Purchasing power of foreign exchange and Pyongyang’s dilemma

Socialism notwithstanding, North Korea still lives by C.R.E.A.M.

Financial advice for North Koreans: exchange for foreign currency and hold it for a rainy day

Channeling the works of Amartya Sen, we at Rice & Iron have often argued that the price of food and the people’s command over income matter far more than the country’s aggregate grain output. Therefore, indices such as wages and inflation constitute markers of great importance in assessing food security.

Case in point:

Graph 1: semi-consistent bi-weekly changes in rice prices based on data from DailyNK

Graph 1: semi-consistent bi-weekly changes in rice prices based on data from DailyNK

If you are a regular follower of this blog, then you have seen the above graph posted many times before. The seismic waves of price volatility, unleashed by the currency revaluation in late 2009, caused such economic havoc that North Korea has yet to fully recover.

One of the things we have tracked since that turmoil has been the consequences of “yuanization,” the adoption of Chinese renminbi (RMB) and other foreign currencies in market exchanges over the Korean People’s Won (KPW). While the use of RMB (or the US dollar) will allow many North Korean businesses to thrive without having to accommodate for the risk of monetary instability, the decreased circulation of KPW will inevitably lead to the currency’s decline in value and ultimately hurt the most vulnerable members of society. This is because Public Distribution System-dependents and others with limited market access will have fewer means to acquire foreign exchange, leaving them with only the high-risk sovereign tender.

Once lost, restoring people’s confidence to a currency is a task that is difficult for even countries with robust financial services. Nonetheless, it is one that we consider vital for North Korea’s long-term food/economic security.

To be fair, the volatility has been steadily decreasing since 2010 and both rice prices and exchange rates appear to be stabilizing.

At the same time, administrators in Pyongyang are no doubt beginning to recognize the strange economic circumstances within which they are trapped. Consider the following graph:

chart_13

data sourced from Daily NK

Using rice prices and the exchange rate between the USD and the KPW for that same day, one can readily plot the changes in the dollar’s purchasing power in North Korea. As one might expect, the USD purchasing power shot up in the immediate aftermath of the 2009 currency revaluation and steadily fell over time until sometime in mid-2012. Then suddenly, the buying power of the dollar steadily increases until reaching levels unseen since early 2011. The rise in the USD purchasing power, no doubt fueling demand for foreign exchange for those who have the means to acquire it, is the direct result of diminishing price volatility – as rice becomes cheaper under more stable market conditions, more of it can be purchased with valuable foreign exchange.

On April 15, 2004, rice prices in Pyongyang, Sinuiju, and Hyesan (3800 KPW, 3900 KPW, and 4000 KPW respectively) reached their lowest since June 8, 2012. Naturally, the purchasing power of the USD was inversely at its zenith with 1 USD capable of purchasing 2.01316 kg, 1.974359 kg, and 2 kg. What this meant was that a person who acquired 1 dollar around October 2012 could buy twice as many things with that same dollar in April 2014. So why would anyone hold their assets in KPW?

So here is the dilemma:

  • If the North Korean state does nothing, then increasing number people will abandon the KPW in favor of RMB and USD, leaving the state unable to institute policies (including reforms) and further impoverishing the most vulnerable members of society
  • If the North Korean state attempts to defend its exchange rate with China, then nominal price may begin to fall as markets become more stable; however, the rising purchasing power of the USD under such conditions would encourage greater demand for foreign exchange, fueling the KPW abandonment

Granted, rice should not be the only commodity considered, but it does represent the country’s most important consumer good and illustrates a key problem that must be addressed soon.

For now, the purchasing power of the USD has dipped slightly since April. We will monitor where it goes.

More to come.

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June 29th Hwasong-6 Imagery

A few folks online kindly pointed out that I overlooked the fact that two missiles were launched, which does significantly affect my analysis and judgment relating to photomanipulation. Edits have been added in italics, the original text has been left in.

This is part of an ongoing attempt to clearly identify, collect, tabulate, and track missile and rocket launches in the DPRK. This is basically a continuation of a list built for personal research and reference purposes, which will be periodically reformatted for internet consumption and posted here.

The projectiles we will be tracking will be the most obvious ones, the guided missiles, and the unguided Luna/FROG and various MRLS launches when they are covered. Artillery shells will not be covered.

We will start things off with the most recent Hwasong-6 launches. For those looking for the other recent launches, John Grisafi over at NK News has an article up with some interesting new information. For now, we are simply covering the Hwasongs.

The June 29th launch was from the “vicinity of Wonsan” according to Yonhap, which likely means Kittaeryong (Gitdaeryeong, 깃대령, 안변군, 강원도) Anbyeon, Gangwon-do, where short-range ballistic missile tests have frequently occurred in the past. Most outlets are reporting it as an SRBM, specifically a Scud, which would be consistent with Gitdaeryeong’s previous launches. Imagery posted by KCNA (and accessed via KCNAwatch on NK News) appears to be consistent with a Scud, though the launch vehicle is not visible in any imagery. The ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that the range was about 500km, which, out of the DPRK’s SRBM inventory, only fits the Hwasong-6 (Scud-C).

MM00224088

Two images of Kim Jong Un looking over the ‘launch area’ may reveal a photoshop job. While we do not have training or experience in error level analysis, which may yield a clearer answer, it is rather impressive that he moved a few feet from a comfortable standing position into another comfortable standing position while the missile apparently slowly arced through the sky.

MM00224091

MM00224090Ballistic missiles move fairly quickly, and it would require a bit of footwork to move between two positions and have the launched missile appear in almost the same position. But this may be because there wasn’t a missile in one or both of these images. The missile as seen from the overlook appears to be at almost the exact same angle and position in its arc as this shot, presumably taken several seconds into the flight from below.

MM00224092

Here are the two shots Kim Jong Un is supposed to be looking at, enlarged, with a zoomed-in version of the above shot, as well.

small

small2

small3

A side by side comparison looks even more similar. The first in this series is the overhead shot, with the following two being the Kim Jong Un shots. Obviously the overhead is significantly better resolution. If these are in fact edited, then the lower resolution helps to not only fit it better into the image, but to obscure artifacts and obvious tells that it is the same image. 

allthree

In addition, I attempted to lower the resolution of the overhead shot to fit the other two better. Again, the first image in this series is the overhead, the second two are from the Kim Jong Un shots. 

downscalethree

 

We aren’t known for our photomanipulation skills, but it doesn’t seem like it would be that hard for someone with practice and dedication to put that overhead shot into the Kim Jong Un shots and alter the color so that it doesn’t stick out so obviously. We will give credit where credit is due, however. If these are manipulations, the glow of the burn on the clouds looks fairly good.

As well, Korea is known for its coastal mist and fog, but notice how thick the fog is in the Kim Jong Un shots vs. the on the ground missile body shot.

MM00224088

While there does appear to be some grey in the sky, and it is difficult to accurately access the area immediately above the missile due to both angle of view and the incredibly bright light, the stars in the sky in the back seem to indicate a clearer sky than shown elsewhereMM00224091

This does not necessarily mean that either of these shots is heavily modified (save for the images of the missiles launching above the clouds). However it does seem to note a disconnect between the events, in that either there was significant image modification, or that some of these photos are from different events on different dates and under different conditions.

Since two missiles were tested that day, it would be reasonable to assume that the two images of Kim Jong Un watching are from each of the launches. However, as we mentioned, the actual missile images are strikingly similar, to the point of raising our suspicions. As well, neither quite match the conditions of the close-up imagery, raising additional issues. This could mean that the close-up image is a stock image, though we have thus been unable to locate any previous use of the image, thus explaining the mismatched weather patterns. As well, if anybody has friends in Wonsan, they could ask what the weather conditions were like, since the fog was quite thick from above. 

As well, an oddity I haven’t been able to explain is one of the alleged in-flight images of the Hwasong-6, enlarged below.

weirdnosecone

Even though it is obviously moving very fast and at an angle, there appears to be something odd about the nosecone. John Grisafi from NK News and I had a long personal exchange on these images, because everything looks like a Hwasong-6 except for the nose in this one image, which almost looks more like a Shahab-3/Rodong-1 length nose (the long conic version, at least, since there are multiple options), tacked onto a Hwasong length body, or just a Shaheen-2 labelled as a DPRK test.

There are no absolute markers of length in this image, but the nose:body ratio is significantly off for a Hwasong, as can be seen in the launch pictures. As well, the other flight picture seems to have a normal Hwasong nose:body ratio, though it is quite fuzzy and hard to make out. Below is the normal looking Hwasong followed again by the elongated-appearing image.

small3

weirdnosecone

We ultimately agreed it was likely a Hwasong-6, as the body, fins, burn color, and other images were consistent with a Hwasong-6 and that my misgivings about its nose were a result of something wonky with how the picture turned out, but I felt it would be worthwhile to post my confusion here as well.

The DPRK and state news agencies in general are known to fudge data upon occasion, and it is certainly not unusual to see altered or photoshopped images show up, especially when dealing with high-value military or propaganda assets.

Either way, this is something we’ll keep and eye on, and will continue updating until we have a detailed and easy-to-access timeline of missile and rocket launches. As well, we are still building our imagery database of Hwasong images, especially of launches, in the hopes of figuring out if these were manipulated or just coincidentally similar. 

 

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Pyongyang’s growing concern with environmental degradation

picture via Rodong Sinmun

picture via Rodong Sinmun

We noted in a recent post that the North Korean state was taking active measures to decisively control the rural sector. One of the signs that led us to this conclusion was the state’s active enforcement of the de jure law limiting private plots to 30 pyeong (99 sq meters or 1065.6 square feet) per household, resulting in confiscation of cultivated lands in North Hamgyeong Province.

The policy’s timing is terrible. June is still early in the lean season and many people in rural areas were undoubtedly relying on the produce from the extra land to keep their families nourished (through direct consumption or the income acquired from sale of the crops) while waiting for the corn harvest in late August (and rice harvest in late September).

The state justified its sudden dedication to the rule of law by underscoring two key issues:

  • The private lots encroach on forests and cooperative farms, causing either environmental degradation or diminished output on cooperative farms
  • People with large private gardens are not spending enough time on the cooperative farms, which should be the people’s primary obligation

The consequences of this policy has already been felt in North Hamgyeong Province. There is one case in particular which captured the difficulties facing both the people and the state.

According to a Daily NK report from June 26, heavy rainfall in the region caused a rockslide which killed two people who were weeding on the slopes. There are several key factors that are worth noting from this tragedy:

  • Inside sources admit that this accident could have been prevented had there been trees on the hillside, revealing that deforestation is not simply a problem fabricated by the state to justify stricter control
  • The accident happened at night and the victims were unaware of their perilous situation. They were working in such dangerous conditions was because of their obligations on the cooperative farms during the day

While this is the most recent news of such an accident, the Daily NK noted that “anecdotal evidence from defectors over a number of years implies that the number [of victims from similar accidents] is considerable.”

What this tells us is that forcing people to work more hours on the cooperative farms does not effectively discourage work on private plots. Instead, people simply opt to increase manhours to extend their labor input on their chief source of income/consumption (see Chayanov). Furthermore, the farmers are still well within their rights to cultivate hillsides and exacerbate erosion as long as his or her property is under the allotted 30 pyeong limit. Therefore, without an active and coordinated effort by the state to engage in reforestation, the environmental impact of the last 20+ years cannot be reversed.

Rice & Iron would recommend the following measures to Pyongyang:

  • The state should invest in reforestation efforts.
  • At the same time, rural communities should be allowed to privately cultivate more land and be allotted portions of state-owned farmland away from areas like hillsides which are more vulnerable to soil erosion. This might mean shrinking the size of the cooperative farms.
  • Extend legal protection for private ownership (and sale) of the agricultural output from these plots. This should incentivize greater output and diminish the need for people to extend their plots into environmentally sensitive areas.

Luckily for North Korea, one recent development has given the country a boost in pursuing the first step. Despite the sanctions imposed on Pyongyang by Seoul since 2010 (May 24 Measure), which prohibited South Korean NGOs from operating in North Korea, the Ministry of Unification has allowed the environment organization “Nation’s Forest” (겨레의숲) to assist the North Korean state in combatting tree pests in Taesong (where the Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery is located) and Yongak Mountains in Pyongyang, Kumgang Mountain in Kangwon Province, and Myohyang Mountain in North Pyongan Province.

Hopefully, this cooperation between the Koreas on the environmental front will develop into more extensive projects like reforestation. Meanwhile, it would be nice to see some efforts by the state on the economic front to secure not only a more prosperous future for farmers, but also a safer one.

On that note, we leave you with a recent episode of NPR’s Planet Money about the birth of market capitalism in North Hamgyeong Province, featuring commentary by Andrei Lankov. Although its analysis of the famine is very rudimentary, leaving out critical details that we take great care in exploring, Planet Money weaves a wonderfully informative narrative on this critical time period. You can find the program here

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New Anti-Ship Missile Option for DPRK Frigates

This article was originally posted at NK News. Most of this is an update to our earlier examination of the new helicopter frigates’ capabilities. With the possible addition of a Kh-35 anti-ship missile to the arsenal, we felt a map update was necessary. The bit at the end is now a tad redundant due to our recent imagery post,  but has been retained for the sake of the original article’s coherence.  


North Korea’s new frigates continue to attract attention from North Korea watchers, including us, and it appears that new information about the cruise missile options available for these frigates has become available. Joseph Bermudez has suggested a possible Chinese C-802 or Iranian Ghader cruise missile upgrade for the frigates in the future, and posted two images of the frigates that do not clearly reveal any present cruise missile tubes yet installed.

The Chosun Ilbo ran an article on June 9 stating that the Korean People’s Army Navy had acquired and showed off via propaganda videos Kh-35 cruise missiles, Russian-designed missiles also sold to and built by countries such as Vietnam and Myanmar.

Zachary Keck and Jeffrey Lewis have discussed the point of origin and the capabilities of this new cruise missile. More importantly, Lewis linked the Kh-35s to the rolling out of the new frigates, meaning there is another set of possibilities for how the frigates are armed.

According to Bermudez’s imagery and analysis, there are not yet visible cruise missile tubes on the frigate. In case of a future upgrade, as with the previous set of cruise missiles, we have included a hypothetical cruise missile range ring for deck-mounted Kh-35s. In an attempt to clarify an increasingly confusing map, we have turned the range rings into polygons. The two red rings are the maximum ranges for the shortest and longest Kh-35 variant. Sources are mostly reporting 130km ranges, but we have included the 260 kilometers range as a worst-case option. The C-802 is the top burnt orange ring, with the Kh-35 130 kilometers range under it, followed by the orange Ghader, then the red Kh-35 260km range. Again, the 260 kilometers is unlikely at the moment.

3d

This is only the two Kh-35 options. The smaller ring is the currently estimated maximum range.

kh35

Here are the respective ranges for the frigates in the East and West Sea. The frigates are positioned far from DPRK shores and are not representative of basing or known maneuver regions. The light and dark green circles are the Mi-14PL and Mi-4PL helicopter ranges, respectively. Cruise missile colors are the same as the map above.

bothseas

Jeffrey Lewis emailed me a few days ago indicating that there was also a Kh-35 variant that could be helicopter launched. While the image originally posted by Chosun Ilbo and the videos that Lewis pulled together indicate a ship-launched missile, we have opted to map out the worst-case scenario again: that the helicopters launched from deck will be armed with these anti-ship cruise missiles. In this case, we opted for the longer-range Mi-14PL.

Heli with cruise

It should be noted that should the East Sea frigate push farther east, an Mi-14PL armed with a Kh-35 (130km) helicopter-launched variant could reasonably hit Japanese ships and ports.

Japan copy

But all of this may be irrelevant. As Chad O’Carroll has pointed out, the videos in DPRK media show the missile launch for just a split second, and the KCNA is not exactly known for its precise and realistic portrayals of the Korean People’s Army’s capabilities. While the missile in question does indeed appear to be a Kh-35, there is still some question as to whether or not the missile is active in the DPRK’s arsenal, or if the footage was recycled and reused from a Russian, Vietnamese, Indian or even Burmese source.

The videos and pictures in question do show ship-launched missiles, which, assuming the footage is from the DRPK, means either some recent modifications have been made to these frigates – which is possible – or that the Kh-35 may be rolled out on different vessels.

Regardless, this is something we’ll be watching for in the future. If these videos are from the DRPK, either the frigates are modified or other ships in the fleet have been equipped with the missiles. It will certainly be interesting for U.S.-Myanmar relations if the Kh-35s were sold anytime in the last few years.

Furthermore, the picture that the Chosun Ilbo initially posted with their story is labeled, in the English article, “A new North Korean anti-ship missile featured on a propaganda film,” implying that the image posted is a DPRK Kh-35. This lead the Diplomat to rehost same the image with the image credit listed as DPRK television, which is factually incorrect.

The original photo, slightly larger and better quality, of an Indian Godavari Class Frigate firing a Kh-35 cruise missile can be found at  Global Security.

Why the Chosun Ilbo didn’t explicitly mark their image as an example as a Kh-35 instead of the actual DPRK Kh-35 is unknown, but it has caused the incorrectly labeled image to show up on a few sites, the Diplomat included.

This new development has a lot of interesting implications for the U.S., ROK, and Japanese navies, since the Kh-35 is a significant upgrade for the KPA Navy. The Iranian Ghader may have a longer range that the 130 kilometer-ranged Kh-35, but Russian cruise missiles don’t suffer from the same guidance issues that plague some Iranian models, meaning that the Kh-35 may be an actual accurate threat. Especially if the Kh-35 is helicopter mounted, it allows the DPRK a little more naval leverage, especially in the East Sea. Even though the U.S. and allies can counter a Kh-35, it is another expense and another capability to maintain vigilance over.

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Diligence in Imagery

So there is a lot of buzz about the DPRK possibly adding the Kh-35 cruise missile to its naval arsenal over the past couple weeks. The full ramifications of this new acquisition aside, the analysis that has so far come out on this development reveals a troubling aspect to research methodology. Mainly, that diligence isn’t being run on images used in initial reports. Presumably this is due to the developing nature of stories and the lack of imagery available at the outset, but causes cases of mistaken identity, and can create systemic issues with hardware identification.

To start, one of the original images going around, claiming to be the new DPRK missile, is most likely Indian.

The Chosun Ilbo and the Diplomat are both running the image in question in articles about the DPRK getting Kh-35 cruise missiles:

thediplomat_2014-06-12_19-56-48-386x399

As we’ve stated before, Rice & Iron has no specialization in naval hardware. But we do know a little bit about tracking down images.

And this image shows up on Global Security’s page on the Indian F 20 Godavari Class Frigate page. The specific image page is here, and both images are together below.

This is the Chosun Ilbo/Diplomat picture again:

thediplomat_2014-06-12_19-56-48-386x399

This is the Global Security Godavari picture:

f-23_godavari_brahmaputra_india-navy02

An analysis in Korean on Chosun Ilbo (which we unfortunately did not find until the footwork for this post was mostly completed) does identify their picture as Indian, but for whatever reason this was not noted in the English version.

In previous experiences working with Chinese PLA ballistic missiles, it was disturbingly common for people to mislabel missile imagery that accompanied articles and posts. For example,  we picked up a few months ago a post in which the Chosun Ilbo incorrectly reported the release of DF-31 pictures (English here), which would have been the first publicly acknowledged images of a DF-31 missile firing. This in fact was a DF-21 picture set, which was the first publicly acknowledged images of a DF-21 firing. This would be comparable to an article mistaking the DPRK’s KN-08 ICBM for a Musudan or other significantly shorter range missile. The DF-21, like the Musudan, can hit Japan and regional targets, while the DF-31 can hit the continental United States.

This led to a few small articles popping up on other websites with mislabeled imagery and incorrect factual assertions. While this is obviously a small example, it still involves the spread of misinformation and contributes to misunderstandings. When trying to build imagery databases and identification keys for weapons systems and hardware, due diligence has to be run on each image individually and the collection as a whole, to ensure that the systems in question are actually the correct system and that it was actually taken in the country in question. It was not uncommon for certain pieces of hardware to be systemically mislabelled online and in print, ranging from amateur blogs to Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems using the incorrect drawings of missile systems.

This leads to research confusion, with amateur and professional analysts basing their writings on a confused body of data that mixes up numbers and pictures, essentially undermining the analysis before it is complete.

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Of weathermen, farmers, and the state

via Rodong Sinmun

via Rodong Sinmun

One June 10, Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim Jong-un provided field guidance at the national hydro-meteorological service, directing the institute’s staff to improve their delivery of “meteorological and climatic information required by various fields of national economy.”

Taking into account Pyongyang’s habit of passing the blame for the state’s policy failures, a Washington Post article speculated whether these climatologists and weathermen might be soon scapegoated for the drought-related difficulties in recent months.

However, meteorological difficulties have been a perennial problem in North Korea. In particular, Pyongyang recognizes that irregular weather patterns contributed to the “Arduous march” of the 1990s. Therefore, we at Rice & Iron doubt that Kim Jong-un is trying to pin the problem on any one institution or person.

At the same time, what is interesting about Kim’s recent visit to the national hydro-meteorological service is that it coincided with other signals that subtly articulated the government’s intentions for the agricultural sector.

First of these signals came on June 6 when Rodong Sinmun published an article that detailed expected temperatures and rainfall in mid-June. The piece went on to dispense several farming tips, including exactly how much urea fertilizer and water farmers should provide for the new rice crop in the paddies.

By highlighting the importance of fertilizers, Rodong Sinmun is drawing attention to the critical role that the state plays in enhancing crop output for the country. Combined with Kim’s personal visit to the national hydro-meteorological service, the message that Pyongyang wants to convey is that government has both the resources and the technocratic means to guarantee prosperity in the rural sector – a response to critics who are (rightly) skeptical of the planned economy’s ability to adequately adapt and respond to changing conditions.

Second signal came through the enforcement of the rules set by Kim Il Sung in 1964, which allowed a maximum of 30 pyeong or 99 sq meters (1065.6 square feet) per household for harvesting vegetables. Over the years and especially during the famine of the 1990s, the size of these private lots grew and became the principal means of acquiring food (through either direct consumption or trading) for many rural families. Radio Free Asia reported on June 12 that local authorities in North Hamgyeong Province are suddenly enforcing the size limits set on these private lots, forcibly expropriating any cultivated land beyond the legally sanctioned 30 pyeong.

North Korean state authorities provided two reasons for the sudden toughening of the rules:

  • The private lots encroach on forests and cooperative farms, causing either environmental degradation of diminishing the output of cooperative farms
  • People with large private gardens are not spending enough time on the cooperative farms, which should be the people’s primary obligation

By forcing the rural workforce back onto the cooperative farms, the government gains greater control of people’s livelihoods and provides the labor-scarce agricultural sector with more man hours of work.

These signals reveal that the central government is not simply posturing but actively moving to take decisive control over the rural sector, which has run rampant with private trade, individual farms, and other activities that make it difficult for the state to carry out its planned economic policies.

However, this will come at a great cost to Pyongyang in the long-run. Eliminating private incentive from the farmers will reduce effective transmission of information and will prevent the sector from operating optimally. Furthermore, it is only a matter of time until the people find a way to cheat the system to maximize personal returns.

With this in mind, we can expect 2014’s economic prospects for North Korea, alongside its food security, to be more on the uncertain side.

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Brief Review of The North Korean People’s Army: Origins and Current Tactics by James Minnich

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.

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