North Korean military officers face economic hardship

Soldiers in Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province. Image: Daily NK file photo

Some military officers in North Korea have reportedly been experiencing financial difficulties to the extent that some have had to move into smaller houses.

“The lives of North Korean military officers are gradually getting worse. An operations staff officer who had been well-off in the past had to sell his house. When I visited his new house, I was shocked when I saw how small it was,” said a South Pyongan Province-based source on November 7.

“The house he sold was also quite small and he told me that he had to survive off the money that was left over after buying an even smaller house. Political Department military officers help others become Party members or get promoted in exchange for bribes to survive. Rear echelon military officers steal food from the military to survive. But staff officers are much worse off than the rest of them.”

North Korean Party officials accept bribes from the population in exchange for helping them in a variety of ways, including avoiding military service, entering college, or reducing prison sentences. Bribes have become, more or less, monthly salaries that they rely upon to survive as they are unable to conduct business activities at the markets.

Staff officers, however, are an exception. They have trouble getting bribes because they have so little power, and many end up leading difficult lives.

“I heard that the family of a staff officer didn’t have rice so they ended up skipping breakfast on October 10 (the day commemorating the establishment of the Workers’ Party of Korea). The staff officer himself was able to eat at the military base cafeteria, but his family (wife, son and daughter) were unable to,” a source in North Pyongan Province reported.

“The officers have to obtain wood for heating but they have no money to buy coal, so they head to the mountains to pick up whatever leaves they can find to burn. There are some staff officers who live very hard lives and others who are better off. In any case, most of them are finding their economic situations to be getting worse.”

There has also been an increase in the number of military desertions and, at times, the authorities have been failing to crack down on such cases.

“If it’s clear that a deserter was just trying to get some medical treatment then they are sometimes given dishonorable discharges,” said a source in North Hamgyong Province. “[Their superiors] appear to be letting them off the hook because they can’t do much if they’re not healthy.”

If the deserter is determined to have damaged or stolen something from his military unit, then his superiors will treat the case differently, he noted.

“If a deserter has committed a crime at the base, then he may be punished severely,” he said. “There are cases in which deserters are sentenced to a year of correctional labor in Geumya, South Hamgyong Province, or Kimchaek, North Hamgyong Province.”

Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to