In recent years, North Korea’s chemical weapons have taken a backseat to her nuclear weapons. They are, however, no less dangerous. The deterioration of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) makes them more essential to victory than ever before. For both practical and doctrinal reasons, North Korea will almost certainly use chemical weapons in wartime, from riot control to lethal nerve gases.
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 was originally published in March 2015.