Relations Between the Military and the Korean Workers' Party
Over the years, Kim Il Sung and the political leadership
clearly paid close attention to the military's political role.
The military's participation in politics has been co-opted in
rough proportion to the share of the country's resources it
commands. The military has a dual command structure, and the
party has its own organization in the military separate from the
Ministry of People's Armed Forces. The senior military leadership
is part of the political elite. However, disputes over policy
direction and poor performance assessments by the party
leadership periodically result in purges of senior military
leaders. Because the causes of intrafactional struggles are
policy oriented, the impact of these purges on party-military
relations is both limited and temporary, and it is not uncommon
for purged individuals to return to positions of responsibility.
Since the 1960s, relations between the KWP and KPA have been
highly cooperative and seem to reflect a stable party control
system within the military.
Since 1948 the party work and political control system in the
KPA has changed dramatically. At that time, the KWP had neither a
separate organization dedicated to military affairs nor an
organization in the KPA. During the Korean War, a party structure
was introduced in order to strengthen ideological indoctrination.
After the purges of the late 1950s, the control system was
intensified by the creation of the army-party committee system.
In 1969 the party work system was strengthened and
centralized with the adoption of a political officer system
supervised by the Secretariat of the Central Committee. Since the
adoption of the system, all orders and directives of commanders
have required the signature of a political officer. In addition,
the activities of political cadres are reported on by the
Organization and Guidance Department of the party Central
Committee. The political department and party committee reports
are submitted through separate channels to the party Secretariat.
The Socialist Working Youth League (SWYL) manages nonparty
members under party leadership. Above the battalion level, there
are Socialist Working Youth League committees. Under the
leadership of the political department, there are youth league
elements down to the platoon level.
In mid-1993 the KPA and the KWP had overlapping memberships,
which strengthened the party's role in the military. With the
exceptions of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, all members of the KWP
Military Affairs Committee selected at the Sixth Party Congress
in 1980 are active-duty military. Ten of the members also are
members of the General Political Bureau. Military representation
in the General Political Bureau and the Central Committee is
considerable. The average rate of military participation on the
Central Committee is 21 percent, ranging from a low of 17 percent
in 1948, to a high of 23 percent in 1970. There was 19 percent of
participation at the 1980 Sixth Party Congress, the most recent
congress. The turnover rate of the military in the two committees
is lower than that of civilians.
All officers are members of the KWP. Military duty is one of
the most common ways of gaining party membership, and
approximately 20 to 25 percent of the military are party members.
The membership rates of key forward-deployed units may have been
as high as 60 to 70 percent.
The party has dual access into the military: directly through
the committee system and indirectly through the KWP Secretariat
and political officer system. In effect, the military is allowed
its own party organization, but that party organization is
supervised through the KWP Secretariat. Theoretically, there is a
clear functional separation between the commanding and political
officers. The unit commander is responsible for all
administrative and military matters while the political officer
executes party policies.
Units have political officers down to the company level.
Within platoons, political activities are handled by the
assistant platoon leader. The tasks of the political officer are
twofold: propaganda and organizational work. The political
officer is responsible for all ideological training for the unit,
selects the party committee, and runs all political meetings of
the military units. The power of political officers derives from
their ability to attend and comment on all staff meetings, to
subject the commander to political criticism, to influence
promotions, to inspect units, and to countersign the unit
Data as of June 1993