North Korea Threatens War
Since the end of the Korean War in 1953 there has been an uneasy truce in the peninsula between the forces of the Communist North (backed by China) and the capitalist South (backed by the USA). North Korea has a reputation for being something of a comic regime with a succession of hereditary tin pot dictators and a military with unfeasibly big hats! There have been periodic small scale clashes between the North and South, and some scares when the North has tested various missile systems. However, both sides have pulled back from resuming full scale conflict.
The Korean peninsula remains one of the most heavily militarised places on earth with both sides retaining large armed forces and with a sizeable US military presence in the South. Despite widespread poverty and a relatively tiny GDP the Communist North retains a huge military on paper, and a limited nuclear capability.
– North Korea South Korea
Population 24.5m 50m
GDP US$33bn US$1.2trn
Armed Forces 1.1m Reg (4.7m Res) 686k Reg (4.5m Res)
Main Battle Tanks 3,500 (est) 2,300
Artillery 10,000 4,500
Combat Aircraft 600 600
Surface Ships 310 130
Submarines 90 20
The South’s forces, despite being smaller in number, are significantly better quality and to them can be added United States forces in the area. The US has 18,000 troops in South Korea and over 300 combat aircraft in the vicinity. Whilst the North Koreans are generally supported by China it is debatable what assistance China would supply (if any) in the event of a North Korean attack on the South.
The North may be making a lot of noise and rattling its sabres at the moment but any serious attack on the South would be an invitation to suicide. The US is no doubt discretely reinforcing its presence in the region and alongside the forces of the South, there is no doubt that the North would lose any direct conflict. That is the rational assessment but one thing which characterises the Communist regime in the North is its irrationality! With its people starving and its equipment largely outdated it could be the end of one of the last Communist regimes in the world if it were to precipitate a conflict.
I fervently hope that war is not the eventual outcome but the silver lining could be that the peninsula is reunited under a democratic government and the people of the north can benefit from the development and wealth which would follow. A reunited and prosperous Korea would be a major player on the world stage.
UPDATE – 2 April – North Korea has announced the resumption of its nuclear programme and the USA has deployed F22 stealth fighters to South Korea.
UPDATE – 3 April – North Korea has announced that the Army has authorisation to conduct nuclear strike on the US. The Americans have deployed a missile destroyer to the region and missile defence systems to Guam in the Pacific.