Mat­tis prom­ises mas­sive mil­i­tary re­sponse

The Dominion Post - - World -

SOUTH KOREA: Speak­ing af­ter a meet­ing with se­nior South Korean de­fence of­fi­cials yes­ter­day, De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis of­fered un­equiv­o­cal sup­port for Amer­i­can al­lies in the face of threats from North Korea.

‘‘Make no mis­take,’’ Mat­tis told re­porters, ‘‘any at­tack on the United States or our al­lies will be de­feated, and any use of nu­clear weapons by the North will be met with a mas­sive mil­i­tary re­sponse that is ef­fec­tive and over­whelm­ing.’’

But de­spite the re­as­sur­ances of­fered, the de­fence sec­re­tary’s visit also un­der­lined ar­guably the big­gest prob­lem in con­tain­ing the threat from North Korea: the con­ven­tional weaponry at the border that would put mil­lions of South Kore­ans at risk if any con­flict were to break out.

Mat­tis got a sense of this first hand the day be­fore, when he vis­ited the Demil­i­tarised Zone (DMZ) that sep­a­rates the two coun­tries with South Korean De­fense Min­is­ter Song Young-Moo. While there, Song pointed to North Korea’s long-range ar­tillery in the dis­tance and sug­gested it would be ‘‘un­fea­si­ble’’ to de­fend against them in a con­flict.

‘‘Un­der­stood,’’ Mat­tis re­sponded, ac­cord­ing to Reuters.

Over the past seven decades, North Korea has amassed a huge amount of ar­tillery along its border with South Korea. Joseph S. Ber­mudez Jr, a se­nior im­agery an­a­lyst at North Korea-fo­cused web­site 38 North, es­ti­mated ear­lier this year that the Se­cond Corps of the Korean Peo­ple’s Army sta­tioned at Kaesong on the north­ern side of the DMZ has about 500 ar­tillery pieces alone.

Other es­ti­mates for num­ber of weapons of puts it at 8000.

Though Py­ongyang’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram has cap­tured more in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion re­cently, this ar­tillery shapes much of the dis­cus­sion sur­round­ing any pos­si­ble con­flict with North Korea.

Seoul lies just 50km from the DMZ, com­fort­ably within range for the ar­tillery at Kaesong. The South Korean cap­i­tal is one of the largest cities in the world, with a pop­u­la­tion of 25 mil­lion. Ex­perts sug­gest that in the event of war, North Korea could use these con­ven­tional weapons to ham­mer the city, po­ten­tially lead­ing to enor­mous death tolls. the to­tal this sort

A 2012 study by Roger Cava­zos of the Nau­tilus In­sti­tute es­ti­mated there could be more than 2800 fa­tal­i­ties in the ini­tial vol­ley. In to­tal, Cava­zos wrote, 64,000 peo­ple could be killed in the first day of any con­flict. An­other es­ti­mate re­cently given to US law­mak­ers sug­gested that as many as 300,000 could die in the early days of a con­flict, even if nu­clear weapons are not used.

Many an­a­lysts have sug­gested it would be dif­fi­cult and time­con­sum­ing to de­stroy these weapons if war broke out. ‘‘When it comes to the ar­tillery, there’s noth­ing we can do against the ar­tillery di­rectly to pre­vent bom­bard­ment of Seoul,’’ said Van Jack­son, an ex­pert on North Korean se­cu­rity is­sues at Vic­to­ria Uni­ver­sity in New Zealand.

De­spite these con­cerns, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has down­played the threat posed to the South Korean cap­i­tal. In Septem­ber, when asked if there was any mil­i­tary op­tions on the ta­ble that would not put Seoul at grave risk, Mat­tis said that there were, ‘‘but I will not go into de­tails.’’

Asked about the pos­si­bil­ity of a pre­ven­tive strike on North Korea, Mat­tis told re­porters there were many dif­fer­ent mil­i­tary op­tions that ‘‘real­is­ti­cally re­duce that threat [to South Korea] as low as pos­si­ble.’’

‘‘And yes, we do have op­tions,’’ he added.

Robert E. Kelly, an ex­pert on North Korea at Pu­san Na­tional Uni­ver­sity in South Korea, said it was not clear what op­tions Mat­tis was re­fer­ring to. ‘‘The mil­i­tary op­tion is tra­di­tion­ally con­sid­ered re­ally risky,’’ Kelly wrote in an email.

Jack­son said there are ‘‘a cou­ple of mil­i­tary op­tions [against North Korea] that wouldn’t ne­ces­si­tate re­tal­i­a­tion against Seoul,’’ such as a lim­ited strike or covert op­er­a­tion.

‘‘It has to be an iso­lated at­tack, not part of some mul­ti­stage strike plan or mil­i­tary cam­paign,’’ Jack­son those added. ‘‘It has to have an ac­com­pa­ny­ing me­dia blackout - we can’t take own­er­ship of it.’’

Mat­tis is in South Korea as part of a week-long Asia trip. The visit, his se­cond since tak­ing of­fice in Jan­uary, comes af­ter a num­ber of provoca­tive moves by the North Korean mil­i­tary, in­clud­ing a num­ber of mis­sile launches and a nu­clear test in early Septem­ber. Last week, a North Korean of­fi­cial re­it­er­ated a threat to stage an at­mo­spheric nu­clear test over the Pa­cific Ocean, telling CNN the warn­ings should be taken ‘‘lit­er­ally.’’

‘‘North Korea has ac­cel­er­ated the threat that it poses to its neigh­bours and the world through its il­le­gal and un­nec­es­sary mis­sile and nu­clear weapons pro­grams,’’ Mat­tis told re­porters.

How­ever, Mat­tis re­it­er­ated that the mil­i­tary op­tions be­ing con­sid­ered were ‘‘de­signed to but­tress diplo­mats’ ef­forts to main­tain a de­ter­rent stance and de­nu­cle­arise the penin­sula.’’ - Wash­ing­ton Post

PHOTO: REUTERS

US De­fence Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis and South Korean De­fence Min­is­ter Song Young­moo visit the truce vil­lage of Pan­munjom.

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