Korea: December 26, 2002


The one institution in North Korea that has consistently received the largest (up to a third) of the national budget is the armed forces. With half the population of South Korea, the North has twice as many soldiers. But their equipment is generally of much older design. So the north relies on quantity, and a huge complex of tunnels dug into mountains and hills to hide the artillery, rockets, tanks and even some aircraft. For half a century, a third or more of this army has sat within artillery range of Seoul, South Korea's capital, and home for a quarter of South Korea's population. While the North Korean armed forces have always been first in line for food, fuel and what little money the government could scrape together, it is basically a poorly equipped, badly led and inexperienced force. Training is intense, but the North Koreans have not fought for over half a century. South Korea participated in the Vietnam war and benefits from the more realistic American training equipment and methods. The northerners also have a morale problem in their armed forces. The troops are conscripted from a population that suffers from  the most restrictive and brutal police state on the planet. More and more Northerners just want to get out. The military officers are a privileged group, and use harsh discipline to keep the troops in line. Historically, armies like this tend to be brittle. The North could order it's troops south, but their army might quickly fall apart in combat. For the North, going to war is the ultimate gamble, and there is fear that North Korea's leaders are in a gambling mood.


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