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North Korea-Relations Between the Military and the Korean Workers' Party

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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 commander's orders.

Data as of June 1993

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