In mid-October, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivered an address to the North Korean army ordering his soldiers to “concentrate all efforts on completing preparations for war” during winter military drills. These drills typically start in mid-December.
Kim Jong Un’s pressure to “complete preparations for war” long before the beginning of the winter training period suggests that the North Korean soldiers will face intense drills – particularly with regard to the premise of war on the Korean Peninsula.
PREPARING FOR WAR
Kim Jong Un’s orders on the winter training period were delivered through lectures to officers and soldiers of all Korean People’s Army’s (KPA) divisions on Nov. 2.
Daily NK sources revealed that each division leader is now tasked with creating preparation plans for both the winter training period as well as a successful war. Furthermore, all training results will have to be posted in staff officer buildings in order for supervisors to follow and review the soldiers’ progress.
According to a North Korean source at South Hamgyong Province’s military base on Nov. 5, Kim’s orders for such political education programs came “early this month.” General preparations for the winter training period begin usually in mid-October and end in late November, other sources told Daily NK.
KPA rules regarding the training in December “only” foresee the equipment of individual units with the training materials, tools and other necessary items.
While Kim has issued commands for winter training periods in the past, he’s never stressed implicit needs for war preparations before. This year, however, his speech contained several suggestive statements such as “War drills are for strengthening the army,” “Winter training is in preparation for war” and “No duty is more a duty of life and death than preparing for war.”
MOUNT PAEKDU’S “CUTTING WINDS”
A North Korean source has provided Daily NK with material which contains excerpts from Kim Jong Un’s address.
He is quoted, for instance: “The KPA must not fall prey to a peaceful mood but must constantly maintain an attitude of tension and remain mobilized and prepared to respond to a war.”
“Devoting ourselves to war preparations and strengthening our military contains our essential guarantee for the ultimate victory of our revolution,” Kim continued. “A thorough adherence to the Party’s unique military-first system is a prerequisite for war preparations.”
With another remark, Kim referred to his ascent on Mount Paektu on a white horse this October – perhaps a reminder to the military to keep following his lead. “We must engage in fierce battle with the spirit of Mount Paektu’s cutting winds and – using the strength of our army – march to the peak,” he said.
EMPHASIS ON A “COMMON ENEMY”
Kim Jong Un’s warlike rhetoric stands in direct contrast to South Korea’s recent decision to suspend its large-scale aerial drill known as “Vigilant Ace.”
Moreover, one source Daily NK spoke to thinks Kim’s overt mistrust of South Korea’s and the US’ “peace offensive” could be interpreted as an attempt to initiate a “unflinching revolutionary spirit [Mount Paektu-style]” among members of the military.
“There seems to be a clear intent to reinforce the sense of a common enemy among the soldiers,” the source told Daily NK. “There also seems to be a perceptible attempt to lay stress on the ideology of unconditionally trusting and following the Great Leader, regardless of any change in the circumstances.”
CRACKING DOWN ON LAX DISCIPLINE
However, Kim could have also intended to achieve something else by his choice of words: the reinforcement of discipline in North Korea’s armed forces.
Throughout the ranks many North Korean soldiers had used the past winter military drills to take time off or work side-jobs to supplement their income. As a result, “the atmosphere has gotten slack to the point where there would be jokes about how all you needed to prepare for the training was experience and intuition,” a source told Daily NK.
“Such happy days” might soon be over though, according to the source. “It seems like [the military authorities] are trying to root out this kind of attitude,” he said. “[They] will likely restrict the number of permits that allow soldiers to leave their bases.”
And that’s not all: “Soldiers tasked with escorting other soldiers back to their homes are also disappointed that they will no longer be able to accept bribes,” he added.
Daily NK reported last year that winter military drills involved both military units and members of armed civil defense units, such as the Worker-Peasant Red Guards.
*Translated by Violet Kim and edited by Laura Geigenberger
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