Document created: 28 February 2007
Air & Space Power Journal - Winter 2007
The North Korean People’s Army: Origins and Current Tactics by James M. Minnich. Naval Institute Press (http://www.usni.org/press/press.html), 291 Wood Road, Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5034, 2005, 164 pages, $27.95 (hardcover).
The occurrence of certain events over the past decade has resulted in the publication of many books on North Korea’s nuclear program, diplomacy between North Korea and the United States, and the geopolitical problems created by Kim Jong Il’s Stalinist regime. For the most part, the literature has lacked a work that offers in-depth, scholarly analysis of the North Korean People’s Army (NKPA)—a military force that remains the world’s fifth largest and continues to pose a threat to the stability and security of the Korean Peninsula. This work, written by a US Army foreign-area officer, attempts to fill that void.
Minnich divides his book into two parts. Chapters in the first portion address the NKPA’s partisan lineage; its original, formal organizing under the close tutelage of the Soviets; the expansion that occurred prior to the invasion of South Korea; and the status of the NKPA in 1950. The surprisingly short chapters lack the important depth and detail that would allow readers to truly understand the origins of the NKPA, the driving forces behind its formulation and capabilities, and the reasons for its initial stunning successes in the first months of the Korean War. The second section addresses current tactics in chapters that examine national strategy and the formulation of military policy, offensive and defensive tactics, and artillery-grouping tactics.
The second section is particularly disappointing because it does not consider the large-scale changes to North Korean conventional military forces that have occurred since Kim Jong Il came to power in 1994. Because of a changing geopolitical environment and resource constraints beyond Pyongyang’s control, the military’s offensive capabilities have largely evolved so that they now threaten South Korea with asymmetric forces such as long-range artillery, special operations units, and a ballistic missile corps that boasts at least 600 Scuds and other short-range ballistic missiles in its inventory. The author does not address in detail how missile forces have now become integrated doctrinally with artillery units to form a lethal “first punch” in any war with South Korea. Nor does he examine how the significant increase in the number of large-scale artillery systems that North Korea has deployed along the demilitarized zone has largely altered the status quo of conventional military forces on the peninsula. In the book’s second part, the author seems to make the assessment that North Korea would attack the South in nearly the same way it would have 20 years ago—a very unlikely prospect.
This short text is interesting in that it provides some context for the history and philosophy of the NKPA in its early stages. It runs into problems in its later chapters because Minnich does not address important issues such as doctrine, evolving organization, the impact of materials and resources on training, leadership development of personnel, and the ability (and motivations) that the NKPA has for large-scale aggression, based on the current capabilities of its conventional military forces. For readers seeking a book that will educate them on the current readiness, capabilities, and threat of North Korea’s conventional military forces, The North Korean People’s Army falls far short of the mark. For those who would like a short, broad-brush look at the history and early philosophy of the NKPA, the text provides some useful context. On the whole, this book does not fill the void in the scholarly literature for readers who desire in-depth analysis of North Korea’s military threat.
Dr. Bruce E. Bechtol Jr.
Marine Corps Command and Staff College
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of
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