Korea: Korea Simmers


January 4, 2024: North Korea continues to pass and enforce laws against those who adopt South Korean fashions, clothing, and mannerisms. North Koreans defy their government with this behavior. To make matters worse, fewer North Koreans are getting married and having children. There is a different problem in affluent South Korea. Over the last few years, the number of missing conscripts has become obvious, and the solution was not to send a lot of officers in charge of conscription to labor camps, but to try and pressure recent high school graduates and those who had recently completed their ten years of active and reserve service to voluntarily enlist or reenlist. Birth rates have been declining for years and so has the population of military-age men. Those already in the military are bribing their way out or simply deserting. The calls for voluntary enlistments have largely been ignored.

The North Korean armed forces have lots of other, and older, problems. While nearly every adult male serves at least six years in the military, the big problem is that years of economic problems and failed harvests have left the troops poorly equipped, often hungry, and increasingly insubordinate. With most of the best educated troops bribing their way into any job but one in a combat unit, it is increasingly doubtful if the North Korean combat forces could get very far during an invasion of South Korea, or retreat fast enough if the South invades the North. North Korea also has problems with the birth rate, which is currently 1.8 and below the population replacement rate of 2.1. South Korea has a similar problem because prosperous populations tend to have fewer children because there are so many other activities the women can engage in. Raising children is a lot of work and given a choice, a lot of couples choose not to have kids.

This is a 21st Century problem for Korea. After the Korean War ended in 1953, both Koreas experienced population booms. That eventually ended in South Korea because of growing affluence while in the north it was privation and despair that did the job. That privation gets worse in North Korea during the winter because many rural areas have destroyed their forests to obtain firewood. In the south, fuel for heating is not a problem and there have been decades of reforestation efforts to restore the forests in rural areas. In the north the shortage of firewood or the growing number of people who cannot afford to purchase it, means a lot of unheated or under-heated dwellings. This has led to more illnesses among children and

North Korea may have fewer and fewer soldiers but there are still lots of weapons and munitions. Both are being sold to Russia for use in the Ukraine War. Russia apparently pays for much of this via barter. North Korea is sent food in the form of grain or packaged goods. In addition, Russia sends needed petroleum products and natural gas. This form of trade has been going on for over a year. This has led to North Korean arms factories increasing production to sell more to Russia and replace the munitions reserves originally sent to Russia. North Korea has also exported more workers to Russia, to replace Russian men taken from their jobs by army recruiters.

Details on this trade with Russia are officially classified as top secret. Few North Koreans try to conceal all this activity, in part because it is so extensive and visible to locals as well as foreigners with surveillance satellites. Despite this, North Korean security forces have orders to pursue and arrest those suspected of discussing this trade activity with unauthorized personnel. This is a problem because few North Koreans are authorized to know about this very public trade activity. The government soon discovered that it had a problem with the large number of North Koreans that are, technically, guilty of witnessing this very public and visible activity. To an outsider this must appear bizarre, and it is. Most North Koreans agree but it is typical government behavior. North Koreans adapt as best they can. State Security officials believe this overemphasis on security makes it difficult, if not impossible, to guard important secrets. This includes details on where leader Kim Jong Un is and the location of his many residences. Any details about the North Korean military are also secret, mainly because they reveal how demoralized, disorganized, and poorly equipped the military is. This force would have a difficult time protecting North Korea from attack, much less trying to invade South Korea.

The North Korean government continues to make noise about impending war with South Korea and the United States. These threats have been heard in the north for so long that the government has to find ways to enhance these threats, so they rise above the level of background noise. That’s hard to do after so many decades of this threat-mongering. Currently South Korea and the United States are cooperating by openly discussing plans for eliminating North Korean leaders and revealing military plans to carry out decapitation missions inside North Korea that would kill Kim Jong Un and other senior North Korean officials. South Korea and the U.S. are concerned about the growing threats from North Korea about attacking South Korea. The North Korean preparations are more detailed and visible than ever before. In the past the north used these threats as a form of propaganda, not as part of serious preparations for war.

Over the last few decades, the South Korea military has become stronger in terms of weapons, most of them produced in South Korea, as well as capabilities. The South Korean military is more capable than ever before of quickly and effectively attacking North Korea or retaliating against a North Korea attack.

North Korea is aware of this and feels better able to deal with South Korea, the Americans or China because of their closer economic and military relationships with Russia. This attitude is somewhat delusional because Russia is not very powerful economically or militarily compared to the United States or China, the two largest economies on the planet. China and the United States have their differences but are willing and able to cooperate if they have to. Between them they comprise about half the planetary economy and what these two nations agree to do economically defines what the rest of the world can do.




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