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Kim Jong-un speaks: North Korea to keep 'military first'

Speaking in public for the first time, North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong-un vowed to keep the military front and center in the already heavily militarized nation. 

By Donald KirkCorrespondent / April 15, 2012

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made his first public address on Sunday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his grandfather's birth.



Seoul, South Korea

North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong-un vowed today in his maiden address before his people to build on the “military first” policy of the Kim family dynasty. He spoke before a massive crowd in Pyongyang for the 100th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, North Korea’s “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung.

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The celebration on Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung Square – the biggest such event in North Korea since the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army in 1992 – left no doubt of the primacy of North Korea’s armed forces in perpetuating the hard-line policies of the dynasty, in power since the end of World War II. 

North Korea’s “powerful military,” Kim Jong-un assured the throng – and millions more listening on the North’s state TV and radio networks – was “capable of waging modern warfare with offensive and defensive tactics.”

In a clear allusion to North Korea’s nuclear program, he said the era in which foreign powers could intimidate the North “with atomic weapons is forever gone.” That remark appeared to fortify the widespread view that Kim Jong-un, spurred on by the generals who dominate the power structure, is likely to press ahead with a third nuclear test.

Bolstered by his newly acquired title of chairman of the national defense commission, the center of power in North Korea, Kim Jong-un appeared solemnly confident as he stepped forward on a balcony high above the square, grasped the podium behind six or seven microphones and in a heavy monotone paid homage to the legacy of both his father and grandfather. Clad in a dark Mao-style suit, in contrast to the uniformed, bemedalled generals on either side of him, he read from a prepared text as he spoke defiantly of the country’s need to defend itself against foreign aggressors.

The grand occasion, under clear skies in cool spring weather, was intended to solidify the authority of  the new leader, believed to be 29 years old, as much as to honor his grandfather, who ruled for nearly half a century before dying in 1994. Kim Jong-un now has “all the formal levers of power,” says Lee Jong-min, dean of the graduate school of international studies at Yonsei University, “and this is the world’s most militarized state.”

Mr. Lee believes Kim Jong-un, like his father Kim Jong-il, who died in December, feels a special need to demonstrate his military strength since he has no real military experience beyond the few years that North Korean propaganda claims he spent at the country’s military academy. “This young chap has to burnish his military credentials,” says Lee, though “I don’t think anyone in North Korea is going to tell him to his face” that he has little or no military experience.


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