Much of North Korea’s military is outdated and obsolete, but that doesn’t mean Pyongyang lacks destructive power. In addition to the North’s nuclear and missile programs, the country also possesses a very large stockpile of chemical munitions, and they would very likely be utilized in any counter-strike following a U.S.-led preemptive attack.

“Nuclear weapons are not the only threat,” said Kelsey Davenport, director of non-proliferation policy for the Arms Control Association. “North Korea could respond to a U.S. attack using chemical weapons. That would be devastating.”

It’s one reason why U.S. military officials are reluctant to carry out a preemptive strike against the North’s military assets. While such a strike would surely destroy a great deal of North Korea’s existing force, experts believe Pyongyang would most certainly retain some capability to counter-strike. Leader Kim Jong-un, in a bid to save his regime, would most likely utilize everything in his arsenal.

In fact, some experts believe that North Korean guns are pre-loaded with chemical munitions:

North Korea is known to have compiled large stockpiles of nerve agents such as sarin and VX. It could fire these from hidden artillery and missile sites, targeting U.S. military bases in the region and cities such as Seoul and Tokyo.

While a surprise U.S. strike might be able to eliminate some of these stockpiles, North Korea’s artillery guns are thought to be preloaded with chemical weapons, allowing them to be deployed instantly. Hundreds of these guns are within range of Seoul, or at least parts of the city, many of them buried in mountainsides.

“It would be difficult, if not impossible, to neutralize this artillery in any preventative strike,” Davenport said.

Analysts disagree over the size and effectiveness of North Korea’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Bottom line: Strike plans would call for targeting the most dangerous munitions first, but the challenge for the Pentagon is to identify and locate those munitions.

Source: McClatchy Washington Bureau