By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Published: 28 Jan 21:51 EST (02:51 GMT)
WASHINGTON – The United States and its allies might have to deploy up to 460,000 soldiers to North Korea to stabilize the country if it collapses and an insurgency erupts, a private U.S. study said Jan. 28.
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) think tank outlined what amounted to a worst-case scenario in the event the country descends into total chaos and foreign troops intervene after a failed succession upon Kim Jong-Il’s death.
The South Korean agency Yonhap, quoting “well-informed intelligence sources,” reported this month that Kim, 66, had named his third son, Kim Jong-Un, 24, as successor. Kim is reported to have suffered a stroke in August.
In its 37-page report entitled “Preparing for Sudden Change in North Korea,” the influential New York think tank outlined scenarios based on whether the succession is managed, contested or has failed.
“North Korea abuts two great powers – China and Russia – that have important interests at stake in the future of the peninsula. That they would become actively engaged in any future crisis involving North Korea is virtually guaranteed,” the CFR said.
The report did not rule out military intervention by foreign powers.
“The prospect of North Korea being absorbed by South Korea and U.S. forces potentially being deployed near China’s northeastern border are matters of acute concern,” the report said.
“The same fears helped trigger China’s entry into the Korean War. Moscow undoubtedly shares many of Beijing’s concerns, though Russia appears less poised to intervene should the situation deteriorate,” it added.
Foreign military intervention could create another dynamic.
“If former elements of the North Korean military, its security and intelligence forces, or its large special operations force were to resist the presence of foreign forces, the size of the needed stabilization force would escalate dramatically,” it said.
“In an insurgency, according to a Defense Science Board study, as many as twenty occupying troops are needed for every thousand persons, implying a force of 460,000 troops,” it said.
It pointed out such a force would be more than three times the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
“Coping with such a contingency would likely be impossible for the South Korean and American forces to manage alone,” it added.
The report also raised concerns about North Korea’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, biological, and chemical programs.
North Korea tested a nuclear device in 2006 but it has since been pursuing difficult negotiations with the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia to scrap the nuclear programs.
“A possible breakdown over North Korea’s stockpile of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) would likely provide even stronger pressures to intervene,” it said.
“If the cohesion of the military were to begin to fray, preventing leaking of WMDs, materials and technologies beyond the North’s borders would become an urgent priority,” it said.
“Although neighboring states share a common interest in preventing such leakage, serious differences could still arise over the necessity and execution of any military operation designed to secure WMDs,” it said.
As succession talk increases, the report urged close cooperation between the United States, China and other players in the region to help avert the worst.