The World This Year

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The World This Year
North Korea in 2023: Military buildups and Close Connections with Russia

  Kuri Sravan Kumar
Kuri Sravan Kumar is a PhD scholar at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi.

In East Asia, North Korea remained in the limelight in 2023. It was an essential year for the following: the Korean People's Army (KPA), which completed the 75th year; the Armistice Agreement completed 70 years; and diplomatic relations with Russia marked the 75th year. In 2023, defence upgradation and economic growth were better than last year. Kim Jong-un's daughter was introduced to Korea. No progress in inter-Korean relations. 

In the 78th session of the UNGA, 2023, North Korean UN Ambassador Kim Song stated, "2023 has been recorded as an extremely dangerous year that the military security situation in and around the Korean peninsula was driven closer to the brink of a nuclear war."

Major Developments in 2023
North Korea started 2023 with top leaders visiting the Kumsusan Palace to pay tribute to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, along with other events. 2023 witnessed stable development in the national economy and substantial changes in improving Korean living standards along with political development and security concerns. Several news flats are constructed near Pyongyang, one of the key resolutions from the eighth WPK Congress, and the infrastructure of North Korea is gradually changing. Inter-Korean relations stagnate with no future progress.

In January, the eighth session of the 14th Supreme Peoples Assembly (SPA) of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) was held in Pyongyang, and various agendas were discussed. Again, in September, the ninth session of the 14th SPA was conveyed, and five new members were added to the cabinet. The SPA is focused on implementing the 8th Congress of WPK's five-year plan, which promised the 12 major national economic development goals.

In March, the Seventh Plenary of the 8th Workers Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee assembled, and some new members were elected and discussed several subjects. Again, in June, the Eighth Plenary meeting of the 8th WPK Central Committee was assembled, and some new and alternative members joined the WPK Central Committee.

Two big celebrations marked this year as the Korean People's Army (KPA), which was founded on February 8, 1948, completed the 75th year mark. 

Growing connections with Russia
In July, North Korea celebrated the Armistice Agreement, 70th anniversary, victory in the Korean War. Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu participated and met with high officials. 

In September, Kim Jong-un visited Russia after the last visit in 2019 and met with Putin and other top leaders. They both visited the Vostachny Cosmodrome- Russian Space launching base. They discussed "further consolidating the friendship and solidarity and cooperative relations and boosting mutual trust by deepening the many-sided exchange and cooperation in various fields including high-level visits between the two countries." Kim Jong-un visited Komsomolsk-Amur Yuri Gagarin, an aviation plant major industrial city in the Far Eastern region of Russia, Vladivostok city, and other places.

On 12 October, DPRK-Russia completed its 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations. In October, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited North Korea and held high-level talks on joint efforts in many fields. In November, a Russian government delegation led by Minister of Natural Resources and Ecology Alexander Kozov visited the NK and discussed cooperation in trade, the economy, and science and technology. This trip emphasizes the future cooperation between DPRK and Russia.

Military buildups: Missile Tests
In 2023, North Korea conducted several drills and launched missiles. In February, drills were conducted using strategic cruise missiles and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM). In March, the DPRK's strategic force, the ICBM Hwasongho-17, was launched from Pyongyang with a "maximum altitude of 6045 km and flew a distance of 1000.2 km for 4151s before accurately landing on the preset area in the open waters of the East Sea of Korea." According to North Korea, the "drill was aimed at confirming the mobile and normal operation and reliability of DPRK's nuclear war deterrent." In July, the ICBM Hwasongpho-18 was fired with a "maximum attitude of 6648.4 km and flew a distance of 1001.2 km for 4491s before accurately landing on the preset area in the open waters of the East Sea of Korea." It is for a strategic force enhancement and long-term plan of nuclear force.

On 6 September, a tactical nuclear attack submarine No. 841, "Kim Kun Ok," was inaugurated in medium size. On 21November, DPRK's National Aerospace Technology Administration (NATA) successfully launched the new type- carrier rocket Chollima-1, loaded with the reconnaissance satellite Malligyong-1, at the Sohoe satellite launching ground, North Phyongan. Regarding the success of the satellite, the DPRK's Ministry of National Defence stated that the "step pertains to the right to self-defense and the legitimate and just exercise of sovereignty which is aimed at closely monitoring and thoroughly with various military moves of the enemy around the Korean Peninsula."

According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), "the number of young volunteers for the sacred struggle to defend the country is increasing day by day, more than 1.4 million young people across the country have offered to join or rejoin the Korean People's Army." The military enrollment is inclined by the policies of Songun (military-first) and Byungjin (focus on nuclear and economic strengths).

North Korea in 2024: Looking ahead
In 2023, North Korea gradually leaned toward the Russian umbrella. However, no Chinese leader visited North Korea, and neither the top leader of the DPRK visited China. The recent geopolitical changes are drawing the DPRK-Russia relations much closer. In the second half of 2023, a crucial period between both nations as several high officials visited each other nations. 

In 2024, North Korea and Russia may focus more on trade, economics, and aerospace cooperation. The Russian and DPRK economic and military cooperation is inclined, which may again lead to distrust between the Korean Peninsula.

The WPK is strictly planning to avoid repeating past mistakes and focus on implementing the goals of the 8th Congress. If North Korea achieved the goals of the eighth Congress WPK, then the rank of Kim Jong-un may be equal to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Kim Jong-un aims to provide the necessities to North Korea to enhance the importance of Byungjin, which aims to provide economic and nuclear strength. Economic growth is essential to Kim Jong-un's government.

The Ukraine war proved that security must be a North Korea's top priority. Therefore, Kim Jong-un will not give up its nuclear weapons, which is the most significant achievement of DPRK. Therefore, sanctions may continue, and Inter-Korean relations will not progress. Overall, North Korean society may experience the worst of all, and Kim's regime continues. 

The trust defiance is increasing in inter-Korean relations. Inter-Korean relations have completely stagnated, with no progress near any place. The 2023 upgrade of the DPRK's defense reflects the complete disassociation of Yoon Suk-yeol's audacious plan towards North Korea, and therefore, South Korea needs to reorient its course to North Korea. 

In recent times, the North Korean issue has become more of an external issue, and South Korea has limited space for performance and improvement. However, Yoon's hands are full of internal challenges, and the initial policy on North Korea involves a multiplayer approach. Whereas America takes the ultimate decision on North Korea's imbroglio, Yoon can be a steer if the summit arrives, but it is not visible anywhere near.

About the author
Kuri Sravan Kumar is a PhD scholar at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi.

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