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SEOUL: North Korea has military firepower even if its threat of a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the US is hollow, with South Korea most at risk from the regime’s artillery and rockets, an expert said yesterday.
Japan, separated by less than 1,000km (625 miles) of water and a frequent target of North Korea’s ire, is also in easy range of Pyongyang’s short- and mid-range missiles, said Shin In-kyun, head of the Korea Defence Network in Seoul.
North Korea’s military looks much larger than the more affluent South in personnel and equipment. The North’s 1.2 million soldiers face off against 640,000 South Korean troops, backed up by 26,000 US personnel in the country. However, Pyongyang’s capabilities are not what the figures would suggest.
Impoverished North Korea has all but abandoned running a conventional military that can engage in sustained battle because of scare resources and focused on nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology, he added.
“A conventional military is very costly, and overwhelmingly so for North Korea. It quickly becomes a money fight and North Korea cannot win that,” he said.
North Korea has around 12,000 artillery guns, many arrayed near the border. It also has an arsenal of intermediate range missiles in operational deployment, some of which can travel more than 3,000 km. That puts South Korea and Japan in range as well as the US territory of Guam, he said.
Nevertheless, a defence policy statement from South Korea in December noted that North Korea’s frontline artillery pieces could launch a “sudden and massive” barrage on Seoul, mere 50km from the Demilitarised Zone border.
Meanwhile, North Korea responded to new UN sanctions with fresh threats of nuclear war, vowing to scrap peace pacts with South Korea. North Korea “abrogates all agreements on non-aggression reached between the North and the South”, the state-run Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said.
China called for “calm and restraint”, while France France urged restraint from Pyongyang, condeming its threats to wage nuclear war and scrap peace deals after new UN sanctions.
In Berlin, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he wanted his EU counterparts to consider further measures against North Korea beyond UN sanctions.
South Korea’s Defence Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok said any nuclear attack by North Korea would trigger its own destruction. Agencies