North Korea capable of inflicting damage, analysts say
WASHINGTON — North Korea's large but poorly trained and equipped military could cause significant damage in the early stages of an attack on its southern neighbor, military analysts say, but any attack would ultimately be repulsed by superior U.S. and South Korean forces.
It's not clear how serious North Korea is on following through with its threats, but it has increased its bellicose rhetoric recently, renewing worries that its unpredictable leader, Kim Jong Un, could take actions that might trigger a wider conflict.
The North Korean leader said his rockets were ready “to settle accounts with the U.S.”
The United States has responded to the heated rhetoric by announcing that it flew two B-2 bombers on a training mission over South Korea. It was part of an annual joint training operation that continues until the end of April.
Analysts say the rhetoric is particularly worrisome when coupled with recent provocative actions taken by the North.
In 2010, the North Koreans sank a South Korean warship, killing 46, and initiated an artillery barrage on an island that killed two of its civilians and two South Korean marines.
“It's the rhetoric plus the provocations that are increasing the level of tensions,” said Steven Kim, an analyst at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies based in Honolulu.
To an extent, the threats are par for the course, said Richard Bush, senior fellow and director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. North Korean leaders portray the training exercise as a prelude to invasion, Bush said.
They make provocative statements, occasionally backed up by attacks, and claim to have repelled the West, he said. Bush rated as low the chances of all-out war.
“A lot of it is show for the domestic audience,” Bush said. “The North Korean leadership is cynical. They know these are exercises. It's useful domestically. They get their own people spun up. In worrying about war, maybe that distracts from how hungry they are.”
Analysts say North Korea's aging military would not be able to prevail in an attack.
“This is a military that if you ran them against the Iraqi military in 1991, North Korea would lose,” said Jennifer Lind, a professor at Dartmouth College.
But North Korean forces are arrayed along the demilitarized zone with 10,000 artillery pieces capable of reaching Seoul, said Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst now at the Heritage Foundation.
That proximity would allow them to cause a significant number of casualties and damage in the initial stages of an attack.
The North Koreans have about 1.1 million troops in their armed forces. Three-quarters of them are staged within 60 miles of the DMZ, Klingner said.
They have long-range missiles capable of reaching targets in Japan and U.S. bases in Guam, Okinawa and the Japanese mainland.
A conventional attack from the North likely would begin with an artillery barrage, which could include chemical weapons. North Korea has 5,000 tons of chemical warheads, Klingner said.
“They would try to overwhelm U.S. and Korean forces with volume,” he said.
The artillery barrage probably would be followed by a blitzkrieg of tanks. Mechanized forces and infantry also could pour across the border. The North's special forces could infiltrate before an assault.
Any initial assault would face about 28,500 U.S. troops and about 600,000 troops in the South Korean armed forces.
“In the war game simulations eventually we prevail, but it's World War I (levels of) casualties,” Klingner said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Muti backs out of Rome theater commitment
- At least 40 Iraqi soldiers killed in Islamic State strike; dozens captured
- Ukraine to pull artillery in east as truce between government and rebels holds up
- Hong Kong college students boycott classes in fight for democracy
- Ebola infections likely to shoot up in Sierra Leone, Liberia
- Jordan-based bank liable in suicide bombings that killed, injured Americans
- Egyptian President al-Sisi feels vindicated in crackdown as Islamic extremists rise
- Turkish hostages freed from Islamic State, but questions linger
- Nominees for 2 Iraqi ministries rejected
- Nations urged to follow U.S. example on Ebola
- It’s not a small world after all: Global population estimated to soar