The US planned for war against North Korea in 1994 newly declassified documents published on Friday have revealed.
The administration of then US President Bill Clinton believed that the US military and South Korea’s forces would “undoubtedly win” a conflict on the divided Korean peninsula, but also understood the number of casualties would be enormous.
The war plans came as the US was negotiating North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.
Defense Secretary William Perry told South Korean President Kim Dae Jung at the time.“Of course, with the combined forces of the ROK and US, we can undoubtedly win the war, but war involves many casualties in the process.”
The US crafted its plan for war as North Korea began de-fueling a reactor that could provide fissile material for nuclear bombs, inching closer towards establishing deterrence against the US and its allies who have long sought to overthrow the government in Pyongyang.
The newly released documents also reveal that in 1997, Washington worried that a “starving North Korea” ‒ suffering from chronic food shortages and under sanctions ‒ could become a “dangerously chaotic situation.” This informed the US approach to the four-party talks (involving the US, China, South Korea and North Korea) which had to be “flexible enough to encompass a wide range of options,” from a “collapse” of the North to “meaningful reforms which would give the DPRK regime renewed vitality.”
North Korea has now established its nuclear arsenal, which would kill 2.1 million people and injure 8 million others should it be unleashed on Seoul and Tokyo, according to a recent study. In November, North Korea claimed it launched a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong 15, that could hit any target on the US mainland.
US and North Korean leaders continue to trade barbs as tensions heighten. Trump has been called an “old psychopath” and “war thirsty” by North Korean state media, and the US has been threatened to be reduced to “ashes and darkness.” The US president said Washington would “totally destroy” North Korea if attacked, and that ‘Little Rocket Man,’ as he often calls Kim Jong-un, “won’t be around much longer.”
Meanwhile, the US and its regional allies carry out massive military exercises simulating the destruction of North Korea. This week American and South Korean pilots practiced attacks on North Korea’s nuclear and missile installations in different war scenarios.
Last weekend, White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster warned the possibility of war with Pyongyang is “increasing every day.”
On Saturday, CIA chief Mike Pompeo said US intelligence agencies believe the North Korean leader does not have a clue how weak his position is.
“Those around him are not feeding him the truth about the place that he finds himself – how precarious his position is in the world today. It’s probably not easy to tell Kim Jong-un bad news,” he said at a Reagan Institute forum in California.
Pompeo’s belief was undermined, though, by a recent statement from retired Lieutenant-General Jan-Marc Jouas, the former deputy commander of US forces in Korea. Jouas said that the 30,000-strong US forces stationed in the neighboring South would struggle to counter the North Korean Army, which Pyongyang claims almost 5 million people have volunteered for.
Russia and China have proposed a ‘double-freeze’ strategy, in which the US stops its drills with South Korea in exchange for the North suspending its nuclear weapons programs. The US has has rebuffed the proposal, however, saying it has every right to carry out exercises with its allies.