revised 2 February 2012
The National Defense Commission [NDC] is the DPRK’s highest branch of government and the country’s supreme policymaking organization. The NDC directs and guides all military, defense and security-related affairs including policies, planning, acquisition and procurement and personnel. The NDC also provides guidance and direction to seemingly non-military/non-defense-related matters including foreign policy/diplomacy, energy (oil/coal) and the civilian (or 1st) economy [a.k.a. the people’s economy].
Article 100 of the DPRK Constitution establishes the NDC Chairman as “the supreme leader of the DPRK.” Article 103 establishes the NDC Chairman’s powers to:
1. Guide overall affairs of the state.
2. Directly guide the work of the NDC.
3. Appoint or dismiss important cadres of the national defense sector.
4. Ratify or abrogate significant treaties concluded with other countries.
5. Exercise the right to grant special pardons.
6. Declare a state of emergency and state of war in the country, and issue orders for mobilization.
Article 106 of the DPRK Constitution defines the NDC as “the supreme national defense organ of state sovereignty” with Article 109 defining the NDC’s powers to:
1. Establish important policies of the state for carrying out the military-first revolutionary line.
2. Guide the overall armed forces and defense-building work of the state.
3. Supervise the status of executing the orders of the chairman of the DPRK NDC and the decisions and directives of the NDC, and establish relevant measures.
4. Rescind the decisions and directives of state organs that run counter to the orders of the chairman of the DPRK NDC and to the decisions and directives of the NDC.
5. Establish or abolish central organs of the national defense sector.
6. Institute military titles and confer military titles above the general-grade officer rank.
The NDC consists of a Chairman, Vice-Chairmen and Members who are elected [appointed] by and hold the same term of office as the Supreme People’s Assembly [SPA] which has technically and traditionally been five  years. Since the 10th SPA in 1998 the NDC has operated as a collective body gathering senior principals of the DPRK’s national security community to deliberate and disseminate policy, particularly on major issues such as strategic weapons, succession planning (transfer of power) and foreign investment.
However, it is not clear when or if the NDC convenes formal meetings. NDC Vice-Chairmen and Members are typically a combination of active duty KPA and civilians representing the KPA’s regular service commands, the political officer corps, internal security and military [munitions] industry.
Since 2009 three key security organizations are technically subordinate to the NDC:
- The Ministry of People’s Armed Forces [MPAF] is the central administrative and logistical organization for the KPA’s service branches and commands. MPAF also contains the management agencies of military and political control in the KPA. The KPA General Staff Department [GSD] is responsible for command and control of the KPA’s conventional ground, air and naval forces. GSD subordinate bureaus are responsible for military planning, operations, training as well as processing acquisition and procurement orders. The MPAF is directly subordinate to the NDC with the technical channels for orders and guidance originating with the NDC Chairman (concurrently the KPA Supreme Commander) to the MPAF to GSD.
- The Ministry of State Security [MSS] directs political security (secret police) within the DPRK. MSS subordinate bureaus direct investigations and surveillance on DPRK citizens within the country for attitudes and behaviors. It monitors foreigners and DPRK citizens born outside the country (particularly the DPRK’s near abroad in ROK, China and Japan). The MSS 7th Bureau or Prison Bureau, manages a network of labor camps, detention facilities and geographically isolated towns inhabited by DPRK citizens and their families for anti-state or unsanctioned political, economic or cultural activities. MSS has several units located outside the DPRK which are responsible for intelligence collection. It also provides guard service and personal security at DPRK embassies and missions abroad. MSS also links to the Military Security Command [MSC].
- The Ministry of People’s Security [MPS] directs the country’s domestic law enforcement agencies, including the Korean People’s Interior Security Forces [KPISF] and provincial and local police departments. It conducts criminal investigations and financial audits, household and lodging inspections (i.e., population surveillance), polices roads, guards public buildings and monuments and manages customs control. MPS construction units build tunnels and maintain roads. The MPS provides security for central and provincial members of the leadership. It also coordinates with Ministry of Post and Telecom to maintain and staff telephone lines used by party and government leaders in Pyongyang and the provinces.
- Guard Command [General Guards Bureau] provides personal security and other services for members of the Kim Family and key political leaders.
Within the NDC apparatus are several known departments and sections, including:
NDC Administration Department: The NDC Administration Department is responsible for the NDC’s daily administrative and financial management (including oversight of SOEs), and provides general guidance in these areas to the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces (MPAF) and the General Staff Department. NDC Administration may also coordinate interactions between the NDC, the DPRK Cabinet, State Planning Commission and Second Economy Commission. The previous director, Yi Myo’ng-su (KPA Gen), was appointed Minister of People’s Security after the 4th session of the 12th Supreme People’s Assembly. According to unconfirmed reports in ROK media, Yi was replaced by Kim Cho’ng-u’n.
NDC Standing Bureau (NDC Presidium): The NDC Standing Bureau coordinates logistical and security arrangements in support visits and inspections by Kim Cho’ng-il and members of the central leadership to KPA units, performances and economic production sites. The director of the Standing Bureau is Hyo’n Ch’o’l-hae (KPA Gen), regularly seen attending to Kim Cho’ng-il and previously a deputy director of the KPA General Political Department.
NDC Foreign Affairs Department: The NDC Foreign Affairs Department handles some foreign policymaking responsibilities. It also serves as Kim Cho’ng-il’s protocol office. The director is Cho’n Hu’i-ch’ong, previously KCI’s chief of protocol and a former DPRK diplomat.
NDC Reconnaissance General Bureau: The NDC RGB manages much of the DPRK’s intelligence community and links to the CC KWP United Front Department. It coordinates the DPRK’s intelligence collection and operations concerning the ROK and Japan.
NDC Policy Department: The NDC Policy Department, which may reside in the RGB apparatus, produces and publicizes the NDC’s policy statements. These policy statements are released through DPRK media outlets as written documents or as press conferences.
Taepu’ng International Investment Group: Taepu’ng was repurposed in 2010 to manage the DPRK’s foreign investments. Prior to 2010, Taepu’ng was an energy contractor to the NDC.
The National Defense Commission was created in 1972, with a group of commissions subordinate to the Central People’s Committee, as part of the 1972 DPRK Constitution. The NDC was chartered in Chapter VII, Article 105:
The Central People’s Committee establishes a Domestic Policy Commission, a Foreign Policy Commission, a National Defense Commission, a Justice and Security Commission and other respective commissions to assist in its work.
The President of the DPRK (Kim Il Sung) was NDC Chairman, according to Chapter 6, Article 93:
The President of the DPRK is the supreme commander of all the armed forces of the DPRK and the Chairman of the National Defense Commission, and commands all the armed forces of the State.
The first National Defense Commission consisted of four members (Kim Il Sung; Choe Hyon; O Jin U; and O Paek Ryong). In 1992 the DPRK Constitution was amended to make the National Defense Commission a branch of government, second in power to the DPRK President. Kim Jong Il was elected NDC Chairman at the 3rd plenum of the 9th SPA in 1993. The NDC became the DPRK government’s executive body at the 1st plenum of the 10th SPA in 1998.
Upon officially succeeding his father between 1997 and 1998, Kim Jong-il elected not to take the title DPRK President (a/k/a President of the Republic). Instead, Kim Il-sung was made the Eternal President of the DPRK and the President of the Presidium (Standing Committee) of the Supreme People’s Assembly became the nominal head of state.
At the 10th Supreme People’s Assembly, newly installed SPA Presideium President Kim Yong-nam spoke to the powers of the NDC Chair:
The NDC chairmanship is the highest post of the state with which to organize and lead the work of defending the state system of the socialist country and the destinies of the people and strengthening and increasing the defense capabilities of the country and the state power as a whole through command over all the political, military and economic forces of the country. It is also a sacred, important post which symbolizes and represents the honor of our country and the dignity of the nation. For Kim Jong Il to continue to take the heavy responsibilities as NDC Chairman and lead the work of national defense for the supreme interests of the state is a requirement of the Korean revolution and a unanimous desire of the Korean people who have deeply felt his greatness in the practice of the protracted revolutionary struggle and who have cherished absolute trust in him through this.
The changes made to the DPRK Constitution in April 2009 formalized the NDC’s role in the DPRK government.