Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
South Korean media reported on 14 June (Thursday) that Lt. Gen. Kim Rak Gyom was appointed commanding officer of the Korean People’s Army [KPA] Strategic Rocket Force Command [SRFC] in early 2012. Lt. Gen. Kim was later elected a member of the Korean Workers’ Party Central Military Commission [CMC] during the 4th Party Conference on 11 April 2012. The SRFC was first mentioned in DPRK state media report on 2 March 2012 when Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) inspected its headquarters near Kangdong County in northeast Pyongyang. KJU later included the SRFC when addressing other KPA service branches in his public speech prior to the military parade held on 15 April 2012 to commemorate the 100th birth anniversary of his grandfather and DPRK found Kim Il Sung. The SRFC was created during 2011 when DPRK policymakers consolidated all short-, medium- and intermediate-range missile units into a unified command under the National Defense Commission [NDC].
Meanwhile, Daily NK, citing South Korean government sources, reports that Gen. Kim Kyok Sik has been passed over after a round party assessments of senior officials and may have a reduced rank. Gen. Kim, a former chief of the KPA General Staff and close military advisor to the late Kim Jong Il, served as commander of IV Army Corps from 2009 to 2011. During his command, the ROK naval corvette Ch’o’nan sank in March 2010 and the KPA fired artillery shells at ROK forces and civilians on Yo’n’pyo’ng Island in November 2010. In August 2011, he was replaced a deputy defense minister and returned to Pyongyang. He was rumored to be serving either as a deputy chief of the KPA General Staff, or a deputy defense minister. Daily NK reports:
A Ministry of Unification official told Daily NK about the demotion today, saying, “Based on various trend indicators including reports in the North Korean media and Chosun Central TV through which Kim Kyuk Shik’s position emerges, we confirmed his demotion to colonel-general.”
Kim first came to the attention of North Korea watchers in 1994 when he became 2nd Corps commander. In 2007 he was promoted to Chief of Staff, but two years later was moved out of Pyongyang to head the 4th Corps. It was only after he was sent to Hwanghae Province that North Korea really stepped up its provocations in the disputed West Sea, including the sinking of the Cheonan on March 26th, 2010 and the Yeonpyeong Island shelling on November 23rd the same year.
Kim most recently appeared at events to commemorate Kim Jong Il’s birthday on February 16th and at a Party reporting conference on April 25th, the founding day of the Chosun People’s Army.
According to military analyst Cheong Seong Chang of the Sejong Institute, “We know that in North Korea there are internal assessments of public figures. So, rather than Kim Kyuk Shik getting demoted because he made an error or because of a problem with his loyalty, there is a chance that he just got left behind in internal assessments.”
“We know that right now the North Korean Chief of Staff Lee Young Ho and NSA head Kim Won Hong have very good assessments,” Cheong went on, suggesting that Kim Kyuk Shik may simply have fallen behind the curve.