He reported that “According to an officer of the Military Service and Mobilization Division, the number of new recruits is only around 86% in proportion to the number of discharged soldiers. Since the military is facing recruit shortage, the state authority has ordered to conscript every potential recruit–except people with a serious physical problem. Therefore, the division has already started to go to each school to carry out medical checks for the next recruitment in the coming spring. It is because parents often scheme to prevent their children from getting drafted–such as faking sickness–when the recruitment season approaches. This time, the Military Service and Mobilization Division has intended to conduct medical checks before the evasion occurs.” [Rimjin-gang]
On one level, this report fits with multiple reports of low morale, lean rations, and rampant disease in some North Korean army units. I’ll also offer a major caveat to this story: many North Korean military units are really just glorified construction brigades. I often suspect that the soldiers in those units are drafted as much to keep North Korea’s population of young men busy, tired, and under close observation as for the labor they perform. The regime can afford to let those non-elite units be hollowed out without a significant impact on readiness, at least until it calls on those units to suppress local unrest, or to replace losses in front-line units in the event of war. To assess impacts on military readiness, focus on front-line units, especially those along the western corridor of the DMZ and along the Yalu River border with China. Nonetheless, the story is indicative of changing attitudes in North Korean society. That’s a trend we should be doing everything we can to catalyze.