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Viewing cable 09SEOUL672, MND: DPRK MILITARY RHETORIC AND NATIONAL DEFENSE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09SEOUL672 2009-04-27 06:06 2010-11-30 16:04 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Seoul
VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHUL #0672/01 1170635
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 270635Z APR 09
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4147
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 5773
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 1316
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 9637
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 5865
RUEHUM/AMEMBASSY ULAANBAATAR PRIORITY 1817
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG PRIORITY 4294
RUACAAA/COMUSKOREA INTEL SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHMFISS/COMUSFK SEOUL KOR PRIORITY
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SEOUL 000672 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/27/2019 
TAGS: PGOV KN KS
SUBJECT: MND: DPRK MILITARY RHETORIC AND NATIONAL DEFENSE 
COMMISSION CHANGES ARE ABOUT SUCCESSION 

Classified By: POL M/C Joseph Y. Yun. Reasons 1.4(b/d) 

1. (C) SUMMARY: The DPRK's recent restaffing and expansion of 
the National Defense Commission (NDC) and its hostile 
military rhetoric over the last several months are related to 
the DPRK leadership's "top priority" need to stabilize the 
DPRK internally in preparation for succession, according to 
XXXXXXXXXXXX  A second priority was to achieve improved
Relations with the United States, which the DPRK regards as its only
potential  security guarantor, ironically. END SUMMARY. 


------------------------------- 
Military Statements and the NDC 
------------------------------- 

2. (C) In an April 23 meeting, XXXXXXXXXXXX told Poloff that the 
Korean People's Army's (KPA) spate of high-level 
announcements over the past several months (such as the March 
8 KPA Supreme Command report, the first in 15 years, and the 
four KPA General Staff statements since January, not seen 
since 1999) should not be misinterpreted as the DPRK military 
asserting control over the country, because the military 
could act only in concert with the Worker's Party and the 
Cabinet. Instead the "generals appearing on TV" was a 
phenomenon directed at DPRK citizens with two goals: to show 
that the DPRK's hostile external situation meant citizens had 
to pull together, and as a "power display" to send a 
law-and-order message to counter the increasing economic 
disorder resulting from decades of economic "depression." 
There was dissatisfaction among some elite groups in the 
DPRK, who knew of economic reform in China and Vietnam and 
wondered why the DPRK had instead deteriorated. To tamp down 
this internal dissent, external tension was needed. The ROKG 
was not particularly worried about the specific threats to 
the South contained in the statements because they saw the 
statements as targeted at the domestic audience, and in any 
case knew the DPRK would try to achieve surprise if it were 
to resort to military action, rather than giving warning. 

3. (C) The key factor in the background was 67-year-old Kim 
Jong-il's (KJI) waning health. After KJI's August 2008 
stroke, the DPRK was a "different environment that needed 
stronger leadership." XXXXXXXXXXXX said that before the stroke, KJI 
was confident that he could rule for years, but afterward he 
suffered "physical and psychological trauma." KJI had become 
obsessed with creating political stability to allow an 
orderly succession, though XXXXXXXXXXXX did not claim to know who was 
next in line. Immediately after the April 5 missile launch 
the Supreme People's Assembly had declared the beginning of 
KJI's third ruling period. But rather than celebrating the 
renewal of his mandate, KJI was concentrating on changes that 
would pave the way for succession. 

4. (C) The most important of these was the enlargement (from 
8 to 13 members) and strengthening of the KJI-chaired 
National Defense Commission (NDC). The NDC was first 
established in 1998 with a largely symbolic role, but had 
since taken on policy and coordination functions. Now it had 
the lead on succession, XXXXXXXXXXXX believed. KJI brother-in-law 
Chang Song-taek's addition to the NDC was important for 
succession preparation, not only because he was married to 
KJI's only sibling and close confidante 63-year-old Kim 
Kyong-hui, but also because Chang was seen as having 
effectively protected and acted for KJI during KJI's fall 
2008 recovery period. 

5. (C) Another key change was the replacement of National 
Defense Commission Deputy Chairman Kim Yong-chun with Oh 
Kuk-ryul, a 78-year old Kim-family loyalist (in relative 
terms, since all senior officials are loyalists) who XXXXXXXXXXXX 
thought was consolidating various ROK-surveillance and 
special operations institutions under his control at NDC. 
One of these was the Worker's Party's Operations Department, 
which Oh has headed since 1989. (XXXXXXXXXXXX also referred to an 
April 21 JoongAng Ilbo newspaper article claiming that 
"Office 35," charged with intel collection, and the "External 
Liaison Office," charged with training agents, had both been 
moved from the Operations Department to NDC/KPA control, 
saying that ROK intel sources did not think there was 

evidence of such a move.) The Operations Department, which 
formulates actions against the South, was "passive" during 
the 1999-2007 Sunshine Policy period, but was now becoming 
more active again. In other words, Oh's job was to keep the 
South off balance and make sure that it did not disrupt the 
succession period. XXXXXXXXXXXX said he believed that changes to the 
DPRK constitution, announced but not yet explained, would 
also focus on succession-related issues. He alluded to 
frequent DPRK propaganda aiming for the establishment of a 
"strong and prosperous" nation by 2012, saying that DPRK 
authorities believed they had already succeeded ideologically 
and militarily, so they were concentrating on the economic 
side, which is where the Kaesong Industrial Complex fit in. 

6. (C) The DPRK's determination to maintain internal order 
meant that it could go so far as to engage in "limited armed 
conflict" with the ROK. At the same time, the DPRK was well 
aware that ROK forces were ready for any provocation and 
would respond with superior force. In addition, the DPRK 
knew that combined ROK-U.S. surveillance capabilities would 
prevent it from achieving surprise, so XXXXXXXXXXXX was reassured that 
no direct military provocation was imminent. 

----------------------- 
Relations with the U.S. 
----------------------- 

7. (C) Asked what the ROKG's policy options were, given the 
above situation, XXXXXXXXXXXX answered indirectly, saying that the 
main question was U.S.-DPRK relations. Second only to 
maintaining internal stability to allow for succession was 
the DPRK's determination to improve relations with the U.S., 
because only the U.S. could solve both the DPRK's security 
and economic problems. XXXXXXXXXXXX said this push for improved 
relations was ironic, given DPRK rhetoric attacking the U.S. 
as a menace, but was nevertheless high on DPRK authorities' 
agenda. XXXXXXXXXXXX said the DPRK saw the 1999-2000 rapprochement 
with the Clinton Administration as the first, failed, chance 
for peace with the U.S.; that the Bush (43) Administration 
had turned to negotiations too late for substantial progress; 
and that the Obama Administration amounted to a "second 
chance." The DPRK craved a dialogue with the U.S., aiming 
for a "big deal," but first needed to raise tensions to 
create the need for dialogue. 

8. (C) The scope for inter-Korean relations depended on what 
happened with U.S.-DPRK relations. XXXXXXXXXXXX was convinced that 
the DPRK would keep tension high towards the South, while 
seeking an opening with the U.S. Therefore, his 
recommendation to ROK policymakers was to stay on an even 
keel to keep the South-North situation from deteriorating 
further. The DPRK's April 21 proposal for dialogue about 
land-use and wages at the Kaesong Industrial Complex was 
potentially helpful in that regard, but had to be approached 
carefully, because the DPRK would try to seize the initiative 
and lock-in economic benefits without offering reciprocal 
steps. Like other ROKG officials, XXXXXXXXXXXX emphasized the need 
for continued close U.S.-ROK coordination on all issues 
related to North Korea. 

9. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX cautioned that China would seek to prevent 
U.S.-DPRK relations from improving too much, adding with a 
smile that had it not been for its attitude toward the U.S., 
China would have moved to prevent the October 2006 DPRK 
nuclear weapon test. 

----------- 
Mt. Kumgang 
----------- 

10. (C) As an aside, XXXXXXXXXXXX commented on the July 2008 shooting 
death of a South Korean tourist at Mt. Kumgang. He said that 
KPA soldiers and sentries in the area, after frequent contact 
with South Korean tourists, had a tendency to be too relaxed, 
so KPA officers periodically conducted exercises to tighten 
discipline. The shooting had occurred during one of those 
exercise periods. 
STEPHENS