FAS | Nuke | Guide | DPRK |||| Index | Search |


DPRK military policy focuses on maintaining and sustaining a military force capable of conducting an offensive operation into the ROK to attain the national goal of reunifying the peninsula. It is based on three fundamental and interconnected concepts shaped by the late Kim Il-song's vision of the future of the Korean Peninsula:

The North Korean regime is regularly portrayed in the Western as the lunatics in charge of the asylum. The traditional US deterrence posture rested on the ability to launch a devastating counter-strike against any country that used weapons of mass destruction against America, its allies or deployed forces. Such measures worked against the Soviet Union, whose leaders were rational and risk-averse, but some argue that they may not deter rogue states such as North Korea, whose leaders are indifferent to their people's welfare. Although North Korea's strategies and tactics can be (sometimes purposely) baffling, the country is being run by extremely intelligent and very rational people with a strongly developed sense of self-preservation. The North Korean acquisition of weapons of mass destruction stems not from an indifference to deterrence, but rather a keenly developed understanding of the uses of deterrence.

Essentially nothing is directly known about North Korean nuclear strategy, doctrine, or war plans, except that North Korea's collaborations with Soviet and Chinese military and nuclear programs probably influenced Pyongyang's approach toward nuclear weapons development and policy. It is also quite certain that North Korea has closely studied US nuclear doctrine. Reflecting Soviet military doctrine, the DPRK has traditionally viewed chemical weapons as an integral part of any military offensive. There are no indications this view has altered since the end of the Cold War.

Military Doctrine

North Korean military doctrine has evolved through as many as four stages since the founding of the KPA in February 1948. North Korean military writings derive from Marxism-Leninism through the conduit of "Kim Il Sung Thought." Kim Il Sung is credited with virtually everything in North Korean military thought, from Lenin's reformulation of Clausewitz's classic definition of war to basic squad tactics.

North Korean military thinking began as a mixture of Soviet strategic and Chinese tactical influences. At the Third Plenum of the Second KWP Central Committee in December 1950, Kim Il Sung's report, "The Present Condition and the Confronting Task," for the first time interjected North Korean combat experience into military doctrine and thought. From 1951 to December 1962, North Korean military orthodoxy was a conventional warfare doctrine based on Soviet military doctrine and operational art modified on the basis of the Korean War experience. This duality is readily acknowledged in official publications such as the KWP journal, K lloja (The Worker). Stalin's five "permanently operating factors," factors that determine the course and outcome of war, were directly incorporated into North Korean military doctrine. The factors are the stability of the rear, the morale of the army, the quantity and quality of divisions, the armament of the army, and the organizing ability of the command personnel. The importance of combined arms operations (armor, infantry, and artillery operating in close coordination) also reflects strong Soviet influence.

North Korean military doctrine shifted dramatically in December 1962 away from the doctrine of regular warfare to a doctrine that embraced people's war. At the Fifth Plenum of the Fourth KWP Central Committee in December 1962, Kim Il Sung espoused the Four Military Guidelines: to arm the entire population; to fortify the entire country; to train the entire army as a "cadre army"; and to modernize weaponry, doctrine, and tactics under the principle of self-reliance in national defense. The adoption of this military line signaled a shift from a Soviet-style strategy to a Maoist protracted war of attrition. Conventional warfare strategy was incorporated into and subordinated to the overall concept of people's war and the mobilization of the entire people through reinforcement of ideological training. These principles are formally adopted in Article 60 of the 1992 constitution.

The shift supplied the doctrinal basis for North Korea's strategy of covert infiltrations into South Korea, assassinations, and attempts at fostering insurgencies in South Korea during the late 1960s. During this period, doctrine also began to stress the need to adapt these concepts to the North Korean situation. Military thinking emphasized the necessity of light weapons, high angle indirect fire, and night fighting. Renewed emphasis was given to sea denial and coastal defense during this period.

Through the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, Kim Il Sung continued to favor the political-ideological dimension of warfare over technology or military science. A transformation began in the 1970s, when renewed emphasis was placed on conventional warfare and the modernization of the KPA.

In the August 1976 issue of K lloja, an article by Kim Chol Man entitled "Scientific Features of Modern War and Factors of Victory" reexamines and reinterprets military doctrine. Kim dwells at length on the importance of economic development and the impact of new weapons on military strategy. Victory in war requires economic development and complete mobilization of a nation's economic potential, including a strong self-supporting munitions industry and material reserves. Military factors are considered in absolute terms rather than on the basis of North Korea's stage of development. Kim argues that the quality of arms and the level of military technology define the characteristics of war.

After some initial debate, Kim Chol Man's argument apparently was accepted and became the new orthodoxy. The primacy of conventional warfare again became doctrine. Kim's article contains several concepts that continue to influence North Korean operational art in the early 1990s; particularly influential are the concepts that emphasize the importance of operational and tactical mobility through the employment of mechanized forces, the importance of firepower throughout the depth of the battlefield, the importance of deep strikes, and the importance of command and control. Kim also stresses that each operational plan and campaign should aim at a lightning war for a quick decision.

The Korean People's Army (KPA) is structured and deployed on the primacy of the offense. Doctrine stresses that decisive results can be obtained only through offensive operations. The offense has three objectives: the destruction of enemy forces, the seizure and control of territory, and the destruction of the enemy's will to fight.

Strategy and tactics are built on the key concepts of combined-arms offensive operations, battlefield mobility, flexibility, and the integration of conventional and unconventional warfare. Mass, mobility, and firepower are the three reinforcing elements of a strategy that, when combined with speed and security at a critical point, will produce a decisive offensive strike.

Changes in force development reflect changes in doctrine and strategy. The military problem facing P'yongyang is encountering difficult terrain crossed by the multiple defensive lines, extensive barrier systems, and hardened defensive positions of a determined defender. A heavy emphasis on special forces is the first solution.

After the mid-1970s, the emphasis shifted to firepower. The artillery force, both active and reserve, grew steadily, and self-propelled artillery was deployed. Most North Korean artillery has a greater standoff range than comparable South Korea-United States systems. Hardened artillery positions and a forward-based logistics system of underground facilities for ammunition stockpiles, petroleum, oil, lubricants, and other war supplies appeared to be designed to sustain an initial offensive despite a lack of air superiority. These initiatives only partially addressed the problem, however, because North Korean artillery cannot fire from its hardened artillery sites.

In the 1980s, the emphasis shifted to firepower and mobility as a solution. Some experts believe that maneuver received new emphasis when larger-scale mobile units were created beginning in the early 1980s. Force deployment suggests that P'yongyang intends to employ both second-echelon and strategic/exploitation forces.

The basic goal of a North Korean southern offensive is destruction of allied defenses either before South Korea can fully mobilize its national power or before significant reinforcement from the United States can arrive and be deployed. Final war preparations most likely would not involve a noticeable surge in military-related activity because almost two-thirds of the ground forces and a significant amount of logistical support already are concentrated in the forward area between P'yongyang and the DMZ. Immediately preceding the initial infantry assault, North Korean artillery units would attempt to saturate the firstechelon South Korean defense with preparatory and continuous suppressive fire. North Korean infantry and armor elements of the first-echelon divisions of the forward conventional corps would attack selected narrow fronts to create gaps for the follow-on echelons. The penetration would be supported by North Korean special operations forces. At the same time, the KPA would launch several diversionary attacks in order to confuse and disperse the defensive effort. The mechanized corps would attempt to push through any gaps, bypass and isolate defenders, and penetrate as deeply as possible into the strategic rear.

The overall objective of the breakout would be to disturb the coherence of South Korea defenses in depth--including its key command, control, communications, and intelligence infrastructure (C3I)--so as to disrupt any significant counterattacks. In support of what would be primarily a ground war, the navy might attempt to insert amphibious-trained special operations forces on each coast or to secure the northern islands or support operations against the Kimp'o Peninsula, across the Han River estuary near Seoul. In addition, Scud and FROG missiles would be used during the assault to disrupt rear areas and C3I. After initial naval support and supply, however, the navy's limited capability to control the sea would leave embarked forces on their own. Both the navy and the air force would be hard pressed to sustain a level of offensive operations and would revert to a largely defensive role.

In order for the KPA's military strategy to succeed on the battlefield, the KPA would have to achieve initial strategic surprise and execute its operations quickly. The most critical period would probably be choosing when and where to commit the mobile exploitation forces.

North Korea is believed to have stockpiled enough ammunition, food, and petroleum, oil, and lubricants in hardened, underground facilities to sustain combat for several months without outside aid. According to Seoul, by 1989 Pyongyang had stockpiled some 990,000 tons of ammunition--an amount sufficient for four months of combat.

The primary objective of North Korea's military strategy is to reunify the Korean Peninsula under North Korean control within 30 days of beginning hostilities. A secondary objective is the defense of North Korea. To accomplish these objectives, North Korea envisions fighting a two-front war. The first front, consisting of conventional forces, is tasked with breaking through defending forces along the DMZ, destroying defending CFC forces, and advancing rapidly down the entire peninsula. This operation will be coordinated closely with the opening of a second front consisting of SOF units conducting raids and disruptive attacks in CFC's rear.

The DPRK offensive against the ROK will consist of three phases. The objective of the first phase will be to breach the defenses along the DMZ and destroy the forward deployed forces. The objective of the second phase will be to isolate Seoul and consolidate gains. The objective of the third phase will be to pursue and destroy remaining forces and occupy the remainder of the peninsula.

As the attack against the forward defenses along the DMZ begins, DPRK forces will probably initiate SCUD and FROG missile attacks with high explosives, smoke, and possible nonpersistent chemical warheads against airfields, lines of communications, C2 and logistics facilities. Additionally, the DPRK attacks will be supported by the opening of a "second front" in rear areas by teams of SOF units. These soldiers, some dressed in ROK army uniforms and carrying ROK weapons and equipment, will infiltrate into the south by air, sea, and through tunnels under the DMZ to attack CFC airfields, C3, and other key targets.

Special Weapons Doctrine

DPRK chemical weapons would compliment conventional military power. In a surprise attack, DPRK forces are expected to use chemical weapons to demoralize defending forces, reduce their effectiveness, and deny use of mobilization centers, storage areas, and military bases without physically destroying facilities and equipment. Non-persistent chemical agents could be used to break through defensive lines or to hinder a CFC counterattack. Persistent chemical agents could be used against fixed targets in rear areas, including command and control elements, major LOCs, logistic depots, airbases, and ports.

It is likely that chemical weapons would be used early in the conflict, rather than held in strategic reserve. Virtually every stage of US military operations would be made more complicated by the requirement to operate after the use of chemical weapons, beginning with deploying through vulnerable ports and staging facilities. Far from being weapons of last resort, chemical weapons may be a weapon of first resort.

The introduction of chemical weapons in a conflict would have profound political consequences, raising the possible use of nuclear weapons in response. US nuclear weapons might play only a limited role in deterring North Korean chemical weapons use against military targets in the South. While a nuclear response may be seen as credible in retaliation for use of nuclear or biological weapons against urban populations, such a response could be seen as less credible against the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield, since it could be perceived as totally disproportionate.

The perceived value of nuclear weapons for North Korea is reflected in the often cited statement attributed to former Indian Army Chief of Staff Sundarji: "one principal lesson of the Gulf War is that, if a state intends to fight the United States, it should avoid doing so until and unless it possesses nuclear weapons."

In the face of a credible threat of use of nuclear weapons, the United States and its coalition partners could be forced to change the way the US would conduct operations. North Korea may see the threat of use of nuclear weapons against US coalition partners or allies as a powerful tool in undermining US options for coalition warfare, or in seeking through coercion to undermine US basing or other support for operations. North Korea must also perceive enormous value threatening Japan in order to deny the United States access to key ports and airfields in the south.

Nuclear weapons would also serve to coerce and deter the United States from responding to a North Korean attack on the South by launching a counter-offensive aimed at, for instance, seizing Pyongyang.

Under Operations Plan 5027 (CINCUNC/CFC OPLAN 5027), the United States plans to provide units to reinforce the Republic of Korea in the event of external armed attack. These units and their estimated arrival dates are listed in the Time Phased Force Deployment List (TPFDL), Appendix 6, to Annex A to CINCUNC/CFC OPLAN 5027. The TPFDL is updated biennially through U.S./ROK agreements. CINCUNC/CFC OPLAN 5027 is distributed with a SECRET-U.S./ROK classification. The Ulchi-Focus Lens (UFL) exercise is the largest Command Post Exercise [CPX] among JCS Exercise category. It provides an opportunity for commanders and staffs to focus on strategic and operational issues associated with general military operations on the Korean peninsula. During this exercise each August, the ROK-US Combined Forces Command (CFC) and the United Nations Command (UNC) of Korea, as well as USFK practice the implement of OPLAN 5027 with the scenario of North Korean Peoples Army’s (NKPA) aggression. Combined political-military training emphasizes Flexible Deterrent Options (FDO), ROK mobilization, US reinforcement, and synchronization of Deep, Close and Rear battles.

OPLAN 5027 is the operations plan that is the "go to war in Korea" plan. Tasks performed during the early denial phase of OPLAN 5027 include Noncombatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) operations and theater Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration [RSOI]. This phase of OPLAN 5027 assumes the sustainability of the southern defense and consequently enough time for reinforcements. Tasks performed during the Destruction Phase of the OPLAN involves a strategy of maneuver warfare north of the Demilitarized Zone with a goal of terminating the North Korea regime, rather than simply terminating the war by returning North Korean forces to the Truce Line. In this phase operations would include the US invasion of north Korea, the destruction of the Korean People’s Army and the north Korean government in Pyongyang. US troops would occupy north Korea and "Washington and Seoul will then abolish north Korea as a state and ‘reorganize’ it under South Korean control.

Given the parameters of OPLAN 5027, the narrow window for a decisive and relatively safe North Korean opportunity would be between a week and a month -- during the Denial Phase, before the rapid deployment of US light forces would be followed by the arrival of advance units of heavier divisions. North Korea would have significant incentive to achieve decisive results during this phase, at least through the use of chemical weapons against US forces in South Korea. North Korea might also seek to discourage Japanese support for reinforcments through threatening the use of nuclear weapons against US facilities in Japan, or threatening the use of chemical or biological weapons against the Japanese population, delivered either by missiles or clandestine means. The credibility of these threats against Japan might be enhanced through "demonstration" attacks that were not of sufficient magnitude to provoke American nuclear retaliation.

The Destruction Phase of OPLAN 5027 evidently poses the issue of national entity survival for the North Korean regime, and would be the most plausible circumstances under which the North would plausibly contemplate initiating the use of nuclear weapons, striking first in the last resort.

In addition to the political and military value of special weapons, North Korea apparently views the development and possession of special weapons as providing near and long-term economic benefits. North Korea has produced and sold large numbers of various models of missiles for significant amounts of money to customers such as Iran and Pakistan. North Korea has also found development of special weapons an effective means of extracting money from the western nations, notably the United States and Japan.

Fundamentally, however, the North Korean special weapons agenda is not simply military or economic, it is also political. North Korea has effectively manipulated American concerns about their nuclear and missile programs as a means of advancing their broader agenda. The North Koreans have been remarkably clear in their demands, and when the West has done a poor job of listening, manipulation of the status of their nuclear or missile programs have served as effective attention-getters.

Sources and Resources

FAS | Nuke | Guide | DPRK |||| Index | Search |


Maintained by Webmaster
Updated Friday, March 03, 2000 3:49:45 PM