Forget About North Korea's Nukes: Fear Kim's Chemical Weapons

March 19, 2019 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: North KoreaMilitaryTechnologyWorldChemical Weapons

Forget About North Korea's Nukes: Fear Kim's Chemical Weapons

WMD nightmare. 


The failure of the West to respond to chemical use in Syria has shown that warnings about “red lines” and the use of gas are hollow. There are great differences between gassing Syrian civilians and American troops, but it’s clear that some of the taboo of using chemical weapons has worn off.

North Korea’s chemical-weapons threat is real and the likelihood of their use in wartime is high. Once war is underway, the best way for U.S./South Korean forces to mitigate their effects would be to degrade North Korea’s command and control and take the offensive. If the NK general staff is unable to send orders and receive accurate intelligence, it will find it difficult to plan chemical strikes. A fast-moving UN offensive may also catch slow-moving artillery and missile units.


The most effective means overall of mitigating Pyongyang’s chemical threat may be to bargain the weapons away ahead of time. If the North could be persuaded to give up most or all of its chemical weapons, it would lessen the threat to civilians and soldiers in wartime, both on the Korean peninsula and abroad. That would involve talking to North Korea, something the Obama administration has not been too interested in doing. If the world wishes to do away with North Korea’s chemical weapons, it needs to start talking to the reclusive country now.

Kyle Mizokami is a writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and The Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.

This first appeared in 2015 and is being reprinted due to reader interest.