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Political leadership in North Korea: Toward a conceptual understanding of Kim Il Sung's leadership behavior Byung ChulKoh UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT CHICAGO CIRCLE TO me, the most striking dimension of the North Korean political system is the extraordinary degree to which it is dominated by its supreme leader, Kim Il Sung. Not only has he monopolized power in P'yöngyang for the past quarter century, but he has become the object of a personality cult whose intensity and magnitude defy imagination. If, as seems true, Kim Il Sung is the most important phenomenon in North Korea today , then how can one account for it? Just what are its salient dimensions ? What are some of its more significant antecedents and correlates? What are some of its more notable consequences for the North Korean political system? These questions, no matter how elusive, would seem to be well worth pursuing for the light they may throw on the nature, dynamics, and implications of the largely enigmatic but nonetheless fascinating phenomenon that is North Korea. The potential utility of studying North Korean political leadership, focusing on the leadership behavior of Kim Il Sung and guided by an explicit conceptual framework, is vastly enhanced by the possiblity of comparative analysis. Since the most striking attribute of the South Korean political system also happens to be the pivotal role of its unchallenged leader, Park Chung Hee, who has monopolized power in Seoul for the past seventeen years, a potentially fruitful comparison between the two cases may be attempted. The fact that North and South Korea share many legacies, having existed as an integrated political and sociocultural entity for more than twelve centuries (668-1945), makes such a comparison particularly attractive. Having said all this, I must hasten to point out the enormity of the methodological obstacles that have plagued and continue to plague any 140KOH attempts at a rigorous analysis of North Korean politics. Simply put, hard empirical data on the most pivotal aspects of North Korean politics—such as its decision-making processes, recruitment and mobility patterns of its political, bureaucratic, and military elites, the cognitive, affective, and evaluative orientations of both its elites and citizens—are nonexistent. Nor are they likely to be forthcoming in the near future. While Pyongyang's decision to open its doors to selected American journalists and scholars is most encouraging, the stringent restrictions that have thus far been placed upon visitors have been very crippling and the impressions and insights that they have brought out of that hermit kingdom appear to have added very little to our cumulative wisdom—or illusions—about North Korea. In short, no matter how theoretically informed and oriented one may be and no matter how versatile, innovative , and sharp one's methodological tools, one is constrained to rely on that familiar but singularly haphazard approach—an impressionistic analysis of fragmentary, dubious, and esoteric evidence. It would be presumptuous of me to suggest that such an endeavor would generate anything more than a set of highly speculative hypotheses. A further limitation of my article is that it will explore only selected dimensions of Kim Il Sung's leadership behavior. To attempt more fully to explore its diverse dimensions would require a book, rather than a paper. No claim is made therefore that the composite picture of Kim Il Sung's political leadership which will emerge from this paper, to the extent that it is plausible, will be a complete, even a comprehensive, one. In short, what I propose to do is simply to generate some hypotheses about selected aspects of Kim Il Sung's leadership behavior. I shall begin by briefly outlining a conceptual framework that guides my inquiry. I will then delineate what appear to be salient aspects of Kim Il Sung's leadership behavior. Next, I shall explore some factors that, in my view, help to place Kim's behavior in perspective. Finally, I will speculate about the probable impact of Kim's leadership behavior on the North Korean political system. A Conceptual Framework for the Study of North Korean Political Leadership Although I have already indicated that this article focuses on aspects of Kim Il Sung's leadership behavior, I...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1529
Print ISSN
0145-840X
Pages
pp. 139-157
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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