<Background and Purpose>
The purpose of this study is to assess the domestic and foreign policy of North Korea as it manifests through the change in the party, government, and military elite.
◎ Members of the North Korean party, government, and military elite have experienced major replacements in the Kim Jong-Un era. This took place primarily around key moments in 2013, the 7th Congress of the Worker's Party of Korea(WPK) in 2016, the abrupt end of the Hanoi summit in 2019, and the 8th Congress of WPK in 2021. The change in the members of the elite also coincided with key changes to North Korea’s domestic and foreign policies.
◎ This study aims to identify the characteristics of the change that happened in the North Korean elite by tracking the replacement of individuals in the party, government, and military elite and their changing proximity to the locus of power. It also seeks to identify the correlation between policy decisions and the change in members of the elite. By doing so, it aims to generate insights about possible future changes and predictions about the policy direction the incumbent elite will take under Kim Jong-Un.
We identify a number of patterns in the way the members of the North Korean elite have changed. We also forecast the policy changes that may take place.
◎ The tradition of keeping a certain age distribution and having single individuals hold triple-hatted positions in all of party, government, and the military has now become a less salient feature of the North Korean elite. A generational shift has created a more technocratic, task-oriented group of the ruling class.
◎ Members of the elite are now replaced more quickly and frequently. Officials are often demoted then restored.
－ Demotions of officials have increased in frequency, but the amount of time it takes before their restoration has also decreased. In fact, most demoted individuals were eventually restored. This indicates that the replacement of officials has become an important means of taming them under his control.
◎ The standing of a member of the elite is determined less by that member’s cabinet or military office and more by membership in the Party Central Committee as a full or candidate member or the Politburo as a regular or alternate member.
◎ The cabinet premier and vice premier have been keeping their office for shorter terms than in the past. Major replacements to the cabinet ministers following the 8th Congress of WPK indicates that the North Korean economy is struggling immensely and that the cabinet is, in fact, being held accountable for it.
◎ The status of the military is not as high as it was in the past. Nevertheless, certain individuals who were involved with strategic weapons, artillery, and the arms industry have gained both positions in the WPK and the Supreme People’s Assembly. Their increasing number of positions demonstrate great priority on the strengthening capabilities of nuclear and missile program and artillery-oriented policies.