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North Korea



Figure 10. Organization of the Armed Forces, 1991

National Command Authority


Major General Kim Yong-chol, vice minister, Ministry of People's Armed Forces
Courtesy Tracy Woodward

On November 23, 1992, the South Korean government released the text of the revised North Korean state constitution, which had been approved, but not made public, by the Ninth Supreme People's Assembly on April 9, 1992. The document revises the structure of the national command authority.

The KPA is a creation of both the government and the KWP. According to Chapter 7, Article 46 of the KWP constitution, "The Korean People's Army is the revolutionary armed forces of the Korean Workers' Party." The 1992 state constitution groups clauses related to national defense into two sections. Those defining the role and mission of the armed forces are under the subheading entitled National Defense--Chapter 4, Article 58 through Article 62. The text redefining the relationships between the president, Supreme People's Assembly, and National Defense Commission is under the subheading on State Institutions--Chapter 6, Article 111 through Article 114. The duality of the KPA's role is indicated in Article 59, which states, "The mission of the Armed Forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is to defend the interests of the working people, defend the socialist system and the gains of the revolution from external invasion, and protect the freedom, independence and peace of the fatherland." The dual nature of the KPA as the "army of the Party" and of the state is reflected in the national military command structure.

Under the coordinated authority of the party's Military Affairs Committee and the state National Defense Commission, both chaired by President Kim Il Sung, the Ministry of People's Armed Forces exercises jurisdiction over the KPA (see fig. 10). Eight major organizations constitute the national command authorities: the president; the KWP's Military Affairs Committee; the Civil Defense Department; the Military Affairs Department; the Supreme People's Assembly; the National Defense Commission with special emphasis on its chairman; the Ministry of People's Armed Forces; and the General Political Bureau of the General Staff.

Under previous constitutions, the president was empowered as the supreme commander of the armed forces and as chairman of the National Defense Commission. At the Seventh Supreme People's Assembly on April 5, 1982, the Ministry of People's Armed Forces (along with the Ministry of Public Security and the State Inspection Commission) was separated from the State Administration Council and made responsible to the president alone. On December 24, 1991, however, the constitutional and legal requirements were muddied when it was announced that President Kim's son and heir apparent, Kim Jong Il, had been named supreme commander. The 1992 state constitution, however, deletes clauses in the 1972 constitution that stipulated that the president was supreme commander of the armed forces and chairman of the National Defense Commission, shifting powers instead to the Supreme People's Assembly and the National Defense Commission. Under the revisions, the president retains only the power to recommend the election or recall of the chairman of the National Defense Commission.

The KWP Military Affairs Committee determines broad security policy, including basic military policy, political indoctrination of the armed services, resource allocation, and high-level personnel matters. The committee has under its jurisdiction both the regular and paramilitary forces. The Military Affairs Committee consists of between ten and twenty party officials, typically military officers. In mid-1993 Kim Il Sung, as general secretary of the KWP, headed the committee, and Kim Jong Il was second in command.

Under the 1992 constitution, the Supreme People's Assembly gained the power to elect or to recall the authority of the chairman of the National Defense Commission on the recommendation of the president. On the recommendation of the commission chairman, it has election and recall authority over the first vice chairman, the vice chairman, and members of the commission. According to Article 91.20, it also retains ultimate power to "decide on questions conceding war and peace."

The 1992 constitution appears to continue a trend of increasing the importance and independence of the National Defense Commission. Links to the Central People's Committee were apparently severed and the commission became directly subordinate to the Supreme People's Assembly. Article 111 states "The National Defense Commission is the supreme military guidance organ of the DPRK sovereign power," and Article 113 declares, "The Chairman of the DPRK National Defense Commission commands and controls all the armed forces." Under Article 114, the commission has the power to declare a state of war and issue mobilization orders in an emergency, guide the armed forces, appoint and dismiss major military cadres, and control general officer promotions. These sweeping changes are apparently aimed at laying the groundwork for readdressing the apparent violation of the constitution when Kim Jong Il was installed as supreme commander of the army in December 1991. Although the commission's position in the state was enhanced, observers believe that, in reality, it adopted and implemented policies based on the KWP's Military Affairs Committee guidelines. The National Defense Commission has a chairman, first vice chairman, one or more additional vice chairman, and between nine and fifteen members inclusive, usually all military officers. In mid-1993 Kim Il Sung was chairman and Kim Jong Il first vice chairman.

The Ministry of People's Armed Forces is organizationally subordinate to the state structure but is controlled by the KWP. The ministry is responsible for management and operational control of the armed forces. Prior to 1992, it was under the direct control of the president, with guidance from the National Defense Commission and the KWP Military Affairs Department. The 1992 state constitution shifts its control to the National Defense Commission.

The Ministry of People's Armed Forces has three principal departments. The General Staff Department exercises operational control over the military. The General Political Bureau guides and supervises party organizations and political activities at all levels of the ministry under direction of the party's Military Affairs Committee. The General Rear Services Bureau controls logistics, support, and procurement activities. Other bureaus include the Military Tribunal Bureau and the Prosecutors' Bureau.

Major operational forces include all corps, the Light Infantry Training Guidance Bureau (formerly called the VIII Special Warfare Corps or the Special Forces Corps), the Reconnaissance Bureau, the navy, the air force, the Air Defense Command, and some combat support units. The Artillery Command, the Armor Command, and some twenty-six bureaus, two departments, and two offices are responsible for doctrine, administration, logistics, and training for functional areas, including the field artillery, air defense artillery, armor, mechanized infantry, ordnance, and chemical warfare. Corps-level commands in peacetime are directly commanded by the General Staff Department.

Data as of June 1993

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