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.