The US has nearly 80,000 military personnel in South Korea and Japan, as well as more war-fighting units in Guam. The US 7th Fleet patrols the region, armed with tactical nuclear weapons. US nukes are also based in South Korea and Guam. Additionally, South Korea has a formidable, 600,000-man army equipped with state of the art weapons.
North Korea’s one million-man armed force is large, but obsolescent. Its great strength in heavy artillery partly compensates for its totally obsolete, 1960’s vintage air force. Key combat elements of the DPRK army are dug deep into the rocky hills just north of the DMZ, with thousands of heavy North Korean guns facing south. In the event of war, the North claims it will destroy South Korea’s capitol, Seoul, that is only 30km away and has 20 million residents.
US estimates of war in Korea, made a decade ago, suggest America would incur 250,000 casualties in a war that would cost one million Korean deaths. That’s why the US has shied away from direct attack on North Korea.
The US would certainly be tempted to use tactical nuclear weapons against North Korean troops and guns deeply dug into the mountainous terrain. Without them, air power, America’s usual trump card, would lose much of its destructive potential.
US war plans call for amphibious landings along North Korea’s long, vulnerable coastline. This threat forces the North to deploy large numbers of regular army and militia troops on both coasts. North Korea’s air force and little navy would be vaporized on the first day of hostilities. But it is likely that the DPRK would be able to fire a score or more of medium-ranged missiles at Japan.
If the war goes nuclear, Japan looks almost certain to suffer nuclear attack, along with Guam. Tokyo and Osaka are prime targets.
North Korean forces might be able to push south to Seoul, but likely no further in the face of fierce attacks by US and South Korean air power operating from bases further south. The North’s powerful commando force of some 100,000 troops would attack key South Korean targets, including its vital air bases shared with the US. Such raids would be highly disruptive but not decisive unless the DPRK used chemical and/or biological weapons to shut down South Korea’s air bases and its ports at Busan and Inchon.
The US and South Korea could certainly win such a war but it would be very bloody and expensive. There would be the threat of Chinese military intervention if it appeared the US was about to occupy North Korea. Russia is also right next door.
[Excerpts of article by Eric Margolis]