Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
Minister of the People’s Armed Forces Jang Jong Nam (Chang Cho’ng-nam), the DPRK’s defense minister, has been reduced in rank by one level four months after being promoted. DPRK state media footage of a 3 February (Monday) Korean People’s Army [KPA] rally nominating Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) as a candidate for the Supreme People’s Assembly showed that Jang’s shoulder boards had the three stars of a Colonel General (sanjang). In early January 2014, Jang Jong Nam’s shoulderboards had the four stars of a General (taejang).
Daily NK surmised that Kim Jong Un’s “apparent tendency toward frequently changing, reinstating and demoting leading members of the Chosun People’s Army for political purposes, it seems likely that such officers could be reinstated to their former positions in due course” and that “Kim is carrying out the demotions to bring leading military personnel to heel, particularly those whose power he fears may grow in the absence of Jang Song Taek, who was executed in December. ” Daily NK also analyzed that “frequent reshuffling of staff is one simple way for a leader to show off his or her power both domestically and abroad, at the same time as securing the loyalty of surrounding officials” and quoted another analysis which said ““After Jang Song Taek’s execution, this demotion seems intended to straighten out unsettled military personnel and firm up military loyalty. He probably also aims to eliminate the concern that the military’s power could increase.”
Temporary demotions have become fairly routine among KPA general-grade officers since Kim Jong Un started to build his power base, even before his public introduction in September 2010. One of the first demotions was observed in January 2010 when then-Director of the General Staff Operations Bureau Kim Myong Guk was observed having been demoted from General to Colonel General. Kim Myong Guk’s fourth star was quickly restored (and he has retired in good standing). Gen. Kim was not the only member of the KPA high command subjected to Pyongyang’s Demotion/Promotion Cycle.
Director of the KPA General Political Department VMar Choe Ryong Hae received the rank of Vice Marshal (ch’asu) in April 2012. In December 2012 Choe was observed to have been reduced in rank to a four-star General. His Vice Marshal rank was restored in February 2013.
Minister of People’s Security Gen. Choe Pu Il was promoted to General on 28 September 2010. He later lost his fourth star in late 2011. From 2012 until early 2013 Choe served as Director of the General Staff Operations Bureau holding the rank of Colonel General. In June 2013 a special order signed by Kim Jong Un reinstated Choe’s fourth star.
Senior military adviser Gen. Kim Kyong Sik was reduced in rank to Colonel General at some point in 2011. He was re-promoted to General prior to his appointment as Minister of the People’s Armed Forces in November 2012.
Vice Minister of the People’s Armed Forces, Col. Gen. Yun Tong Hyon was demoted two ranks in the spring of 2013 from Colonel General to Major General (sojang). His rank was not restored.
Senior military adviser Lt. Gen. Kim Su Gil was reduced in rank to one-star Major General during 2013.
Deputy Director of the KPA General Political Department Lt. Gen. Ryom Chol Song was demoted to Major General during 2013.
V Army Corps Commander Col. Gen. Hyon Yong Chol was promoted from General to Vice Marshal in July 2012 upon his appointment as Chief of the KPA General Staff. In October 2012 he was demoted back to General. Hyon was demoted again in May 2013 to Colonel General, when he removed as chief of the general staff and appointed command of V Corps.
Vice Chief of the KPA General Staff and Director of the Reconnaissance General Bureau Gen. Kim Yong Chol’s rank has shifted four times during the last three years. He was promoted to Colonel General in 2010, although the effective date of his promotion was not publicized. He was promoted to General by Kim Jong Un in February 2012 on the occasion of Kim Jong Il’s birthday. Nine months after his promotion he was observed to have been demoted to Colonel General. In March 2013, Kim Yong Chol had been restored as a four-star general.
Special thanks to Lincoln Patrick for his contribution and analyses