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Kim Jong Un keeps powerful cadre members in check

Ahn Jong Sik, Deputy Head, SBS Political Department  |  2017-02-11 00:47
South Koreas Ministry of Unification recently announced that the head of North Koreas State Security Department Kim Won Hong has been dismissed from his post. He was reportedly demoted from the rank of a four-star general to a one-star one following an investigation by the Organization and Guidance Department. It was also noted that a number of high-ranking officials in his department have been executed as part of the fallout.

"The official position of the North Korean regime is that the demotion of Kim Won Hong was due to corruption and abuse of power, along with human rights violations such as torture perpetrated by the State Security Department (SSD) during interrogations. Kim Jong Un appears to be blaming Kim Won Hong for a reign of terror and poor economic achievements, while strengthening his own appearance as a people-loving leader," a Ministry of Unification spokesperson noted. 

SSD previously wielded uncontested power

North Koreas SSD is responsible for protecting the Kim Jong Un regime and regularly arrests suspected spies and others perceived as a threat to the dictatorship. The security body has held a position of uncontested power since Kim Jong Un became leader and carried out purges of high-ranking officials. The downfall of Kim Jong Un's uncle Jang Sung Taek greatly strengthened the SSDs authority, and the organization has been identified by outside observers as responsible for human rights violations including the torture of ordinary citizens. It has also become common practice for its agents to demand money from people in exchange for leniency - for often falsified allegations.

However, the purge of Kim Won Hong is seen as a broad punishment of the entire SSD itself. While the SSD has indeed abused its powers continuously, it is highly unlikely that Kim Jong Un has not been aware of this.

A powerhouse can be a political threat

The primary aim of the purge therefore seems to be a curtailing of the SSD's power. An element common to all regimes is that dictators are more likely to be overthrown by their close allies than by ordinary citizens, so any influential body is seen as a political threat.

This was emphasized by Thae Yong Ho, North Korea's former deputy ambassador to London, who quipped, One will burn if they get too close to the sun. 

As there can only be one leader in the North Korean regime, the best advice for individual cadres is to obey orders and maintain a safe distance from positions of influence.

Limits of fearpolitik

The Ministry of Unification predicts that the purge of Kim Won Hong will deepen feelings of anxiety amongst cadres and lead to a further weakening of control and regime insecurity. However, it is also likely that in the immediate aftermath of Kim Won Hong's fall, cadres will be more fearful of acting against the will of the regime.

Observers note that the continuous purging of influential individuals has inherent limitations, as cadres are more likely to contemplate new strategies to ensure their own safety. 

*Views expressed in Guest Columns do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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