Prior to North Korean Party Congress, Weapons Tests Show Kim's in Charge | Web version

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May 25, 2016

International Affairs

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un claps during a photo session at a meeting of military and political cadres in this undated photo released by the KCNA, February 2, 2015


Prior to North Korean Party Congress, Weapons Tests Show Kim's in Charge

Earlier this month, North Korea held its first Workers' Party Congress since 1980. The event was Kim Jong-un's effort to show he has consolidated his rule and transferred power from the military to the Workers' Party. In the months leading up to the Congress, North Korea attempted in various ways to demonstrate Kim's successes and empowerment, including a nuclear weapons test, many missile tests, and interactions with regional countries. But many of these tests and his other initiatives were failures, raising serious questions about the true stability of his regime.

RAND's Bruce Bennett has been following developments on the Korean peninsula for years and has analyzed North Korea's recent provocative actions and possible responses in a series of articles.

Featured Commentary

Does North Korea Really Have an H-Bomb?

Kim Jong Un addresses the fourth conference of artillery personnel of the KPA

Written shortly after North Korea's announcement that it had created a hydrogen bomb, Bennett describes the difficulties of mastering the fusion process necessary to develop a hydrogen weapon and notes that it is unlikely that North Korea has learned how to produce a classical hydrogen bomb with megaton-class explosive power. Bennett suggests a two-fold reason that Kim made the claim: he needs to periodically demonstrate his power to a suffering domestic population and a questioning senior leadership that continues to suffer from his brutality, and he wants to show his strength to the outside world in order to deter military and other coercive threats against him.   Read more »

North Korea Rocket Launch: Why Did Kim Fire a Missile Now?

A North Korean long-range rocket is launched at the Sohae launch site in North Korea

Analyzing North Korea's February missile launch, Bennett writes, "While this launch will assist North Korea in mastering several characteristics of long-range missiles, North Korea does not yet appear to have a viable ICBM with a nuclear warhead that could reach the US." He suggests that North Korea may have chosen the timing of the launch to give Kim Jong-un a clear success before the Seventh Party Congress and make him appear to be a strong leader.   Read more »

THAAD's Effect on South Korea's Neighbors

Two THAAD interceptors and a Standard-Missile 3 Block IA missile being launched at a test site

Following North Korea's nuclear and missile tests, the United States and South Korea announced they would begin formal talks on deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea. In this piece from The Cipher Brief, Bennett discusses the regional implications of deploying the missile defense system and explains why China in particular is rankled by talks of stationing THAAD on the Korean peninsula. China's opposition to the system could be a diversionary tactic motivated by its failure to influence North Korea's behavior.   Read more »

Behind North Korea's Bid for a 'Peace Treaty'

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a meeting of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) Central Military Commission

What are the motivations of North Korea's peace overtures to the United States? Bennett notes that while pressing for a peace treaty with the United States, North Korea has resorted to military threats as it tries to compel the United States to negotiate. North Korean leaders likely hope that a peace treaty would destroy the rationale for U.S. military presence in South Korea, leading to a cancellation of the U.S.-South Korean alliance and a withdrawal of U.S. forces from South Korea. Without U.S. forces, South Korea would be vulnerable to a North Korean invasion. By insisting on a peace treaty, North Korea is probably not seeking peace, but war.   Read more »

Learn More

See more RAND work on our North Korea topic page, or contact for additional information or to speak with Bruce Bennett or any other RAND expert.

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Director, Office of Congressional Relations

Kurt Card
Legislative Analyst

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