North Korea military has an edge over South, but wouldn't win a war, study finds
A South Korean think tank gave North Korea the edge in the early days of any war with the South because of its numbers and offensive position.
Seoul, South Korea
North Korea's military strategy is superior to the defensive posture of its affluent neighbor to the South, an independent think-tank said on Wednesday, giving Pyongyang the edge in the early days of any war on the divided peninsula.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The Seoul-based Korea Economic Research Institute said in a report that in 2011 North Korea operated a 1.02-million-strong army and a record number of tanks, warships and air defense artillery. Total military personnel strength is 1.2 million.
"The depressing reality is it would not be entirely wrong to say North Korea's military strength is stronger," the institute said.
"We need to remember that the North is far superior in terms of the number of troops, and especially the North's military is structured in its formation and deployment with the purpose of an offensive war."
South Korea's armed forces number nearly 700,000, and they are backed by about 28,000 US troops.
But analysts say that even though the North's army far outnumbers the combined South Korean and US troop levels, the North's forces would stand no chance of winning a war because their equipment was vastly inferior.
Experts say that while the North might have the early edge in any war, US and South Korean air power alone would quickly turn the advantage their way.
The two Koreas are still technically at war having signed only an armistice to end the 1950-53 Korean War.
Offense best form of defense
Less than a month after the reclusive state's leader Kim Jong-il died, North Korea has made it clear its top priority is maintaining a songun, or military-first, policy whereby the army takes precedence over everything else.
The institute's report called for Seoul to hit back hard against any strike by the North.
"The only way to deter a pre-emptive attack by the North is to make it clear that the South Korean forces will assume it is a precursor to a full-out war and strike back regardless of the nature of the aggression, even if it is a small-scale regional guerilla war."
While the North has fewer combat aircraft than in 1986, its air power has been boosted by top-class MiG-29 fighter jets since the 1990s, the institute said. It also said there have notable increase in the number of submarines.
But experts say most of the North's naval and air force equipment are aged, and that its low fuel supplies mean it would be unable to sustain a long military operation.
Most of the impoverished North's finances are used to develop its programs to build weapons of mass destruction.