Songun Chongch'i [Army First]
The Songun Chongch'i [Army First, or army-centered] politics is in essence, a "politics which solves all problems arising in the revolution and construction on the principle of giving priority to the military affair and advances the overall cause of socialism relying on the army as the pillar of the revolution." After President Kim Il Sung's death, leader Kim Jong Il adopted Songun politics. The Songun politics was formalized and enforced in full-dress since leader Kim Jong Il, Chairman of the National Defence Commission, visited the Dabaksol post in 1995.
The Songun politics began when Chairman Kim Jong Il visited an army unit on 01 January 1995. As north Koreans have the slogan "Let us hold fast the gun to carry out the revolutionary cause pioneered with the gun!" the Songun politics has its deep root, and it is not exaggeration to say that north Korea is unthinkable apart from the Songun politics.
The "Military First Policy" has several purposes. It serves to deter US-ROK aggression. Nationwide conscription is a critical tool for the regime to socialize its citizens to maintain the Kim family in power. The large military allows Pyongyang to use threats and bravado in order to limit US-ROK policy options. Suggestions of sanctions, or military pressure by the US or ROK are countered by the North with threats that such actions are "an act of war" or that it could "turn Seoul into a sea of fire." Inertia, leadership perceptions that military power equals national power and the inability for the regime to change without threatening its leadership also explains the continuing large military commitment.
Even in 1995 to the early 1997 when the Songun politics was enforced in full-swing, the official documents and the press introduced the Songun politics as "a revolutionary idea of attaching great importance to the army", "a politics emphasizing the perfect unity and the single-hearted unity of the Party, Army and people, and the role of the army as the vanguards" without any special definition of the concept. And then, since 1998, terms "the Songun revolutionary idea", "the Songun revolutionary leadership", "the Songun politics", etc, were circulated.
The Songun [Army First] policy has become increasingly promiment over time, since it was first enunciated by Kim Jong Il in January 1995. On January 1, 1995, he addressed a letter to them. It reads: "Let us all work vigorously with one mind and one purpose to live up as befits the soldiers and disciples of the great leader to make our homeland and our country richer and stronger then ever."
Songun means regarding the military affair as the greatest state affair, and strengthening the main agent of the revolution and promoting national defense and socialist construction as a whole with the people's army as the mainstay. The essence of Kim Jong Il's Songun policy is to defend security of the country and the revolutionary gains by strengthening the People's Army as an invincible revolutionary armed forces and build up the driving force of revolution and conduct all activities for socialist construction in a revolutionary and militant manner with the People's Army as a core and a main agent.
Some people ask: "Why do north Koreans pay priority to the military affairs while going hungry" and "Can the gun feed people". As they say, the gun cannot give people food. But the essence of the Songun idea is that Even though the gun of the revolutionary army cannot make meal, it can create more valuable thing, and those who have the guns of revolution can create ideological and political life.
Whether to hold up or put down the gun is not a problem related merely to the military strategy but a supreme political issue deciding the fate of socialism.
The Juche-based view on arms is quite different from the general view. In a word, it gives more importance to the military power than the economic power and evaluates the power of a country with the military power as a key factor. Of course, the military power is not merely the physical power of arms. It is the power that has ideological and spiritual power of the arms and its physical capacity. Leader Kim Jong Il said that "a military power is the first power of the country in the struggle against the imperialism and for independence and socialism and, if the country overpowers the enemy in the military front, it can emerge victorious in all other fronts."
Kim Jong Il opened the Songun era, a new era in the development of the Juche idea and elucidated the course and strategy for accomplishing the cause of the nation. The army is put up as a driving force of the reform and the main force of the reform is consolidated with the army as its pillar. The Songun idea forms the guideline for all the fields such as party and government building, economy and culture. The structure of the state institutions, attaching great importance to the military affairs, remarkably enhanced the status and authority of the National Defence Commission. Kim Jong Il reorganized the political structure of the state into that of Songun politics with the DPRK National Defence Commission as its pivot to conform with the requirements of the Songun era. The strategic line of the economic construction that implies the preferential development of the military industry.
The fundamental foundation of the Songun politics fathered by leader Kim Jong Il is " the do-or-die spirit of anti-imperialism to counter with super toughness the consistent aggressive moves of imperialism to obliterate the Juche revolution. The do-or-die spirit means the spirit of sacrificing oneself without fearing death. ... Kim Jong Il was born during the period of the bloody anti-Japanese war and had grown up in the forest of bayonets, hearing sound of guns as a lullaby. During these periods, he had experienced the spirit of gun that the only way for an empty-handed man is death before the armed enemy and one should hold the gun to fight against enemy in order to carry out the revolution."
Leader Kim Jong Il has pointed out: "Our revolution was carved out with arms, national liberation was achieved with arms, and the US imperialist aggressors were defeated and the dignity and sovereignty of the country were also defended with arms."
The Songun idea is said to be "... a source of unprecedently enhancing the absolute worship of the army men and people toward the leader, a decisive factor to enable the transformation of the ranks of the reform movement to a mighty whole of the devoted defense of the leader, a factor that makes it possible to realize the total oneness of the army and people in the ideo-spiritual and moral features, and a political mode that enables the strengthening of the driving force for the accomplishment of the socialist cause by all means."
The Songun idea is described as "based on the Juche idea in the new situation in which the sovereignty of many countries is tragically violated and the cause of human independence as a whole has met with serious challenges under the policy of extreme arbitrariness and domination pursued by the US that has become the "only superpower" of the world after the Cold War."
According to a North Korean analysis, "Love for arms is predominant as noble ethics in the revolutionary families of soldiers. What is regarded as of great importance in home life is the kernel of family tradition. The noblest and loftiest family tradition in the Songun era is the one mainly based on love for arms. Songun politics of the Workers' Party of Korea is a precious sword which firmly defends the independence of the country and the nation and ushers in the heyday of national prosperity. .... The families of soldiers under arms, the revolutionary families of soldiers, are the mainstay taking the lead in upholding the WPK's Songun politics. The revolutionary families of soldiers are bases for bringing up ardent patriots generation after generation. If the patriotic family tradition is to be inherited children should take over the revolutionary spirit of their parents. The revolutionary families of soldiers bring up patriots who reliably guard the revolutionary posts through successive generations."
According to the North Koreans, "The WPK's theory of building a great prosperous powerful nation contains the profound truth that the power of a nation is based on its military strength and its dignity and sovereignty, too, are guaranteed by arms. The theory also elucidates the fundamental method of bringing about a great upsurge in all fields of the economy and culture by giving priority to building up military strength. Arms guarantee peace, socialism and the people's happy life...."
One North Korean account states that "To wield a sword if the enemy approaches with a dagger, to face the enemy with a gun if he takes out a rifle - this is Kim Jong Il's offensive spirit, and victorious faith and courage that is precisely the source of the Korean people's pride and indomitability to get through any ordeals undauntedly."
According to one North Korean analysis, "The people's safety and happiness can hardly be thinkable apart from arms.... The independent right and interests of a nation are by no means defended spontaneously. They can be guaranteed only by powerful arms of a nation itself. In the world today when the military high-handedness and despotism of imperialism are rampant sovereignty can hardly be thinkable apart from arms. Daredevil pluck, great national pride and dignified independent diplomacy result from all-conquering arms. Songun politics relies on invincible revolutionary armed forces....
Giving prominence to the military affairs in socialist society is the most warrantable measure for defending the destiny of the people and guaranteeing their livelihood. Therefore, there is no more powerful mode of politics than Songun politics under the socialist political power which strives for the independent and creative life of the people.... At present the imperialists' manoeuvres for stifling the Democratic People's Republic of Korea by dint of force at any cost have reached a more dangerous stage. However, their high-handed politics and military threat have no effect in the DPRK where Songun politics is being embodied.... "
Another North Korean analysis explains that "Songun is a Science. Peace and Socialism can be safeguarded only when force of arms is powerful, and the army is the Party, the State and the people. This Songun principle is based on a scientific analysis of changed socio-class relations. ... The important change brought about in the position and role of the social collectives today is that the revolutionary army is the main and core force of the revolution. In the past the working class took charge of and played the role of the main force of the revolution. Putting forward the working class as the core and main force was regarded as an inexorable law. However, the times have advanced far and socio-historical circumstances have changed.... The practical experience of the Korean revolution brings everyone the poignant realization that a country, whichever it may be, must fight on in reliance upon its own powerful military deterrent against the aggressor, US imperialists, who frantically pounces upon it, swaying their guns and nuclear weapons, and that only by strengthening the army and relying on it can the Party, the State and the people be defended and all problems arising in the revolution and construction be solved correctly in the present world."
While Kim Jong-il bestowed immense power to the military during a famine in the 1990s, the young Kim shifted command back to the party. During the Kim Jong-un era, operations within the party have been normalized. The military has been placed under the party, no longer a special class, enjoying special favors.
The Songun Military First doctrine survived the death of Kim Jong-il and the ascendancy of his son Kim Jong-un as his successor. On 25 August 2013, Kim Jong-un elaborated at length on the Songun doctrine during the Day of Songun celebration 25 April 2013:
"Songun was the General’s [Kim Jong-il] revolutionary idea, his practice in the revolution, his political ideal and his political mode…. Regarding the strengthening of the KPA [Korean People’s Army] as the most important of affairs in the Songun revolution, he raised the KPA as the buttress, the main force, of our revolution and achieved the historic victory in the grim anti-imperialist, anti-US showdown in defence of the country’s security and socialism by training the KPA to be the army of the leader boundlessly faithful to the cause of the WPK (Workers’ Party of Korea), to be an invincible revolutionary army. He defined the spirit of defending the leader unto death, the spirit of implementing his instructions at any cost and the self-sacrificing spirit displayed by the service personnel as a revolutionary spirit symbolic and representative of the Songun era, as the revolutionary soldier spirit, and led all the service personnel and people to live and struggle in that spirit, thus ensuring that a great turn and changes were brought about in all sectors of the revolution and construction. In order to consolidate the successes of his Songun-based leadership and administer Songun politics in a comprehensive way, he saw to it that the First Session of the Tenth Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea adopted the Socialist Constitution that embodies the idea and principles of the Songun revolution and established a new state administration structure, whose backbone is the National Defence Commission, and led all state affairs to be conducted on the principle of giving precedence to military affairs. "
In keeping with the Songun orientation, the DPRK embarked on a quest to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list