Monocolumn: North Korea’s Army Adds Gloss To Capital

The North Korean People’s Army, or KPA, is one of the most feared fighting forces on the planet. Their latest mission, however, demands a decidely un-martial set of skills: they have been ordered to renovate Pyongyang.

Monocolumn is Monocle’s daily bulletin of news and opinion. Catch up with previous editions here.

Nuclear armed, highly motivated and a potentially destabilising force in Northeast Asia, the North Korean People’s Army, or KPA, is one of the most feared fighting forces on the planet. Their latest mission, however, demands a decidely un-martial set of skills: they have been ordered to renovate Pyongyang.

South Korean media reports that the KPA has been assigned the duty as 2012 approaches. Kim Jong-il has set a public goal of building a “strong and prosperous” nation by that year, the centenary of the birth of his late father, “Eternal President” Kim Il-sung.

But while nuclear-armed North Korea is militarily strong, prosperity has been elusive. The apparent solution is to merely create the appearance of prosperity.

Frequent visitors note that Pyongyang’s look has been improving in recent years, with a new theatre and clusters of modern apartments. “Most new buildings are constructed on major streets, designed to impress the rare visitor and uplift the spirits of Pyongyang citizens,” said Leonid Petrov, a North Korean Studies lecturer at Sydney University. “They want to pursue the image of a modern state, so they start with its showcase capital.”

With North Korea’s central philosophy being “Songeun” (“Military First”), the KPA’s be-medaled marshals, goose-stepping battalions and lethal commandos are commonly deployed on non-martial duties.

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