NK Military

Kim Jong Il Can’t Feed His Army this Winter

The last 12 months have been unusual, even for North Korea, on several levels. There has been the rise in aggression against the South, the accelerating loss of economic control by the regime, an unusually cold winter, unusually severe electricity shortages, and now, an apparent erosion of control over the military. I’ve read a lot of stories about this being a hard year for North Korean soldiers, and for the most part, this is something new. In the past, the regime has successfully preserved a system of priorities that channeled most of the food supply — particularly international food aid — to the military, at the expense of the civilian population. Thanks to the Great Confiscation, this has been a hard year for civilians, too. But the decline in international food aid means that the army is going hungry along with everyone else.

Hence, perhaps, the desperation.

According to this report (in Korean), the Army has begun sending soldiers home on leave to bring back food. It’s consistent with a number of similar reports we’ve read in the last two months:

– a report that civilians are being “asked” to donate food to the army,

– a report that North Korean soldiers are freezing for lack of uniforms,

– reports of increased desertions by hungry soldiers, and

– a report that even the Special Forces have begun looting from the civilian population out of hunger.

With North Korea, you have to view every report skeptically, but I think we’ve seen enough reports to provide reasonable support for a very general conclusion. The conclusion I draw is that North Korea is having trouble feeding and supplying its soldiers, and that this is having a severe effect on morale and discipline.

Recall also that a few years back, the Daily NK published guerrilla video of a starving soldier who was discharged and sent home to die. We’ve seen few reports like that in the intervening years, until now. Experts will caution you that even in the North Korean military, some animals are more equal than others. That’s why the hunger among the Special Forces would be so significant, if true. You have to think that when North Korea can’t feed the army anymore, anything is possible.


  1. So if Little Fatso I/II don’t even feed their “elite” Special Forces, maybe they redefined the word “elite”. After they feed themselves, maybe redefined “elite” military to mean the border forces. That way, those soldiers will have less incentive to barge into China, for example, looking for food, clothes, firewood, coal, etc. It seems to me that if NK has that much of a problem w/shortages for the military, and the shortages extend throughout the entire military, news about NK soldiers running around inside northeast China would have leaked by now. Of course, maybe this has become a big problem, and maybe the PRC can keep it secret, but I kinda doubt it. And maybe NK placed its absolute best-fed of all soldiers at Panmunjom – the last thing they would want is for living skeletons staggering around and dropping dead right in front of free-world cameras, and/or mass defections of soldiers across the southern border. This kinda ties into the theme, IIRC, of how the allies should sorta stir low-intensity insurrection/rebellion inside NK that Mr. Stanton has recommended here more than once. Of course it would never work for too many reasons, and I have no idea how to make it actually happen, but Sun Tzu would probably suggest that we should “make available” a few million MRE’s, evenly distributed, across North Korea, with appropriate reading material (informational/evangelical/etc.) written in colloquial northern Korean, included inside each one. IOW, subdue the adversary without a shot fired . . .


  2. If your source reports are correct then, for the first time in DPRK history, the Army no longer trusts the Party due to hunger and mental incompetence brought on by extreme old age of a Dictator. If it is true that the army of the DPRK are now openly starving, then Beijing better start gearing up for Karma.


  3. Let us be careful how we define Special Forces. Many of the so called SF in the DPRK are simply mechanized forces whose USSR-era tanks and APCs have broken down, rusted, or cannot be repaired because the parts are no longer available. So KJI orders them to train as light infantry and they are given commando missions such as striking the southernmost areas of the ROK. If these troop formations are hungry it is not an equivalent to the US Army Green Berets or US Navy SEALs going hungry.


  4. Something strange is going on.

    Last month Good Friends reported that the right of the military to “accession” crops was removed by Party order. Then in its latest report, Good Friends indicates that one military food storage facility was empty, and that officers had to confiscate farmers’ seed corn for their own food — noting that this confiscation was illegal inasmuch as the Army no longer had the right to demand its tithe.

    This suggests a serious power struggle between Army and Party and indeed, every pronouncement from the new Baby Kim appears to advocate the punishment of one or other military group. The elevation of Kim Jong Un is a slap in the face to the military, absolutely.

    I agree with KCJ that ordinary conscripts aren’t Special Forces, and that even among the (recently greatly increased) Special Forces, there are gradations. I also agree that the DPRK Special Forces are like the Japanese Special Naval Forces of World War 2, highly trained infantrymen. Only the grunts on the ground take territory — and it can be their own territory just as much as their enemy’s. From personal experience, I know that forces are loyal to their commanders first, and hold all politicians in disdain compared to them.

    The military is addicted to storing stuff, especially food, “just in case.” An empty storage facility suggests either that the recent famine of 2010 was very severe indeed, and that the anecdotes of worker units plundering their stores may also have reflected military misbehavior too — or that the food was removed by a more senior and more powerful force, for nefarious purposes — like feeding the real Special Forces, in case the Army really gets so disillusioned with the Party that it takes over properly, and does not just be assuaged by the recently abandoned Military First policy under the Party…

    I favor the view that the DPRK is just wearing out: after two generations of deplorable harvests and moribund commerce, all food stores are short, special army units are hoarding, the entire nation is just ready to dissolve into a condition even worse than Zimbabwe, and that there is a serious danger of civil strife between Party and Army.

    Bring it on.


  5. With the background of a political purge underway, and the transfer of power in the offing, it stands to reason that there is great insecurity everywhere within and without the KWP right now. I agree with David, and believe events could possibly precipitate a Ceaucescu moment involving a stand down between the population and the regulars on one side, and the Party and the DPRK “SF” on the other. The real question is how loyal will those military members on the regime’s side be? Will they fight for the Suryeong Kim Il-sung to the death?

    The other atmospheric to factor in is that the Juche cult is becoming more rigorous and more complusory in order to combat outside information that is leaking surging in. This includes a spike up in public executions. Something’s got to give. Even the Big Brother to the north knows that time is almost up for the Juche cult which the PRC despises. If the state-to-state WikiLeaks traffic is to be trusted, the pendulum swing in China is towards a reunified Korea under a Seoul government.

    At some point the gun-held-to-the-head religion of Juche will cause the national morale to completely collapse because anything will be better than starving, freezing, and working to death in order to placate a dead man mothballed in a mausaleum in Pyongyang.


  6. I wonder what would happen if the spark to light a fire came within Pyongyang?

    From the documentaries and other sources, North Koreans seem to accept the concentration camps not only out of fear but also out of belief in the propaganda they have been taught since birth: that those fellow North Koreans are betrayers of the nation and the cause of all the misery in the North (along with the United States). In short, North Koreans seem willing to watch inhumane treatment of fellow NK’s if they are demonized by the government.

    So, if a revolt takes place in the northern border region or other remote areas, I can picture the North Korean military annihilating while the masses watch. I don’t say it is certain to happen, but it will be much harder for the spark that brings the regime down to come from non-elite areas of NK territory.

    But — what if some revolt by military units or sizable street protests took place inside Pyongyang or some other area that is considered privileged in Korean society?

    How easy will it be for military units to mow down members of the privileged classes if they see them rising up?

    The privileged classes are given privilege for a reason: The regime has deemed their support important for survival. The regime cannot survive by the will of the Kim family and handful of cronies only. It needs a certain percentage fo the population to support it and provide it a foundation.

    If that foundation is seen to be cracking — the spark might build quickly into a fire…

    And over the last ten years at least, it is hard to believe that the privileged classes can maintain loyalty to the regime forever given the amount of suffering and deprivation they endure – not to mention what they have seen happening to WAY TOO MANY of their fellow citizens – even if those citizens are not part of the privileged classes…


  7. usinkorea, excellent points. I would definitely be watching the currency policy. My (very incomplete) understanding is that the Yen, the Yuan, the USD and the ROK Won are all preferred to the DPRK Won among the upperclassers. If any currency policy handicaps the privileged to the point of pain, they may side with those outside Pyongyang. The problem is that there is no way for the masses to guage the temperature of any potential dissidence and no alternative to the current system other than gulags and civil war. Not attractive choices.



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