DPRK After Kim Il Sung: Is a Second Republic Possible?

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Recommended Citation

Alexandre Mansourov, "DPRK After Kim Il Sung: Is a Second Republic Possible?", Global Problem Solving, September 27, 1994, https://nautilus.org/global-problem-solving/dprk-after-kim-il-sung-is-a-second-republic-possible-2/

DPRK after Kim Il Sung: Is a Second Republic Possible ?

Paper prepared by Alexandre Y. Mansourov, M.Phil.,

for presentation at international conference on “North Korea After Kim Il Sung”

held in Melbourne, Australia, on September 26- 27, 1994

 On July 8, 1994, the Great Leader Kim Il Sung passed away. This 
was a momentous event in the history of the DPRK, which had not 
known any other supreme leaders in its almost fifty-year 
existence. The entire era of Juche-type socialist construction, 
aggressive national liberation theology, boundless personality 
cult, accompanied by decades of domestic stability and popular 
acquiescence, seems to face an imminent and irreversible end.

Today, North Korea is in transition. Its society and polity are 
undergoing often invisible but nevertheless very significant 
changes. The days of the First Republic (the DPRK), founded on 
September 9, 1948, appear to be numbered. But does it mean that a 
Second Republic is possible and coming? This is a twofold 
question. On the one hand, can the North Korean polity change its 
political regime and governmental policy outputs substantially 
enough to be able to adapt to dramatically changing international 
and domestic socio-economic and military-political environments? 
On the other hand, once such radical changes are initiated, can 
North Korea survive as an independent state, and will the North 
Korean leadership have enough will power to continue to exist and 
function independently, despite the looming shadow of a South-led 
absorption-style unification? What might be its policies? In this 
paper, in my search for answers to these questions, I intend to 
explore the issue of legitimacy of the new leadership in 
Pyongyang, its likely direction of change in governmental 
processes, and what impact these changes may have on the 
evolution of the domestic and foreign policy of the DPRK after 
Kim Il Sung's death.

1. Legitimacy of a New Republic

The concept of legitimacy of a political order has multiple 
meanings in the political science literature. It can be defined 
either through individual attitudes toward political order, 
regime, and its leaders, or as a structural property of a 
political system. 

In the behavioral tradition, Lipset (1960) defines legitimacy as 
"ex ante commitment by elites and population to a certain 
political process", and Lamounier (1979) describes it as 
"acquiescence motivated by subjective agreement with given norms 
and values" (p13). Both derive it from Weberian notions of 
legality (meaning ex ante acceptance) and justifiability of 
dominant rules, norms, values. Habermas (1975) takes a step 
further and defines legitimacy as "ex post evaluation of rules" 
(which Lipset calls "effectiveness"). Although they all maintain 
that ex post evaluations modify ex ante commitments, they stop 
short of admitting that the very problem of compliance, the 
essence of legitimacy in Schumpeter's view, arises only because 
the outcomes generated by rules are uncertain ex ante. As a 
result, as Coleman (1989) put it, "consenting to a process is not 
the same thing as consenting to the outcomes of the process". 
Under Kim Il Sung, these two types of consent were taken for 
granted because of his personal charisma. After his death, 
although top leaders in Pyongyang appear to be in consent for the 
time being with the rules of the game they inherited from the 
Great Leader, obviously, they are likely to challenge the 
interpretation and evaluations of the outcomes of the process, 
thereby undermining the legitimacy of Kim Jong Il's rule and 
eroding his grip on power. In other words, although Kim Jong Il 
may initially enjoy procedural legitimacy, in the long run he 
will have to work hard to gain substantive legitimacy in the eyes 
of his peers and population at large.

From a structural point of view, legitimacy is defined negatively 
as the lack of collectively organized alternatives (Przeworski, 
1991). Hence, Przeworski argues that "what is threatening to 
authoritarian regimes is not the breakdown of legitimacy but the 
organization of counterhegemony: collective projects for an 
alternative future. Only when collective alternatives are 
available does political choice become available to isolated 
individuals...As long as no collective alternatives are 
available, individual attitudes toward the regime matter little 
for its stability" (p54). This view fits Weber's (1968) 
conclusion that "people may submit from individual weakness and 
helplessness because there is no acceptable alternative" (I, 
p214). In the same vein, Stepan and Linz (1994) define legitimacy 
simply as "the only game in town", which tends to get eroded as a 
civil society emerges and develops in authoritarian states. Under 
Kim Il Sung, for decades his clan had been "the only game in 
town". After his death, with his clan being fractioned and 
fragmented, the authority of his heir, Dear Leader, appears to be 
challenged from within, and the emergence of individual 
challengers is likely. However, the WPK's grip on power is still 
tight, and no "collective projects for an alternative future" are 
likely to be allowed any time soon. Therefore, the Second 
Republic may gain legitimacy and popular support to a degree 
unexpected without any major challenge from within, unless its 
claim is seriously challenged by the forceful imposition of the 
South Korean way of life as a collective alternative for the 
North Korean society and polity.

In order to address the question of whether the authority or 
behaviorally-defined legitimacy of the North Korean authoritarian 
state is eroding, it is useful to distinguish between the 
different types of grounds on which political institutions can be 
accepted, and compliance is granted. David Held (1987) elaborates 
the following seven categories: 1) coercion, or following orders, 
2) tradition, 3) apathy, 4) pragmatic acquiescence, 5) 
instrumental acceptance, 6) normative agreement, and 7) ideal 
normative agreement. He reserves the term legitimacy only for 
categories 6 and 7, implying that people follow rules and laws 
because they actually think them right and worthy of respect. "A 
legitimate political order is one that is normatively sanctioned 
by its population" (p238). I would extend legitimacy to 
categories 4 and 5 which could be taken to imply a weak form of 
legitimacy meaning that the existing state of affairs is 
tolerated, and compliance is granted, in order to secure some 
other desired goal. Thus, as long as these other ends appear 
achievable the original situation will be agreeable. Categories 
1, 2, and 3 constitute grounds for order but do not make it 
legitimate. As far as the DPRK is concerned, political order is 
partially voluntary and partially contrived; there are various 
people in North Korea whose rationale for cooperative behavior 
may fall in any of the above-mentioned categories. In the past, a 
high degree of compliance and integration among all groups and 
classes in the North Korean society could be explained by "shared 
values" of juche. At present and in future, with the juche system 
eroding and a degree of coerced compliance and apathy increasing, 
the "ideological domination" of the ruling class is likely to 
replace the eroding consensus on values among the population and 
elites.  However, in the current political order no collective 
alternative appears to be possible: it was suppressed many times 
in the past and it is unlikely to be allowed in the near future. 
In this sense, I do not expect any erosion or radical change in 
the nature of legitimacy during the transition from the First to 
the Second Republic. 

However, as time goes by the substantive sources of legitimacy 
may vary. For instance, at different times the legitimacy of the 
First Republic in North Korea has been derived from different 
sources. Originally, it came from the national liberation 
ideology and practice of the first Kim Il Sung governments - 
their anticolonialist, nationalist and revolutionary credentials. 
In the late 1950s-1960s, the legitimacy of the political regime 
in Pyongyang was boosted by significant economic achievements in 
the North in the rebuilding and modernization of the North Korean 
industries and the dramatic improved living standards of the 
general population. In the 1970s, it was the international 
recognition granted to the DPRK due to its vigorous diplomacy. In 
the 1980s-early 1990s, the personal charisma of the "Great 
Leader" and the sanctity of the "revolutionary traditions of the 
past" became the main source of the regime legitimacy.

In contrast, today a de-facto North Korean supreme leader Kim 
Jong Il has very little to boast about that might reinforce his 
legitimacy. I fully agree with Robert Scalapino, who argues that 
in the DPRK "leaders and the party can no longer depend upon 
intensive ideological indoctrination combined with a fairly high 
degree  of isolation of their people to preserve adherence. 
Allegiance, increasingly, will be dependent upon performance, not 
upon blind faith born out of ideological molding." But it is the 
Dear Leader's performance that has been lacking for some time. 
The DPRK's economy is in deep depression characterized by 
extremely low capacity utilization, historically high 
unemployment, rising inflation, and shrinking disposable income. 
Domestic ideology is in crisis. In the international arena, the 
country is politically isolated and is being pressured hard to 
give up its identity. Furthermore, Kim Jong Il does not appear to 
enjoy the unconditional respect and loyalty from his associates 
and some segments of the general public. Of course, he may 
continue to base his claim to power on his being Kim Il Sung's 
son and, hence, the legitimate heir, but this argument is 
unlikely to guarantee his future for long. To be sure, after Kim 
Il Sung's death, Kim Jong Il is being given the benefit of a 
doubt by his peers, so he has some time to perform. But time is 
running out, and unless he shows real leadership and delivers in 
foreign policy and the economy in the next couple of years, he 
may well be removed from power.

In the meantime, those who might dare to challenge Kim Jong Il 
and lead the founding of the Second Republic may establish their 
credentials either by incrementally denouncing the past or by 
their performance only. Therefore, they either will have to 
continue to "reinterpret and implement" the legacy and the last 
will of the late Kim Il Sung. By definition, nobody is better fit 
for this job than his son, hence this may be a losing option. Or 
they may launch a de- kimilsungization of the North Korean 
society and polity, which might be similar to the destalinization 
and demaoization campaigns that took place in the USSR and PRC 
respectively. However, this option is fraught with unpredictable 
consequences, and could, therefore, be frightening.

In any case, whoever will be in charge, one can argue that the 
erosion of legitimacy after the death of the Great Leader is 
likely to lead to some decrease in the capacity of the North 
Korean state to act effectively. From the point of view of the 
overload theorists (Huntington, 1975; Brittan, 1975, 1977), 
rising expectations and decline in deference are likely to lead 
to excessive demands, which will strain the relationship between 
the government and social groups, as well as to the growing 
competition among the elites. From the standpoint of the 
legitimation theorists (Habermas, 1976; Offe, 1984), the death of 
God and the retreat of the state leave behind ideological and 
political vacuum, undermine traditionally unquestioned Kim Il 
Sung-sanctioned and state- oriented values and norms, and 
politicize ever more issues, that is, open them up to political 
debate and conflict. As a result, growing demands will erode 
state power and shake political stability.

But it is not that North Korea is approaching the end of its 
authoritarian world, or that the authority of the state is 
suddenly in decline, or that legitimacy is now undermined; 
rather, it is that the uncertainty, apathy, cynicism, and 
scepticism of many people today lead to growing detachment and 
political departicipation. At the same time, the elites find it 
increasingly difficult to mobilize the population for the pursuit 
of their ends and often fail to offset these sentiments by 
sufficient comforts or credible promise of future benefits as the 
economy runs into seemingly ever worse problems. This is the 
phychological background the Second Republic will have to face.

2. New Governmental Processes:     

 The Great Leader Kim Il Sung passed away four months ago. All 
this time the DPRK has not had an official head of state nor has 
its central policy-making institution, the WPK, had its 
Secretary-General. Does this mean that the country has been 
unruled, and that nobody is in charge ? Or does it mean the 
emergence of a new conservative regime where formal institutions 
of power are disregarded, charisma and rationality as the bases 
for authority give way to tradition, and supreme authority is 
exercised via informal interpersonal channels? Or does this 
simply mean that there are difficulties in transition and 
institutional change, following such a momentuous event as the 
death of Kim Il Sung, that consolidation of power by Kim Jong Il 
in Pyongyang is slowing down, and that in order to disguise these 
realities, North Korean propaganda works hard to finesse the 
mourning period argument, which seems to be a very fluid concept 
and prone to be extended endlessly?

There is no evidence to suggest that the authoritarian state is 
losing even an inch of control over the society in the DPRK. Nor 
is there any evidence to maintain that the bureaucratic apparati 
of the state, including the KPA and the Ministry of National 
Security, and of the Workers' Party of Korea themselves doubt or 
challenge the supreme leadership of Kim Jong Il in any meaningful 
way today. The fact that the DPRK representative referred to Kim 
Jong Il as the "supreme leader of our country" in his UN speech 
in September 1994 attests to the point. Nevertheless, some 
Russian sources close to a number of key WPK Politburo members 
maintain that the North Korean regime is about to undergo 
profound changes in the composition, functions, and roles of its 
supreme political institutions, which may even amount to 
constitutional changes in the form of government in Pyongyang. 
What are the driving motives behind this? 

First of all, observers of the North Korean politics know that 
during the late period of the Kim Il Sung era there existed a 
dualistic power structure, a duopoly of sorts. There were two 
semi-independent hierarchies of authority, two self- sustaining 
chains of command - one leading to the father and another leading 
to the son with little interaction and communication in between. 
While, officially, all party and state bodies were subordinated 
to the President of the Republic, the General Secretary of the 
WPK, and the Supreme Commander-In-Chief Kim Il Sung, the primary 
institutional vehicle for maintaining Kim Jong Il's personal 
authority in all party and state organizations were the so-called 
Three Revolution Small Teams (samdae hyongmyong sojo), which 
amounted to the junior Kim's personal surveillance network 
planted everywhere. For instance, they are said to be operating 
in the KPA down to the company level and in the Ministry of 
Public Security down to the section level, not to mention 
economic and political entities, where they are omnipresent. They 
are believed to bypass the regular chain of command, reporting to 
their own chain of command, which leads ultimately to Kim Jong 
Il. Paralleling this development has been a significant increase 
in the power of political commissars in the KPA and MPS. All 
orders issued by military commanders and security officials 
needed to be countersigned by "political deputy commanders" 
(chongch'i pujihwigwan) who reported directly to Kim Jong Il's 
staff. Anyway, the death of Kim Il Sung has resulted in a 
dramatic shift to a monistic (Kim Jong Il-centered) power 
structure. This change brings about growing consolidation of the 
previously bifurcated bureaucratic apparatus, and is reflected in 
rapid promotions, early retirements and demotions, as well as 
considerable rejuvenilation of the state officialdom.

Secondly, some of the current institutions, like the Presidency 
and the Central People's Committee, were originally set up 
personally and specifically for the Great Leader Kim Il Sung. 
With his passing, these institutions cannot function properly and 
fulfil the tasks they used to, and therefore have to be 

Until 1972, the DPRK had been a "parliamentary republic" of sorts 
headed by the Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers, relying on 
unchallenged formal WPK majorities in the Supreme National 
Assembly for the mandate to govern. As a result of the 
constitutional changes in April 1972, the "parliamentary game" 
was over and the DPRK became a "presidential republic", with the 
institution of the Presidency (chusok) with unlimited powers 
having been set up specifically for Kim Il Sung. Now that Kim 
Senior is dead, one of the most likely scenarios is that nobody, 
including his son, will be able or allowed to exercise such 
unlimited and arbitrary authority over the North Korean elites 
and society at large, as Kim Il Sung did. Therefore, it is likely 
that the institution of the chusok (President) will be abolished. 
Instead, the institution of the taet'ongnyong, President with 
representative functions only (to receive foreign delegations, to 
award medals, etc.), may be created. There is a rumor that Kim Il 
Sung intended to see that his younger brother Kim Yong-ju would 
be appointed to such a post after his death, while Kim Jong Il 
should assume the position of the Secretary-General of the CC 
WPK. However, alleged strains in personal relations between Kim 
Jong Il and Kim Yong-ju, as well as the fact that Kim Yong-ju is 
perceived by the Pyongyang political establishment with a degree 
of resentment as an outsider who spent nineteen years in oblivion 
but now stakes out his claim to the pie as an equal, give 
credence to an alternative scenario: perhaps the current Foreign 
Minister of the DPRK Kim Yong-nam will be appointed President 
(taet'ongnyong) just as the former Foreign Minister of the USSR 
A.A. Gromyko was appointed Chairman of the Presidium of the 
Supreme Soviet of the USSR (the title for President of the then 
USSR), while Kim Jong Il assumes the party leadership post.

If the President's powers are curbed in the DPRK, the role of the 
Central People's Committee is likely to change as well. In 
reality, the CPC was Kim Il Sung's decision-making apparatus, his 
own National Security Council. It had few members, most of them 
comrades-in-arms and close associates of the Great Leader, who 
helped him formulate key domestic and foreign policies and put 
his decisions in the form of decrees and instructions. If the 
institution of the Presidency becomes purely representative and 
symbolic in nature, the role of the CPC is likely to diminish 
increasingly, its meetings will become spotty and lacking in 
substance because the locus of crucial decision-making will shift 

Thirdly, one cannot help but notice an emerging shift from the 
regime of absolute personal power exercised by the late Kim Il 
Sung to a system of collective leadership. Reportedly, the North 
Korean leaders ardently seek for a venue to institutionalize the 
emerging "collective leadership of the party centered around Kim 
Jong Il". Why does such a shift to collective leadership appear 
to be inevitable? The immediate history of all post-totalitarian 
societies, including both mentors of North Korea - the USSR and 
the PRC, suggests that such a direction for the evolution of 
authority in the DPRK is probable. Recent statements by leading 
North Korean politicians such as the WPK Politburo members Kim 
Yong-nam, Kang Song-san, Kye Ung-tae, and Party Secretary Kim Ki-
nam allude to the desirability of establishing collective 
leadership. Indeed, people around Kim Jong Il fear his lack of 
experience, especially in economic matters, which are crucial to 
their own survival. Nor does the son have the personal charisma 
of his father. His words are not seen as sacred by some of them. 
In turn, from Kim Jong Il's point of view, he may accept shared 
leadership because he wants to tie up leaders around him with 
collective responsibility for recurrent failures in the economy 
and domestic policy, thereby relieving himself of the burden of 
sole responsibility. He does not want to become a sole scapegoat 
for his opponents. 

Fourthly, Kim Jong Il is faced with two hard questions today: 
what to do with the existing institutions inherited from a 
different era but increasingly incapable of coping with mounting 
new challenges and how to bring new people to power? If he wanted 
just to protect the status-quo, he could simply leave these old 
institutions intact in terms of allocation of authority and 
reduce the membership in institutions like the WPK's Politburo 
and Central Committee, the Administrative Council, etc. to their 
current members. If he is not satisfied with the status-quo, he 
may resort to institutional reorganization aimed at reducing the 
number and curtailing the powers of existing members. The 
institution of the Vice- Presidency is one of the obvious targets 
here: four vice- presidents are not sustainable, and only one is 
likely to be left. If the institution of the president is 
stripped off its absolute authority and retains only 
representative functions, the institution of the VP may be 
abolished altogether. The five-member Presidium of the Politburo 
is another probable object for reorganization, if not abolition. 
But if for the same purpose of changing the status-quo, he brings 
in new people to fill in vacancies, this may upset the existing 
balance of forces and personal influences, which in turn may lead 
to renewed attempts by the other leaders to promote their own 
proteges and expand their own power bases, as well as new 
intrainstitutional turf battles. 

On the other hand, attitudes to Kim Jong Il and his leadership 
bid seem to vary along the generational lines. Paradoxically, the 
old guard (Defense Minister O Jin-u, 77, Vice-Presidents Park 
Sung-chol, 81, and Lee Jong-ok, 78, Politburo member Kye Ung-tae, 
69) seem to accept that Kim Jong Il is the supreme leader. They 
fear any change. Therefore, they eagerly hide behind his back. 
They are content with the status-quo: being in their late 
seventies - early eighties, they hope they will sit it out. At 
the same time, they are afraid that Kim Jong Il may be won over 
by the proponents of reforms and may launch "radical changes". 
Therefore, they incessantly attempt to influence Kim Jong Il in a 
containing and discouraging way: "Be loyal to the traditions and 
will of your father", "Do not touch the inheritance built by 
generations of the revolutionaries", "The slower you go, the 
further you will get", etc.

However, the days of the octogenerians are numbered, and the time 
of the pragmatic technocrats is coming. Although it will also be 
very important for them to maintain control over the society and 
prevent the emergence of organized opposition, they are unlikely 
to "look into Kim Jong Il's mouth for every word", as they did in 
case of Kim Il Sung. They may not fully understand him, and even 
may not accept him as their supreme leader. For instance, 
reportedly, even today Premier Kang Song-san and Foreign Minister 
Kim Yong-nam can say to Kim Jong Il: "This is not so; I have a 
different opinion", something which was unimaginable in the era 
of Kim Il Sung.

With the growing number of vacancies in the major political and 
economic policy-making bodies as a result of the "natural 
attrition of the guerrilla generation" (as B.C. Koh puts it) and 
seemingly natural deaths of some younger leaders, bureaucratic 
reshuffles, early retirements, purges and rapid promotions, the 
inflow of new people becomes inevitable. Kim Jong Il needs new 
people, personally loyal to him but espousing unorthodox ideas, 
so that he could at last feed, clothe and warm up the population: 
otherwise, his power may slip away from him. He seems to 
understand that he cannot launch and implement economic reforms 
of any kind with old cadres only.

Historically, Kim Il Sung preferred to co-opt (not elect) the new 
people in the Central Committee of the WPK first, and then to 
promote them in the state bodies. For instance, since the Sixth 
Congress of the WPK a whole "new breed" of members has been co-
opted into the WPK CC. They are mostly middle- aged "red 
directors" of large industrial complexes and combines; later, 
some of them were appointed ministers at the Administrative 
Council. Similarly, dozens of the second generation of generals 
were first co-opted into the WPK CC during those 14 years; later, 
some of them were promoted to the Central Military Committee and 
within the Ministry of People's Defense. Reportedly, Kim Il Sung 
used to resort to co-optation of new people so often because he 
was obsessed with inexplicable fear of the party congress. He 
believed (as Stalin did) that unexpected things could happen only 
at party congresses. All the rest of domestic politics, he 
thought, was under his firm control. (By the way, the history of 
any marxist-leninist party has a number of examples of this 
sort.) Probably, Kim Jong il inherited this phychological fear. 
Therefore, he is likely to postpone by any means the convening of 
the Seventh Congress of the WPK and will prefer to make all the 
key personnel decisions in the narrow circle of his confidents.

Fifthly, one could argue that some North Korean politicians seem 
to have started already to position themselves for the post-Kim 
Jong Il succession. They want "to stay close to the Sun" (so as 
to be part of the game effectively), but "not too close" (so as 
not to get burned or in case of Kim Jong Il's forced departure to 
be seen as too closely associated with him). And they all ask 
themselves who will sooner or later succeed Kim Jong Il?

The paradox of North Korean politics is that the so- called 
succession question was resolved smoothly immediately after Kim 
Il Sung passed away. As one North Korean official said, "it was 
already settled twenty years ago". But this created a new 
unresolved succession question: who will succeed Kim Jong Il ? 
This question becomes even more urgent given recurrent rumors, 
true or false, of the dear leader's deteriorating health 
condition. Kim Il Sung gave no answer to it. That's where all the 
trouble begins. In the North Korean political tradition 
"grooming" of a successor ought to start very early and the 
successor should: 1) espouse "the supreme leader" Kim Jong Il's 
ideas and be close to him; 2) belong to a younger generation to 
be able to continue Kim Jong Il's work into the future; 3) 
undergo a lengthy period of "practical training". From a dynastic 
point of view, this should be either one of Kim Jong Il's two 
sons (who are still too young to rule) or his son-in-law Chang 
Song-myung. But such a traditional practice appears to be 
unacceptable to the rising generation of political leaders in 
Pyongyang at this time. That's why, some of them demand 
institutional changes, which will open possibilities for their 
accession to power, while the latent struggle for the second, 
third, fourth, and so on positions around Kim Jong Il appears to 
be intensifying.

In general, according to a high-ranking source in Pyongyang that 
asked not to be identified, the DPRK leadership does understand 
that some kind of restructuring of the supreme political bodies 
and the institutions of the state power is inevitable, and the 
sooner these crucial decisions are made the less likely there 
will be much elite resistance thereto as long as the shock of Kim 
Il Sung's death keeps the lid on the potential dissent.

 3. Domestic Policy Outputs.

 Nowadays, in times of severe economic crisis, the two main tasks 
of the government in Pyongyang, with or without Kim Jong Il, are 
to reignite economic growth and to secure the acquiescence and 
support of those collectivities that are crucial for the 
continuity of the existing order (the military, the security 
forces, the party functionaries and the rank-and-file, the "red 
directorate", the youth). If it succeeds in these, the "public 
order" can be sustained and is likely to break down only on 
certain "marginal" sites. What is crucial here is the selection 
of politically sustainable strategy of economic adjustment and 
socially palatable "strategy of displacement" (Offe, 1984). That 
is, strategies that restructure the economy in a more market-
oriented fashion and disperse the worst effects of economic and 
political problems onto vulnerable groups while appeasing those 
able to mobilize claims most effectively. As everywhere else, the 
most vulnerable and weakest social groups (women, the elderly, 
the labor, children, students) are likely to suffer the most in 
North Korea. Whereas the most entrenched and powerful interests 
are likely to benefit the most. As long as the government has the 
political will and institutional mechanisms to sustain these 
strategies, political future of the Second Republic will be 

Nonetheless, it is still premature to talk about radical new 
departures in the domestic economic policy in the DPRK. Most of 
the processes that are under way now were launched in the early 
1990s and in a way blessed by the late Great Leader. First, the 
Three-Year Structural Adjustment Plan for 1994- 1996, adopted in 
December 1993, indicated a shift in structural priorities in the 
development of the North Korean economy - from developing heavy 
industries and transportation network to emphasis on reforming 
agriculture, reorganizing the light industry, and boosting 
commerce, especially foreign trade. Obviously, not only did this 
plan reflect the government's failure to achieve the development 
targets set forth in the Third Seven-Year Economic Development 
Plan (1987- 1993) but also it was a recognition of the 
catastrophic state of the North Korean economy as a whole and of 
the fact that the population is hungry and underclothed.

By the way, already in 1987 Kim Il Sung publicly recognized that 
"the solution of the problem of feeding, clothing, and housing 
the people remains a top priority of the WPK". Five years later 
he reportedly went even further and in private conversations 
admitted that his people was "dragging out a miserable 
existence", and, therefore, he was tormented with the question 
"how to lift up the living standards of the people" but at the 
same time "to keep it obedient and well disciplined" and not to 
dismantle the socialist economic management system altogether. 
That's why, he was willing to sanction various economic 
experiments around the country, especially in its remote Northern 
provinces. Apparently, Kim Jong Il inherited this approach from 
his father. 

Secondly, it is a process of gradual and tightly controlled 
economic liberalization and opening in specially designated 
economic zones, in particular in the Rajin-Songbon area. It was 
launched in 1984, when the Standing Committee of the SPA 
promulgated the Joint Venture Act, gained a little bit of 
momentum in 1989-1992, when the number of joint ventures 
increased to over 100, but then stumbled due to the international 
stalemate over the North Korean nuclear issue. However, recently 
with the assistance from the UNDP and experts from the PRC the 
North Korean government has adopted a bunch of new progressive 
regulations radically liberalizing the foreign investment regime 
in the Tumen River Area Development SEZ. Moreover, literally on 
the eve of his fatal stroke, Kim Il Sung is reported to have 
convened an emergency meeting of his economic aides, including 
the PM and other key Administrative Council members, and blessed 
further rapid development of special economic zones, by saying 
that "they constitute the main road to the successful completion 
of socialist construction in our country". If this is a hard 
fact, then Kim Jong Il has a blessing from his father to 
accelerate economic reforms at least in the SEZs. Moreover, Kim 
Jong Il also secretly visited the PRC and travelled around the 
special economic zones in Southern China, as his father did. They 
say he liked it there; therefore, he is likely to be receptive to 
similar ideas at home. However, if this story is something less 
than a fact, then it indicates an unfolding struggle for the 
"right interpretation" of the will of the late Great Leader, and 
that there are forces in Pyongyang that are so interested in 
promoting economic liberalization that they risk using the name 
of Kim Il Sung without ground in order to attract political 
support for their own program.

Evidently, some North Korean leaders favor adopting the Chinese 
approach to the strategy of reforms. In private conversations, 
they express their belief in the possibility that "the economy 
could be separated from politics by the Chinese wall" (a very 
nonmarxist proposition !). They cautiously add that "any 
practical economic question can be resolved if it does not 
interfere with politics and military affairs", meaning that they 
have political will to continue to liberalize the economy 
gradually as long as these reforms do not spill over into the 
realm of politics and do not threaten the regime's survival.

At the same time, against the backdrop of a more benign political 
climate, bureaucratic turf battles are under way on the ground 
between different ministries for policy-making authority in 
special economic zones and for budget appropriations to be spent 
there. Time and again in closed- door discussions in the capital 
the issue is raised on the need to establish a special combined 
authority to be fully in charge of all the activities within and 
related to the SEZs. However, this proposal is said to be facing 
serious opposition from some central ministries in Pyongyang, 
that do not want to have a hen that may one day lay golden eggs 
taken away from them. Also, there are, reportedly, serious 
tensions between the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of 
the DPRK regarding the taxation regime in the SEZ. The former 
considers the SEZs as a source of raising additional revenues for 
the budget, and therefore urges raising tax rates on foreign 
investments and businesses there, whereas the latter sees them as 
a way to attract foreign investors to North Korea, and therefore 
favors longer grace periods and lower tax rates. Also, the 
Ministry of Railroads is said to be deadlocked in a dispute with 
the Ministry of the Naval Fleet over the infrastructure 
development priorities in the Rajin-Songbon SEZ. They cannot 
agree on what transportation facility should be developed first - 
the central railway station or the port. When the budgetary 
resources allocated in Pyongyang for the insfrastructure 
development in the SEZ are scarce, they have to compete against 
each other for a piece of a shrinking budgetary pie from day one. 
For the ministry that succeeds in getting the start-up funds from 
the central budget first will have an advantage in obtaining the 
expansion funds later. Interestingly enough, in order to boost 
their respective cases at home, they have attempted to find some 
foreign investors who would express tentative interest in 
priority development of railroads vis-a-vis the port facilities 
in the SEZ and vice versa. Moreover, in the heat of their 
interbureaucratic battles they tend to propose mutually exclusive 
terms and projects for cooperation to foreigners. Lastly, there 
appears to be a general tension between economic ministries as a 
whole, supporting the openness of SEZs to foreigners, and hence 
visa-free travel in and out of the SEZ, and the security-related 
ministries and agencies that do not want to lose control over the 
movement of foreigners on the territory of the country, and 
therefore are vigorously opposed to such a measure.

In addition, one more process is worth mentioning. It is a 
relatively new phenomenon and somewhat hard to trace, but foreign 
diplomats in Pyongyang keep bringing it up in conversations with 
their friends. They say that after Kim Il Sung's death the WPK 
appears to have begun to get increasingly engaged in the type of 
activities which the Communist Party of the Soviet Union failed 
to do before it was outlawed and its assets  confiscated in 
August 1991, but which the Communist Party of China has already 
been actively and successfully involved in for several years 

In the center, allegations grow that some very high- ranking 
party officials are involved in laundering party funds and 
transferring some funds abroad and secretly depositing them in 
the banks of Switzerland, the US, Japan, Hong Kong, in the names 
of figure-head corporations. In general, as I understand it, the 
state budgeting process in the DPRK is very complex and fuzzy. 
During the era of Kim Il Sung there existed at least two budgets 
in Pyongyang - an official one, once a year in April presented by 
the Finance Minister before the SPA for approval and partially 
made public via the printed media, and an unofficial one, the so-
called "the Great Leader's Budget". The latter was financed by 
revenues derived from some general exports, as well as from the 
arms trade, joint ventures, profits made by the North Korean-
sponsored dummy investment firms in the international financial 
markets, perhaps even such illicit deals as drug trafficking and 
dollar counterfeit, and so on. Technically, all the revenues had 
to go to the Ministry of Finance where "funds for special needs" 
were separated from the "general account funds" and allocated to 
the department of special currency operations at the DPRK 
Ministry of Finance whose chief must have reported directly to 
Kim Il Sung how much money was available for "discrete spending". 
The latter included some "pet projects" of the Great Leader, 
entertainment expense, expenses incurred in maintaining the 
luxurious lifestyle of the ruling elite in Pyongyang, etc. It is 
obvious that Kim Jong Il and his associates have inherited this 
two-layer budget system. Moreover, they are alleged to have 
started to transfer some funds abroad in order to build up some 
tangible assets overseas which they can count on in case of 
emergency at home in the future.

In the provinces, the dynamic is different. Local party bosses 
are alleged to use party funds for personal enrichment on the 
spot (a "privatization of party funds" of sorts). Also they use 
their personal positions to obtain illicit income: that is, 
corruption is said to be wide-spread at the provincial level. In 
particular, foreign businesses are badly affected. One foreign 
enterpreneur who tried to set up a joint venture in one of the 
SEZ bitterly complained to me that "the Chinese from the Jilin 
and Heiluizyan provinces have bought out all the local party and 
economic officials in the port city of Chongjin". He went on to 
say that if the Western investors do not hurry up, the Chinese 
party businessmen will buy out party and state officials in the 
rest of the cities and provinces on the Eastern seaboard of North 
Korea, not to mention the Western seaboard too.

In sum, for four months after Kim Il Sung's death no one has yet 
got any statement on domestic policy from the new leaders in 
charge. In the meantime, economic processes, initiated under the 
Great Leader, slowly continue to unfold. Efforts aimed at 
structural adjustment of the economy, promoting backward 
agriculture in a highly industrialized North Korean society, 
modernizing the light industries employing mostly women when 
heavily militarized heavy industries manned mostly with men are 
in deep depression, and expanding foreign trade in an 
internationally isolated country, linger on, despite their 
contradictory nature, paucity of resources to back them up and 
frequent lack of political will to follow through. Special 
economic zones become the object of political football in 
Pyongyang. Hardline conservatives define them as a Trojan horse 
and depict Doomsday scenarios for the Republic if the SEZs are 
allowed to exist; whereas pragmatic reformers advocate their 
expansion and define them as the last hope for saving the 
decrepit North Korean economy by opening it to the outside world. 
And, foremost, both sides use the name of the late Great Leader 
to make their respective arguments look more convincing and 
sanctified. Lastly, in this time of economic distress and 
political uncertainty those who have access to party funds or 
lucrative positions in the state bureaucracy do not hesitate to 
appropriate them for private use. They do it either on orders 
from their superiors or at their own risk. Corruption is 
commonplace, and privatization of party funds is creeping upward. 
By and large, if ever a Second Republic is established, on the 
economic front its government will have to start almost from 

4. Foreign Policy Outputs.

 In no other policy area are changes so noticeable as in the 
DPRK's foreign policy. Indeed, the changing international 
environment, in particular the crambling alliance system and 
nuclear stalemate, forced the North Korean leadership to begin to 
reconsider the tenets of their foreign policy in the early 1990s. 
By the time of his death the Great Leader had endorsed radical 
changes in some principles and directions of North Korean foreign 
policymaking. They are so unorthodox that they warrant being 
labelled as "new thinking" or at least as a "new departure" in 
the DPRK's foreign policy. Briefly, these changes include the 

In fundamental principles guiding the Pyongyang foreign 
policymakers, one can notice a shift from the revolutionary 
diplomacy based on ideological preoccupations with worldwide 
national liberation and internationalist communist agenda to a 
more pragmatic diplomacy of realism aimed at promoting the 
national interests of the DPRK, in particular the survival of the 
North Korean state and the ruling regime.

At the level of general strategy, one can observe a radical shift 
from conventional deterrence to nuclear bargaining. Originally, 
it was outright nuclear blackmail and brinkmanship. After the 
Gevena accords were signed in October 1994, Pyongyang seems to be 
moving toward the nuclear freeze and eventual nuclear 

At the level of regional strategy, North Korea was literally 
forced by its allies to abandon its decades-old "One Korea 
Policy", including the maniac idea of "communizing the South", 
and to apply for separate UN membership. Nowadays, the DPRK 
recognizes the undesirability and unlikeliness of military 
confrontation with South Korea, thereby gradually downgrading the 
use of naked force in its reunification policy, and instead it 
has begun to promote the idea of peaceful co-existence between 
two Korean nations. The strategy of revolution, that is, 
fostering revolutionary forces in North and South Korea, is being 
eclipsed by the strategy of confederation, in which the absolute 
equality of both sides would be guaranteed. Pyongyang actively 
seeks cross- recognition by the United States and Japan, and, 
instead of tight alliance politics of the past, seems to be 
inclined for all practical purposes to pursue a policy of 
equidistance from all four great powers in the region. It is in 
this light that one should see its proposal to change the 
Armistice agreement into a Peace Treaty, with possible talks on 
confidence- building measures, arms control, and even gradual 
conventional disarmament at later stages of the peace process.

Obviously, a greater emphasis is placed on economic diplomacy 
today. The DPRK government is likely to accelerate the colonial 
reparation talks with Japan in order to obtain new massive 
injections of the Japanese capital for the starving North Korean 
economy. "Special economic zones" are being vigorously promoted 
by the officials of all ranks travelling abroad. A lot of effort 
has been put into bringing to the negotiations table the issue of 
economic aid for conversion of the DPRK nuclear program and 
making it a significant part of the Geneva nuclear accords with 
the US. And of course, North Korean arms salesmen do continue to 
wander around the globe in search of hot arms dollars. 

Lastly, the current Pyongyang government is more likely to get 
engaged in international discussions of its human rights record. 
Because now that the nuclear deal has been signed, and they are 
back in the NPT regime, naturally, they would like to improve 
their international image. If this requires opening the human 
rights dialogue, they will do it, even if in a very obnoxious way 
at the beginning. Also they are anxious to see the nuclear 
accords implemented, therefore, they are likely to try to appease 
the US in its minor demands such as the human rights issue. Also 
some unresolved issues with Japan include the condition of the 
abducted Japanese women in North Korea and compensation for the 
sexual abuse of the Korean women during the Second World War. In 
order to move ahead in the normalization talks with Tokyo, 
Pyongyang will have to deal with the human rights issues as well. 
Moreover, the Chinese set the example that any engagement in the 
human rights discussions with the West is not fatal for the 
authoritarian regime but may be even beneficial for its ruling 
class in some regard.

In sum, all the above-mentioned changes may constitute a "new 
thinking" in the North Korean foreign policy. Evidently, they 
were blessed by the Great Leader before his death. But it is his 
son and his associates that are expected to benefit if and when 
these new departures bear fruits.
                    C O N C L U S I O N

 In this paper, I have explored some aspects of continuity and 
change in the evolution of the DPRK in the first four months 
after the death of Kim Il Sung. By and large, despite a 
continuous process of generational change in the strategic 
sectors of North Korean society, with rare exceptions one still 
has to deal with "the same old faces". However, this fact in 
itself does not preclude the initiation of radically new 
policies. For instance, revolutionary reforms in the former USSR 
and the PRC were in fact launched by the very people who were the 
"finest products" of the now defunct or rapidly modernizing 
communist political systems, Mikhail Gorbachev and Deng Xiao-
ping. However, what will matter for the generation of new policy 
outputs is how these same old politicians will try to justify 
their claim to power and share authority and interact with each 
other after the Great Leader's death. In this sense, I have 
referred to the growing legitimation crisis and attempts at 
institutional changes in the present governmental process in 

Where is the DPRK heading now ? Definitely, it is going to stay 
with us for some time. So far the North Korean regime has 
survived the disastrous domino effect of the socio- economic and 
political transformations that swept the communist countries of 
Eastern and Central Europe. Although big changes in the former 
communist world, once its major and only ally, put it on the 
verge of economic collapse, they failed to undermine its 
vitality. Tremendous international pressure brought to bear on 
Pyongyang as a result of the nuclear confrontation on the Korean 
peninsula also failed to break its neck or erode its credibility. 
Quite to the contrary, it revealed the DPRK's resilience and 
tenacity, as well as its ability to forge domestic consensus 
among elites at critical junctures. Obviously, there is strong 
determination and enough will power in Pyongyang to fight for the 
regime survival to the end against any potential calamity or 
adversary. Paradoxically, big changes around could not force 
Pyongyang under the iron grip of Kim Il Sung to change even a 
bit. This conservationist inertia is still there. But how long is 
it likely to last ?

Could small dripping changes when "the father of the nation" is 
gone suffice in turning the bowl upside down ? Some totalitarian 
aspects of the North Korean authoritarianism are already being 
eased out slowly. In general, the regime is gradually opening up. 
It becomes more pragmatic and modernization-oriented in the 
economic matters, and it loses its idealist and internationalist 
appeals and becomes more realist and nationalist in its foreign 
policy. As a result of growing overload on the political system, 
policy conflicts between ideologues and pragmaticists within the 
government seem to be intensifying. With policy options available 
in the past being no longer there, the North Korean leaders will 
have to look for new opportunities and have to make hard choices 
previously unthinkable. These disagreements on personalities and 
policy matters are likely to cause cracks within the leadership, 
eroding the unity of the WPK. Will these little institutional and 
policy adjustments and personal changes result into some 
insiders' bolting out and seeking for a political alternative, 
which might lead to the emergence of the Second Republic ? I 
think it is possible, and if a cross- national history of 
political development is any guide at all I believe that's what 
is likely to happen.

Alexandre Mansourov is an associate of the Nautilus Institute who 
is a former Soviet diplomat based in Pyongyang and graduate of 
Kim Il Song University.

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