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North Korea is preparing for a big military parade next month. Early movement suggests the country may show off shiny new long-range ballistic missiles. It would mark the beginning of a new stage of provocation between the two states.
Recent satellite photographs of the training ground where rehearsals have taken place show large temporary structures in place.
They appear big enough to conceal from view the North’s largest and longest-range missiles.
The parade, due to take place on October 10, marks the 75th anniversary of the Korean Workers’ Party.
Many experts and North Korea watchers say leader Kim Jong-un will specifically use the event to display the new weapons, possibly including the Hwasong-15, which has the potential range to launch a nuclear attack on Washington or New York.
Sour relations between the US and the North have bubbled away for decades – even when Kim and Trump met several times to sign mutual agreements.
Military and political experts often cringe at the manpower that would be required for war against North Korea – its military totalling around 1.2 million active personnel.
They also fear the extent to which Kim would go to in order to prevent his family dynasty from being compromised.
In 2017, writing in Foreign Policy, Jeffrey Lewis, an arms-control expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, warned that the North’s military exercises left “little doubt” over the dictatorship’s nuclear intentions.
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He wrote: “What is disturbing about the situation, though, is how the war plans of North Korea, South Korea, and the United States might interact.
“North Korea’s military exercises leave little doubt that Pyongyang plans to use large numbers of nuclear weapons against US forces throughout Japan and South Korea to blunt an invasion.
“In fact, the word that official North Korean statements use is ‘repel’.
“North Korean defectors have claimed that the country’s leaders hope that by inflicting mass casualties and destruction in the early days of a conflict, they can force the United States and South Korea to recoil from their invasion.”
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In the event of a ground invasion, a 2016 South Korean white paper said the US would need to deploy 690,000 ground troops to South Korea if war broke out.
This is a far higher number than what the US deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Military affairs and national security expert, Yochi Dreazen, explained in a 2018 Vox report: “Estimates of the exact numbers of US troops that would take part in a push north vary widely, but current and former military planners uniformly believe it would require vastly more forces than took part in the invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan.”
Bruce Bennett, a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation who has spent decades studying North Korea and the Kim family told Mr Dreazen that he believes the US would need to send at least 200,000 troops into North Korea.
Of this, Mr Dreazen said: “By way of comparison, that would be significantly more troops than the US had in either Iraq or Afghanistan at the peaks of those two long wars.”
Many believe that Kim would be more than willing to use his vast arsenal of nuclear weapons in the event of war.
This would result in huge bloodshed on scales never before seen, reports say.
Fighting any war with the North would not be as straightforward as any other war that has been fought in recent history.
North Korea experts agree that Kim and his cabinet are highly unpredictable and have several methods in which they would push the boundaries to ensure the Kim leadership is protected.
While some say Kim would have no qualms in pressing the nuclear button first, others suggest he could use his country’s vast supplies of chemical weapons and nerve agents to cause an altogether different type of destruction.
The human death toll from such an attack would be huge, with military historian Reid Kirby estimating in 2017 that a sustained sarin attack could kill up to 2.5 million people in Seoul alone, while injuring nearly 7 million more.
Among the chemical weapons the North is thought to have is VX, sarin, smallpox, yellow fever, anthrax, hemorrhagic fever, and even plague.
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