A survey of North Korean refugees attracted some attention several weeks ago. According to the survey, a full 63 percent of recently arrived refugees believed that Kim Jong Un enjoys support amongst a majority of the North Korean public.
Such findings are not all that surprising for people who interact with North Koreans frequently enough. Indeed, while the protruding belly, plump cheeks and rather bizarre haircut present a somewhat comical picture to Western audiences, a significant number of North Koreans feel much hope about the third incarnation of Kimhood, finding the young leader attractive and somewhat charismatic.
Not everybody would agree, but it seems increasingly likely that Kim Jong Un and his administration (whatever that means) are executing a careful set of market-oriented reforms. These reforms bear some similarities to what the Chinese leadership did in the 1970s, though they are significantly less radical in many regards.
What does the future hold for the divided Korean peninsula? How realistic is the prospect of reunification between the prosperous and democratic South and the persistently isolated North? Indeed, how might the end of this ‘frozen’ conflict impact regional and international security? To discuss these and related issues, the Center for Security Studies (CSS) recently hosted an Evening Talk with Dr. Eun-Jeung Lee, who is a Professor of Korean Studies at Freie Universität Berlin, and Nina Belz, who writes on international affairs for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ). While Lee focused on the historical and geopolitical aspects of the conflict between the two Koreas, Belz looked at what their neighbors think about the possibility of Korean reunification.
Uganda and North Korea are two countries which few would immediately identify as natural partners. Yet on October 29, 2014, Kim Yong Nam, Chairman of the Presidium of the DPRK’s Supreme People’s Assembly, arrived in Kampala to a hero’s welcome. Over four days, Kim met with the Ugandan President, Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister amongst others, and had a state banquet thrown in his honor.
Kim’s visit comes as part of a longer African tour to the handful of countries on the continent where the DPRK still has a noteworthy foothold. Many of them are known or suspected to be long-time military customers, and bolstering ties will have been on the agenda for each stop. The reported purpose of the Uganda visit was to enhance security cooperation specifically. As noted by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, bilateral relations in this area have spanned decades. Military training and weapons transfers were facilitated by Pyongyang during the Cold War. Today, Kampala has made a conscious effort to publicly discuss the more benign nature of cooperation with Pyongyang, making sure to add that, while it has nothing to hide, Uganda’s foreign relations are no one’s business. Venturing close to the grey areas of sanctions-relevant activity, DPRK-Uganda cooperation nevertheless merits further scrutiny.
You probably missed the obituary. But on July 7, when North Korean media announced the death of the 88-year-old senior North Korean official Jon Pyong Ho, it highlighted an important but largely ignored development in Pyongyang’s effort to build weapons of mass destruction (WMD). While most observers focus on Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests, they ignore the shift happening in North Korea’s WMD community: a newer generation is replacing the North Korean scientists who played a key role in developing Pyongyang’s WMDs. This new generation will play a central role in determining whether North Korea will become a (small) nuclear power.