear weaponsprogram, international observers consider the tests to have been partialsuccesses at best. In some ways, this is not unexpected. Compared with othercountries, North Korea carries out very few tests of its missile systems. Andeven in the best-funded programs, numerous failures pave the road to success.On the other hand, the tests may have been accelerated to coincide with theparty congress, thereby increasing the risk of failure. ForPyongyang, the Musudan failures may be the most significant. These road-mobilesystems, capable of reaching U.S. forces in Japan and perhaps even Guam, havealready been deployed (with conventional warheads) as an important component ofthe country's deterrence strategy. North Korea often deploys major weaponssystems with minimal testing. However, Musudan's failures suggest that theentire system may be faulty. By comparison, the partial success of the SLBM isless worrisome. After all, the system is still a developing technology, onwhich Pyongyang appears to be conducting a more robust domestic test cycle thanit has on previous missiles. Butaside from the party congress, a deeper reason underlies Pyongyang'saccelerated missile testing. North Korea is nearing the moment when it candemonstrate each component of a functional nuclear weapons system. These componentsinclude missiles (preferably mobile ones that cannot be easily detected anddestroyed prior to launch and that are capable of reaching a target), nosecones that can survive re-entry and small enough nuclear weapons to fit atopthem. While North Korea does not need to demonstrate all of these features in asingle test, it must nevertheless prove each one.Makinga Gamble AsPyongyang approaches a viable nuclear weapon and delivery system, the pressureis rising for the United States and other countries to pre-empt it.Consequently, the final moments of North Korea's transition from a workingprogram to a demonstrated system are the most dangerous, providing a lastchance to stop the country from becoming a nuclear weapons state. For NorthKorea, then, these final steps must happen quickly. Because 2016 is apresidential election year in the United States, Pyongyang may feel it has awindow to finalize its nuclear arms program while the United States ispreoccupied with domestic politics and unlikely to take military action.Furthermore, having just held parliamentary elections and facing a presidentialcontest in 2017, South Korea, too, is in the midst of political transition. NorthKorea is making a gamble, one that bets both on its read of U.S. politics andon its own ability to overcome technological hurdles. The country's variousconcurrent activities — throwing a party congress and opening the country toforeign reporters, sentencing another U.S. citizen to hard labor and offering alast-minute deal to end its nuclear program — serve to confuse the situationand keep people guessing about just what Pyongyang is or is not up to. Even thefailed missile tests leave room for doubt abroad, potentially buying NorthKorea a little more time. And though success in these final stages is notguaranteed, Pyongyang is striving to achieve technology and capabilities thatmany other countries attained decades ago. Thus, it would take a politicaldecision, rather than a technological struggle, to delay or end North Korea'snuclear ambitions.Sendus your thoughts on this report.ShareReprintingor republication of this report on websites is authorized by prominentlydisplaying the following sentence, including the hyperlink to Stratfor, at thebeginning or end of the report."A Rare Congress and Mixed Signals in North Korea is republished with permissionof Stratfor."Simplycopy and paste this code: "<ahref="https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/rare-congress-and-mixed-signals-north-korea"> A Rare Congress and Mixed Signals in NorthKorea</a> is republished with permission of Stratfor." https://www.stratfor.com/analysis/rare-congress-and-mixed-signals-north-korea    
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