Kim Jong-un has allegedly replaced some of his top military officials eight days prior to the Singapore summit where he will become the first DPRK head of state to meet a sitting US President. While such news cannot be officially verified from inside the DPRK with the exception of the story regarding the firing of General Kim Su-gil, South Korean news outlets have conveyed the following information which has now been picked up by major international agencies:
“Citing an unidentified intelligence official, Yonhap said No Kwang-chol, first vice minister of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, had replaced Pak Yong-sik as defence chief, while Ri Myong Su was replaced by his deputy, Ri Yong-gil.
North Korean state media previously confirmed that Army General Kim Su-gil had replaced Kim Jong-gak as director of the KPA’s General Political Bureau”.
In each instance, Kim has replaced an old veteran with younger officials and crucially all of the sackings/new appointments are in the important area of defence. It would appear safe to assume that Kim is preparing his country for a peace process where the focus of the armed forces will shift from one of building and securing an effective nuclear deterrent to one which pivots its stance to regional cooperative endeavours with neighbouring governments including those in Seoul, Beijing and Moscow.
In this sense, Kim has appointed military officials who will embody a new mindset of openness which is requisite as part of the wider peace process in Korea. Far from a conspiracy or an aberration, the replacing of officials with a certain mind set with a fresh set of officials in times where a new mindset is required, is a typical occurrence in governments and bureaucracies, including military bureaucracies throughout the world.
Instead of asking why Kim Jong-un has made an obvious and natural move in order for his military leaders to better reflect the new priorities of the DPRK, people should be asking why the United States has not removed and replaced many of its own top government officials whose mindsets are manifestly incompatible with a successful peace process?
If one was hellbent on war and nothing but war, the current US National Security Adviser John Bolton would clearly be a vital individual to have in a place of power as when it comes to war, Bolton has never seen one he does not like. Indeed, the only war that Bolton ever disliked was the one where he would have been forced to fight himself, which is why he admitted to conspiring to avoid service in the US armed forces during the war on Vietnam.
But if one needs actual diplomats and negotiators to engage in a globally supported peace process, the last people one needs as advisers or worse yet decision markers, are open war mongers. Kim Jong-un appears to grasp this concept but the leader of the United States clearly does not.
Donald Trump will walk into his meeting with Kim Jong-un with the bellicose words of John Bolton and fellow war hawks Nikki Haley and Michael Pence ringing in his ear. The moderate voice of the former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also been replaced not with a younger moderate voice but with the boisterous howls of Michael Pompeo.
While it appears to be Kim Jong-un’s intention to walk into the negotiating room with a team behind him prepared for a tough, dignified and ideally functional peace plan, Donald Trump is walking into the peace conference with a team of open war mongers behind him.
In this sense, while the stories about Kim’s military personnel shake-up are probably true, what the entire story exposes is that the international news media and American media in particular, are quick to look for conspiracies, intrigue and devious plots in Pyongyang when things are progressing in a normal and pro-active manner. At the same time, western mainstream media fail to provide anything resembling constructive criticism when western governments fail to take the pro-active measures to prepare for peace that the DPRK has just taken.
While Kim Jong-un appears ready to open his economy to new opportunities and open the DPRK to new and improved relations with all of its neighbours, particularly with South Korea, the United States is going through the motions of peace but remains guided by those prepared only for war.