General Staff Department

updated 16 January 2011

The KPA General Staff Department [GSD] is responsible for the military management of the service branches of the Korean People’s Army.  Service branch units comprising the KPA’s integrated forces operate under the command of the KPA Chief of the General Staff.  GSD devises strategy and issues orders and guidance to the KPA’s service branches (which include the DPRK’s conventional ground, air, naval and air defense forces).  Several bureaus subordinate to GSD are tasked with signals intelligence collection.  GSD also provides communications support and military education and training to the DPRK’s military.

GSD s directly subordinate to the National Defense Commission..  GSD is the primary conduit through which the KPA Supreme Command issues orders and guidance, as well as interacts, with KPA service branch commanders.   In a general context, military policy and guidance issued by GSD must be obeyed by the other components (GPD, MSC, MPAF) in the KPA.  The GSD, however, traditionally does not participate in political, personnel or military security management.

The Vice Chiefs of GSD provide operational and administrative support to the GSD and conduct inspections of military units.  GSD Vice Chief has also been used as a title for members of the Party’s Central Military Commission who served as military advisers to Kim Chong-il, or supervisors in one of the KPA’s guidance bureaus.

GSD has nearly 30 subordinate bureaus (which are also called departments) and commands.  Within GSD are the country’s naval command (the Korean People’s Navy) and air command (the Korean People’s Air Force).  The General Staff Operations Bureau (Operations Department) directs the KPA’s operational planning including ground, naval and air commands.  The GSD Operations Bureau also provides general guidance and management over KPA training and other military exercises.

The GSD’s Communications Bureau conducts foreign and domestic signals intelligence collection.  The GSD Electronic Warfare Bureau manages electronic and electronic information warfare, in conjunction with the GSD Communications Bureau and other KPA and NDC organizations.

The GSD Training Bureau and the GSD Publication Bureau are responsible for administration and management of the DPRK’s military training, including military universities, officers’ and command schools.  The President of Kim Il Sung Military University (Academy) has traditionally held the title of Vice Chief of GSD.    The GSD Training Bureau also manages a group of military studies institutes that research and analyze strategy, doctrine, operational art and military history.

Other GSD bureaus are responsible for supplying weapons, equipment and transportation.  GSD also owns at least one foreign trading corporation.

Institutional Ties

The KPA General Staff Department interfaces with  MPAF, which has responsibility for general administration and guidance within the KPA, via the National Defense Commission.  The Chief of GSD and the director of the GSD Operations Bureau (Department) historically and traditionally interact informally and directly with the KPA Supreme Command.

The GSD’s subordinate bureaus link to the Second Economic Committee (Second Economy Commission) and the Party Central Military Commission [CMC] to process its equipment, weapons, transportation needs.  To complete its intelligence collection tasks, GSD links to the State Security Department (Ministry of State Security) and the NDC’s Reconnaissance General Bureau’s 1st and 2nd Bureaus.  The GSD also links to the 44th Bureau of the MPAF which coordinates foreign currency earning activities in the KPA.

Command and Reportage

Yi Yong Ho (KPA VMar) is current Chief of the KPA General Staff, appointed in February 2009 following a meeting of the KPA’s political committee.  In September 2010 VMarYi was elected  one Vice Chairman of the CMC, as well as a member of the Party Central Committee (CC KWP) Political Bureau Presidium.  The placement of the Chief of GSD in several places in the party hierarchy formally links the party’s control over military affairs and demonstrates the GSD’s importance in the regime’s political calculations.

See also:

Bermudez, Joseph S., Jr.  The Armed Forces of North Korea London: IB Tauris, 2001

Gause, Ken.  “Can North Korea Survive the Kim Jong-il Regime?” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis (London: Routledge, 2008)

——North Korean Civil-Military Trends: Military First Politics to a Point (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute USAWC, 2006)

Oh, Kongdan, Ed., DPRK Policy Elites (Joseph S. Bermudez; Ken Gause; Ralph C. Hassig; Alexandre Y. Mansourov; David J. Smith) Alexandria, VA: IDA,  2004

Savada, Andrea M. (ed.) North Korea: A Country Study (Washington DC: Library of Congress Federal Research Division, 1994)

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