While the Trump administration explores options, including use of military force, to counter North Korea’s increasing threat, South Korean and Japanese experts see military options against North Korea as all-but-impossible.
They say that any U.S. military action against North Korea entails high damage risks on South Korea and Japan, and that the U.S. will be forced to shelf plans for military intervention eventually.
The new strategies toward North Korea that are being reviewed internally by the White House include the possibility of regime change and the use of military force to weaken the North Korean nuclear threat, the Wall Street Journal reported on March 1, quoting a source familiar with the review.
The paper said Deputy National Security Advisor Kathleen McFarland had instructed officials to put all options on the table, from acknowledging North Korea as a nuclear-armed state to taking military action against Pyongyang.
And recently, Admiral Samuel Locklear, who led the U.S. Pacific Command from 2012 to 2015, said it’s crucial to consider a full range of options — including the use of military force, if necessary — to deter the growing nuclear threat from Pyongyang.
In an interview with VOA earlier this month, the former head of the U.S. Pacific Command said “dealing across the spectrum of options of how to deal with North Korea is becoming more urgent,” given the isolated state’s apparent eagerness to demonstrate its nuclear capability.
On the other hand, military experts in East Asia strongly caution against the high risks of a pre-emptive strike against North Korea by the U.S.
“Whether a pre-emptive strike in the face of North Korea’s imminent nuclear missile attack or a preventive strike to destroy its nuclear and missile capabilities before it highly develops nuclear capabilities, North Korea will show a very strong reaction against it because it is an attack against its national security,” Suh Choo-suk, a Senior Research Fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA), said at a symposium held at Keio University in Tokyo on March 5.
“No matter how the U.S. and South Korean military capabilities of the first strike are superior, they cannot destroy all of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities all at once,” Suh said.
“In response, North Korea will surely conduct a nuclear attack against South Korea and the U.S. by using all of its various methods of attack such as long-range artillery.”
Suh said that the Clinton administration considered the military option during the so-called “first nuclear crisis” of the early 1990’s, and that it estimated a surgical attack against North Korean nuclear facilities could lead to the death of more than one million South Koreans and more than 100,000 Americans in Seoul.
“As North Korea’s military capabilities of attack have been developed since then, the damage would be more than those causalities now,” Suh said. “There is no South Korean leader who thinks the first strike by the U.S. is okay.”
According to the Japanese government’s 2016 Defense White Paper, the North Korean Army comprises about 1.02 million personnel, and roughly two-thirds of them are believed to be deployed along the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
The main body of the army is the infantry, but the army also maintains armored forces including more than 3,500 tanks and artillery.
North Korea is believed to regularly deploy more than 600 long-range artillery along the DMZ, such as 240 mm and 300mm multiple rocket launchers and 170 mm self-propelled guns, which can reach cities and bases in the northern part of South Korea, including the capital city of Seoul. With more than 25 million residents, Seoul is one of the most populous cities in the world.
Military experts agree that North Korea holds the strategic high ground against the South: Seoul is less than 40 kilometers from the DMZ, while Pyongyang is about 150 kilometers from it. As a result, Seoul is more vulnerable than Pyongyang militarily.
Toshiyuki Shikata, an emeritus professor at Teikyo University in Tokyo and a retired lieutenant general of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces, cited another reason the U.S. won’t be able to conduct the first strike against Pyongyang.
“The Trump administration focuses on radical Islamic terrorism as its top priority, so it will aim to solve Middle East issues first,” Shikata said.
“U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster are both experts on the Middle East, so they will put the utmost importance on the fight against the Islamic State.”
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Featured Image: The bigger picture: US, ROK forces show off air power [Image 3 of 4] by DVIDSHUB on 2012-03-07 09:57:55