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North Korea tension could lead to catastrophe: analysts

North Korea tension could lead to catastrophe: analysts
From Al Jazeera - August 11, 2017

Any new military conflict with North Korea would likely escalate to the use of nuclear weapons, bringing catastrophic casualties not seen since World War II, defence officials and analysts say.

While the United States has maintained an uneasy calm with North Korea for more than six decades and spikes in tension are not new, recent supercharged rhetoric between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have heightened the risk of miscalculation that could make an unprecedented conflict a reality, they say.

On Thursday, North Korea upped the ante by saying it would complete plans by mid-August to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land near the US Pacific island territory of Guam, after Trump said any threats by Pyongyang would be "met with fire and fury like the world has never seen".

INFOGRAPHIC: North Korea explained in graphics

The exchange followed a United Nations resolution tightening sanctions on North Korea after it tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads to the US.

Trump said on Thursday his fire and fury comment was not tough enough.

Despite the war of words, the US military says, for now, there has been no change in its readiness posture in South Korea or elsewhere in Asia.

Analysts say they have seen no evidence of any increased alert in North Korea, but they warned the bluster could raise the risk of miscalculation that could result in a conflict far beyond the scale of the 1950-53 Korean War.

That conflict claimed the lives of millions of Koreans andmore than 50,000 Americansand ended in an armed truce, not a peace treaty.

"The major thing people are talking about is miscalculation," Philip Yun, a Korea expert, told Reuters news agency. "We could easily stumble into something with the rhetoric being so heated."

Yun, who was an Asia adviser under former president Bill Clinton, said the risks were exacerbated by the "credibility problem" Trump has acquired because of his frequent off-the-cuff remarks that often appear to counter the more measured remarks of his officials.

"In nuclear deterrence, credibility is everything and there's a situation that if no one takes you seriously, you have to do something to make sure you are taken seriously, and that's where the miscalculation can happen," Yun said.

'Catastrophic' casualties

With hundreds of thousands of troops and huge arsenals arrayed on both sides of a tense demilitarised zone, the Korean peninsula has long been a tinder box.

North Korea's acquisition of nuclear weapons and its development of an array of missiles to deliver them have raised the stakes further.

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