Divergent courses, 1980–92 The Kim Jong Il ascendancy – The ROK Fifth Republic – The
During the 1980s, the pressures and contradictions that had marked both Koreas in the 1970s grew more acute. In the North, pressures arose from a failing economy and an ageing guerilla leadership that continued to reject the trends towards reform and restructuring widely practised in other socialist economies. In October 1980, the Sixth KWP Congress publicly acclaimed Kim Jong Il as Kim Il Sung’s successor, and in the years that followed his ideological works were accorded the canonical status previously reserved for his father. Meanwhile, a deteriorating economy and balance of foreign trade led to efforts to boost light industry and streamline the foreign trade bureaucracy in 1984. Whether such policies might have eventually led Pyongyang towards liberalization is moot, however, because the leadership soon countermanded them in favour of a major revival of economic and strategic ties with the Soviet Union. During 1985-89, the Soviet Union provided massive economic assistance to the DPRK in return for military concessions, but its undertaking to renovate the DPRK economy was costly and ineffective. As Mikhail Gorbachev consolidated his hold on the Soviet leadership and launched policies of perestroika, Moscow began to retreat from its commitments to the DPRK, and this again exposed major weaknesses in the unreformed economy of the North. The cost to the country and its people of this continuing decline grew steadily as the state grew less and less able to provide for the basic needs of its citizens. Meanwhile, as the DPRK fell further and further behind the South in economic and military assets, the conventional military option for the reunification of Korea faded. This led its leaders to turn their attention more and more to irregular warfare and to weapons of mass destruction, although no longer as instruments of coherent strategy but rather as a means of keeping its adversaries off-balance and for buying time.