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Publications [IFANS PERSPECTIVES]North Korea’s June Offensive Revisited: An Interpretation from the Perspective of “Delegative Politics” Hwang Ildo Upload Date 2020-09-14 Hits 12945
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The 'IFANS PERSPECTIVES' publishes the research of our experts on crucial foreign policy issues. This report will be published on an occasional basis in English to highlight our research activities, and the IFANS will continuously strive to share our rigorous analysis of major foreign policy challenges in the coming years. Your unwavering support will always be appreciated.



 Ⅰ. Introduction
 Ⅱ. Analysis of Characteristic Elements
 Ⅲ. Policy Implications



 Ⅰ. Introduction

ㆍFollowing the closed-door briefing by the National Intelligence Service (NIS), South Korea’s intelligence agency, at the National Assembly on August 20, 2020, observations and analyses of Pyongyang’s policy-making mechanism emerged as a major topic of interest at both home and abroad.

There was some confusion initially in the process of communicating and reporting the content of the briefing, but subsequent discussions have led to a general consensus among domestic researchers as follows; △ It appears that Chairman Kim Jong Un has partially allocated responsibilities and authority to leadership figures in charge of areas such as South Korea & United States, the economy, and the military △ This, however, did not lessen the absolute power of Kim as the final decision-maker. Thus, a more apt expression would be “Delegative Politics” rather than a “delegation of power.”

In fact, such a “Delegative Politics” structure has been in place for quite some time in the economic field after Pak Pong Ju was appointed as the Premier in 2013. It also received much attention when the role of First Deputy Director Kim Yo Jong of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) was officially mentioned during the period of inter-Korean engagement in 2018 and again during North’s aggression toward the South in June of this year.

In other words, Pyongyang’s “Delegative Politics” structure is not something formulated in response to a certain incident or development, but rather, was a practice that gradually took shape while Kim Jong Un maintained power for a long time and the internal structure of the political elites was established.

Analysis of the media coverage during the August post-flood recovery campaign indicates that this structure is strengthening as time passes. At the time, the activities of Ri Pyong Chol and Pak Pong Ju, who were put in charge of different policies areas were given extensive media coverage.


ㆍThis paper concludes that by studying a number of organizational behavioral factors manifested during the June anti-South offensive led by Kim Yo Jong, one can glean insight into certain aspects of how Delegative Politics works.

The recent hostilities against the South started with the June 4 statement published in Rodong Sinmun, and ended on the 24th of the same month when the preliminary session of the Central Military Commission of Workers’ Party decided to postpone plans for military retaliations against the South. The details of the manner in which the aggression unfolded show a departure from North Korea’s usual policy making process.


ㆍThus, this paper will attempt to identify the concrete modus operandi of the so called “Delegative Politics” by carefully examining these “unusual” characteristics. By doing so, the author intends to construct a hypothesis that Delegative Politics is structured by utilizing the organizational behavioral tension between major actors. Therefore, the paper will present the hypothesis that Delegative Politics could be further strengthened in the future.


ㆍThis paper, however, does not claim that the key decisions to commence or suspend the June offensive against the South was driven by organizational behavioral factors. Pyongyang probably planned, executed, and suspended the hostilities based on the highest level of political calculation and strategic thinking.

Nevertheless, a number of unusual characteristics can be observed in the process. This study is more of an attempt to reinterpret these characteristics within the framework of Delegative Politics and organizational behavior. 

As is well known, various analyses have been done on how the situation developed and what North Korea’s calculations were. These can summarized as: △ an expression of dissatisfaction with the South △ an attempt to attract the attention of the U.S. so as to retain the momentum of and leverage in negotiations △ an act to secure short term economic assistance from China. In addition, some studies argued that North Korea’s motives were more internally focused and aimed to △ to strengthen national solidarity △ to elevate the status of First Deputy Director Kim Yo Jong.

This paper does not intend to dismiss or support any particular analysis. Rather, it intends to study the unusual characteristics of the June hostilities, which is difficult to interpret from existing angles, and to provide an explanation based on the Delegative Politics structure and organizational behavioral factors in each field.

As is implied by terms such as “one-man rule” or “single dictator state,” the influence exercised by a single leader is absolute under North Korea’s policy making system. In such a system, it may seem unlikely that organizational behavior or governmental politics factors will surface. However, this paper contends that when an authoritarian regime becomes extremely bureaucratic, the structural rigidity will amplify organizational behavioral factors.

In this regard, there is a need to distinguish between △ governmental politics which presuppose differences in policy lines or policy objectives, and △ organizational behavioral factors which result from strict Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), and the logic and mindset unique to individual state organs.

As for the governmental politics, it has long been suggested that there are political factions in North Korea along policy lines, and that certain organizations or its key members have distinct political leanings (for example, “military hardliner” or a “reformist economic government figure”). In fact, there have been cases where the North would imply internal dissent in policy lines and use it as leverage for negotiations.

On the other hand, organizational political factors refer to the government organization’s operational mode or patterns that impact the policy making process. The fact that North Korea’s official literature strongly criticizes “organizational centrism (similar to the South Korean term, organizational egoism)” is evidence that such tendencies are common in North Korea.


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