Any new Korean war could quickly escalate to catastrophe

UNTV News   •   August 11, 2017   •   7179

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un supervises a ballistic rocket launching drill of Hwasong artillery units of the Strategic Force of the KPA in an undated photo. KCNA/via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Any new military conflict with North Korea would likely escalate quickly to the use of nuclear weapons, bringing catastrophic casualties not seen since World War Two and an untold economic impact worldwide, former U.S. defense officials and experts say.

While the United States has maintained an uneasy calm with North Korea for more than six decades and spikes in tensions are not new, recent supercharged rhetoric between the unpredictable U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have heightened the risk of miscalculation that could make that nightmare a reality, they say.

On Thursday, North Korea upped the ante by saying it would complete plans by mid-August to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land near the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam, after Trump said that any threats by Pyongyang would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

The exchange followed a United Nations resolution tightening sanctions on North Korea after it tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads to the United States.

Trump said on Thursday his fire and fury comment was not tough enough.

Despite the war of words, for now the U.S. military says there has been no change in its readiness posture in South Korea or elsewhere in Asia. Analysts say they have seen no evidence of any increased alert in North Korea.

But they warned the bluster could raise the risk of miscalculation that could result in conflict far beyond the scale of the 1950-53 Korean War, which claimed the lives of more than 50,000 Americans and millions of Koreans and ended in an armed truce, not a peace treaty.

“The major thing people are talking about is miscalculation – we could easily stumble into something with the rhetoric being so heated,” said Philip Yun, a Korea expert who was an Asia adviser under former President Bill Clinton.

Yun, now executive director of the Ploughshares Fund, an anti-proliferation initiative, said the risks were exacerbated by the “credibility problem” Trump has acquired due to his frequent off-the-cuff remarks that often appear to go counter to the more measured remarks of his officials.

“In nuclear deterrence, credibility is everything and there’s a situation that if no-one takes you seriously, you have to do something to make sure you are taken seriously, and that’s where the miscalculation can happen,” Yun said.

With hundreds of thousands of troops and huge arsenals arrayed on both sides of a tense demilitarized zone, the Korean peninsula has long been a tinder box.

North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and its hell-for-leather development of an array of missiles to deliver them, have raised the stakes further.

CATASTROPHIC CASUALTIES

Even a conventional clash could cause catastrophic casualties, given the thousands of North Korean artillery pieces ranged along the border, at least 1,000 of which are capable of reaching the densely populated South Korean capital Seoul and its metropolitan area, home to some 25 million people.

“It would be very difficult to eliminate that threat before the artillery fire could create a lot of damage on the southern side,” David Shear, who served as the senior U.S. defense official for east Asia under former president Barack Obama, told Reuters.

“I take projections of casualties of thousands to tens of thousands quite seriously and that’s just in South Korea – it’s possible North Korea could attack Japan as well.”

The real danger of any preemptive U.S. strikes against North Korea’s weapons sites would be that Pyongyang, whose conventional forces are considered no match for those of the United States and its allies, might resort to using its chemical and biological weapons and ultimately its nuclear arsenal.

Then there is the potential for casualties running into the millions.

“If they did launch they could potentially wipe out cities in South Korea and Japan, and in the longer term maybe reach the U.S. West Coast and even further inland,” said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Program at the Federation of American Scientists.

Even if everything went right for the Pentagon, a U.S. strike campaign against North Korea would take up to a week to be effective, said Kristensen.

A former U.S. military officer who served multiple tours in South Korea and Japan said that to succeed completely, it would take at least a month, given how well protected and dispersed North Korean targets were.

“And it would provoke a massive North Korean reaction, even when they spotted preparation for such a strike, or the instant one began.”

Yun said the catastrophe would not just be human.

“If we had a war, think about what it means. You are talking South Korea, the 11th largest economy in the world, Japan, the third largest economy, and you are talking about ground troops on the Korean peninsula.

“Donald Trump’s agenda would be consumed by this. Nothing else would get done. It’s against his interest and it’s not really an option.”

For an interactive on North Korea’s missile capabilities, click: here

For a graphic on North Korea’s missile trajectories, ranges, click: here

Reporting by David Brunnstrom and John Walcott; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and James Dalgleish

Pyongyang disinfects the city after North Korea introduced tougher curbs against coronavirus

UNTV News   •   July 29, 2020

North Korea’s state-run television on Tuesday (July 28) released a video of Pyongyang workers disinfecting the city as the state introduced tougher curbs against the coronavirus, after it locked down the town Kaesong, on the border with the South, to tackle what could be its first publicly confirmed infection.

Strict quarantine measures and the screening of districts were in progress and test kits, protective clothing and medical equipment were being supplied, the North’s KCNA state news agency said.

The measures come after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared an emergency on Sunday (July 26) after a person who defected to South Korea three years ago returned across the highly fortified demilitarised zone (DMZ) to Kaesong this month with symptoms of COVID-19, KCNA reported.

Reclusive North Korea had reported testing 1,211 people for the virus as of July 16 with all returning negative results, the World Health Organisation said in a statement sent to Reuters. The report said 696 nationals were under quarantine. (Reuters)

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North Korea’s Kim says there will be no more war thanks to nuclear weapons

UNTV News   •   July 28, 2020

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said there will be no more war as the country’s nuclear weapons guarantee its safety and future despite unabated outside pressure and military threats, state media reported on Tuesday (July 28).

Kim made the remarks as he celebrated the 67th anniversary of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, which fell on July 27, with a reception for veterans, the North’s state-run television KRT said.

The country developed nuclear weapons to win “absolute strength” to stave off another armed conflict, Kim said in a speech carried by state media, emphasizing the defensive nature of the programs.

The speech came amid stalled talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs in exchange for sanctions relief from Washington.

Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump met for the first time in 2018 in Singapore, raising hopes for a negotiated end to North Korea’s nuclear threats. But their second summit, in 2019 in Vietnam, and subsequent working-level meetings fell apart. (Reuters)

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U.S. envoy Biegun meets Seoul’s top security adviser to discuss North Korea

UNTV News   •   July 9, 2020

United States Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun held a meeting with South Korea’s top security adviser on Thursday (July 9) before heading off to Japan in a trip overshadowed by stalled denuclearisation talks with North Korea.

According to Seoul’s presidential office, Biegun met with Suh Hoon, a former spy chief, and discussed the North’s recent movement and ways to foster peace on the Korean peninsula. Suh said he “highly appreciated” the U.S. envoy’s efforts to resume talks with North Korea.

North Korea has said it has no intention of sitting down again with the United States, though U.S. President Donald Trump said this week he would be open to another summit with leader Kim Jong Un. (Reuters)

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