The Conventional Military Balance in the Koreas and Northeast Asia
August 2, 2016
Military balance has long been a key factor shaping the stability of the Koreas and Northeast Asia. For decades, the DPRK has shaped the military balance in the Koreas through periods of deliberate confrontation and military threats, threatening military movements and exercises, a steady military build-up, and sporadic acts of low-level violence ranging from assassination to artillery attacks and ship sinkings. It has focused on ROK targets, but has also consistently threatened the United States.
Moreover the term “conventional” does not apply to the forces each nation would have in many credible scenarios. Asymmetric and nuclear forces are likely to play a major role in the way any conflict develops, even if this only means deterring given military options or altering the political perceptions on each side of how to shape the fighting.
Asymmetric warfare can be used at any level of conflict, and much of the DPRK’s past behavior has used low-level asymmetric warfare to threaten the ROK at levels that have drawn a military response. The DPRK can also use its limited nuclear capabilities, and missile threats to try to deter ROK or U.S. conventional attacks on the DPRK, even if it has no intention of actually using nuclear weapons.
There is no one view of the military balance that is likely to shape any conflict between the Koreas. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) does not publish meaningful public assessments of the balance. As a new report by the CSIS Burke Chair shows, outside sources can make radically different counts of the conventional balance. The report is entitled, “The Conventional Military Balance in the Koreas and Northeast Asia,” and is available on the CSIS website at https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/160802_Korea_Conventional_Balance.pdf.
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Photo credit: Republic of Korea Armed Forces