The issue of denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula is currently at the core of the debate between North Korea, South Korea, the United States, China and the Russian Federation.
This has been seen – symbolically, but very clearly – in the very recent military parade in Pyongyang for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In fact, there was not the traditional and strong emphasis on the North Korean nuclear and missile system, but rather a balanced representation of the Armed Forces and the various social components, to which the North Korean Socialist regime entrusts its hegemony in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is a true hegemony, not a constraint.
Whoever wants to destabilize North Korea with the usual talk about liberalism would be in serious trouble.
Let us also consider the symbolism of the representation of cadres and relevant figures of the regime around Kim Jong-Un on the stage.
There was a large number of representatives who had participated in many events, while the very few newcomers were mingled with Kim Jong-Un’s usual aides and collaborators.
A clear sign that the Leader has full control on his power apparatus in the most delicate phase of negotiations with South Korea and the United States.
As someone within the US security apparatus said, whoever wants to destabilize North Korea with a “liberal” conspiracy and palace coup would fail.
The Special Forces played a special, symbolic – and hence fully political – role in the parade for the 70th anniversary. They are the largest Special Forces in the world.
“Kim’s tigers” had the specific mission of strictly controlling the US and South Korean positions in the Southern part of the peninsula. They count approximately 180,000 soldiers – a very significant number for a small country like North Korea.
They also wear a uniform very similar to that of the South Korean 707th Special Mission Battalion, created immediately after the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. The North Korean Special Forces, however, operate both in the field of Recognition, with a specific brigade, and in the maritime field. They also operate as light artillery units in the rear and, as can be easily imagined, they are all trained to carry out the tasks and functions of airborne forces.
“Kim’s tigers” performed legendary operations, such as in 1968 in South Korea, with the attempt to assassinate the South Korean dictator, Park Chung-Hee, made by the 124th Unit of the North Korean Army.
Kim Jong-Un’s Special Forces are present also in Bashar al-Assad’ Syrian Arab Republic to update missile defences.
This happens above all in relation to the Russian refusal to equip the Syrian armed forces with medium and long-range missiles. In Syria, however, Kim Jong-Un’s forces are carrying out various missions which, in all likelihood, currently make them the best Asian force in the counter-terrorist sector.
With specific reference to health, Assad has sometimes officially thanked North Korea for its support to Syria in this sector, while there are still North Korean artillery troops active in Syria.
Moreover, Western data and statistics show us that currently the total number of North Korean military staff is 6,445,000, with a share of 945,000 active soldiers and officers and 5,500,000 reservists.
Hence a nation-in-arms, which is almost impossible to conquer for outsiders.
According to the data collected by Western countries’ intelligence services, we know that North Korea is supposed to have 994 military aircraft of various type, with 458 combat aircraft and 516 attack aircraft, with additional 119 transport aircraft, 169 training aircraft and 202 helicopters, of which 20 for attack purposes.
Currently the North Korean Land Forces have 5,243 tanks available, as well as 9,935 armoured vehicles and 2,250 artillery units, while the heavy artillery positions are still 4,300 with as many as 5,000 missile launchers of various range and power.
North Korea’s Navy ships are 967, with only 10 frigates, 2 corvettes, but with 86 submarines, 438 patrol boats and 25 minesweepers. The rest is unknown to Western intelligence services.
At the parade for the 70th anniversary, however, there were also various groups of civilians, many portraits of Kim Il Sung, defined as the “founder of the Socialist Chosun” (Chosun is Korea itself, understood as homeland) while there were many posters praising the Chosun Juche, i.e. self-reliance of the North Korean Nation precisely through the concept of Juche. According to Kim Il-Sung, Juche means that “man is the master of everything because he is the master of the world and of history”.
Hence North Korea’s full self-determination is theorized, without entrusting sovereignty or economic support to “third” powers, even if they belong to the “Socialist camp”.
Hence the official division of the North Korean people – although made homogeneous and united by the Socialist ideology – into peasants, industrial workers and samuwon, that in the West we would call “intellectuals”. Three groups equally necessary for the development of societies.
It should be recalled that in no Communist theory derived from the Third International there is a specific social role for “intellectuals”.
A significant part of the parade celebrating the 70th anniversary was also dedicated to another pillar of the North Korean ideology, i.e. the profound unity between civilians and soldiers.
“Socialism, one big family”, another of the typical slogans of the parade for the 70th anniversary.
According to North Korea’s traditional symbolism, in this “big family” the Leader is the Father, the Party is the Mother and the citizens are the children.
Well beyond family symbolism, this is the symbolic start of the parallel transformation of the North Korean economy and military system. It is worth reiterating that the massive presence of the Special Forces is a sign not to be neglected at all.
References to the history of the 1950s and the beginning of the North Korean regime were very present in the parade for the 70th anniversary, but also mythical references to the horses Chollima and Mallima.
The former is a winged horse, a symbol commonly portrayed in all Asian mythologies (and in those of Greece communicating and having contacts with Central Asia), but here it clearly epitomizes North Korea’s necessary rapidity of economic development, which will be Kim Jong-Un’s real future goal.
The latter is another winged horse originating from the Chinese and Japanese traditions – another very clear symbol.
Here the iconographic quote reiterates a specific remark made by Kim Jong-Un in his recent New Year’s speech on January 5th.
In fact, the reference was to the total modernization of the national economy and to the complete mechanization of agriculture, by mentioning precisely the two winged horses as symbols of the speed with which North Korea is currently undertaking its path of full civilian and military modernization.
The symbolic wagons of the parade for the 70th anniversary included also the silhouettes of ships bearing the following inscription on their sides: “sound foundations for building economic power” and “for a flexible manufacturing system”.
What does this mean? That Kim Jong-Un wants to trigger a self-propelled development of North Korea to balance military and economic power. His initial project, which is currently expressed with the slogan “economy first”.
This does not mean that North Korea relinquishes its military networks, but that it makes them useful for a negotiation projecting North Korea directly into the Third Millennium.
In fact, again at symbolic level, which is always one of the essential aspects of politics, we must not let us be deceived by the economicist myth characterizing much of Western political culture. We must note that during the parade the most welcome guest, the central figure of the relationship between North Korea and the rest of the world, was the envoy Li Zhanshu, representing the Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Li is the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the top legislative body of the People’s Republic of China.
Formerly Governor of Heilongjiang, a region in the forefront of Chinese economic innovation and of the proactive relationship with foreign companies, in the recent 18th Congress Li Zhanshu has become one of Xi Jinping’s most trusted advisers, in addition to being Head of the General Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
He is also a full member of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
Hence a figure of considerable importance, with strong personal ties with Xi Jinping, who was chosen to represent not only China, but the lasting strength of the relations that still bind China and North Korea.
Li and Kim Jong-Un often greeted the crowd together, with joined hands.
One of the aspects to be noted in this new configuration of the North Korean political system is Kim Jong-Un’s recent nuclear doctrine.
The North Korean Leader said that, with a view to avoiding the tragedy and horror of nuclear war, North and South Korea should increase their attempts to reach the goal of a Korean peninsula free of all kinds of nuclear weapons.
In July 2017, Kim Jong-Un had said that North Korea would never withdraw its nuclear armament if the United States did not clearly put an end to its hostile policy and its nuclear threat to North Korea.
The change in tone is evident and is in line with the joint declaration between North Korea and the United States at the Panmunjom Conference of 27 April 2018, when North Korea itself agreed to “work for the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”.
In the Singapore Declaration of June 2018, North Korea did not set a time schedule for reaching said goal, but accepted the process of the peninsula’s complete denuclearization.
Finally, with his latest statements, Kim Jong-Un wants to accept the US policy line, the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but, in any case, on his terms and conditions and, above all, according to his time schedule.
This means that for North Korea denuclearization shall take place within a negotiation in which both the North Korean and the South Korean structures are systematically dismantled at the same time and in the same way.
With specific reference to North Korea’s international relations, considering the excellent ties re-established between China and North Korea with Kim Jong-Un’s visit of March 25-28, for the United States the solution will be to agree at first with China and Russia and later with the other friendly Asian countries, such as Japan, South Korea and even Vietnam.
If the United States acts alone, it will reach no results.
Nevertheless, there is a further important issue, i.e. North Korea’s future participation in the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.
North Korea has no domestic capital and it will not have it even after a sharp reduction in the military and nuclear system, which, however, it will not make – and rightly so.
It has not even Foreign Direct Investments available that could be used to autonomously enter the world market that is waiting for it.
North Korea, however, has mineral reserves worth at least 6 trillion US dollars, including iron, gold, zinc, copper, molybdenum and graphite. It has also many rare earth metals.
However, in addition to the “Belt and Road” network, there is also the Eurasia Initiative set up by South Korea in October 2013, which integrates South Korea into the Eurasian economic space, through Russia, and also allows cooperation on security, including also North Korea in this framework.
Through the Eurasia Initiative, however, South Korea, North Korea and the scarcely developed North-East Chinese provinces could be integrated economically.
There is also large infrastructure to be started: the railway to the West, the Pusan-Seoul-Shinuju-Dandong, and hence the primary one of the East, the Pusan-Wonsan-Chongjin-Tumangang-Khasan, which are lines connecting the two Koreas and both of them to China and the Russian Federation and, from there, to the European peninsula.
Hence the production formula would be North Korean low-cost manpower, Chinese capital and South Korean technology.
The port of Rason would bring both Koreas into contact with Japan and this would also favour Northeast China’s regional economy, with the further expansion of the Russian energy networks throughout this new region.
Hence all this concerns the parallel and quick denuclearization of the US network in South Korea and in North Korea.
Without the agreement between China, Russia, the United States and Japan, the new economic network would be meaningless and useless. And here the ball is still in the US hands.
Denuclearization is an operation to be carried out with absolute guarantees for all parties, as well as with the support of IAEA, but also, and above all, of neighbouring countries.
In fact, a joint Commission between the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Russia and China would be useful to check and step up the denuclearization of the whole Korean peninsula.
GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI
Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France