Policy Paper

38 North Special Report: Recent Changes in Kim Jong Un’s High Command

in Program

Prior to the Singapore Summit, the biggest news about the DPRK concerned a personnel shuffle of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) High Command.[1] Some of the coverage of these changes, obviously targeted on a general audience, was misleading. According to recent commentary, Kim Jong Un, the “brutal dictator,” had once again embarked on a bloody purge of senior officials.

A more coherent and accurate interpretation of Kim Jong Un’s rationale was that he switched his top military leaders as part of the preliminary phase of mothballing the DPRK’s WMD program; there is a certain logic to moving malcontents to other positions, lest they resist Kim’s moves on denuclearization. However, this was only a minor factor in Kim Jong Un’s calculations.

A better explanation of the recent adjustments in the KPA high command lies in understanding how senior personnel appointments are orchestrated and implemented in the party, army and state; looking at personnel appointments in relation to the institutions and personalities involved on a case-by-case basis; and recognizing the continuation of Kim Jong Un’s efforts to strengthen party and civilian control over North Korea’s armed forces.

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