President Trump shocked the world, accepting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s invitation to discuss a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. Itâ€™s historic and high-stakes.
Just the FAQs
WASHINGTON â€” War on the Korean Peninsula would be catastrophic.Â Â
How much blood would be shed and how nasty the fighting would be are the outstanding questions, according to Defense estimatesÂ and experts.Â
Even a conventional war could kill tens of thousands of civilians in its first days if thousands of North Korean artillery shells fell on the 10 million citizens of Seoul, 35 miles from the demilitarized zone. The number of dead and wounded multiply if war goes nuclear, as North Korea has threatened.
More: North Korea-U.S. talks: Why make the offer now, what does North Korea want in return?
More: White House seems to add conditions to summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un
In November, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis offered a lethal promise in remarks to reporters, suggesting the toll in North Korea could be higher.
â€œMake no mistake, any attack on the United States or our allies will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons by the North will be met with a massive military response that is effective and overwhelming,â€ Mattis said.
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A woman dressed in a traditional gown pays her respects at statues of late North Korean leaders, Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il, in Pyongyang, North Korea, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. Unaware of reports his eldest son – and current leader Kim Jong UnÂ’s half-brother – was killed just days ago in what appears to have been a carefully planned assassination, North Koreans marked the birthday of late leader Kim Jong Il on Thursday as they do every year.Â
Eric Talmadge, AP
Azalea, whose Korean name is “Dalle”, a 19-year-old female chimpanzee, smokes a cigarette at the Central Zoo in Pyongyang, North Korea Oct. 19, 2016. According to officials at the newly renovated zoo, which has become a favorite leisure spot in the North Korean capital since it was re-opened in July, the chimpanzee smokes about a pack a day. They insist, however, that she does not inhale.Â
Wong Maye-E, AP
A picture released by the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the ruling North Korean Workers Party, on Sept. 8, 2015, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center front, and Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, second from right, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba and first vice-president of the Council of State, watching an art performance by the Moranbong Band and the State Merited Chorus in Pyongyang, North Korea, on Sept. 7, 2015. Bermudez led a Cuban delegation to North Korea to mark the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between North Korea and Cuba. Â
Rodong Sinmun, European Pressphoto Agency
Men and women pump their fists in the air and chant “defend!” as they carry propaganda slogans calling for reunification of their country during the “Pyongyang Mass Rally on the Day of the Struggle Against the U.S.,” attended by approximately 100,000 North Koreans to mark the 65th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War at the Kim Il Sung stadium, Thursday, June 25, 2015, in Pyongyang, North Korea. The month of June in North Korea is known as the “Struggle Against U.S. Imperialism Month” and it’s a time for North Koreans to swarm to war museums, mobilize for gatherings denouncing the evils of the United States and join in a general, nationwide whipping up of the anti-American sentiment.Â
Wong Maye-E, AP
North Koreans gather in front of a portrait of their late leader Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il, right, paying respects to their late leader Kim Jong Il, to mark the third anniversary of his death, Wednesday Dec. 17 at Pyong Chon District in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea marked the end of a three-year mourning period for the late leader Kim Jong Il on Wednesday, opening the way for his son, Kim Jong Un, to put a more personal stamp on the way the country is run. Â
Kim Kwang Hyon, AP
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over its nuclear weapons program. For the moment, talking makes that war seem less likely.Â
Should talks fail, war gets sparked, and North Korea launches a conventional or nuclear strike on the United States or its allies, massive casualties are assured.
The U.S. military and South Korean allies haveÂ more sophisticated weaponry, including stealthy warplanes,Â than North Korea and would be expected to destroy Kim’s forces in time. But the toll on civilians, including the 200,000 U.S. citizens in South Korea, would be shocking, according to Pentagon estimates. The loss of life for U.S. troops would likely be worse than 33,000 who perished in the Korean War.
There are about 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, and more wouldÂ be deployed to the peninsula in the event of war.
Advances in medical treatment, including stoppingÂ blood loss and swift evacuation to sophisticated care, have meant American troops are much more likely to survive wounds than their predecessors, Tanisha Fazal, an associate professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, said in an email.
Helicopters with trained medical crews have swooped in over the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and generally ferried the wounded to hospitals within the â€œgolden hour,â€ the Pentagonâ€™s goal for swift care.
â€œBut U.S. air superiority has not been challenged in these theaters, thus enabling air evacuation, Fazal said. â€œThis would likely not be the case in a new Korean War. In particular, North Korean artillery could pose a significant challenge to U.S. air evacuation.â€
The willingness of North Korea to use chemical and biological weapons, requiring U.S. troops to use cumbersome protective gear, raises the risks, Fazal said.
â€œAnother major concern were a new conflict to break out on the Korean Peninsula would be how to deal with possible chemical or nuclear weapon attacks on U.S. military personnel,â€ Fazal said.
In 2003, U.S. troops prepared for the use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein before the invasion of Iraq. Ultimately, an unexpected hazard, homemade bombs known as improvised explosive devices, became the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops, showing that predicting how war will unfold is difficult if not impossible.