March 20, 2013
After just over one year in power, North Korea’s novice leader, 30-year old Kim Jong Un, has dashed hopes that he will change course from the brinkmanship-style policies pursued by his late father, Kim Jong Il. For the first time in decades, U.S. intelligence and defense analysts believe the threat of an outbreak of significant hostilities on the Korean peninsula is a distinct possibility. How would a potential conflict play out? While there is little doubt that North Korea would lose, the consequences for the region would be dire, with casualties potentially in the hundreds of thousands, if not more.
Tensions and the risk of conflict have escalated precipitously on the Korean peninsula over the last year. In addition to conducting a successful long-range ballistic missile and a third nuclear test, North Korea has ramped up, even by its own standards, its bellicose rhetoric.
North Korea has threatened the United States with a preemptive nuclear strike and announced it is nullifying the 1953 armistice, the fragile United Nations-brokered agreement that suspended hostilities on the peninsula. It has also dismantled a communications hotline it had with the South and just this past weekend fired a volley of short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan.
Given the totality of events of the past year, it is important to examine the motivations and implications of North Korea’s recent actions. Even if one assumes that the Kim Jong Un regime is not suicidal and will not launch a full-scale attack on South Korea, Japan, or the United States, LIGNET assesses that the outbreak of hostilities due to a miscalculation stemming from even a small provocation is currently high. We look at the range of possible attacks that could result from an escalation in hostilities, including missile attacks on South Korea and Japan and even North Korea’s use of nuclear weapons.