by Peter Hayes February 25, 1994

Prepared for the Northeast Asia Peace and Security Network

Copyright 1994

The Northeast Asia Peace and Security Network is a transnational,
nongovernmental network launched in November 1993 of non
proliferation specialists, regional security experts, and non
governmental organizations from North East Asia and North
America. The objective of the Network is to explore ideas and
promote dialogue on nuclear non proliferation in the region. The
Network is advised by an international group of eminent persons
from the United States; Europe; Japan; China; South Korea; and
North Korea. It has commissioned about twenty papers from
scholars around the world. The first five papers deal with
critical issues related to the next round of high level talks
between the United States and the DPRK, with a particular focus
on the possibility of transferring a light water reactor to North
Korea, and on sanctions.

Other essays cover North Korean decision making and the nuclear
issue; possible military escalation of the North Korean nuclear
impasse; regional nuclear forces of the great powers; and options
for regional non nuclear institutions. The Network is funded by
the Rockefeller Foundation. Readers interested in obtaining
Network products or in participating in the Network should
contact Paula Fomby at Nautilus, 746 Ensenada Ave, Berkeley, CA
94707, USA. phone: (510) 526-9296, fax: (510) 526-9297, e-mail:

Network papers available are: 1. V. Gilinksy and W. Manning, A
US-Type Light Water Reactor for North Korea? The Legal Realities
(Dec 93) 2. S. Levy, Supply of Light Water Reactor(s) to
Pyongyang–Technological Issues and Their Possible Resolution
(Dec 93) 3. P. Hayes, Should the United States Transfer Light
Water Reactors to Pyongyang? (Nov 93) 4. P. Hayes and L. Zarsky,
Regional Environmental Cooperation in Northeast Asia (Sep 93) 5.
K.A. Elliott, Institute for International Economics, Will
Sanctions Work Against North Korea? (Dec 93) 6. M. Valencia,
East West Center, Regional Economic/Environmental Policy Options
for Confidence Building with DPRK (Jan 94) 7. P. Hayes, Defiance
Versus Compliance: The DPRK’s Calculus Faced with Multilateral
Sanctions (Feb 15, 1994) 8. P. Hayes, Hanging in the Balance:
North-South Korean Military Capabilities (Feb 25, 1994) These
papers may be published for scholarly, non-commercial purposes
with acknowledgement outside of the Northeast Asia Peace and
Security Network with permission from Nautilus Institute.



Peter Hayes

February 25, 1994

Military analysts have long recognized that simple force ratios
provide little insight into either the qualitative factors or the
strategic capabilities that would determine the outcome of a war
in a conflict such as Korea. Two recent American assessments
cast make it feasible to grasp the dynamic aspects of potential
conflicts between North (DPRK) and South (ROK) Korea.

A September 1993 nett assessment by the Joint Intelligence Center
at Pacific Command (JICPAC) in Hawaii states that although the
military balance in Korea still favors the North, situational
elements “would make any North Korean attack on South Korea a
very difficult operation.” (Source: JICPAC (ONK), “Republic of
Korea/North Korea, Military Capabilities,” September 27, 1993;
released by CINCPAC under a US Freedom of Information Act request
to the author.)

These factors include — the strength of ROK defensive positions;
— the size and potential of the ROK economy; — the sheer size
advantage of the ROK population (20 versus 40 million).

Although the DPRK has only a quarter of the ROK’s gross national
product, it devotes as much as 20-25 percent of its GNP to the
military to keep an estimated 1 million plus men under arms.

In contrast, the ROK spends only 5 percent of its GNP on the
military, but still dwarfs North Korea’s military expenditure.
The ROK has opted to build a strong defensive position dependent
upon technology and US treaty commitments (which entail a US
military expenditure in and around the Korean Peninsula of about
$6 billion per year) rather than numbers per se, to deter the
North. JICPAC notes that ROK demographics and economic base
could support a significant expansion of armed force if the
military situation so dictated.

North Korea’s ground forces are well equipped and trained and
most are forward deployed. The DPRK Army has a well known
numerical advantage in artillery and SAMs (see Table 1). JICPAC
states that the North has the capability “to insert by air or sea
about 2,500 men in a single lift to operate in ROK rear areas to
impede mobilization and other vital defense efforts.”

JICPAC also notes that the DPRK’s larger airforce is offset by
the ROK airforce’s qualitative advantages, whereas its sheer
numbers of naval forces still outweigh the ROK’s naval forces
despite its recent production of frigates and corvettes.

Overall, JICPAC concludes that: — The North has significant
logistics stockpiles which are “somewhat offset by the ROK’s
superior transportation infrastructure and modern production
facilities;” — Both countries have considerable industrial
potential to support their military forces. “Pyongyang,” says
JICPAC, “has utilized much of its capacity for production of
military items for some time and will likely continue to do so.”

“The ROK,” it adds, “can support increased defense production
should it be deemed necessary.”

Static balances based on simple force ratios can be very
misleading in the case of the two Koreas where geography and
qualitative differences would greatly affect how any war would
unfold. A better way to evaluate the military balance is with
dynamic, scenario- driven analyses.Strategic analysis provided by
Rand to annual wargames conducted at the US Naval War College
provides just such a review. Rand lists the ROK’s basic defensive
situation as consisting of: — Terrain north of Seoul dominated
by rice paddies offering limited off-road mobility; — Terrain
west of Seoul is a wide coastal plan with main invasion routes to
Seoul; — Extensive tunnelling under the DMZ by the DPRK; —
Mountainous central DMZ area offers prime DPRK infiltration
route; — Narrow eastern coastal plain is lightly settled and
less heavily defended; — 40 percent of ROK population resides
within 40 miles of Seoul; — Mountains make movement of forces
to and from the east coast difficult.

The DPRK’s defensive situation is described as being
characterized by: — Central mountains containing key industry;
— Narrow eastern coastal plain with several key urban areas; —
Mountainous terrain along the eastern DMZ which renders
operations difficult; — Small hills and very channelized
terrain North of Kaesong.

The DPRK’s military objectives in a conventional attack on the
ROK are fairly obvious and include a main offensive north of
Seoul, a pinning attack down the eastern coastal plain, the
mining of ROK ports, the restriction of sea lanes of
communication, and the reduction of ROK and US air sortie
generation over the DPRK.

The most interesting scenario for the analysis of a dynamic
balance in Korea is a variant of the US-ROK Combined Forces
Command basic warplan, Oplan 5027 under consideration at CINCPAC
which relates to the possibility that the ROK is able to blunt a
DPRK offensive, stabilize the defensive line in FEBA Bravo (20-30
miles below the DMZ), and that the US-ROK Combined Forces Command
would proceed to execute a retaliatory offensive once US
reinforcements arrive.

In this variant, a US marine expeditionary force (about a
division) and air assault division along with ROK divisions would
assemble on the east coast to launch an overland offensive north
toward Wonsan. A little later, a combined US-ROK force would
land amphibiously near Wonsan and advance to Pyongyang. Finally,
a combined US-ROK force would execute a major counteroffensive in
the area north of Seoul aimed at reaching Pyongyang, either
linking up with the force interposed at Wonsan, or meeting it in

In this scenario, lots of mechanized ROK forces would be
available for these offensives, but would have to punch through
hardened DPRK forces. Thus, a major aerial campaign to attrite
these northern forces would be required before a counteroffensive
could begin.

A crucial external variable that would affect the success of such
a US-ROK counteroffensive against the DPRK is whether US or ROK
marine or army forces are committed elsewhere. Also, US aircraft
carriers may be unavailable and US strategic lift may be
insufficient to provide the requisite additional support.

Overall, these factors could make a counteroffensive impossible,
or seriously delay it. Rand believes, however, that the balance
would swing in favor of the South so long as two other conditions

First, the ROK forces must be able to withstand DPRK forces over
the first 5-15 days. Second, they must hold the line while US
and ROK forces are mustered for the counteroffensive for another
15-20 days. Such a campaign also entails CFC air forces
controlling the air and neutralizing DPRK attacks against
southern airbases, as well as successful aerial interdiction of
DPRK ground force movements.

To pull off this strategy, ROK and US forces would need to
improve their perimeter control against DPRK special forces, have
effective anti-ballistic missile systems in place, and be able to
“sterilize” areas by destroying mobile threats such as Stinger-
like missiles, etc. Rand told the wargamers that implementing
this strategy also requires CFC forces to obtain better means to
identify fortified defensive positions north of the DMZ without
having to directly assault them, including a rock-penetrating
munition to kill opposing forces in underground facilities.
Finally, CFC forces must find ways to overcome the likely
destruction of north Korean roads if they are to advance quickly
on Pyongyang.

To these strictly military considerations must be added the
“balance of morale.” North Korea’s military is largely composed
of uniformed civilians dragooned into garantuan corvee labor
projects. Thus, it is grossly bloated for reasons related to
internal political control and its very size and flat C3I
structure may undermine its fighting capabilities.

Also, the declining standard of living in North Korea cannot be
hidden from its people who endure daily privations. The ROK
government today is at least as legitimate and probably less
politically fragile than its northern counterpart. In wartime,
it is likely that the southern population will unite behind the
ROK government whereas civil war could erupt in the North and
rapidly degrade its military machine. In short, the
psychological balance would likely favor the South.