N. Korean Military Threat No Match for U.S.

North Korea's military is the world's third largest. Tough and disciplined, it possesses serious firepower — 317,000 tanks, 10,000 artillery pieces and 600 jet fighters.

If war broke out, their conventional weapons alone could rain death and destruction on the South Korean capital and on the 37,000 American troops stationed there — only 30 miles away.

Even more threatening are North Korea's arsenal of long-range Scud missiles, its enormous chemical and biological weapons cache and — according to U.S. intelligence — at least two nuclear bombs.

"And that's a conservative estimate," said ABCNEWS' military analyst Anthony Cordesman. "There's enough fuel missing for there to be at least two and perhaps four."

Looks Can Be Deceiving

But appearances, and even intelligence, can be deceiving.

North Korea's military has been weakened by the country's economic collapse and chronic shortage of fuel.

Without its Soviet patron, there are no spare parts for aging equipment. Ultimately, the North would be no match for the overwhelming air and weapon superiority of U.S. and South Korean forces.

The government and people of South Korea are especially aware of North Korea's military capabilities, since they have lived under the threat of the country's aggression for a half century.

South Koreans say they are no longer frightened by the belligerence and threats from the North.

In fact, North-South relations have improved dramatically in recent years, through a policy of engagement and dialogue.

More Worried About America

Many South Koreans say they are more worried about America's hard-line stance.

South Korean president Kim Dae-jung said today, "Pressuring or isolating the North is not the way to solve the nuclear problem."

The fear is that the United States will back the North into a corner.

Lho Kyong Soo of Seoul National University said, "I think America has to look for creative ways to engage the North Koreans … because we simply can't afford another conflagration on this peninsula."

It was the Korean War, in which more than 2 million Koreans died.

While South Koreans may no longer be frightened by the North's belligerence and rhetoric, they certainly don't underestimate the havoc the North could wreak … if it ever lashes out again.

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