North Korea’s Navy: Keeping Kim’s Economy Afloat

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Bottom Line: While much attention is rightfully given to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) nuclear and ballistic missile arsenal, the country’s naval and merchant fleets are the ones that have traditionally extended the reach of Pyongyang to bypass sanctions through illicit trade on the high seas while also lashing out from the coasts of the northern Korean Peninsula.

Background: The Korean People’s Army (KPA) is over a 1 million-strong force comprising of ground, air, naval, missile and special operations forces – making it the fourth-largest military in the world. Pyongyang has relied heavily on the quantity, rather than quality, of its forces, often operating with poor training and archaic equipment from the Soviet Union and China dating back as far as the 1950s. To offset these deficiencies, Pyongyang has invested heavily in asymmetric capabilities – ranging from chemical and biological weapons to special operations forces.

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