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date: 15 January 2021

North Korea: The Korean People’s Army in the Shadow of Its Supreme Leaderlocked

  • Seongji WooSeongji WooCollege of International Studies, Kyung Hee University

Summary

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has long remained a hermit socialist nation. The North Korean leaders have endeavored to build a strong military with a large manpower and nuclear weapons capabilities even though some of its military gear is outmoded. The dictatorship in Pyongyang has used the ever-present threats from external hostile forces as well as potential domestic enemies as a rationale for beefing up its armed forces. The origin of the North Korean military dates back to Kim Il-sung’s anti-Japanese armed struggle in the 1930s. Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un, his successors, have continued to improve the country’s nuclear and missile programs with vigor, even at the expense of a failing economy. Kim Jong-un has been bargaining with the United States over the scaling down of his nuclear and missile programs while hinting at major economic reform and opening up projects to revive the economy. Whether Pyongyang is genuine about denuclearization in exchange for international economic support and security guarantees remains unclear. North Korea has a highly militarized regime and, thus, some have referred to it as a garrison state or a fortress state. Its posture to the outside world is oftentimes militant and abrasive. The regime in Pyongyang invaded its southern neighbor in a fratricidal war in the early 1950s. The history of inter-Korean relations since then has been marred by repetitive currents of feuds and crises, many of which have been inflamed by the North. The North Korean military holds a firm place in society. Over its history, North Korea’s Supreme Leader, along with the Korean Workers’ Party, has maintained tight control over the military. The leader’s firm control of the armed forces is likely to persist for the time being.

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