May 23, 2013:
North Korea is often described as having the fourth largest military on the planet. That’s quite an accomplishment for a country of 24 million but the numbers are achieved at the expense of quality and sustainability. The 950,000 personnel in the active military are four percent of the population. When you include reservists who can be called to service in wartime, over 25 percent of the population gets involved. That means the economy, as shabby as it is, pretty much shuts down until the war is over. Fortunately, that won’t take long.
Since North Korea has drawn on its war reserves of food and fuel over the last decade (because of bad harvests and little cash to buy oil), it’s likely that North Korea would be out of fuel for military operations after about a month and food shortages for the entire population would quickly become catastrophic. That’s because the military takes over much of the vehicle transport in wartime and enemy (South Korean/U.S.) air attacks would cripple the railroads. Without transportation, food cannot be moved to areas that don’t produce much of it.
North Korea keeps its data on “war reserves” (food, fuel, ammo, and other supplies stockpiled for wartime) a secret. But many more North Korean refugees have reached South Korea in the last decade and most have served in the military, many quite recently. They all tell a similar tale of low reserves and little new material to replace stuff that is withdrawn to deal with severe food or fuel shortages, or simply goes bad because of age. All this helps to explain the North Korea eagerness to build some nuclear bombs that can be used as weapons. The nukes are rapidly becoming the only effective wartime weapon available but the nukes are not yet ready for prime time.