Odds of a North Korea nuclear 'nightmare' are slim, but here's what to watch for

Odds of a North Korea nuclear 'nightmare' are slim, but here's what to watch for
From CBC - August 12, 2017

To anyone fearing nuclear warfare following the radioactive rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, take comfort: None of the hallmarks of impending military conflict is visible.

Not yet, at least.

Defence analysts and experts on the Korean Peninsula are watching for potential telltale signs of an advancing skirmish such as the movement of U.S. forces in the Asia-Pacific region.

They doubt the escalating war of words will become a real shooting war. Meanwhile, Guam has not changed its threat levels, despite the U.S. island territory's waters being a stated target of Pyongyang.

Trump has kept up his ominous tone, tweeting a warning on Friday that "military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded."

Should it come to that, Harold Kazianis, director of defence studies at the Centerfor the National Interest, was unequivocal.

"All the military options are horrific."

Mainstream analysts agree there's no attack plan that would avoid the deaths of millions, though Kazianis said the chances of full-bore war breaking out remain "below the threshold of sheer panic."

That could change with hints at a possible unilateral U.S. strike, telegraphed by a buildup of forces and an armada of warships, advanced attack submarines and aircraft carriers to the region, as well as jets screeching toward the peninsula.

"What you'd see is a surge in air assetsB-1 bombers, B-2 bombers, F-22 stealth fightersand you'd see these things coming a mile away," Kazianis said.

The movement of troops, military equipment and supplies into the region may not mean conflict is imminent, but it would at least signalresolve.

Aworst-case scenario

The danger, Kazianis said, is that Kimwould also be alerted to a U.S. show of force, and in a worst-case scenario, suspicions of an intended surgical strike on his nuclear assets could prompt him to unleash everything he can at U.S. allies.

"That's firing up to 60 nuclear weapons, 130 chemical weapons, and biological weapons down on South Korea. A nightmare scenario, with 10,000 artillery tubes pointed at Seoul, one of the world's biggest cities."

While the leader of a nuclear-armed North Korea may realize he ca not best the U.S. militarily, Kim "knows he can still take millions to the graveyard," Kazianis said.

Such a scenario still seems improbable to experts, who say what's notable beyond the torqued-up rhetoric has been a lack of action.

Were the U.S. to be taking these threats seriously, for example, one of its first manoeuvres would likely be a mass evacuation of American civilians from South Korea, where 20,000 troops are based, as well as thousands more from Japan, said Derek Chollet, a former Obama administration official and senior adviser for security and defence policy at the German Marshall Fund in Washington.

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