During a recent enlarged meeting of the Central Military Commission, North Korea’s leadership decided to significantly reorganize the command structure of the Strategic Force, which operates the nation’s arsenal of ballistic missiles.

According to a Daily NK source in the North Korean military yesterday, North Korean authorities decided to split the Strategic Force Command’s subordinate headquarters into West Sea and East Sea commands during the meeting on June 11. They also decided to partially modify the force’s offensive and defensive strategy in accordance with the new command structure.

Both the East Sea and West Sea commands are focused on offensive capabilities. However, North Korean authorities plan to slightly reduce the West Sea command’s offensive capabilities relative to the East Sea command, while improving its defensive capabilities.

North Korean media reported at the time that the meeting had presented “important tasks to bring about a new turning point in general national defense efforts.”

Stressing the need to bolster the defensive capabilities of the Strategic Force, Kim reportedly pointed to the competition between the US and China and the scrapping of US guidelines on South Korean missile development during the recent US-South Korean summit.

Kim also apparently said US pressure on North Korea was not simply aimed at denuclearizing the country, but is part of Washington’s international geopolitical strategy toward China.

Kim Jong Un observed the firing of ship-fired rockets back in 2015. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

Kim reportedly issued an order that if the United States were to attack China, the West Sea command of the Strategic Force should defend against this and even launch retaliatory strikes.

In sum, North Korean authorities believe the US is strengthening its containment of China using the North Korean nuclear issue as an excuse, and that hidden behind the scrapping of the US-South Korean missile guidelines is Washington’s intention to elevate pressure on Beijing.

The move by North Korea authorities to shift the focus of the nuclear issue within the context of Sino-American rivalries, and to stress bolstered military cooperation with China — and even the need for defensive strategies to help Beijing — appears to be aimed at winning Chinese economic cooperation and military support.

In fact, Kim repeatedly mentioned the need for strengthening cooperation with China during the latest enlarged meeting of the Central Military Commission and plenary session of the Central Committee. There is also talk in North Korea that Kim could visit China in the latter half of the year.

Following the decision to reorganize the Strategic Force, some of the missile systems currently operated by the country’s army, navy, and air force may be transferred to the Strategic Force.

The navy, for example, plans to transfer the West Sea Fleet’s Rocket Management Unit based in Hanchon, Jungsang County, South Pyongan Province, to the Strategic Force.

That is to say, Daily NK understands that the Strategic Force will take over management of the base, its personnel, and even its strategic weaponry. The Strategic Force, however, have different standards compared to the navy regarding the use of the weapons and their personnel. Accordingly, discussions between the General Staff Department and Strategic Force Command over the reorganization could reportedly get “bumpy.”

“In fact, the reorganization of the Strategic Force is a massive project,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “The plan is to deploy new combat technical personnel and combat technical plans during the military’s winter training beginning on Dec. 1, after completing the redeployment of weapons and personnel by the end of October and conducting a review in November. But the reorganization could take a bit longer than that.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.