The 6th Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) was held in Pyongyang at the end of 2022.
During the six-day meeting, the longest in North Korean history, Kim Jong-un expressed a strong desire to continue developing nuclear missiles.
Regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons, he stated that preventing war and protecting peace and stability were the primary missions, but if this fails, the second mission will be determined.
He also said this second mission would clearly be something else other than defense.
He expressed a willingness to launch a preemptive strike with abstract expressions so as not to provoke the United States too much.
He also stated that North Korea would develop another intercontinental ballistic missile system, and this is thought to mean the development of a solid-fuel ICBM.
However, what was different from before was the fact that North Korea’s sense of hostility towards South Korea was more explicit than that towards the U.S.
Symbolizing this was Kim Jong-un’s statement that “the current situation where South Korea’s puppets are unquestionably drawing closer as clear enemies, brings to light the importance and necessity of the mass production of tactical nuclear weapons and requires a geometrical increase in our nuclear weapon inventory.”
President Yoon Suk-yeol has stated that he is prepared for a preemptive strike against North Korea, and Pyongyang considers this a threat.
North Korea cannot make light of South Korea, which has risen to be the 10th largest economy in the world and was ranked 10th globally in defense spending.
After announcing the launch of military reconnaissance satellites, North Korea launched three missiles on New Year’s Eve, and on New Year’s Day they launched a massive artillery drill.
In a letter sent to the 9th Congress of the Korean Children’s Union held in late December, Kim Jong-un stated that “Americans and their minions are looking for opportunities with a keen eye in an attempt to crush comrades’ homes and steal their hopes,” sowing a sense of hostility towards the U.S. and South Korea among children.
What is clear is that North Korea will not respond to dialogue for the time being and will steadily continue to move forward with the development of weapons.
He has also condemned the strengthening of security cooperation by the United States, Japan and South Korea as an “Asian version of NATO.”
He began using the term “New Cold War” for the first time in September 2021 and seems to believe this is made up of the United States, Japan and South Korea vs. North Korea, China and Russia.
Kim is also getting closer to the Putin administration which has come under fire from the international community for its invasion of Ukraine.
The situation in North Korea is likely to remain unstable this year as it did last year.
Kim Jong-un has also spoken about the need for improving citizens’ lives, and at the same time mentioned that 2022 was not meaningless.
He may have been suggesting there is a tendency to see 2022 as economically meaningless, a reflection of the reality of North Korea’s dire predicament.
The ministers of chemical engineering and light manufacturing were also hastily replaced.
This year, which marks the 70th anniversary of the Korean War ceasefire (July 27) and the 75th anniversary of the founding of the country (September 9), North Korea clearly indicated that they will build a decisive guarantee to complete the five-year plan.
However, there are limitations to what they can do in the current situation with no prospect of economic sanctions being lifted, and all that is required is to break through the revolutionary crisis on its own by holding up the spirit and banner of the conflicts of the 1960s and 70s.
This continues to emphasize idealism, and is about overcoming difficulties through self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
There were also major personnel matters. The dismissal of Pak Jong-chon, who was just appointed as the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of WPK last year, attracted the most attention, but the Chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army, the defense minister and the minister of social security (police) were also replaced.
There is no doubt that Kim Jong-un emphasizes the military as well as military personnel, but this does not necessarily mean a return to the “military first” (Songun) policy of the Kim Jong-il era.
While it is an annual event on New Year’s Day for Kim Jong-un and his senior officials to visit the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where the bodies of his predecessors lay in state, only suit-wearing officials were seen this year, with very few military personnel.
Entering his 12th year in power, Kim Jong-un is confident that he has gained control of the military and that his current task is to gain the support of the people by rebuilding the economy.
The defense minister and other cabinet posts should be appointed by the Supreme People’s Assembly which is essentially the same as a congress or parliament.
The fact that cabinet members have been appointed at party meetings in recent years shows the party’s dominance over the state and that the integration of party and state continues.
Kim Jong-un has continued to revise party regulations and the constitution to preserve the current system, and at one point even engaged in direct diplomatic negotiations with a U.S. president, but since the breakdown of negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea, he has once again shifted inward.
While the economy has been crippled for years due to sanctions, North Korea also publicly admitted to having COVID-19 infections within the country between May and August of last year.
However, the situation in North Korea is likely to remain unstable this year as it did last year in terms of the analysis of meetings held during these difficulties.
(Atsuhito Isozaki is Professor at Keio University, Japan.)