October 1991

Chapter 2


Government Organization

The Supreme People's Assembly is a unicameral body directly elected every 4 years. In theory, it selects the President, makes laws, establishes foreign policy, approves the budget, and declares war. In reality, it is a passive, rubber-stamp organization that never deviates from party directives. The president, who is also a member of the Central People's Committee, has the most powerful position. He is elected to 4-year terms, with no limit to the number of terms. Although his powers are described only generally, the president must assent to all laws and government decisions, is the commander in chief of the armed forces, and provides direct guidance to the Administrative Council.

The Central People's Committee, as the executive decisionmaking body, is the highest overseer of government. It consists of the president, vice presidents, and other Politburo members. This body combines executive, judicial, and legislative functions and provides guidance to the Administrative Council, the highest administrative arm of the government. The Administrative Council --- whose members include the premier, vice premiers, and ministers --- functions like a cabinet.

Party Organization

Founded officially in August 1948, the North Korean Workers' Party immediately altered the economic and political structure. Major changes included land reform, which directly affected about 70 percent of the people, and nationalizing Japanese-owned businesses and industry. Returning Koreans who had lived in the USSR and China eased the transition to communism. When Kim Il-song consolidated power in the 1950s, he exiled most Soviet and Chinese Communists, as well as any communists from the southern part of the peninsula and replaced them with Koreans who had fought with Kim against the Japanese or during the Korean war.

The North Korean Workers' Party is open to mass membership and does not recruit from any specific class. Official party membership in 1989 was over 3 million. The government, the most important link between the people and the party, executes and monitors the party line. Kim Il-song holds all key party positions, and party officials hold all important positions in the government, the economy, and the military. The Party Congress nominally is the highest deliberative organization. It is slated to convene about every 4 years. However, there were only six party congresses in the last 48 years, only two in the last 21 years, and none in the last 11 years. Handpicked candidates ratify Central Committee actions. The Central Committee, which schedules the Congresses, is the real decisionmaking body. It directs the party bureaucracy, convening every 6 months between Congresses.

As secretary general of the Central Committee, Kim Il-song actually rules the Central Committee. This committee then selects 30 members that form the Political Bureau (Politburo). The Standing Committee, a group of three to five Politburo members, holds the ultimate power. The Politburo shares policymaking responsibility for military affairs with the Military Affairs Committee of the Korean Workers' Party, both of which Kim Il-song heads.

In the government, the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces is responsible for overseeing the military. The General Staff Department and Rear Services General Bureau of the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces (MPAF) prepare annual budgets for the armed services under direction from the Politburo and Military Affairs Committee using information on weapons and equipment from national and corps commands. The proposed budget is approved by the Military Affairs Committee, reviewed by the National Planning Committee, and codified by the Supreme People's Assembly, North Korea's nominal legislature.

Party Control of the Armed Forces

The Korean Workers' Party controls the military through political corps down to the company level. Two MPAF departments share responsibility for ensuring KPA personnel loyalty. The Political Department controls political and ideological training, ensuring military commanders follow correct procedures for training, discipline, and administration. The Political Security Department oversees military personnel surveillance, including political and command officers. Questionable political reliability can result in arrest and discharge. A discharge for political reasons severely restricts future opportunities for civilian employment and education and prompts civilian security agency surveillance.

Military Organization

The General Staff Department controls all national combat commands. Major combat commands include all corps, the Light Infantry Training Guidance Bureau, the Reconnaissance Bureau, the Navy, the Air Force, and some combat support units. Artillery and mechanized commands are responsible for administration, logistics, and training for the field artillery, air defense artillery, armor, and mechanized infantry units. Corps commands plan wartime operations using directives from the General Staff Department. The Korean People's Army is a mobile, well-trained fighting force. From a total population of only 21 million, North Korea can field the fifth largest armed force in the world. A trained reserve force of up to 5 million augments the Army of about 1 million active duty personnel. The ground maneuver forces include 30 infantry divisions, 1 truck-mobile division, 22 to 26 reserve divisions, 18 reserve brigades, 15 armored brigades, 20 motorized and mechanized brigades, 4 independent infantry brigades, and 22 special operations brigades.

These forces are equipped with about 3,500 tanks, 4,000 armored personnel carriers, 3,000 towed and 5,400 self-propelled artillery pieces, and over 2,000 multiple rocket launches. The 80,000-member Air Force provides air support. Combat aircraft include 82 bombers and more than 700 jet fighters (including the MiG-23/FLOGGER, the MiG-29/FULCRUM, and the Su-25/FROGFOOT). Approximately 250 An-2/COLTs, 1950s vintage biplanes, comprise most of the air transport fleet. Although old, these aircraft are well-suited to their mission and can deliver over 2,500 troops in a single lift.

Over 8,800 air defense artillery pieces and SA-2, SA-3, SA-5, and SA-7 surface-to-air missiles provide ground-based air defense.

The North Korean Navy has two fleets, operating from a total of eight major locations on both coasts. Its 60,000 personnel operate 24 submarines, 1 frigate, 388 patrol and coastal combatants, and 194 amphibious craft. The Navy can move over 6,000 troops in a single sealift.

To support military options, the North has established additional combat support units and a large supply of war reserves.

Tank, motorized infantry, and self-propelled artillery corps are located forward, increasing defensive effectiveness and making them more responsive as exploitation forces. This forward positioning of infantry, armored, and artillery units near the South Korean border eliminates many attack warning indicators, making defense against a North Korean attack more difficult.