The conventional military balance on the Korean Peninsula


The long-standing tinderbox of the Korean Peninsula, if ignited through another provocation or miscalculation, could spark a full-scale war that could well go nuclear. The prize of diplomacy – sustainable peace on the peninsula – is all the more valuable when one considers the range of military capabilities potentially in play. This information is of use in assessing both the goals of diplomacy and the risks should the current efforts fail. Weapons based on the Korean Peninsula have become faster, more precise and more powerful. North Korea has tested a thermonuclear weapon, an intercontinental ballistic missile and more accurate shorter-range missiles, all designed to offset the relative qualitative weakness of its broader conventional forces. It has also pursued advanced cyber capabilities. South Korea, meanwhile, has focused on developing military systems allowing for more rapid and precise strikes. US forces on the peninsula have introduced yet more advanced capabilities. For these reasons the IISS provides this independent, measured and detailed analysis of military dynamics on the peninsula. The report focuses on the defence policies and military capabilities of the two Koreas, and the US military forces stationed in South Korea which can be brought to bear in a crisis. While it does not ignore unconventional systems, it principally focuses on conventional capabilities.

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