On the left is the cover page of the internally-disseminated document. “All Citizens Must Fulfill the Demands of Military Service.” On the right is a malnourished soldier sent to hospital. Photographed in July 2011 in South Pyongan Province by ASIAPRESS


Through a reporting partner in North Korea, ASIAPRESS recently acquired a document internally-disseminated by the Workers’ Party in March 2020.

The five-paged document is a political ideology textbook aimed at officials and is entitled “All Citizens Must Fulfill the Demands of Military Service.”

According to a North Korean defector with experience in the military, “The fact that such documents are being produced shows that there are cases of people ignoring or violating the Military Service Act.”

The purpose of the document is to reinforce the public’s knowledge of the Military Service Act which was enacted by the 10th Standing Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly held in December 2003.

Under the law, North Korea created a “national military service system,” which would obligate the entire nation to perform military service in either the regular or reserve forces or the civilian armed forces.

According to the 2019 Defense White Paper, the North Korean People’s Army is composed of about 1.1 million troops. (However, some researchers estimate this number to be closer to 700,000.) These estimates equate to roughly 4.5-5% of the total North Korean population. In addition, it is known that there are 4.7 million reserve force members and 3.5 million members of the civilian armed forces. Based on these figures from 2018, this would push the estimated total up to 62.5 million.

Maintenance of this massive armed force is very important for the Kim Jong-un regime as the Korean People’s Army is one of the key elements of the North Korean system.

As of 2020, the mandatory military service for North Korean men is 13 years, while for women it is 8 years. Certainly, young North Korean people must endure a harsh youth.

ASIAPRESS asked a reporting partner in North Korea to investigate the current recruitment process implemented by the military. Paired with an examination of the documents obtained by reporting partners during their investigations, we can learn much about the military service policies of the country.

The most recently obtained document cites Kim Jong-il, explaining the importance of national defense and military service. It also includes details of the Military Service Act, as it was enacted back in 2003. The details of this law were initially not released to the public and so are not yet well-studied by scholars in South Korea.

The obtained document is not labeled with any warnings such as “confidential,” “secret,” or “top secret.” In fact, there are even several typos among the text. According to a North Korean defector who previously worked for a state agency, internal documents such as these “sometimes contain spelling errors.” The defector also explained that documents such as this one “would be used for educational purposes for members of the Workers’ Party and for members of workplaces responsible for propaganda.”

◆ Mandatory role for men and support role for women

〈...Citizens shall register their military service in time and endeavor to meet the conditions of enlistment. Articles 3 through 9 of the Military Service Act regulates the following:〉

・The state will implement national military service.
・Citizens of age shall be drafted to serve in the military.
・At the age of 16, citizens are required to register for military service.
・Citizens who change jobs must also register for military service.
・Male citizens must enlist for military service before the age of 25.
・If required by the state, female citizens above the age of 18 may enlist for military service.
・Citizens who are attached to institutions or enterprises may enlist through receiving a recommendation from their workplaces.
・Institutions and small enterprises shall accurately evaluate and recommend citizens who intend to enlist in the military.
・Citizens who intend to enlist must undergo a physical examination.
・If a medical condition is discovered during the physical examination, the military recruitment center will send the citizen to the People’s Hospital to be treated before enlistment.
NextPage:  ◆ Enlistment following graduation…