North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

General Staff Operations Bureau

updated 16 January 2011

The General Staff Operations Bureau [GSOB], which is also called the General Staff Operations Department, directs all military operations, operations planning and general management of the Korean People’s Army’s [KPA] conventional service branches.  It is the primary organization responsible for implementing the DPRK’s practice of joint warfare.  The GSOB issues orders and guidance to departments, bureaus and commands subordinate to the KPA General Staff Department, including the DPRK’s ground forces (including light infantry, ground, armored, mechanized and tank units), the naval (KPAN/Korean People’s Navy) and air (KPAF/Korean People’s Air Force) commands.

The GSOB’s 2nd Office doubles as the office of the KPA Supreme Command.  The 2nd Office is tasked with issuing the Supreme Commander’s orders to and facilitating his interactions with the KPA’s corps and division commanders.  Through the 2nd Office, the GSOB generates reports on compliance and the activities of KPA general grade officers under GSOB command and submits them to the Office of Military Officers in the Personal Secretariat.

Through the CC KWP Civil Defense Department and the Ministry of People’s Security and in cooperation with Party Central Military Commission [CMC], GSOB is responsible for the operational planning and training guidance of the country’s paramilitary training units and the Workers’-Peasants’ Red Guard.  The GSOB has general planning management and responsibility for all military drills and exercises.

Command and Reportage

The director (commander) of the General Staff Operations Bureau (Department) is technically subordinate to the Chief of the KPA General Staff Department and ex aequo 1st Vice Chief of the GSD.  The director reports directly to the Supreme Command. During war time,  contingency or “national crisis”, the Supreme Commander can bypass the GSD Chief and issue orders (through a mechanism called single guidance) directly to the KPA’s corps and division commanders through the GSOB’s 2nd Office.

The GSOB director has traditionally been a specialist in joint warfare, combined arms, SOF or contingency planning, and received an advanced military education (including several years of study in Russia, CEE or East Asia).  Since 1994 there have been only two GSOB directors, Gen. Ri Myong Su (Ri Myo’ng-su; Yi Myong-su) and Gen. Kim Myo’ng-kuk.

Gen. Kim Myo’ng-kuk is a specialist in combined arms command.  Reputedly Kim Jong Il’s cousin, Gen. Kim served as KJI’s military tutor in addition to holding several command positions.  Gen. Kim’s first appointment as chief of the General Staff Operations Bureau occurred after the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994.

See also:

Gause, Ken.  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

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