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N. Korea Reluctant to Reduce Troop Levels

Posted September. 10, 2009 08:27,   


A reduction of conventional ammunition is a growingly attractive measure in South Korea to cut its massive defense budget and expenses. North Korea, however, is highly likely not to cut its conventional forces, which are about twice as large as those of the South.

The biggest reason is Pyongyang’s upkeep of a large military force helps maintain the stability of the communist regime. With the North Korean public having little trust in their government, the military is a means for the North to keep in check the younger generation from turning violent against their government.

If North Korean youngsters are released to society through a cut in troop levels despite a lack of jobs, social instability is expected to intensify. Moreover, Pyongyang is mobilizing troops to conduct large construction projects and farming under the pretext of “politics of an advanced military.”

What the Stalinist country spends to maintain its military is not as big as widely believed. It effectively gave up in the conventional arms race against the South a long time ago, and has instead been aggressively pushing for nuclear weapons development.

Feeing more than a million soldiers is far from easy, but Pyongyang does so through rationing, be they civilian or military servicemen. The North could conceivably cut its conventional military power in return for massive economic aid and jobs for North Koreans from South Korea. But the problem is how much the North will want and the many obstacles that could linger before the North’s military reduction.

For one, it is difficult to calculate arms systems in numbers between the two Koreas and compare them. It is impossible for Pyongyang to cut arms by the same amount since North Korea still operates weapons more than half a century old.

It is also difficult for both sides to agree on a standard on how the firepower of the South’s armored division matches up against the North’s.

The two Koreas also have different interests. Seoul urgently needs Pyongyang to get rid of long-range artillery and missiles aimed at the South, but to the North, they are its only way to pressure the South.

As such, chances appear high that the North will link the reduction of its long-range artillery with a cut in the South Korean Air Force, which is capable of striking Pyongyang. This is considered by the South as an impossible request.

Since long ago, the North has sought to link its reduction of conventional weapons to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the South. Moreover, it is unclear if military inspections in the South and North, which requires a high level of mutual trust, can be conducted simultaneously at a time when inter-Korean economic cooperation remains in the doldrums.