Changing Relations between Party, Military, and Government in North Korea and Their Impact on Policy Direction

North Korea has recently exhibited some noteworthy changes. In September 1998 it amended its constitution to change the power structure and introduced a number of progressive clauses. It also began to use the slogan “A Strong and Prosperous Nation,” which emphasizes eco- nomic prosperity as well as political, ideological, and military strength.

There are two conflicting views among North Korea watchers regarding these changes, together with some other recent changes in relations between the party, military, and govern- ment. One view is that the new constitution can be characterized by the distribution of au- thority and power. According to this view, North Korea is now trying to institutionalize the ruling system, ending Kim Jong Il’s personal rule. Technocrats will take more responsibility for running the economy. Constitutional clauses regarding the economy also aim to provide legal and institutional bases for reform and opening to the international community. This view regards the slogan “A Strong and Prosperous Nation” as North Korea’s declaration of its intent to focus foremost on economic development rather than the military and ideology. According to the other view, on the other hand, the new constitution only institutionalizes and strengthens the military rule that has persisted in North Korea for the last several years. This view suspects that the distribution of power reflected in the new constitution is nominal and that constitutional change regarding the economy is nothing but acceptance of change that has already taken place in North Korea. Therefore, the closed system will be maintained. During the last several years, particularly since the death of Kim Il Sung, there has been debate regarding the relationship between the party, military, and government in North Ko- rea. Does the enhanced status of the military increase its role in North Korea’s general deci- sion-making? Is the role of the party decreasing in the face of the rising role of the military? Is the role of the government also changing? Finally, do the changing relations between the party, the military, and the government affect North Korea’s policy direction?

The purpose of this paper is to analyze the changing relations between the party, military, and government, and their impact on policy direction in North Korea.

Published as part of the "America's Alliances with Japan and Korea in a Changing Northeast Asia" Research Project.