North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and ambitions often make headlines, but recently the country has focused more on building national strength in more conventional, yet equally threatening ways.
Last month, for the first time in decades, North Korea opened its doors to outsiders for the North Korea Workers Party Congress.
At this Congress, the idea of Kim Jong Un’s “byungjin,” or a two-sided push toward economic and nuclear development, was discussed.
As Curtis Melvin, a researcher at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, explained: “Lots of people say that if they have a nuclear deterrent, they won’t need conventional weapons … But under the Kim Jong Un era, there has been a big increase in spending on the economic and conventional military side,” The Washington Post notes.
Using satellite imagery, one of the few windows into the secretive nation, Melvin claims to have spotted construction indicating that a railway was coming to the Korean People’s Army naval base and the shipyard at Wonsan.
According to North Korean media, Kim Jung Un has commented that the naval base would be useful for bolstering the economy.
As it stands now, the hermit kingdom already possesses a fearsome array of artillery installations across the DMZ just 30 or so miles from Seoul.
Against these low-tech weapons, advanced defenses like the Patriot missile-defense system and possible deployment of the THAAD system meant to guard against ballistic missiles are of little use.
Additionally, there is reason to believe that Kim Jung Un has had some success in revitalizing the military by instituting new military leadership after a rash of executions removed some of the old brass.
Joseph S. Bermudez, an expert on North Korea’s military, told The Washington Post: “I get a sense that when Kim Jong Un came to power, he looked around and said, ‘We have all these old guys running things who haven’t been in the field for 15 or 20 years. We need people who know what they’re talking about.'”
“Before, you had leaders of special forces who couldn’t run a mile. Now, we see artillery division commanders that actually have an artillery background,” Bermudez continued.
- Lee Jin-man/AP
The North Korean dictatorship claims to have a military that is 1.2 million people strong with an “unlimited reach” from government to conscript citizens into service.
The threat from North Korea’s conventional forces and nuclear forces has triggered nations around the world to tighten sanctions against the rogue nation and the US to engage in vigorous military exercises with South Korea, should the need for decisive action arise.