December 06, 2023

North Korea’s million man army in post-unification Korea

Integration of KPA critical aspect of unification, presenting risks & opportunities

In the event of a peaceful unification of the two Koreas (unlikely or not) South Korea would inherit numerous North Korean institutions, among them the Korean People’s Army. This could also be the case in a less than peaceful scenario which didn’t result in the destruction of the North’s military. North Korea’s military includes more than 1 million active duty soldiers and large numbers of facilities and equipment. If Seoul does someday inherit the North’s large military force, there will be many concerns to address and many potential dangers, but also opportunities.

As with many other aspects of a potential Korean reintegration or reunification, Seoul must be prepared ahead of time for the various tasks it must undertake and how to handle the numerous institutions and assets it would inherit from Pyongyang. The North’s Korean People’s Army, being a large military force with many dangerous weapons and indoctrinated personnel, would be among the biggest concerns. At about 1.2 million soldiers, the KPA is the world’s fourth-largest military in terms of active duty personnel. If reserve personnel and paramilitary are included, the North’s military numbers over 7 million, the world’s largest, and represents about 40 percent of North Korea’s population. Proper management and integration will be crucial to making the Korean reintegration/reunification as successful and peaceful as possible.