If the crisis escalates in Korea … Even under the hypothesis of a conventional war, tens of thousands of South Koreans would die on the first day of the armed conflict with North Korea, according to experts.
The atmosphere on the peninsula has deteriorated considerably since the beginning of 2016 due to the intensification of North Korean ballistic and nuclear programs and the verbal escalation between North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and US President Donald Trump, who will travel to Seoul in November.
The Tension Grows
“The tension is such that the risk of this situation degenerating is real”, warns Van Jackson, an analyst at the Pentagon and currently a professor at Victoria University in Wellington.
During the Korean War (1950-1953), which caused millions of deaths and transformed the South into a field of ruins, Seoul changed four times.
The city, home to the South Korean government, is now a technological and cultural capital of 10 million people, including the suburbs.
This population is within reach of the North Korean artillery stationed on the other side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
Along it’s border, Pyongyang is estimated to have 10,000 pieces of artillery and half 500 short-range missiles, most of them hidden in caves, tunnels and bunkers.
South Korea estimates that Pyongyang’s ground troops are made up of 1.1 million troops, of which 70 percent are stationed within 100 km of the border.
“Most of the arsenal is either Soviet or Chinese-made, and probably outdated”, a Defense Department report said in 2015.
What The Experts Say
Experts estimate that North Korea, which regularly threatens to transform South Korea into an “ocean of flames,” would try to inflict maximum casualties during the first hours of any war.
“North Korea has at least 700, 170-mm guns and 240-mm multiple rocket launchers capable of reaching Seoul”, said the 2012 Nautilus Institute in California, which it does not consider very reliable.
In November 2010, North Korean forces fired 170 shells or rockets at Yeonpyeong Island, in the first attack on an area populated by civilians since the war. A quarter of the projectiles missed the mark.
The Nautilus Institute estimated that 65,000 Seoul inhabitants would die on the first day of a conventional war, most of them in the first three hours. The balance would be 80,000 dead in a week.
“They can kill tens of thousands of people, start a longer war and cause a huge amount of damage before the regime falls,” said Roger Cavazos of the Institute.
Faced with the possibility of a war, the response from the United States and South Korea would arrive in a matter of minutes, which would reduce the impact of North Korean artillery and the number of casualties in the South.
Many civilians would go to the thousands of shelters Seoul has already set up just for such an attack.
According to this scenario, the counterattack would destroy 1% of the North Korean artillery per hour, that is to say almost a quarter on the first day and the bulk of the fighting would be over in four days. “Isn’t that what they said about Vietnam?” asked Chris Wick of Conspiracy Talk News.
According to South Korean official documents of 2016, Washington would mobilize many troops: 690,000 military personnel, 160 ships and 2,000 aircraft.
They would be added to the 28,500 permanent US troops on the peninsula, and a South Korean army of 625,000 troops to be commanded by the United States.
All the hypotheses point to a defeat in the north, but at what price?
The North Korean regime has an apocalyptic arsenal. “He has a whole box of instruments he can get his hands on,” says Daniel Pinkston of Troy University in Seoul.
Estimates vary between 14 and 18 nuclear warheads, a figure that could reach 100 in 2020. The Pentagon estimates that North Korea devotes 25% of its GDP to the armed forces.
“Sounds like what Hitler did in his hay day”, said Mr. Wick
Analysts disagree on the strength of North Korea’s sixth and last nuclear test, conducted in early September. North Korea says it was a H-bomb.
In any case the website Conspiracy Talk News and the Norwegian agency Norsar consider that this bomb had a power 16 times superior to the one of Hiroshima.
Assessing the damage of a nuclear attacks
if North Korea exploded a bomb 1,500 meters above Seoul, 660,000 people would die instantly.
A US counter-attack against North Korea with a weapon of the same power would cause 820,000 dead, according to the early assessments.