North Korea vs South Korea

North Korean T-62 "Ch'onma-Ho" Tank

Regarding the North Korea South Korea balance of power, Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of United Nations Command, Combined Forces Command, and U.S. Forces Korea, had this to say (22 Oct 2012):


The Korean Peninsula sits at the crossroads of the region. The Republic of Korea, sitting on the southern half of the peninsula, is a great example of the success most nations of the region enjoy. Devastated by the Korean War, the Republic of Korea is now a modern, free, and prosperous society. Its over 50 million people live in a free and open democracy. It is the most “wired” country on the planet…80% of the population has internet access. It has the 13th largest economy in the world with a Gross Domestic Product of over a trillion dollars. The average per capita income is over 31,000 dollars. The ROK is our 7th largest trading partner. It is home to companies that are familiar to all of us…Hyundai, Kia, Samsung, and LG to name a few. The security and stability provided by the military forces of the United States and the United Nations Command Sending States supported this economic success and help the people of South Korea live in peace and prosperity.

The defense of South Korea is enabled by the ROK-U.S. Alliance. This Alliance was born on the battlefields of the Korean War and forged in blood and sacrifice. Over the last 62 years, it has grown into one of the strongest military alliances in the world. It is the best military partnership I have experienced in over 37 years of service. Our Alliance is successful because of the mutual trust and shared values between U.S. and ROK military leaders. Our daily face-to-face interaction allows us to continually build our partnership and maintain our transparency.

The ROK military is well led, well trained, and well equipped. It has over 600,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines ready to defend their country. Many of these Warriors are conscripts performing their national service. The ROK military continues to modernize to retain a qualitative edge over north Korean capabilities. The ROK is investing in modern, interoperable Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence or C4I systems; Ballistic Missile Defense capabilities such as Patriot and Aegis; and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. They are a very capable force. The ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff are on track to assume responsibility for the wartime defense of Korea in December 2015.

In stark contrast to South Korea’s incredible development since the war, one of the world’s poorest, most closed, most oppressive, and most militarized countries, North Korea, lies less than 20 miles from the northern districts of Seoul, a metropolitan area of 24.5 million people. Failed north Korean economic policies coupled with crop failures have placed an incredible hardship on the north Korean people. North Korea’s Gross Domestic Product is 40 billion dollars…38 times smaller than the ROK. The more than 24 ½ million people who live in north Korea have a Per Capita Income of almost 1,800 dollars a year…17 times smaller than the average South Korean. Even in the face of enormous economic hardship, the regime maintains the fourth largest military in the world.

The north Korean military possesses significant conventional and asymmetric capabilities. The north Korean Army is over one million strong. It possesses over 13,000 artillery systems, over 4,000 tanks, and over 2,000 armored personnel carriers. The north Korean Air Force possesses over 1,700 aircraft. The Navy has over 800 surface combatants. And more than 70% of this combat power is positioned within 90 miles of the Demilitarized Zone.

North Korea continues to improve its long range artillery forces. These artillery forces are capable of ranging Seoul from their current positions. An attack by these forces on any scale could cause significant damage to the Greater Seoul Metropolitan Area. But I am particularly concerned about north Korea’s significant asymmetric capabilities. North Korea possesses the world’s largest special operations force of over 60,000. They possess a significant amount of WMD. They are investing heavily in developing a deliverable nuclear weapon. North Korea continues to invest in ballistic missile improvements to include developing missiles which can threaten the region. Finally, the north Koreans possess a significant cyber warfare capability which they continue to improve.



To the issue of "North Korea vs South Korea:" The South Korean military, while smaller than North Korea's in terms of major equipment and men, is far superior in quality, especially in critical areas such as fighter aircraft, C4I and other areas. Given that South Korea's economy is dramatically larger than the North's, and it could improve its already formidable force if needed, some question why a U.S. presence is still required in South Korea.

"South Korea’s Secret Weakness; Our military aid to Seoul gives Pyongyang its only edge," a February '13 article, argues the U.S. military presence allows the South Koreans to under fund their military (click here). The author equates U.S. military assistance to welfare, which reduces the initiative of the recipient.

Comments to the article offer several interesting alternatives, including:

  • The U.S. presence is really to deter China;

  • American troops act as a trip wire to prevent a first North Korean strike, which would be devastating despite South Korean defenses. Pyongyang knows any major attack would be met with a devastating U.S. response. And,

  • The U.S. presence helps North Korea by offering a nationalist rationale for North Korea and its military.

What do you think?

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