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Scary Facts About the North Korean Military

The North Korean military is one of the largest in the world, featuring over one million active duty soldiers, millions of reservists and paramilitary members, and thousands of tanks. It spends anywhere from a quarter to a third of its budget on its armed forces, and has developed a nuclear weapons arsenal, along with chemical weapons, and even lasers.

But the North Korean army is also a teetering, obsolete, 20th-century force. Their tanks, planes, and submarines are mostly of the Cold War variety. Its nukes are weak, its soldiers hungry, and its leadership uncoordinated and subservient to a dictator with no military experience. Even with all that, though, the DPRK's military has scary capabilities - enough that the US is constantly planning for how to defeat it.

Here are some of the most frightening aspects of North Korea's massive military.
  • North Korea Has the Biggest Military Per Capita in the World

    Photo: James Mossman / Wikimedia Commons
    Thought to have about 1.2 million active duty military members, North Korea has 47.8 per 1000 population members - the highest rate of any country in the world. This is ten times higher than the US.
  • It Has a Huge Paramilitary Force

    Photo: Roman Harak / Wikimedia Commons
    The numbers are hard to pin down, but it's thought that North Korea has anywhere between 1.5 and 6 million trained reservists in its Workers and Peasants Militia, most of whom are ready to pick up arms and fight if the country went to war. With mandatory conscription, nearly every male in the North has at least some kind of training, and could be called upon to serve as cannon fodder, even if they aren't still serving. It also has tens of thousands of military police, mostly in Pyongyang.
  • The North Has Its Own Hitler Youth

    Photo: Tobias Nagel / National Geographic
    No dictatorship is complete without exploitation of child soldiers. So it goes in North Korea, where the Young Red Guards (sometimes called the Red Youth Guard) serve as the youth arm of its organized paramilitary force. Created in 1970, the Young Red Guards are males age 15-17, who go through 10-15 days of military and survival during the summer to prepare them for conscription at age 18. Naturally, they must provide their own food and uniforms.
  • The US Plan to Beat North Korea is Constantly Evolving

    Video: YouTube

    The US strategy to fight alongside South Korea and defeat an invasion by the North is called OPLAN 5027. It was developed in the early '70s and revised constantly, as the North's threat capabilities evolve. Versions of the plan usually involve the ROK and US defeating a DPRK invasion at a defensive line about 20-30 miles deep into South Korea, but still north of Seoul. It also incorporates the North's nuclear, biological, and cyber abilities, while leaving enough forces to prevent Seoul from being bombarded. During the Bush years, OPLAN 5027 focused more on offensive warfare, and has reportedly been rewritten again since then. 

    The two countries also have a plan for a sudden collapse of the Kim regime, called OPLAN 5029; as well as a separate plan for a preemptive strike against the North, called OPLAN 5015. Little is known about either of these plans.