Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


North Korea: What happens if Kim Jong-un acts on his threats?

In the event that the 'bellicose rhetoric' of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un turns into something more serious, the opening hours of conflict could be 'pretty ugly,' defense analysts warn.

By Anna MulrineStaff writer / March 29, 2013

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks during a meeting of information workers of the whole army at the April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang, March 28, 2013.

KCNA/REUTERS

Enlarge

Washington

Veteran North Korea watchers, citing what they see as increasingly troubling signs coming from the dictatorial regime, are voicing concerns that its new young leader, Kim Jong-un, could do something ill-advised, even start a war.

Skip to next paragraph

On Friday North Korea renewed what the U.S. has condemned as its “bellicose rhetoric,” saying Kim had ordered the nation’s missile forces to prepare to strike the United States and South Korea.

In response to the prospect of North Korea following through on this and other marginally less dire threats, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Thursday that the US military “will unequivocally defend, and [is] unequivocally committed to the alliance with, South Korea.”

But if hostilities were in fact to erupt, how might they play out?

Some former US Special Operations Forces and longtime Korea defense analysts have their own thoughts on what an “unequivocal” US military response could look like, including how US troops would be deployed in the event of a lethal first strike on US and allied military forces by North Korea – precisely the sort of move Mr. Kim has been threatening to make.

What would such a first North Korean move resemble? It might involve small-scale infiltrations using mini-submarines, assassination attempts, “maybe shooting someone on the DMZ [demilitarized zone] or missile tests that fly too close over Japan,” says Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

This might be done “to show he’s in charge, he won’t be intimidated, or because he’s truly desperate,” Dr. Cronin says.

In the past, most such provocations generally have been met with international condemnation and strengthened sanctions.

Should Kim choose to do “something even more outlandish,” the US military and South Korean response would be more dire, he adds.

One of the scenarios that most concerns US defense analysts, for example, involves North Korea’s estimated 500,000 to 700,000 rounds of artillery aimed at Seoul, says retired Brig. Gen. Russell Howard, former commander of the 1st Special Forces Group, which has an Asia focus. 

Should Kim decide to begin firing them, he says, “in the first few hours of the conflict, it would be pretty ugly.”

Permissions

  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer

 

Editors' picks

Doing Good

 

What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Endeavor Global, cofounded by Linda Rottenberg (here at the nonprofit’s headquarters in New York), helps entrepreneurs in emerging markets.

Linda Rottenberg helps people pursue dreams – and create thousands of jobs

She's chief executive of Endeavor Global, a nonprofit group that gives a leg up to budding entrepreneurs.

 
 
Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!