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“Byungjin” (Parallel Development)

Whatever course Kim Jong-il chooses, he can not be seen to even hint at the failure ofand grandfather's signature Juche "self-reliance" policy or his father's Songun ["military first"] policy. That would show weakness and invite challenges to his own power. In contrast to Kim Jong-il's austere slogan "Songun" (“military first”), since assuming power after his father’s death in December 2011, Kim Jong-un’s ideological slogan was byungjin (“parallel progress”), which implied economic and military progress together.

Kim Jong Un solidified his grip on power by embracing the coercive tools used by his father and grandfather. His regime has used force and the threat of force combined with inducements to quell domestic dissent and strengthen internal security; co-opt the North Korean military and elites; develop strategic military capabilities to deter external attack; and challenge the ROK and the U.S.-ROK Alliance.

On 31 March 2013 North Korea adopted the “Byungjin” (parallel development) policy of ‘economy and nuclear weapons’ during a plenary session of the Party Central Committee (PCC). During the plenary session, Kim Jong-un warned of the threat of invasion when giving up deterrence by referring to past lessons of the Balkan Peninsula and the Middle East. He emphasized that the “Byungjin” policy is ‘essential given the current world order,’ and a ‘lawful prerequisite for revolutionary development.’ Kim Jong-un called the “Byungjin” policy a new strategic policy guideline, and specifically laid out its meanings as follows.

  1. A deepening and improvement of the inherited “Byungjin” policy of economic and national defense capability’ that Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il exhaustively worked for. The Refers to Kim Il-sung’s revolutionary slogan “a gun in one hand, and a hammer and sickle in the other!” and the “Byungjin” policy of ‘economic and national defense capability’ during the 5th plenary session of the 4th Central Committee in December 1962, as well as Kim Jong-il’s military-first policy and nuclear weapons development.
  2. A strategic guideline for the construction of a ‘strong and prosperous nation where the people can enjoy the wealth and splendor of socialism’ through strengthening defensive capacity and focusing on economic construction
  3. A legitimate guideline that realizes the achievements of ‘constructing a socialist strong and prosperous nation’ through strengthening deterrence and speeding up economic construction
  4. A precious sword that will advance the construction of a socialist strong and prosperous nation and Korean unification’ and a ‘banner’ of safeguarding the autonomy and dignity of the people
  5. A realization of the firm belief and will of the Party to accomplish the ‘revolutionary cause of Juche through a path of self-reliance, military-first, and socialism’
  6. A pragmatic guideline to maximize the efficiency of economic development and strengthen national defense ‘in accordance to the state of affairs’
  7. A measure to promote economic construction and raise living standards of the people while strengthening national defense capabilities ‘without increasing the defense budget’
  8. A rational gideline towards solving energy problems based on an ‘independent nuclear energy industry while strengthening nuclear weapons capabilities’ at the same time.

The “Byungjin” policy of economy and nuclear weapons signified that North Korea will no longer differentiate its nuclear energy for peaceful use from military use. Figuratively speaking, “Byungjin” does not symbolize the peaceful use or military use as being two separate swords, but rather as one double-edged sword that North Korea could brandish at will.

Kim Jong Un’s 31 March 2013 speech was by no means the first time that a north Korean official has announced the simultaneous pursuit of major policy goals. Many new year’s editorials — which are a traditional outlet for important policy statements in north Korea — as well as speeches at the annual parliamentary session have included such formulations.

Ken E. Gause noted that at the Central Committee Plenum in March 2013, Kim Jong-un attached his name to the new strategic line for simultaneous co-development of the country’s nuclear program and economy — referred to as the “byungjin” line. The word “byungjin” actually means ‘progress in tandem’ or ‘move two things forward simultaneously.’ Presumably this new line is meant to make the population remember Kim Il-sung’s own byungjin line in 1962, which called for co-development of the economy and national defense. The new line is, thus, “a brilliant succession and development onto a new, higher stage of the original line of simultaneously developing the economy and national defense that was set forth and had been fully embodied by the great Generalissimos.”

In the aftermath of the March 2013 Central Committee Plenum, the North Korean media noted, “When the Party’s new line is thoroughly carried out, [North Korea] will emerge as a great political, military and socialist economic power and a highly-civilized country which steers the era of independence.” It should be noted that while Kim Il-sung’s byungjin line prioritized resources to the defense sector, Kim Jong-un’s new line appears to be leaning toward developing the economy. See “Byungjin Lives as Kim Seeks Guns and Butter,” The Daily NK, 01 April 2013.

On the national security front, policy was tied to the development of critical defense systems, including the missile and nuclear programs. North Korean rhetoric, especially regarding the nuclear program, suggested that this policy came with firm regime red lines. North Korea declared itself a nuclear power and has been adamant in its discussions with the international community that it will not seek any engagement that would require it to walk back from this status. Beyond the political benefits the nuclear program has for Kim Jong-un’s own legitimacy and the legacy of his father, Pyongyang tied its nuclear deterrent to economic development through an expectation of being able to divert funds from the military sector to the civilian sector.

As for the economy, the regime laid out a tentative agenda in June 2012 with specific measures aimed at limited reforms in the agricultural and light industry sectors, as well as bringing together several hard currency operations under the Cabinet. Although Kim Jong-un, in his first public speech on the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birth, promised the nation that there would “no longer be a need for belt tightening” (an apparent suggestion that the days of the dominance of the Military First Policy may be coming to an end), there have been few tangible results. It remains to be seen whether any real movement toward economic reform is in North Korea’s future.

Yonhap news agency had reported 23 February 2016 that the Kim Jong-un regime may face resistance from its military should the armed forces grow disgruntled at its bungled economic policy under the communist party-centric politics, a government-commissioned report concluded. Written by the Industry-Academy Cooperation Foundation affiliated with the Seoul National University of Education, the report warned the absence of economic progress in the impoverished state could weaken the governing legitimacy of the Workers' Party.

The report, entitled "A Study on the Party-Military Relations of the Kim Jong-un Regime," was commissioned by the Unification Ministry. It underscored the importance of Pyongyang's economic growth for the autocratic ruler to secure the people's backing and legitimize his authority.

The relatively smooth transition toward the current Kim regime was a "result of the military's relative concessions," the report said, noting that under the young leader the center of power has shifted to the ruling party from the military. "The stability of the Kim regime and party-military relations hinges on the country's economic growth and continued military spending," the report said. "In the event of an economic failure, a shift in the Kim regime could emerge as the military -- rather than regular North Koreans -- would first demand a shift in party-military relations or call for a military-centric order."

The “Byungjin” policy was an early attempt by Kim Jong Un to leave his own ideological mark. That he did so by using a term coined by his grandfather is not with-out elegance, because it kills two birds with one stone: it reinforces the message that Kim Jong Un is a kind of modern reincarnation of the nation’s founder and most powerful symbol, and it suppresses potential criticism of the inconvenient truth that the now-defunct son’gun was a policy of his late father, Kim Jong il.

The regime continues to portray a garrison state worldview of imminent threat, which serves to justify draconian internal security controls, vast expenditures on the military, and the continued unchallenged rule by the Kim regime.

The strategic goal of the regime is to ensure Kim family rule in perpetuity. The overarching national security objectives to achieve this goal under Kim Jong Un have remained largely consistent: international recognition as a nuclear-armed state; maintenance of a viable deterrent capability; the simultaneous development of its economy and nuclear weapons program (i.e., the “byungjin” line); reinforcement of its military-first approach to domestic and foreign affairs (“songun”); tight control over communications, borders, movement, and trade; and reunification of Korea under North Korea’s control.

But North Korea will not be accepted as a nuclear state. There is complete agreement on this, not only in the US, but in China, Russia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and many other countries. China and Russia are no longer interested or willing to defend this increasingly erratic and outlying regime, and are supporting tough sanctions in the Security Council. Peter Hayes and Roger Cavazos noted that " China’s decision to back Kim’s rule so long as he maintains domestic order and does not disrupt regional security affairs underpins Kim’s policy of strategic patience.... The bizarre last minute recall of Kim Jong Un’s favorite band just before it was to perform in Beijing on December 12, 2015 showed the limits of this relationship, however."

In his annual New Year's address 01 January 2018, Kim Jong-unwarned that he has a nuclear button on his desk. "The entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range," Kim said. "The United States can never start a war against me and our country." The North Korean leader said his country "can cope with any kind of nuclear threats from the U.S. and has a strong nuclear deterrence that is able to prevent the U.S. from playing with fire."

In April 2018, at a plenary meeting of top officials in the Worker’s Party, Kim officially ended the Byungjin strategy that had prioritized military and nuclear development as a platform for economic development, and instead emphasized his committment to economic and scientific development.

In his speech on 21 April 2018, Kim declared the "final victory" of Byungjin. He promoted Pyongyang’s nuclear scientists as heroes, even building them their own “Future Scientists Street” – a Pyongyang residential complex of gleaming steel and glass towers constructed in 2015. Kim declared to the gathering of top party officials that the country's missiles and nuclear weapons had advanced to the point that he no longer needs to test them. North Korea had achieved its nuclear capability and can henceforth focus on bettering the lives of its people.

North Korea said 20 April 2018 it had suspended nuclear tests and plans to close its nuclear test site. The North's official Korean Central News Agency said the military is also suspending long-range missile tests and said the suspensions went into effect on Saturday. The announcement said the government was making the moves to shift its national focus and to improve the economy.

"The new strategic line set forth by the Workers Party of Korea is another powerful treasured sword and a bright blueprint for opening up a higher historic phase of the revolution and accelerating its advance," said one of many recent commentaries hailing the declaration by the North's KCNA news agency. It added that North Korea "has definitely entered the straight path for final victory at last."

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