Conscription in North Korea
Conscription in North Korea occurs despite ambiguity concerning its legal status. Men are universally conscripted while females undergo selective conscription. Conscription takes place at age 14; service starts at 17 and ends at 30. Children of the political elites are exempt from conscription, as are people with bad songbun (ascribed social status in North Korea). Recruitment is done on the basis of annual targets drawn up by the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea and implemented locally by schools.
Conscription first began before the Korean War. Initially, under the rule of Kim Il-sung, forced conscription was largely not necessary because the level of voluntary enlistment was high due to financial rewards. Under Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un these rewards have diminished.
During Kim Il-sung's rule in particular, enlisting in the army could reap considerable financial rewards. It was often families themselves that would pressure young people to enlist in the army to secure their well-being, and the government did not need to forcibly conscript people.
In 1993, conscription was extended from eight to ten years.
In 1958, North Korea adopted Cabinet Decision number 148 to define service of conscripts as three and a half years in the army and four years in the navy. In 1993, service was expanded to ten years on the orders of Kim Jong-il. In 1996, conscription was further extended and conscripts will now have to serve until they are aged 30. According to some sources, more recently conscription is codified in a law adopted by the 10th Supreme People's Assembly in 2003.
Annual target quotas for conscription are set by the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea and, before the Constitution was amended in 2016, the National Defence Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. These orders are then implemented by local officials on the provincial, municipal, and county levels. The county level delegates the task of levying recruits to local schools.
All men over the age of 17 effectively have to enlist. They have to partake in constant enlistment rallies during which it is nearly impossible to refuse service.
In the present day, families have become less content with their members being drafted and rewards for doing so have dwindled. It is therefore likely that the current system has to exert some kind of coercion, "to the extent that we can understand the practice as conscription." Young men are enthusiastic about enlisting because it protects them from the stigma attached to those who do not join the military. Some positive incentives still exist, as military training invariably increases the draftee's chances of employment after service.
There are obligations for conscripts not only during, but also before and after service. Registering for draft takes place at age 14, and two rounds of physical examination are conducted at age 15 or 16. The physical examination ensures that draftees meet the requirement of being at least 148 cm tall and weighing 43 kg, although exceptions are made.
Drafting usually takes place at age 17 after graduating from senior middle school. Economic, political, and health concerns are weighed when draft is decided on. Postponing military service is possible for some if they continue education in high school or college.
Skilled workers, technicians, members of some government organizations, and children of political and military notables are often excluded from conscription. Some 30 percent of male middle school students, usually sons of the elite, are exempt from the draft to progress directly through high school to college or university. For instance, Kim Jong-il never went through the compulsory military service. In addition to the privileged, those considered politically unloyal (those with particularly bad songbun) are also exempt from service.
Upon conscription, servicemen are assigned to a branch, specialization, and a duty unit.
Each conscript begins their service with basic training that lasts for about two months in the army, and up to three months in the air force and navy. Training methods emphasize memorization and repetition, but also psychological, occupational and technical skills. Drills often take place during nighttime, and repetitiveness is in part due to the low-tech nature of the force, but also to bring performance up to a standard. The training methods are effective, and produce a fighting force that is, according to James Minnich, "well versed in the basics even under adverse conditions". NCO candidates are chosen based on military merits. Because the overwhelming majority of officers have worked their way up the ranks, the result is an egalitarian corps whose officers are familiar with the concerns of ordinary recruits. Conditions are harsh, and training typically lasts from five AM to 10 PM.
Servicemen are expected to grow food to supplement their otherwise meager rations between 700 and 850 grams. Other activities not directly related to training are also imposed on them. Leaves are limited. A conscript may, in rare cases, be granted a two-week leave once or twice during his entire service. Service personnel are not allowed to marry, so conscripts typically stay single until they turn 30. About five percent of draftees, on the military's insistence, proceed to college or university after a year-long preparatory course. This route to higher education is considered easier than continuing studies right after middle school.
Conscription for men is universal.
- Worker-Peasant Red Guards
- Law of North Korea
- Law enforcement in North Korea
- Politics of North Korea
- List of countries by number of military and paramilitary personnel
- Conscription in South Korea
- Economic conscription
- Mass mobilization
- Military recruitment
- Women in the military
- Women in the military by country
- Women in North Korea
- Human rights in North Korea
- Conscientious objector
- Education in North Korea
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- Minnich, James M. (2008). "National Security". In Worden, Robert L. (ed.). North Korea: A Country Study (Fifth ed.). Washington: Government Printing Office. pp. 237–282. ISBN 978-0-16-088278-4. LCCN 2008028547.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)