Korean Special, Asymmetric, and Paramilitary Forces

By Anthony H. Cordesman with the assistance of Charles Ayers

The DPRK and ROK have long competed in creating effective special and paramilitary forces. Pyongyang has also developed major capabilities for unconventional warfare in the border/DMZ area to attack deep into the ROK. The DPRK has mixed attacks by covert and Special Forces with limited naval and artillery strikes, while using missile and nuclear tests to obtain asymmetric leverage.

The sheer variety of each side’s capabilities to conduct irregular or asymmetric warfare, and the DPRK’s aggressiveness in threats and limited attacks, can be destabilizing and lead to miscalculation and escalation. Such forces also present a problem for any potential arms control agreement, since they give the DPRK a potential advantage in threatening and attacking the ROK that would be enhanced by any general reductions in conventional forces.

A new report by the CSIS Burke Chair in Strategy provides a detailed analysis of these forces and capabilities, and is available on the CSIS website at http://csis-website-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/160809_Korean_Special_Asymmetric_Paramilitary_Forces.pdf.

Other recent Burke Chair studies that address these issues include:

The Conventional Military Balance in the Koreas and Northeast Asia : https://www.csis.org/analysis/conventional-military-balance-koreas-and-northeast-asia

North Korean Nuclear Forces and the Threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Northeast Asia : https://www.csis.org/analysis/north-korean-nuclear-forces-and-threat-weapons-mass-destruction-northeast-asia

Photo credit: TSgt James Mossman/U.S. Airforce