War on Korean peninsula could kill 300,000 in days – even without nuclear weapons – says report by US Congress
Renewed conflict on the Korean peninsula could kill hundreds of thousands of people in the first few days alone even if no nuclear weapons are involved, according to a new report by the Congressional Research Service.
Given population densities on the peninsula, military conflict “could affect upwards of 25 million people on either side of the border, including at least 100,000 US citizens”, according to a 62-page assessment sent to US lawmakers on Friday.
With the US saying all military options are on the table, the CRS report laid out in sharp detail the consequences of a conflict. North Korea can rely on hundreds of thousands of artillery rounds within striking distance of Seoul, making it difficult for even a pre-emptive strike to prevent mass casualties.
Even if North Korea “uses only its conventional munitions, estimates range from between 30,000 and 300,000 dead in the first days of fighting,” the report said, citing North Korea’s ability to fire 10,000 rounds per minute. Moreover, the conflict could quickly spread to involve forces from China, Japan and Russia.
“Should China choose to join the conflict, those casualty rates could grow further, and could potentially lead to military conflict beyond the peninsula.”
Former senior Trump adviser Steve Bannon underscored the dangers of US military strikes in August when he said: “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”
The CRS doesn’t go as far as Bannon.
“Few analysts believe that North Korea would launch an unprovoked attack on US territory” but as the crisis continues to evolve “Congress could confront significant questions regarding its role in shaping US policy in the region.”
At the same time, US sanctions, diplomacy, and military shows of force “have arguably slowed” but “not halted the advance of North Korea’s” weapons of mass destruction programmes, CRS said.
“This assessment implies that the time frame for conducting military action without the risk of a North Korean nuclear attack against US territory is narrowing” and “may increase the urgency of efforts to restart multilateral diplomatic efforts”, it said. Some analysts maintain that the road to negotiations “could be strengthened and accelerated if both North Korea and China believe that a US military strike” is “becoming more likely”, CRS said.
“A protracted conflict – particularly one in which North Korea uses its nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons – could cause enormous casualties on a greater scale, and might expand to include Japan and US territories in the region,” said CRS. “Such a conflict could also involve a massive mobilisation of US forces onto the Korean Peninsula, and high military casualty rates.”
The US also “runs the risk of a direct military clash with China”, CRS said. It called China’s reaction “perhaps the most significant geopolitical question arising from a military conflict”.
Pre-emptive US strikes “could risk a major rupture in its relationship with China”.
In addition to the horrific human toll of dead and wounded, CRS said, a war “could lead to massive flow of refugees into northeastern China, where large numbers of ethnic Koreans reside”.