The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) remains one of the United States’ most critical security challenges in Northeast Asia. North Korea remains a security threat because of its willingness to undertake provocative and destabilizing behavior, including attacks on the Republic of Korea (ROK), its pursuit of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, and its willingness to proliferate weapons in contravention of its international agreements and United Nations Security Council Resolutions. North Korean aspiration for reunification – attainable in its mind in part by expelling U.S. forces from the Peninsula – and its commitment to perpetuating the Kim family regime are largely unchanged since the nation’s founding in 1948, but its strategies to achieve these goals have evolved significantly. Under Kim Jong Il, DPRK strategy had been focused on internal security; coercive diplomacy to compel acceptance of its diplomatic, economic and security interests; development of strategic military capabilities to deter external attack; and challenging the ROK and the U.S.-ROK Alliance. We anticipate these strategic goals will be consistent under North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Un.
North Korea’s recent threat to carry out “special actions” against the South is rare and seems intended to signal the regime’s resolve to move forward with some form of provocation. The threat, however, is unlike past warnings the regime has typically issued prior to military provocations, suggesting that the North might follow through with a move other than a conventional military attack. Significantly, some aspects of the warning appear to signal Pyongyang’s commitment to follow up on the “actions” in the near future.
Pyongyang quickly has set the stage for the fourth Party Representatives Conference slated for 11 April. Though state media have not yet announced an agenda for the conference, it is likely that the regime will use the event to memorialize formally Kim Jong Il and appoint Kim Jong Un to a top party post. The tables below provide a baseline of state media coverage of the impending conference and its antecedents.
Personnel moves at the recent Party Conference and spring session of the legislature — beyond Kim Jong Un’s assumption of the top slots — underscore the new leadership’s continued commitment to revitalizing the Party as an institution and its confidence in managing the system. Though state media billed the moves merely as filling vacancies, the leadership quietly elevated or replaced almost one-third of the ruling Political Bureau, many through unannounced retirements or dismissals. The personnel changes occurred in military, internal security, and economic organizations and are not clustered in one area. Though personnel were added to the National Defense Commission (NDC), its relationship to the Political Bureau and Central Military Commission (CMC) remains unclear.
OSC has identified more than 350 joint ventures in North Korea in a search of open source information. For the 88 ventures for which we have investment amount data, the aggregate total of reported foreign investment from 2004 to 2011 amounted to $2.32 billion, with roughly half of that going toward ventures in the mining sector. Firms from China account for 75% of the joint venture partners for which partner country is known, followed by firms from South Korea, Japan, and Europe. Of the joint ventures for which we found location information, most show a Pyongyang address. The remaining are concentrated at seven locales in other parts of the country.