With the news that North Korea has agreed to halt uranium enrichment and allow inspectors into the country to verify its nuclear activities, we are probably going to hear from pundits making claims about Central Military Commission Vice-Chairman Kim Jong Eun’s role in this decision and whether it marks a sea change in the North Korean leadership. What I would like to emphasize is that this deal was negotiated before the National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong Il passed away. While there was some pushback on the amount of food aid and the composition of food aid, the announced details for aid do not mark a major shift from initial positions (based off US assessment of North Korean needs), although it does indicate some concessions from North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs which was supposedly angling for a larger amount of aid.
As such, I don’t think we can at this point draw any strong conclusions as to whether Kim Jong Eun’s leadership will indicate a significant policy shift from before, but rather, conciliatory measures seem in line with ongoing trends from 2011 which emphasized economic development and standard of living over traditional security themes.
There could still be significant changes down the line, but we believe people will start mistakenly attributing North Korean policy trends emerging in 2011 that were not covered by the media as changes implemented in 2012 because of a new leadership.