“Byungjin" (Parallel Development)

Since assuming control in December 2011, Kim Jong Un has solidified his grip on power by embracing the coercive tools used by his father and grandfather. His regime 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 US-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 signifies 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.

The “Byungjin" policy is 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."

All in all, Kim Jong-un had nothing to show for all of his intransigence. He has made splashes in the ocean with missiles and detonated nuclear devices underground … but it has gotten him exactly nothing in terms of respect, security, economic support, or diplomatic recognition. The US will continue to take away his paths to byungjin through diplomacy, pressure, defense, and deterrence.

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