North's military posture has become defensive in character, with the capability to lash out if attacked but unable to mount a serious invasion to occupy South Korea. Most of the North's military equipment is antiquated. The North's military has not been tested in battle since the Korean War. Military training has been hampered by fuel shortages, particularly for the air force. Moreover, even some frontline troops appear malnourished.
DPRK military policy focuses on maintaining and sustaining a military force capable of conducting an offensive operation into the ROK to attain the national goal of reunifying the peninsula. It is based on three fundamental and interconnected concepts shaped by Kim Il-song's vision of the future of the Korean Peninsula:
- Eventual reunification,
- DPRK regime survival and leadership of a unified Korea, and
- the application of military force to achieve reunification.
North Korean military doctrine has evolved through as many as four stages since the founding of the KPA in February 1948. North Korean military writings derive from Marxism-Leninism through the conduit of "Kim Il Sung Thought." Kim Il Sung is credited with virtually everything in North Korean military thought, from Lenin's reformulation of Clausewitz's classic definition of war to basic squad tactics.
North Korean military thinking began as a mixture of Soviet strategic and Chinese tactical influences. At the Third Plenum of the Second KWP Central Committee in December 1950, Kim Il Sung's report, "The Present Condition and the Confronting Task," for the first time interjected North Korean combat experience into military doctrine and thought.
From 1951 to December 1962, North Korean military orthodoxy was a conventional warfare doctrine based on Soviet military doctrine and operational art modified on the basis of the Korean War experience. This duality is readily acknowledged in official publications such as the KWP journal, K'lloja (The Worker). Stalin's five "permanently operating factors," factors that determine the course and outcome of war, were directly incorporated into North Korean military doctrine. The factors are the stability of the rear, the morale of the army, the quantity and quality of divisions, the armament of the army, and the organizing ability of the command personnel. The importance of combined arms operations (armor, infantry, and artillery operating in close coordination) also reflects strong Soviet influence.
North Korean military doctrine shifted dramatically in December 1962 away from the doctrine of regular warfare to a doctrine that embraced people's war. At the Fifth Plenum of the Fourth KWP Central Committee in December 1962, Kim Il Sung espoused the Four Military Guidelines: to arm the entire population; to fortify the entire country; to train the entire army as a "cadre army"; and to modernize weaponry, doctrine, and tactics under the principle of self-reliance in national defense. The adoption of this military line signaled a shift from a Soviet-style strategy to a Maoist protracted war of attrition. Conventional warfare strategy was incorporated into and subordinated to the overall concept of people's war and the mobilization of the entire people through reinforcement of ideological training. These principles are formally adopted in Article 60 of the 1992 constitution.
The shift supplied the doctrinal basis for North Korea's strategy of covert infiltrations into South Korea, assassinations, and attempts at fostering insurgencies in South Korea during the late 1960s. During this period, doctrine also began to stress the need to adapt these concepts to the North Korean situation. Military thinking emphasized the necessity of light weapons, high angle indirect fire, and night fighting. Renewed emphasis was given to sea denial and coastal defense during this period.
Through the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, Kim Il Sung continued to favor the political-ideological dimension of warfare over technology or military science. A transformation began in the 1970s, when renewed emphasis was placed on conventional warfare and the modernization of the KPA.
In the August 1976 issue of K'lloja, an article by Kim Chol Man entitled "Scientific Features of Modern War and Factors of Victory" reexamines and reinterprets military doctrine. Kim dwells at length on the importance of economic development and the impact of new weapons on military strategy. Victory in war requires economic development and complete mobilization of a nation's economic potential, including a strong self-supporting munitions industry and material reserves. Military factors are considered in absolute terms rather than on the basis of North Korea's stage of development. Kim argues that the quality of arms and the level of military technology define the characteristics of war.
After some initial debate, Kim Chol Man's argument apparently was accepted and became the new orthodoxy. The primacy of conventional warfare again became doctrine. Kim's article contains several concepts that continue to influence North Korean operational art in the early 1990s; particularly influential are the concepts that emphasize the importance of operational and tactical mobility through the employment of mechanized forces, the importance of firepower throughout the depth of the battlefield, the importance of deep strikes, and the importance of command and control. Kim also stresses that each operational plan and campaign should aim at a lightning war for a quick decision.
In June 1996, DPRK Air Force Capt. Li Chol-Su, who had defected the previous month in his MIG-19 aircraft, described his understanding of the war plan, as follows: "In April 1994, Kim Jong-11 ordered the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces to make out a war plan to attack and occupy South Korea in a week. According to the North’s war plan, North Korea has a three-stage strategy to attack and occupy all of South Korea in a week. Strategically, this means overtaking Seoul in 24 hours, Taejon in the next couple of days, and Pusan and all the rest of the country in seven days. In the initial stage, the North will employ four corps of the regular army to break through the truce line. The 2nd Corps will press Seoul through the main attack corridor of Kaesong-Munsan-Seoul and seize the capital within 24 hours after the start of the invasion."
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