Gen. Pak Yong-sik was confirmed as the new defense minister of North Korea Saturday, Agence France-Presse reported. Pak's predecessor, Hyon Yong Chol, was reportedly executed by anti-aircraft fire in April for disrespecting the country's leader Kim Jong Un and for falling asleep at military events. Whenever members of the nation's government are purged, its official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) supposedly airbrushes them out of its coverage.
Since Kim took power in 2011, he has executed more than 70 officials, according to the South Korea-funded Yonhap News Agency, which cited that nation's intelligence service.
Pak became a major general in 1999 and a four-star general in May of this year. The new defense minister quickly moved up the military ladder, and KCNA began publishing many photographs of Pak and Kim Jong Un together during public appearances, although the appointment was not confirmed until Saturday. Pak is now believed to be the second- or third-highest-ranking military officer in North Korea, behind the director of the general political bureau of the Korean People's Army, Hwang Pyong-so, Yonhap said.
Both the capabilities and the organizational structure of the North Korean military have long been subjects of debate by countries in the West. Given the lack of freely circulated information flowing from North Korea to the outside world, it is difficult to know with certainty how the military functions. However, a report Friday confirmed the country now has the ability to produce chemical weapons.
The above graphic demonstrates how North Korean military spending has increased greatly since 1990, although its capacities are still unclear. Kim has sought to demonstrate his military's might by making a public display of nuclear-weapons tests. In May, he claimed to have developed small nuclear warheads.