Amid rising rates of desertion and health issues among members of its armed forces, new recruits for North Korea’s military require signed documents from their teachers, doctors, and local security officials.
North Korea’s military mobilization department conducts a recruitment drive aimed at high school graduates every spring and autumn. The aim is to determine whether each student will enter the military, are exempt or will join shock troop brigades.
As the number of soldiers in poor health and rates of desertion have risen, the authorities have begun to stipulate that those entering the military must submit documents confirming their identities and backgrounds.
A “military entrance certificate of guarantee” acquired by Daily NK on March 5 includes the phrase, “This document certifies that [this person] is politically and morally healthy to enter the Korea People’s Army,” and has five lines for the signatures of the individual’s teacher (unit leader), inminban (neighborhood watch) leader, doctor, local police official and local security official (Ministry of State Security).
The North Korean source that sent the document, whose region has been redacted for his safety, added that “in the past, only the signatures from a school and workplace were needed, but now five signatures are required.
“Most military candidates are graduates of high school, so that’s why there’s a signature line for their teacher,” he added.
Some candidates who fail to pass the physical examination for the military have been required to get the signature of their work unit leader for reassessment. Doctors confirm whether recruits are physically fit enough to join the military, while local police and security officials check whether there are any legal or ideological issues.
“If an individual fails to get the signatures, they don’t go through the physical examination process,” said the source. “Even if they have their school graduation certificate, and a certificate showing their membership in the Kimilsungist-Kimjongilist Youth League and recommendations from their teachers or bosses, they aren’t allowed to register with the military mobilization department without the signatures.”
The requirement for signatures began in 2010, and the number required has since increased. Up until the 2000s, documents confirming the background of an individual submitted by the Youth Alliance or teachers were used instead.
Most North Koreans born in the 2000s suffered from hunger or difficulties during their years in military service, leading to an increase in desertions and prompting the requirement for signatures.
“People can join the military to become heroes or criminals, so the signatures are required to ensure military candidates are fit ideologically and mentally for the job,” said a source in Ryanggang Province. “The signature requirement makes people think about whether they can do what’s required in the military.”
The recent dip in birth rates in North Korea has led to shortages of military recruits, so the authorities are aiming to increase the number of applicants. Anyone healthy can apply to join the military and even women are allowed to become soldiers, but the requirement for signatures points to serious issues in the levels of discipline within the service.