Should America attack North Korea

A war with North Korea would have up to two billion victims

Washington / Pyongyang / Vienna - At least one million dead, severe upheavals in the global economy and huge flows of refugees. And that is the positive variant. Since US President Donald Trump has increasingly threatened a war against North Korea, experts have once again been calculating the scenarios that would be expected in the event of a military conflict on the Korean Peninsula. The estimates above relate to a confrontation without the use of nuclear weapons - a stroke of luck that is unlikely. Estimates of what would happen in the event of limited nuclear war read several notches worse. They suggest damage that was felt for a long time as far as Europe.

CONVENTIONAL WAR: Days of bombing

But first to the dangers of a conventional war: There are around 8,000 artillery positions on the North Korean side in the immediate border area with South Korea and thus represent the first major danger "Hit every single square meter of the 25 million-inhabitant metropolitan area several times within hours. Their use threatens, for example, in the event that North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-un comes to the conclusion that an attack by the USA and South Korea is imminent due to the build-up of the American threat.

The guns are widely distributed and well camouflaged. Therefore, according to the New York Times, the American military planners reckon that only about one percent of the guns could be switched off from the air every hour. So it could rain explosives on Seoul for days. If North Korea - as mentioned last - mainly attacks military bases, around 60,000 deaths can be expected there and in the surrounding area. If the civilian population is the target, the number could be as high as 300,000 deaths in the first few days.

And it wouldn't stop there. North Korea has deployed around 1,000 more missiles across the country that could attack other parts of South Korea, including Tokyo. The Japanese capital shares a special kind of vulnerability with Seoul: As there, the government infrastructure is concentrated in a relatively small area, an attack could also strategically weaken both states. In contrast to Seoul, there are less suitable civil protection rooms and bunkers in Tokyo in which residents can get to safety.

ASYMMETRIC WAR: Fighting in the residential area

Because North Korea's 1.2 million fighter army is numerically far superior to South Korea, but technically inferior, the magazine "Newsweek" speculates about another strategic possibility: North Korea could try to make up for material deficits by a massive advance towards Seoul. Fighting hundreds of thousands of soldiers armed to the teeth in the middle of the densely populated residential area would be the result - with dire consequences for those who find themselves among the combat troops.

And that would only be the consequences for the world outside the communist state. The vast majority of the North Korean population would be even less protected from attacks by the USA and South Korea than is the case the other way around. Some of Seoul's plans for war have reached the press and were also captured in an attack by North Korean hackers last year. They provide for proportional attacks in North Korea's capital Pyongyang and other North Korean cities. In this case, too, several hundred thousand deaths are expected within the first few days of the fight. In addition, there were tens of thousands of fallen soldiers, writes the Internet magazine "The Diplomat", which specializes in Asia. In total, the military is expecting more than a million deaths in this case after the first few weeks of the war.

CHEMICAL AND ORGANIC WEAPONS: Poison gas, anthrax and the plague

None of these assumptions are considered realistic. They are ultimately too positive. Because North Korea also has large chemical and biological warfare programs. Both would very likely be used in a war. According to high-ranking deserters, the country is said to have had around 5,000 tons of poison gas as early as 1997, and it is now very likely more. These include sarin, which was recently used in Syria, and the substance VX, with which Kim Jong-uns, Kim Jong-nam's half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, was killed at Kuala Lumpur airport on North Korean orders in the spring of 2017.

There are also stocks of weapons-grade anthrax, botulism, Lassa fever, plague, smallpox, typhoid and yellow fever. They could be used, for example, in those areas in southern South Korea and Japan that are easily accessible to North Korea with missiles, but not with artillery. In addition, the five nuclear power plants in South Korea could be the target of attacks, warned the deputy head of the anti-nuclear weapons group "International Doctors for the Prevention of Nuclear War", Ira Helfand, recently in an opinion piece online.


Even if the geopolitical consequences of an armed conflict are disregarded as well as the massive influx of refugees: The effects of a Korean war on the markets would be enormous. South Korea, which is in danger of being destroyed, currently produces around two percent of global exports. That may sound bearable, but a failure of the country would have far-reaching effects on certain types of trade.

About 40 percent of all LC displays and 17 percent of all semiconductors are manufactured in South Korea, as the think tank Capital Economics recently noted. The country is also home to the three largest shipyards in the world. The study draws a comparison with the floods that paralyzed many technical companies in Thailand in 2011. Industrial production there fell by 16 percent, and global prices for products such as hard drives skyrocketed. However, the consequences of a war in South Korea would be much more serious.

GEOPOLITICS: Dangerous race for the atomic bombs

In addition, even in a conventional war, the question remains what would happen to the probably dozen nuclear weapons that North Korea already has. Even if reports of Chinese efforts to ensure security are true, it seems doubtful that they could be implemented in the middle of the war in North Korea. In addition, it is to be expected that the USA would also start a similar undertaking - which would at least make a clash between the two sides seem conceivable. After all, the question is who will control the country with the long border with China after a war.

It is anything but certain that nuclear weapons would remain unused in the event of war. And that goes for both sides. As military strategists said about the "Atlantic", there are serious considerations to shut down the North Korean artillery nuclear - which would be an extremely risky undertaking, not only because of its proximity to South Korea. In addition, both North Korea and the US could respond to conventional attacks with a nuclear strike.

NUCLEAR WAR: Bleak prospects

Immediately, such a limited nuclear war would kill several million people. But the global consequences would be even more serious: All those who tried to make estimates paint an extremely bleak picture. In the mid-2000s, a group of American climate researchers calculated models for a nuclear war between India and Pakistan (PDF). They assume a maximum of 50 bombs each, which explode with an explosive force of 15 kilotons each (equivalent to a Hiroshima bomb). This would correspond to a slightly higher number of atomic bombs than is usually said to North Korea, but the assumed explosive power is far below that which the country has reached in recent tests.

In the assumed case, according to the researchers Alan Robock and Brian Toon, around five million tons of soot would be released into the atmosphere through explosions and fires. They would hinder the irradiation of sunlight and lead to a global temperature decrease of around 1.3 degrees in the first year. Those continental regions in which a lot of grain is grown would be particularly affected. Because of the lower level of evaporation over the seas, they would have to reckon with massively reduced rainfall.

FAMINE EXPECTED: Years without a summer

In the USA, the harvest of soybeans would be around seven percent lower than usual, that of corn by twelve percent, can be read in a summarizing study (PDF), in which other climate models have been incorporated. Elsewhere, for example in China, production would decline even more, that of winter wheat by half in the first year after a nuclear war. Those around 815 million people who, according to the UN, are already suffering from malnutrition would be particularly affected. But there could also be famine in large parts of China. A total of up to two billion people would be massively affected by the failure of affordable food. Prices in the USA and Europe could rise massively, panic in the markets would presumably increase this effect.

And even greater damage would be possible: When the Indonesian volcano Tambora exploded in 1815, the ash rain led to a "year without a summer" in parts of Europe and North America in the following year 1816. At that time, the temperature only fell by 0.7 degrees on average, but nevertheless the result was the worst famine of the century. Above all, however, it has been shown that the extreme heat as well as the extreme cold increased regionally and for a short time, according to the study. Snow fell in some areas in August. In addition, diseases spread as a result of the cold. If this scenario were to repeat itself, the consequences could be even worse. (Manuel Escher, 10.10.2017)