Pyongyang pushes ‘army-first’ policy

From the International Herald Tribune:

Pyongyang pushes ‘army-first’ policy

Seo Hyang Wol, a 43-year-old North Korean housewife, has given birth to nine children, making her a shining example of a national campaign to increase birth rates.
But that is not the only thing that makes “women across the republic abuzz with talk of emulating her,” according to North Korea’s official news media.
Inspired by the leader Kim Jong Il’s “songun,” or “army-first,” policy, Seo named three daughters Chong Byol, Pok Byol and Tan Byol – or “Rifle Star,” “Bomb Star” and “Bullet Star.” A son born in 2003 and a daughter born last year were named Son Gun and Hyok Myong. Put together, the names mean “army-first revolution.”
“I produced many children hoping they will grow up and become gun-barrel soldiers for our army-first fatherland,” Seo said in an interview in March with Pyongyang Radio. The report added that names like her children’s were “fast becoming a vogue” in North Korea.
Although dismissed as ridiculous in the outside world, stories like Seo’s provide an example of how closely tied North Korean society has become to Kim’s army-first doctrine.
The doctrine promotes North Korea’s nuclear weapons, missile programs and huge military spending even as the country remains the second-largest recipient of food donations in the world after Ethiopia.
That policy, coupled with huge damage caused by recent floods, is pushing 23 million North Koreans into a new food crisis – in a country that has already lost an estimated one million people to famine, according to relief officials in Seoul.
After missile tests by North Korea on July 5, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution condemning North Korea, while the United States and Japan are calling for more economic pressure on the country.
But at home, Kim Jong Il has since begun a huge propaganda campaign to incite fears of a U.S. invasion and stoke a xenophobic nationalism – at a time when his regime fears that the faith of the people may be weakening because of food shortages and exposure to a thriving market economy in neighboring China.
“Comrades, we can live without candies, but we can’t live without bullets,” Defense Minister Kim Il Chol said in a speech last week.
North Korea’s missile tests invited rare public criticism from its two main aid providers – China, which had publicly warned against the tests, and South Korea, which suspended food aid in protest.
But Kim Jong Il also succeeded in turning the world’s attention – which has recently been focused on Iran – back to his weapons programs.
“For Kim Jong Il’s regime, which doesn’t want economic openness to threaten its power, building leverage through his military is the only way for survival,” said Jeung Young Tae, a North Korea expert at the South Korean government-funded Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul.
“Under Kim, the songun policy has become an ideology. It calls on every sector in North Korean society to think, decide and act according to military logic,” Jeung added.
Kim considers his military threats as bargaining chips to get economic aid and security guarantees from the United States, experts say. But Washington says that approach is a political and economic dead end for the regime.
Relief officials say the biggest victims of the confrontation are the North Korean people.
“Governments talk about economic sanctions. They talk about the regime’s survival. But what about the survival of ordinary North Koreans?” said Noh Ok Jae, a director at Good Friends, a Seoul- based relief agency.
Even before Kim took power after his father’s death in 1994, North Korea devoted a large proportion of national resources on the military, building the world’s fifth-largest armed forces despite worsening economic difficulties.
Today, with a 1.2 million-member regular army, North Korea has the world’s highest peacetime ratio of soldiers to civilians. It also maintains a pool of six million reserve troops. All factory workers take part in two-week military training exercises every year. North Korea does not release detailed budget figures, but experts believe that under Kim Jong Il, more funds have been funneled to the military.
The policy feeds on constant fears of a U.S. invasion inculcated by decades of bellicose propaganda. In kindergartens, children draw pictures of U.S. soldiers killing Korean babies, according to defectors from North Korea. Banners strung up in North Korean villages scream about an impending war that would “settle the final score with the Americans.”
Pervasive militarism and anti-Americanism has even invaded the language in North Korea. A popular curse is: “I will kill you like an American imperialist.” North Koreans, when provoked, threatened to turn themselves into “human rifles and bombs,” according to South Korean engineers who have worked in the North.
In May, the North’s main daily, Rodong, boasted that North Koreans “love an artillery barrage like the sound of an orchestra.”
“Through the speaker we had at every home, they regularly blared the ‘mountain-ranger’s march,'” said Kim Seong Min, who defected to Seoul in 1999. “The song went, ‘Comrades, get ready for battle, arms in your hands’ and it was the signal for an anti-air raid drill. All villagers rushed out with backpacks and ran for shelters.”
Under Kim Jong Il’s songun policy, that military influence has become even more pervasive, experts say.
When the North canceled test runs of cross-border trains with South Korea in May, it cited objections from the North Korean People’s Army.
“What I hear is Big Brothers saying to Little Brother ‘don’t do that’ but we are not a little boy, we have nuclear weapons,” the North Korean vice foreign minister, Kim Gae Gwan, was quoted as saying recently, in a comment that appeared to be aimed at China. The remark was reported by Paul Carroll, an official at the San Francisco-based Ploughshares Fund, who met the official in Pyongyang shortly after the North’s missile tests.
In his doctorate paper published last week, Hyun Song Il, a North Korean diplomat who defected to Seoul in 1996, said 17 members of Kim’s inner circle of 38 were military generals or held army- related party posts.
“The military is the only force that Kim can rely on when he faces internal unrest,” said Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul.
Kim has dedicated most of his public appearances to visits to military units. In one of those trips, Kim demonstrated the importance of ambidexterity when he faced 10 bottles placed 50 meters, or 165 feet, away at a rifle range, according to North Korean news media, which often mixes fact with fiction when describing Kim’s exploits.
“The bottles were swinging wildly on strings in a strong wind. But in a split second, the general gunned down five,” said an account posted on the North Korean Web site Uriminjokkiri. “Then he grabbed the revolver in his left hand and smashed the other five.”


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