Recently I’ve been working on a major project which hasn’t been made public yet, and as I’ve built up my research materials I keep coming back to a book that I’d highly recommend to anybody interested in the Korean People’s Army as the subject of academic research. Colonel James Minnich’s The North Korean People’s Army: Origins and Current Tactics is an excellent, albeit brief, history of the strategic and doctrinal lineage of the KPA, as well as the modern strategies, doctrines, and even specific tactics that the KPA has adopted. We will not be summarizing or reviewing the specific tactical sections, as that is too far outside of our knowledge to effectively and accurately summarize or evaluate. We will be breifly reviewing the rest, however, as the history, strategy, and doctrine sections are much more within our abilities and are an excellent read.
In summary, the KPA started off as a Soviet-influenced military with heavy armor and weapons. Minnich discusses the influence of partisan and cadre-oriented political establishments in the inception of the KPA, as well as the political machinations involved with solidifying Kim Il Sung as the ‘proper’ forefather of the military. It’s an especially fascinating read when paired with Dae-Sook Suh’s The Korea Communist Movement and Scalapino & Lee’s Communism in Korea, which cover, among many other things, the creation of cadres, partisans, and guerilla militaries. The political and military momentum covered in these books is resolved logically and clearly in Minnich’s history with the inception and consolidation of the KPA.
During the Korean War, the intervention, aid, and training provided by the People’s Liberation Army turned the KPA into a light infantry and guerilla army aimed at turning the geography and terrain into a trap for future combatants. Following its retreat into northeastern China after being almost entirely wiped out when pushed back from Busan, the KPA lost its ability to field effective armor and heavier weapons and had to adapt its tactics to successfully hold its half of the peninsula.
One of Minnich’s main themes early on is that the KPA was effectively a Soviet army until the winter of 1950, after which it became a PLA styled army, focusing on the manpower it had left. Its not exactly a mindblowing revelation, but it’s good to have a properly sourced history and examination of the strategic and doctrinal evolution of the KPA.
Minnich also discusses modern military ideology and doctrine, something rarely touched on by most DPRK analysts. While most people (us included) discuss hardware and physical developments, the ‘software’ behind the hardware is incredibly important. Minnich touches on several cases that had an impact on DPRK strategy including the North Vietnamese influence on special forces, the surprising and swift engagements of Israel in the Six-Day War, and the US hi-tech domination of conventional battlefields in Kosovo and Iraq. As well, he discusses the weaknesses of the US that the DPRK has likely noticed, such as slow momentum in building a broad-based political response to an issue.
Overall, Minnich’s book is a fascinating and concise look at the lesser-discussed strategy and doctrine that drive the KPA’s seemingly odd military hardware investments. While a longer, more in depth case-by-case study of strategic development would be excellent in the future, this book is definitely worth picking up.
While I suggest picking up his book from Amazon, a Nautilus version can be found here.