DECADES-OLD DOCUMENTS. North Korean soldiers look at the
south side of the Demilitarized Zone while a South Korean stands
guard near the spot where a North Korean soldier crossed the
border on November 13 at Panmunjom, South Korea, in this
November 27, 2017 photo. Newly declassified documents from two
decades ago show that U.S. officials believed the U.S. and South
Korea would "undoubtedly win" a conflict on the divided Korean
Peninsula, but with the understanding it would cost many
casualties. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #24 (December 18, 2017),
U.S. foresaw a costly victory in war with
North Korea — in 1994
By Matthew Pennington
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — In a nuclear standoff with North Korea more than
two decades ago — long before the reclusive government had
atomic weapons that could threaten America — U.S. officials
planned for war.
Declassified documents were recently published that show the
United States believed its military and South Korea’s forces
would "undoubtedly win" a conflict on the divided Korean
Peninsula, with the understanding it would cost many casualties.
The Pentagon estimated at the time that if war broke with
Korea, some 52,000 American service members would be killed or
wounded in the first three months. South Korean military
casualties would total 490,000 in that time. And the number of
North Korean and civilian lives claimed would be enormous,
according to "The Two Koreas" by Don Oberdorfer, a definitive
modern history of Korean Peninsula.
Today, with North Korea almost able to directly threaten the
U.S. mainland with nuclear strikes, the possibility of conflict
looms as it had in 1994. U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed
to stop the North Koreans from reaching such capability.
Twenty-three years ago, the stakes were different.
At that time, then-President Bill Clinton’s administration
considered a cruise missile strike on a North Korean nuclear
complex after it began defuelling a reactor that could provide
fissile material for bombs for the first time. Former President
Jimmy Carter headed off a conflict, meeting with founding North
Korean leader Kim Il Sung and helping seal an
aid-for-disarmament agreement. The pact endured for nearly a
decade, despite frequent disputes and periodic flare-ups on the
"We had taken a very strong position that we would not permit
North Korea to make a nuclear bomb," William Perry, who was
defense secretary during the crisis, said. "We have said that
many times since then, but then we really meant it."
A declassified transcript published by the National Security
Archive at George Washington University records Perry’s
discussion on the standoff with South Korea’s president in 1998.
Perry was by then Clinton’s special envoy for North Korea.
Perry told President Kim Dae-jung that the U.S. had planned
for a military confrontation and that "with the combined forces
of the ROK and U.S., we can undoubtedly win the war." ROK refers
to the abbreviation of the South’s official name, the Republic
Speaking to South Korea’s Kim, who pursued a "sunshine"
policy of diplomatic outreach to North Korea, Perry said the
"war involves many casualties in the process. As a former
defense secretary, I am well aware of the negative aspects of
war, and will do my best to avoid war."
North Korea has since made leaps and bounds in its nuclear
and missile development, particularly under its current young
leader, Kim Jong Un. It tested an intercontinental ballistic
missile with a likely range of more than 8,000 miles, moving it
closer to perfecting a nuclear-tipped projectile that can strike
all corners of the U.S. mainland.
Trump has not ruled out using force to stop the North from
achieving that capability if diplomacy fails. Backing up the
threat, the U.S. has stepped up its military drills with allies,
which Pyongyang condemns as preparations for invasion. The U.S.
and South Korea recently held air force drills involving more
than 200 aircraft, including six U.S. F-22 and 18 F-35 stealth
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry has warned, "The remaining
question now is: when will the war break out."
Speaking at an Arms Control Association briefing in
Washington, Perry urged a renewed effort at diplomacy, which he
said wouldn’t get North Korea to give up its nukes in short
order, but could lower the likelihood of war.
He said a nuclear-armed North Korea wouldn’t attack America
but may be emboldened in military provocations against South
Korea that could spiral into a wider conflict. The U.S. could
itself blunder into a nuclear war if it undertook a conventional
military strike on North
Korea that prompted the North to attack the South, he said.
"An all-out war with North Korea, nuclear war, even if China
and Russia did not enter," Perry said, "could still entail
casualties approximating those of World War I or even World War