Avoiding Apocalypse on the Korean Peninsula: Why Diplomacy Is Not Naïve Appeasement

Gas masks placed out for training to prepare for the event of chemical or biological attacks, at a training center next to the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul, South Korea, April 21, 2017. (Photo: Lam Yik Fei / The New York Times)Gas masks placed out for training to prepare for the event of chemical or biological attacks, at a training center next to the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul, South Korea, April 21, 2017. (Photo: Lam Yik Fei / The New York Times)

Defense Secretary James Mattis remarked recently that a war with North Korea would be “tragic on an unbelievable scale.” No kidding. “Tragic” doesn’t even begin to describe the horrors that would flow from such a conflict.

The Korean peninsula, all 85,270 square miles of it, is about the size of Idaho. It contains more soldiers (2.8 million, not counting reserves) and armaments (nearly 6,000 tanks, 31,000 artillery pieces, and 1,134 combat aircraft) than any other place on the planet. The armies of North and South Korea face each other across the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, and Seoul, South Korea’s capital, is a mere 35 miles away as the artillery shell flies. More than 25 million people inhabit that city’s greater metropolitan area, home to about half of South Korea’s population. Unsurprisingly, untold numbers of North Korean missiles and artillery pieces are trained on that city. Once the guns started firing, thousands of its denizens would undoubtedly die within hours. Of course, North Koreans, too, would be caught in an almost instant maelstrom of death.

And the war wouldn’t be a bilateral affair. South Korea hosts 28,500 American troops. In addition, there are some 200,000 American civilians in the country, most of them in Seoul. Many in both categories could be killed by North Korean attacks and the United States would, in turn, hit multiple targets in that country. Pyongyang might retaliate by firing missiles at Japan, where 39,000 American troops are stationed, concentrating on the network of American bases and command centers there, especially the US Services Headquarters at Yokota Air Base near Tokyo.

And that’s without even considering the possible use of nuclear weapons. If anything, Mattis’s description is an understatement. And don’t…

Read more