Tensions on the Korean peninsula have ratcheted up again after the South resumed its loudspeaker broadcasts in retaliation for a nuclear test conducted by the North, and the possibility of war is once again on the horizon.
With North Korea moving large numbers of troops to the South Korean border, American military planners must once again ponder their strategy.
What would war with North Korea mean?
The two sides have been technically at war since the Korean War ended in 1953 with a truce — no peace treaty was ever signed, and the isolationist North has continued its saber rattling to this day.
A victory by the South and its American allies is virtually assured, but not before both sides endure massive casualties.
What would that war look like?
Without the ability to attack Hawaii, Guam or the western United States directly, hostilities with the North would probably focus on the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to Policy.Mic.
With its 1.1 million soldiers and 7.7 million reservists, the North Korean army is twice the size of the South’s forces — they also easily outnumber the 28,000 American troops stationed there, and would probably attack first.
South Korea could expect a concerted attack on Seoul, the capitol, from the North’s ground troops, artillery, and medium-range missiles.
North Korea possesses the world’s fourth largest artillery force, with about 10,000 guns it could use to pound the South, thereby forcing mass evacuations of major cities, according to the Business Insider.
North Korea has the fourth largest standing military in the world by personnel, with 1.2 million soldiers. pic.twitter.com/TQazXeRY3i— The Int'l Spectator (@intlspectator) January 9, 2016
The U.S. Air Force, however, is easily a match for the North’s air corps and would quickly gain the superiority it would need to begin destroying their vast stockpile of missiles. Destruction of the North’s air defense systems, communications arrays, and civilian infrastructure would soon follow.
North Korea would probably respond with a massive attack by Cold War-era tanks and Special Forces deployed by submarine along the Southern coast, according to Policy.Mic.
The North would eventually be overrun by forces from the South along with their American allies, but a protracted land war could result in massive casualties on both sides.
Whether the North would be able to bring its nuclear arsenal to bear is a matter of some debate among military minds.
Military experts agree, however, the North could use weapons of mass destruction to attack civilian targets and sow fear and mass panic in the South. The chaos would make it much more difficult for the U.S. and its allies to launch their counterattack, according to the National Interest.
A dirty bomb, smuggled across the demilitarized zone through secret tunnels and placed in Seoul or any of the South’s major cities, would have devastating consequences and cost millions of lives.
North Korea also has the world’s third-largest stockpile of chemical weapons it could use to sow mass panic and destruction, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative.
It’s entirely capable of slapping those weapons onto one of its hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles and firing them over the border.
The wild card is North Korea’s cyber-military capabilities. The country has already used its computer abilities to hack into Sony in 2014, for which it was sanctioned, and a nuclear reactor in South Korea, also in 2014.
A nuclear attack against the United States itself is probably unlikely, as the North doesn’t possess the technology to punch through America’s missile defense network, but even the threat could create mass panic in Alaska or Hawaii.
Hopefully, the thought of the enormous causalities and massive destruction will be enough incentive to keep both sides at the bargaining table.
[Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images]