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DPRK - Military Personnel

Officials in North Korea have begun conscripting people previously exempted from compulsory military service to counter the effects of a shortage of recruits due to the country’s rapidly decreasing birth rate, North Korean sources told Radio Free Asia. The country’s birth rate had sharply declining since a devastating famine hit the country in the mid-1990s during which several millions of North Koreans died of malnutrition and starvation. This was followed by the government’s discontinuation of food distribution.

Because the majority of those who perished were children, the country now faced a shortage of young people of conscription age, RFA reported 12 August 2016. “Recently, the Central Party partially cancelled some recruitment regulations because of a decrease in the number of military-age recruits,” a source in North Hamgyong province told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity. In the past, those who were the only son in their families, whose parents worked on collective farms, or who were the children of mine workers did not have to join the military, he said.

“A new recruitment regulation requires that all men up to their mid-30s, who have been exempt from the military in the past, now serve,” he said. Recent university graduates who have been exempt from military service, those who work in factories, and those who have a family are now among the citizens being recruited, the source said.

In spite of government directives mandating that North Korean high school students serve in the military after they graduate, children of the country’s wealthy families can duck active service by the payment of bribes or through childhood selection to a prestigious academy. By government order, all North Korean men must now enter the military on graduation at age 17 or 18 and serve for 13 years, with women joining on graduation at the same age and required to serve from seven to eight years. Exemptions are routinely made, though, for young North Koreans placed on an advanced academic track through enrollment in the country’s elite Number One High School. This is why wealthy families and the families of top executives do everything they can, and spend whatever they have to, to ensure their children are accepted to the school.

By late 2015 a number of scholars both in South Korea and other countries concluded that the North Korean army was composed of around 700,000 soldiers. This is 500,000 fewer than the South Korean government’s official estimate of 1.2 million soldiers that appeared in the 2014 white paper by the Ministry of National Defense, or the 1,020,000 in recent editions of the authoritative IISS Military Balance.

“It can be inferred that the approximate size of the North Korean regular army is between 500,000 on the low side and 750,000 on the high side,” said Sogang University Professor Jeong Yeong-cheol in a report commissioned by the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee. The report was titled “Population Statistics and Social Change in North Korea: Changes in the Education System and a New Estimate of the Size of the Army.”

Satoru Miyamoto, a professor at Japan’s Seigakuin University, estimated the strength of the Korean People’s Army at 702,372. Satoru made the estimate in a paper titled “The Military Organization and Strength of the Korean People’s Army,” which he presented at the World Conference on North Korean Studies, held in Seoul in October 2015.

The reserve forces in North Korea are composed of the Reserve Military Training Unit, which is a subject of combat mobilization, the Worker-Peasant Red Army established by workplace and region, the Red Youth Guard, which is a military organization in middle schools (advanced classes), and paramilitary units. The age eligibility of mobilization is between 14 and 60 years old, which corresponds to 7.7 million people or roughly 30% of the population.

Military spending is estimated at as much as a quarter of GNP, with up to 20% of men ages 17-54 in the regular armed forces in some form or another. Out of every 1,000 people, 40 serve in uniform. By comparison, the ROK has 14 of every 1,000 people serving in uniform. The DPRK maintains imposing forces in terms of numbers. Over 1,200,000 personnel serve in the active forces, with reserve forces totaling over 5,000,000, making it the fourth largest military force in the world.

All junior officers under company commander level are now required residence inside their base or unit barracks until the age of thirty and are forbidden to marry while on the base. The quality of life of the enlisted soldier is difficult to evaluate. Conditions are harsh; rations are no more than 700 to 850 grams per day, depending on branch and service. Leave and passes are limited and strictly controlled. A two-week leave is allowed, although rarely granted, only once or twice during an entire enlistment. Passes for enlisted personnel are even more rare; neither day nor overnight passes are granted. During tours of duty, day passes are granted for public affairs duties or KWP-related activities. There is conflicting information about the frequency of corporal punishment and the harshness of military justice.

Minimum service periods [as of 1997] were as follows: 5 to 8 years (army), 3 to 4 years (air force), and 5 to 10 years (navy). Those not able to serve actively for that period of time are enlisted Red Guard militia, a large paramilitary force. Active service is followed by part-time service in the military reserves or service in the Worker-Peasant Red Guard to age 60.

Candidates for officers are selected from the enlisted ranks, and candidates receive officers' training at either Kanggun Military Academy, the Kim Jung-sook Naval Academy, or Kim Chaek Air Force Academy. Political officers are picked by the party and receive their commissions after education at Kim Il-sung Political University.




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