Monday, July 21, 2014

(north Korea) KPA Uniforms Betray Growing Military Disparities

Here is another potential indicator of military organizations being 'de-prioritized" by the regime.  This could be very significant if the regime is unable to take care of all its military.  Once conflict among units begins over competition for resources it could be a short path to wide spread instability as the military loses coherency and support for the regime.  Recall that in the 1990's we tried to define regime collapse and we did so by saying that regime collapse may occur when the regime loses central governing effectiveness and the loss of coherency of the military.  See the chart on uncertainty and complexity below the article (from the late 1990's).

KPA Uniforms Betray Growing Military Disparities

Kwon Hyo Jin  |  2014-07-18 19:37
Failures of central rationing and equipment distribution to the military have resulted in exacerbated disparities from region to region. According to one Daily NK source, a quick glance at a soldier’s uniform is sufficient to predict his or her region, or even unit.

The source from the port city of Chongjin in North Hamkyung Province told Daily NK on July 17th, “Soldiers get very uncomfortable because they are not getting the appropriate uniforms for each season. That's why fabric for military uniforms sells so well in the jangmadang [market].”

“These uniforms make the soldiers look terrible. You wouldn't know from looking at some of them whether they were kotjebi [homeless orphans] or members of the military,” he remarked. “Nowadays, you even need money if you want to wear the right uniform and do your military duty properly.”

In principle, Chosun People’s Army (KPA) soldiers should be provided with two sets of both summer and winter uniforms, in addition to essential toiletries, socks, and undergarments.  However, this stopped happening regularly during the Arduous March of the 1990s, when the distribution of most types of rations ceased.

According to the source, this state of affairs led some ordinary soldiers and most ranking officers to go and buy the fabric to make uniforms for themselves. Of course, poorer soldiers were obliged to either wear whatever they were given, or resort to stealing.

This situation, which continues today, created a niche market for the fabrics to make military uniforms. According to the Daily NK source, the material for a basic uniform costs 10-20 USD (at a black market exchange rate of 7,500 KPW/1 USD), while the material for ranking officers (unitcommanders and higher) runs at about 100 USD.

The fabric used to make uniforms differs depending on rank. General uniforms are made fromTetron, a polyester-rayon blend that gives off a soft luster, whereas those of senior officers are made from wool for a more refined look. Given that a kilogram of rice currently costs in the region of 5000 KPW, this means that even a general uniform can cost its wearer 15-30kg of rice. 

Depending on the region where a soldier is stationed, living conditions can vary drastically. Border Guard units stationed areas near the Tumen and Amnok rivers do relatively better, as do those with Escort Command and Capital Defense Command in Pyongyang. The 4th Corps in South Hwanghae Province, 8th Corps in North Pyongan Province, and 7th Corps in South Hamkyung Province are also relatively desirable locations, as they are purported to come with better conditions.

“Parents overwhelmingly prefer their offspring to be with the Border Guards,” the source said. “This is generally because they can take bribes from smugglers and other traders on the border and reap quite large sums of money. Within three years or so they've got enough to get discharged, enter the Party, and build a life for themselves.”

“Pyongyang and parts of South Hwanghae Province have decent transportation and guarantee relatively better living conditions, making parents feel relieved when their children are stationed there,” he continued. “Some parents will present the Military Mobilization Department [Military Manpower Administration in South Korea] with bribes to get their children stationed in those areas.”

At the other end of the spectrum are areas under the remit of the 2nd Corps in North Hwanghae Province, and especially the 1st and 5th corps in Gangwon Province, whose poor conditions have earned their members the name “Kotjebi Corps”, the source claimed. 

Predictably, the class stratum of regional placement within the military results in local spikes in criminal activity by soldiers, Daily NK’s source revealed. For example, “The night before the Party meeting to commemorate 20 years since the death of Kim Il Sung, 3-4 soldiers from the 9th Corps in Chongjin assaulted a group of passing soldiers and robbed them of the uniforms they were wearing and their personal belongings.”

“The Military Police has detain the offenders and placed them under interrogation,” he reported. “Perpetrators usually admit to the crime, and will cite their desire for the victim’s uniform as the motivation.” 
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