Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
In the third (3rd) DPRK Cabinet replacement to occur in two (2) calendar months, Minister of Land and Environment Protection Pak Song-nam has been relieved of his post. Mr. Pak was appointed as Minister in April 2006 and his appointment was renewed at the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly in April of this year. Mr. Pak joins Kim Wan-su (former Minister of Finance) and Pyon Yong-rip (former President of the State Academy of Sciences) in a trio of Cabinet replacements in the last sixty (60) days, and the twelfth (12th) Cabinet replacement to occur in 2009. As Yonhap News reports Pak Song-nam’s replacement, Kim Chang-ryong, is “obscure.” It is likely that the replacement is a Kim Chang-ryong (born 1947) who is a former Vice Chair of the Kim Il-sung Youth League, Vice Chair of the Korean Students Committee and a former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs who had served as the DPRK Ambassador to Germany (1999-2004) and Iran (2004-2008). This particular Mr. Kim certainly has the profile–in MOFA, but certainly in two North Korean youth/student organizations–of a member of Jang Song-thaek’s political patronage network. If this is the new Minister this would add further credence to the contention by Pyongyangologists (this one included) that Kim Jong-il is populating North Korea’s policymaking organs with members of the Jang Song-thaek-Kim Kyong-hui political family.
There is also a Kim Chang-ryong identified in the North Korean press as a Korean People’s Army General (the Ministry of Public Security has a bureau for environmental regulation and MPS draws some of its personnel from the KPA) who sang the praises of the DPRK’s ICBM/satellite launch in April 2009, as well as a Kim Chang-ryol identified as a Chairman of the Korea Susok Association. This latter position could be filled by either a MOFA official or KPA General. Susok are natural rock formations, certainly a position germane to the Ministry of Land and Environmental Protection. It is also likely that all of these Kim Chang-ryol’s are the same person. If a new DPRK Cabinet Minister has been drawn from the ranks of the KPA, this may be interpreted as evidence of the KPA’s increasing dominance of the DPRK State; that said, KPA influence is often balanced by the supposedly tight security controls of the Military Security Command and Party management.
In terms of the North Korean power dynamic, the DPRK State (which is to say the Cabinet) is certainly the tertiary constituent of the DPRK’s Power Three of Party-Army-State. Nevertheless, this latest Cabinet appointment is the most recent of a dozen to happen this year. Attrition in the DPRK Cabinet is not unusual, but as previously mentioned, this is the third (3rd) turnover in a sixty (60) day period. A replacement of the Minister of Land and Environmental Protection might relate to the enigmatic forest fires captured by a NASA satellite, and written about by North Korea Economy Watch. But the 2009 attrition in the DPRK Cabinet may read as a sign of succession, political conflicts among North Korean elites, or both. Cabinet and personnel attrition may occur due to a succession drive (where positions are filled with the successors’ supporters). This examination of the latest Cabinet replacement is predicated on examining the recent DPRK Cabinet appointments at-large. A new Minister of Land and Environmental Protection may simply be a cosmetic change to implement the KWP’s “green revolution.”