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North Korea-Relations Between the Military and the Korean Workers' Party

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North Korea Index

Over the years, Kim Il Sung and the political leadership clearly paid close attention to the military's political role. The military's participation in politics has been co-opted in rough proportion to the share of the country's resources it commands. The military has a dual command structure, and the party has its own organization in the military separate from the Ministry of People's Armed Forces. The senior military leadership is part of the political elite. However, disputes over policy direction and poor performance assessments by the party leadership periodically result in purges of senior military leaders. Because the causes of intrafactional struggles are policy oriented, the impact of these purges on party-military relations is both limited and temporary, and it is not uncommon for purged individuals to return to positions of responsibility. Since the 1960s, relations between the KWP and KPA have been highly cooperative and seem to reflect a stable party control system within the military.

Since 1948 the party work and political control system in the KPA has changed dramatically. At that time, the KWP had neither a separate organization dedicated to military affairs nor an organization in the KPA. During the Korean War, a party structure was introduced in order to strengthen ideological indoctrination. After the purges of the late 1950s, the control system was intensified by the creation of the army-party committee system.

In 1969 the party work system was strengthened and centralized with the adoption of a political officer system supervised by the Secretariat of the Central Committee. Since the adoption of the system, all orders and directives of commanders have required the signature of a political officer. In addition, the activities of political cadres are reported on by the Organization and Guidance Department of the party Central Committee. The political department and party committee reports are submitted through separate channels to the party Secretariat. The Socialist Working Youth League (SWYL) manages nonparty members under party leadership. Above the battalion level, there are Socialist Working Youth League committees. Under the leadership of the political department, there are youth league elements down to the platoon level.

In mid-1993 the KPA and the KWP had overlapping memberships, which strengthened the party's role in the military. With the exceptions of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, all members of the KWP Military Affairs Committee selected at the Sixth Party Congress in 1980 are active-duty military. Ten of the members also are members of the General Political Bureau. Military representation in the General Political Bureau and the Central Committee is considerable. The average rate of military participation on the Central Committee is 21 percent, ranging from a low of 17 percent in 1948, to a high of 23 percent in 1970. There was 19 percent of participation at the 1980 Sixth Party Congress, the most recent congress. The turnover rate of the military in the two committees is lower than that of civilians.

All officers are members of the KWP. Military duty is one of the most common ways of gaining party membership, and approximately 20 to 25 percent of the military are party members. The membership rates of key forward-deployed units may have been as high as 60 to 70 percent.

The party has dual access into the military: directly through the committee system and indirectly through the KWP Secretariat and political officer system. In effect, the military is allowed its own party organization, but that party organization is supervised through the KWP Secretariat. Theoretically, there is a clear functional separation between the commanding and political officers. The unit commander is responsible for all administrative and military matters while the political officer executes party policies.

Units have political officers down to the company level. Within platoons, political activities are handled by the assistant platoon leader. The tasks of the political officer are twofold: propaganda and organizational work. The political officer is responsible for all ideological training for the unit, selects the party committee, and runs all political meetings of the military units. The power of political officers derives from their ability to attend and comment on all staff meetings, to subject the commander to political criticism, to influence promotions, to inspect units, and to countersign the unit commander's orders.

Data as of June 1993

BackgroundAn independent kingdom for much of its long history, Korea was occupied by Japan beginning in 1905 following the Russo-Japanese War. Five years later, Japan formally annexed the entire peninsula. Following World War II, Korea was split with the northern half coming under Soviet-sponsored Communist control. After failing in the Korean War (1950-53) to conquer the US-backed Republic of Korea (ROK) in the southern portion by force, North Korea (DPRK), under its founder President KIM Il Sung, adopted a policy of ostensible diplomatic and economic "self-reliance" as a check against outside influence. The DPRK demonized the US as the ultimate threat to its social system through state-funded propaganda, and molded political, economic, and military policies around the core ideological objective of eventual unification of Korea under Pyongyang's control. KIM's son, the current ruler KIM Jong Il, was officially designated as his father's successor in 1980, assuming a growing political and managerial role until the elder KIM's death in 1994. After decades of economic mismanagement and resource misallocation, the DPRK since the mid-1990s has relied heavily on international aid to feed its population. North Korea's history of regional military provocations, proliferation of military-related items, long-range missile development, WMD programs including nuclear weapons test in 2006 and 2009, and massive conventional armed forces are of major concern to the international community.
LocationEastern Asia, northern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Korea Bay and the Sea of Japan, between China and South Korea
Area(sq km)total: 120,538 sq km
land: 120,408 sq km
water: 130 sq km
Geographic coordinates40 00 N, 127 00 E
Land boundaries(km)total: 1,673 km
border countries: China 1,416 km, South Korea 238 km, Russia 19 km

Coastline(km)2,495 km

Climatetemperate with rainfall concentrated in summer

Elevation extremes(m)lowest point: Sea of Japan 0 m
highest point: Paektu-san 2,744 m
Natural resourcescoal, lead, tungsten, zinc, graphite, magnesite, iron ore, copper, gold, pyrites, salt, fluorspar, hydropower
Land use(%)arable land: 22.4%
permanent crops: 1.66%
other: 75.94% (2005)

Irrigated land(sq km)14,600 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources(cu km)77.1 cu km (1999)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)total: 9.02 cu km/yr (20%/25%/55%)
per capita: 401 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazardslate spring droughts often followed by severe flooding; occasional typhoons during the early fall
Environment - current issueswater pollution; inadequate supplies of potable water; waterborne disease; deforestation; soil erosion and degradation
Environment - international agreementsparty to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution
signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea
Geography - notestrategic location bordering China, South Korea, and Russia; mountainous interior is isolated and sparsely populated
Population22,665,345 (July 2009 est.)
Age structure(%)0-14 years: 21.3% (male 2,440,439/female 2,376,557)
15-64 years: 69.4% (male 7,776,889/female 7,945,399)
65 years and over: 9.4% (male 820,504/female 1,305,557) (2009 est.)
Median age(years)total: 33.5 years
male: 32.1 years
female: 34.9 years (2009 est.)
Population growth rate(%)0.42% (2009 est.)
Birth rate(births/1,000 population)14.82 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Death rate(deaths/1,000 population)10.52 deaths/1,000 population (July 2009 est.)

Net migration rate(migrant(s)/1,000 population)-0.09 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2009 est.)
Urbanization(%)urban population: 63% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 0.9% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
Sex ratio(male(s)/female)at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.63 male(s)/female
total population: 0.95 male(s)/female (2009 est.)
Infant mortality rate(deaths/1,000 live births)total: 51.34 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 58.64 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 43.6 deaths/1,000 live births (2009 est.)

Life expectancy at birth(years)total population: 63.81 years
male: 61.23 years
female: 66.53 years (2009 est.)

Total fertility rate(children born/woman)1.96 children born/woman (2009 est.)
Nationalitynoun: Korean(s)
adjective: Korean
Ethnic groups(%)racially homogeneous; there is a small Chinese community and a few ethnic Japanese

Religions(%)traditionally Buddhist and Confucianist, some Christian and syncretic Chondogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way)
note: autonomous religious activities now almost nonexistent; government-sponsored religious groups exist to provide illusion of religious freedom

Country nameconventional long form: Democratic People's Republic of Korea
conventional short form: North Korea
local long form: Choson-minjujuui-inmin-konghwaguk
local short form: Choson
abbreviation: DPRK
Government typeCommunist state one-man dictatorship
Capitalname: Pyongyang
geographic coordinates: 39 01 N, 125 45 E
time difference: UTC+9 (14 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions9 provinces (do, singular and plural) and 2 municipalities (si, singular and plural)
provinces: Chagang-do (Chagang), Hamgyong-bukto (North Hamgyong), Hamgyong-namdo (South Hamgyong), Hwanghae-bukto (North Hwanghae), Hwanghae-namdo (South Hwanghae), Kangwon-do (Kangwon), P'yongan-bukto (North P'yongan), P'yongan-namdo (South P'yongan), Yanggang-do (Yanggang)
municipalities: Nason-si, P'yongyang-si
Constitutionadopted 1948; revised several times

Legal systembased on Prussian civil law system with Japanese influences and Communist legal theory; no judicial review of legislative acts; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction

Suffrage17 years of age; universal
Executive branchchief of state: KIM Jong Il (since July 1994); note - on 9 April 2009, rubberstamp Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) reelected KIM Jong Il chairman of the National Defense Commission, a position accorded nation's "highest administrative authority"; SPA reelected KIM Yong Nam in 2009 president of its Presidium also with responsibility of representing state and receiving diplomatic credentials
head of government: Premier KIM Yong Il (since 11 April 2007); Vice Premier KWAK Pom Gi (since 5 September 1998), Vice Premier O Su Yong (since 13 April 2009), Vice Premier PAK Su Gil (since 18 September 2009), Vice Premier PAK Myong Su (since 4 September 2009), Vice Premier RO Tu Chol (since 3 September 2003)
cabinet: Naegak (cabinet) members, except for Minister of People's Armed Forces, are appointed by SPA
elections: last held in September 2003; date of next election NA
election results: KIM Jong Il and KIM Yong Nam were only nominees for positions and ran unopposed

Legislative branchunicameral Supreme People's Assembly or Ch'oego Inmin Hoeui (687 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms)
elections: last held 8 March 2009 (next due to be held in March 2014)
election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - NA; ruling party approves a list of candidates who are elected without opposition; a token number of seats are reserved for minor parties

Judicial branchCentral Court (judges are elected by the Supreme People's Assembly)

Political pressure groups and leadersnone
Flag descriptionthree horizontal bands of blue (top), red (triple width), and blue; the red band is edged in white; on the hoist side of the red band is a white disk with a red five-pointed star

Economy - overviewNorth Korea, one of the world's most centrally directed and least open economies, faces chronic economic problems. Industrial capital stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of years of underinvestment and shortages of spare parts. Large-scale military spending draws off resources needed for investment and civilian consumption. Industrial and power output have declined in parallel from pre-1990 levels. Severe flooding in the summer of 2007 aggravated chronic food shortages caused by on-going systemic problems including a lack of arable land, collective farming practices, and persistent shortages of tractors and fuel. Large-scale international food aid deliveries have allowed the people of North Korea to escape widespread starvation since famine threatened in 1995, but the population continues to suffer from prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions. Since 2002, the government has allowed private "farmers' markets" to begin selling a wider range of goods. It also permitted some private farming - on an experimental basis - in an effort to boost agricultural output. In October 2005, the government tried to reverse some of these policies by forbidding private sales of grains and reinstituting a centralized food rationing system. By December 2005, the government terminated most international humanitarian assistance operations in North Korea (calling instead for developmental assistance only) and restricted the activities of remaining international and non-governmental aid organizations such as the World Food Program. External food aid now comes primarily from China and South Korea in the form of grants and long-term concessional loans. In May 2008, the US agreed to give 500,000 metric tons of food to North Korea via the World Food Program and US nongovernmental organizations; Pyongyang began receiving these shipments in mid-2008. During the October 2007 summit, South Korea also agreed to develop some of North Korea's infrastructure, natural resources, and light industry, but inter-Korean economic cooperation slowed in 2008 as Pyongyang restricted tourism and manufacturing joint ventures in the North, and food aid from South Korea was suspended. Firm political control remains the Communist government's overriding concern, which will likely inhibit the loosening of economic regulations.
GDP (purchasing power parity)$40 billion (2008 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP (official exchange rate)$26.2 billion (2008 est.)
GDP - real growth rate(%)3.7% (2008 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP)$1,800 (2008 est.)
note: data are in 2008 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector(%)agriculture: 23.3%
industry: 43.1%
services: 33.6% (2002 est.)
Labor force20 million
note: estimates vary widely (2004 est.)

Labor force - by occupation(%)agriculture: 37%
industry and services: 63% (2004 est.)
Unemployment rate(%)NA%
Population below poverty line(%)NA%
Household income or consumption by percentage share(%)lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Budgetrevenues: $2.88 billion
expenditures: $2.98 billion (2005)
Inflation rate (consumer prices)(%)NA%

Economic aid - recipient$372 million
note: approximately 65,000 metric tons in food aid through the World Food Program appeals in 2007, plus additional aid from bilateral donors and non-governmental organizations (2007 est.)

Agriculture - productsrice, corn, potatoes, soybeans, pulses; cattle, pigs, pork, eggs
Industriesmilitary products; machine building, electric power, chemicals; mining (coal, iron ore, limestone, magnesite, graphite, copper, zinc, lead, and precious metals), metallurgy; textiles, food processing; tourism

Industrial production growth rate(%)NA%

Exports$1.684 billion (2007)

Exports - commodities(%)minerals, metallurgical products, manufactures (including armaments), textiles, agricultural and fishery products
Exports - partners(%)South Korea 45%, China 35%, India 5% (2007)
Imports$3.055 billion (2007)
$2.879 billion (2006)

Imports - commodities(%)petroleum, coking coal, machinery and equipment, textiles, grain
Imports - partners(%)China 46%, South Korea 34%, Thailand 6%, Russia 4% (2007)

Debt - external$12.5 billion (2001 est.)

Exchange ratesNorth Korean won (KPW) per US dollar - 140 (2007), 141 (2006), 170 (December 2004), market rate: North Korean won per US dollar - 3,400 (October 2008)

Currency (code)North Korean won (KPW)

Telephones - main lines in use1.18 million (2008)
Telephone systemgeneral assessment: inadequate system; currently mobile cellular telephone services are available in Pyongyang only
domestic: fiber-optic links installed between cities; telephone directories unavailable; mobile cellular service, initiated in 2002, suspended in 2004; Orascom Telecom, an Egyptian company, launched mobile service on December 15, 2008 for the Pyongyang area only
international: country code - 850; satellite earth stations - 2 (1 Intelsat - Indian Ocean, 1 Russian - Indian Ocean region); other international connections through Moscow and Beijing (2008)
Internet country code.kp
Airports79 (2009)
Pipelines(km)oil 154 km (2008)
Roadways(km)total: 25,554 km
paved: 724 km
unpaved: 24,830 km (2006)

Ports and terminalsCh'ongjin, Haeju, Hungnam (Hamhung), Kimch'aek, Kosong, Najin, Namp'o, Sinuiju, Songnim, Sonbong (formerly Unggi), Ungsang, Wonsan
Military branchesNorth Korean People's Army: Ground Forces, Navy, Air Force; civil security forces (2005)
Military service age and obligation(years of age)17 years of age (2004)
Manpower available for military servicemales age 16-49: 6,225,747
females age 16-49: 6,188,270 (2008 est.)
Manpower fit for military servicemales age 16-49: 4,104,964
females age 16-49: 4,492,374 (2009 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annuallymale: 191,759
female: 184,641 (2009 est.)
Military expenditures(% of GDP)NA
Disputes - internationalrisking arrest, imprisonment, and deportation, tens of thousands of North Koreans cross into China to escape famine, economic privation, and political oppression; North Korea and China dispute the sovereignty of certain islands in Yalu and Tumen rivers; Military Demarcation Line within the 4-km wide Demilitarized Zone has separated North from South Korea since 1953; periodic incidents in the Yellow Sea with South Korea which claims the Northern Limiting Line as a maritime boundary; North Korea supports South Korea in rejecting Japan's claim to Liancourt Rocks (Tok-do/Take-shima)

Refugees and internally displaced personsIDPs: undetermined (flooding in mid-2007 and famine during mid-1990s) (2007)
Trafficking in personscurrent situation: North Korea is a source country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation; the most common form of trafficking involves North Korean women and girls who cross the border into China voluntarily; additionally, North Korean women and girls are lured out of North Korea to escape poor social and economic conditions by the promise of food, jobs, and freedom, only to be forced into prostitution, marriage, or exploitative labor arrangements once in China
tier rating: Tier 3 - North Korea does not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; the government does not acknowledge the existence of human rights abuses in the country or recognize trafficking, either within the country or transnationally; North Korea has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol (2008)
Electricity - production(kWh)20.9 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - production by source(%)fossil fuel: 29%
hydro: 71%
nuclear: 0%
other: 0% (2001)
Electricity - consumption(kWh)17.49 billion kWh (2007 est.)
Electricity - exports(kWh)0 kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - imports(kWh)0 kWh (2008 est.)
Oil - production(bbl/day)120.7 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - consumption(bbl/day)16,000 bbl/day (2008 est.)
Oil - exports(bbl/day)0 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - imports(bbl/day)13,890 bbl/day (2007 est.)
Oil - proved reserves(bbl)0 bbl
Natural gas - production(cu m)0 cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - consumption(cu m)0 cu m (2008 est.)
Natural gas - exports(cu m)0 cu m (2008)
Natural gas - proved reserves(cu m)0 cu m (1 January 2009 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate(%)NA
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDSNA
HIV/AIDS - deathsNA
Literacy(%)definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99%
male: 99%
female: 99%

Education expenditures(% of GDP)NA

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