There has been a significant increase in North Korean soldiers deserting to China since July, or maybe even earlier. Chinese intelligence analysts noted that all the dozen or so deserters showed signs of malnutrition. None of them weighed more than 50 kg (110 pounds) or was taller than 157cm (five foot two inches). The few taken alive indicated poor discipline and food shortages in their units. Despite lifelong exposure to lots of propaganda about how great North Korea is the border guards could see better fed and more affluent Chinese across the river. This included the Chinese border guards who seemed to have better uniforms and equipment as well as being heavier and taller. The starvation among North Korean troops, especially among the border guards, is more widespread this year because food normally allocated to the military is now going to senior officials who are using it for their own families and supporters or even selling it in the free markets.
There is much more on related military issues, as well.
In one sense, this news about the fact of and condition of deserters makes sense. North Korea lost their generous patron, the USSR, when that communist empire fragmented a quarter century ago. Russia isn't as generous and China has not picked up the slack.
To cope with fewer resources to maintain their police state run by a pampered minority class, North Korea decided to focus limited resources on nuclear weapons and the secret police. The nukes (which North Korea doesn't have yet--nuclear "devices" are all they have and not warheads) are to deter invasion and shake down neighbors for cash; and the spies are to control the people (and army).
I called this "kooks, spooks, and nukes."
Demoting the army is a complicated thing, of course. Denying it resources risks it becoming a threat to the regime. But the army is just too darned big to afford yet too weak to be a threat to South Korea.
Somehow, North Korea needs to pare down their army to a size that it can afford and which won't be a threat to the regime.
So this reaction to fewer young men because of the mid-90s famine makes no sense at all:
“Recently, the Central Party partially cancelled some recruitment regulations because of a decrease in the number of military-age recruits,” a source in North Hamgyong province told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In the past, those who were the only son in their families, whose parents worked on collective farms, or who were the children of mine workers did not have to join the military, he said.
“A new recruitment regulation requires that all men up to their mid-30s, who have been exempt from the military in the past, now serve,” he said.
Recent university graduates who have been exempt from military service, those who work in factories, and those who have a family are now among the citizens being recruited, the source said.
This should be considered a blessing in disguise. North Korea should start cutting down their force structure.
But instead the North Koreans will put more stress on the population to maintain an army that is more of a danger than an asset?
And to do this the North Koreans will anger a privileged class of people who had managed to keep their sons (and now daughters, it seems, although it seems unlikely that a lot of women would be subject to military service) out of the army? An army that is starving and often little more than near-slave labor for civilian projects?
This strikes me as stupid and dangerous.
UPDATE: The beatings will continue until morale improves:
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has reportedly ordered the execution of those who failed to prevent the high-profile defection of Thae Yong-ho, a Pyongyang diplomat based in London. Thae, in a dramatic move, defected to South Korea this week along with his family.
He is believed to have directly flown to Seoul from London.
The rats are leaving the ship of state.