Sunday, March 04, 2012

N. Korea's Kim Orders Alert for DMZ Visit

Warlike Moves Apparently Aimed at N. Korean Elite

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered a high alert for a DMZ visit; and the regime staged a rally in Pyongyang that called for the toppling of the South Korean government. The rally and visit, Kim's first to the DMZ since the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, followed an announced accord with the United States for food aid in return for a North Korean moratorium on nuclear and missile testing and nuclear enrichment at a key facility. Read the news here.

Foreign Confidential™ analysts say the bellicose moves are aimed internally--not at the starving, indoctrinated masses, who have no power and no real knowledge of the world outside their country-sized concentration camp, but at members of the elite, more specifically, key figures within the military and security services, which are potential wellsprings of warlordism and possible power grabs and coup attempts.

Factional maneuverings may have already begun in the wake of a dynastic succession that is unparalleled in the annals of world Communism. The current Kim is the third member of his family to rule North Korea, succeeding his father and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, the foremost founder of the Stalinist state. If not stopped early or preempted, jockeying for influence could lead to jockeying for power--and an actual power grab or coup.

Coup-Proofing and Legitimacy

In this context, it is important to understand that in contrast with Kim Il Sung, a dictator who, notwithstanding his brutality and personality cult, respected and made cunning use of the institutions of party and state, Kim Jong Il basically ruled North Korea as an individual--through sheer terror--employing a permanent, wartime-like crisis management style and a specially designed personal power apparatus that superseded all party and state authority and thus in his eyes helped to make the regime coup-proof. By the time he died, Dear Leader had lost legitimacy in the eyes of the elite except for his ability to continue to deliver food, luxury goods and special privileges to the group--a fraction of one percent of the population--which, while living in constant fear of purges, has been protected from the nightmarish horrors of ordinary life in North Korea.

It is hard to see how his heir could have seamlessly inherited or overnight replaced his father's apparatus and how members of the elite could not be increasingly nervous about their new leader's ability to keep on delivering goods and privileges. Hence, Kim's need to impress them--and test them--in ways that few foreign observers can comprehend, including recklessly raising tensions with North Korea's adversaries and possibly even provoking confrontations and conflict with new acts of aggression.

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