“War readiness” is better than “everyday readiness” in North Korea

Monday 24th August, 2015

For many KPA soldiers, being in a ‘quasi-state of war’ may actually mean good news.

Image via Rodong Sinmun.

North Korea declared a ‘quasi-state of war’ at 1700 on August 21. According to internal protocol, entering into this state of readiness puts the military on a full combat-readiness footing. It also switches the internal communications systems to the ‘Supreme Command communications system’. This means that all relevant updates are relayed directly to the Supreme Commander for ratification. This system was adopted under Kim Jong Il so that decision-making in response to rapid changes in developments could occur swiftly.

Nevertheless, to enter into a ‘quasi-state of war’ means something slightly different for North Korean soldiers on combat-readiness status in the trenches. Park Yong Cheol (28) served in a KPA government-protection unit under the 5thCorps in Cheolwon, Kangwon Province. He says, “The KPA conducts military exercises according to the current developing circumstances. But during normal periods, it’s hard to tell the difference between a soldier and a labourer, even on the front line. Soldiers spend more time wielding construction tools than guns.”

But when military exercises begin, the military rations and nutrition system begins to provide regular meals to soldiers. Park explains, “People may say the North Korean government is economically powerless and corrupt, but provisions for war readiness and a ration system for soldiers participating in military exercises remains relatively intact. Equipment, uniforms and food needed during wartime is stored separately, and provided to soldiers during military exercises. Soldiers also become exempt from obligatory participation in construction projects, because they become exempt from labour mobilization.”

“The living conditions are always better for soldiers during periods of heightened war readiness, more so than during the regular annual military exercises. We were glad when tensions on the peninsula were high, wanting it to last as long as possible.”

During this period, violence and assaults inside the military also tends to be lower, according to refugee accounts. “Commanders and officers who regularly beat lower-ranked soldiers avoid such physical situations with rank and file men. This is because it is seen as a counter-productive measure during wartime,” Park explained.

Chae Min Seob (34) told us, “When North Korea declares a ‘quasi-state of war’, the first step is for residents of the corresponding area to be mobilized for participation in ‘blackout and tunnel drills’. Children, students of primary, middle and high school age, and all adult workers, are mobilized to participate in wartime simulation. People tend to enjoy these types of mobilisation more than regular mobilisation. Because this is one time they don’t need to worry about earning to compensate for material mobilisation [where you offer up an allocation of labour, money or items to the party with no compensation]. One downside to a ‘quasi-state of war’ being declared is that local market prices fluctuate, with the price of foodstuffs increasing.”


Reporting by Lee, Cheol-Mu.

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