Yonhap has an interesting interview posted with North Korean military expert Joseph Bermudez
Such is the Korean Peninsula’s global profile that there are overseas experts on all aspects of Korea, from politics to literature, from martial arts to cuisine.
In the mountains of the U.S. state of Colorado, one man has carved a particularly arcane niche: Joseph Bermudez, 56, is possibly the world’s top non-Korean expert on the North Korean People’s Army, or KPA, which ranks as the world’s fifth largest with 1.1 million soldiers.
An analyst for prestigious defense publisher Janes, founder of the KPA Journal and author of books on North Korean special forces and ballistic missiles, Bermudez is a consultant for government agencies in the United States and worldwide on Kim Jong-il’s military machine.
So how did a native of middle America become a specialist on the KPA?
“I always had an interest in military history and became friends with a group of people who were military history enthusiasts,”Bermudez said in a telephone interview. “One day, one of those friends who was in government called up and said, ‘A major who is being sent to Korea needs some help with a project.’”
As a defense analyst, Bermudez’s early specialization was the Middle East and ballistic missiles; the suggested project was an overview of the KPA. However, he was able to assist the major, and he has never looked back.
“Anyone who does anything for more than 25 years gets quite good at it, I assume,” he said, adding that he now has a wealth of sources on tap.
“I read everything publicly available and have amassed a large collection of declassified intelligence documents,” he said. “I have had an even greater opportunity to meet with officials from around the world concerning the subject and have spoken to North Korean defectors.”
There seems to be two broad strands of opinion among pundits: One is that the KPA is ill-fed, ill-equipped and, barring a few elite units, a hollow shell. The other is that it is a credible, motivated and formidable force. Bermudez tends to lean toward the latter opinion.
“Compared to any Western army, the KPA is essentially an obsolescing military, but its troops are amazingly well disciplined,” he said. “There are cases where fathers and sons have served in the same units, and those units have trained for the same mission for decades.” [Yonhap]
You can read the rest at the link, but it is easy to keep military discipline when ones entire family would be subject to being imprisoned in a North Korean gulag. The threat of the gulag in the back of a Soldier’s mind and the need for food along with the constant brainwashing ideology are why North Korea is able to maintain a relatively well trained force in my opinion. However, I am willing to bet that the capabilities of the North Korean military are widely divergent depending on where they are stationed. For example I would expect front line units along the DMZ to maintain a high level of readiness, but with all the reports of corrupt military personnel along the Sino-North Korean border I suspect that those units’ discipline and training are severely lacking. Some of the more expensive to train units like their helicopter and fixed wing pilots I would also expect are not well trained either.