On Wednesday, a high-ranking North Korean defector said in a congressional hearing that a pre-emptive U.S. military strike on the hermit regime would trigger automatic retaliation as the North would instantly unleash artillery and short-range missiles on South Korea.
Thae Yong Ho, the former deputy chief of mission at the North Korean Embassy in London, testimony emphasized the high risk of using military force against the country and urged the U.S. to use “soft power”—like enforcing sanctions and disseminate information counter to North Korean propaganda to turn people against Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian regime—instead of using military force.
The Trump administration has said that military action is among its options to stop Kim from launching a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the U.S.
Thae is the highest-level North Korean defector in the last two decades, and confirmed what U.S. officials have long suspected but not articulated, that even just a small American strike could ignite a potentially devastating military response by North Korea on the South Korean capital and the surrounding area.
He said that while the U.S. and South Korea would win in a war with the North, it wouldn’t be without significant “human sacrifice” inflicted on the South from the “tens of thousands” of artillery guns and short-range missiles the North has set up at their border.
“North Korean officers are trained to press their button without any further instructions from the general command if anything happens on their side,” Thae said in his testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “We have to remember that tens of millions of South Korean population are living 70 to 80 kilometers away from this military demarcation line.”
Thae’s statement comes just before President Trump’s five-country Asian tour that will include a visit to South Korea. The top U.S. diplomat has said that we will seek a diplomatic solution to the situation with North Korea, but that “all options” are on the table in case of a standoff, while Trump has threatened to totally “destroy” North Korea if the U.S. is forced to defend itself or its allies in the region.
Last week, the Congressional Research Service published a report that said that conservative estimates expect that North Korean artillery stationed at the frontier between the North and South would cause tens of thousands of casualties in South Korea in the first hours of conflict in an area where at least 100,000, and as many as 500,000 Americans live, as well as 30,000 U.S. troops. If North Korea uses its nuclear capabilities, or biological or chemical weapons, the casualties could be far greater.