Reserves and Paramilitary Forces
Lessons learned from the Korean War still shaped military
planning in mid-1993. Because P'yongyang has determined that
inadequate reserve forces are a critical deficiency, Kim Il Sung
has decided to arm the entire population. The Four Military
Guidelines formulated in 1962 created a non-active-duty force of
between 5 million and 6 million persons.
All soldiers serve in the reserves; there were an estimated
1.2 million reservists in mid-1993. The primary reserve forces
pool consists of persons who either have finished their active
military service or are exempted and are attached to the reserve
forces until age forty (age thirty for single women). Reserve
training totals approximately 500 hours annually. Afterward,
reservists, along with unmarried women, join the paramilitary
Worker-Peasant Red Guards and receive approximately 160 hours of
training annually until age sixty.
There are four general categories of reserve forces: reserve
military training units, Red Guard Youth, College Training Units,
and Worker-Peasant Red Guards. Unit organizations essentially
parallel active-duty forces. Some military training units are
organized around factories or administrative organizations.
In 1990 the reserve military training units had approximately
720,000 men and women and included as many as 48,000 active-duty
troops assigned to between twenty-two and twenty-six divisions,
at least eighteen independent brigades, and many smaller units.
All maneuver units are believed to have individual weapons for
all troops and about 80 percent of the needed crew-served weapons
(those requiring a team for operation), including artillery.
Transportation assets probably are much lower.
Approximately 480,000 college students have been organized
into College Training Units. These units have individual weapons
and some crew-served weapons. Training is geared toward
individual replacement, and soldiers called to active duty are
parcelled out as needed as a manpower pool rather than as
Red Guard Youth units are composed of some 850,000 students
between the ages of fourteen and seventeen at the senior middle
school level. Emphasis is on pre-induction military
The Worker-Peasant Red Guard is composed of some 3.89 million
persons between the ages of forty and sixty. They receive 160
hours of military training annually. Unit structure is small,
decentralized, and focuses on homeland defense. Units are
equipped with individual small arms and have a limited number of
crew-served weapons and antiaircraft guns.
The overall quality of the North Korean reserve structure is
difficult to evaluate. Through strong societal controls,
P'yongyang is able to regulate forces and maintain unit cohesion
to a greater degree than is possible in more open societies.
Reserve military training units probably are good quality forces
with the ability to take on limited regular force
responsibilities during wartime.
The reserve force structure apparently was fleshed out in the
1980s, when many older weapons were phased out of the regular
forces and passed on to the reserves. Weapons refitting led to
restructuring and the development of the Military District
Command system. Turning over the homeland defense mission to the
command system has allowed North Korean force planners the
freedom to forward deploy a greater proportion of the regular
forces toward the DMZ.
Data as of June 1993