WAR with North Korea will kill hundreds of thousands of people and threatens to be the next Iraq, warns a senior foreign policy chief who served under Tony Blair.
Malcolm Chalmers, who advised foreign secretaries Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett, urged the UK to distance itself from any preventive strike by the US.
He also warned that invading forces in the North should expect a wave of insurgency, like in Iraq and Afghanistan, but with the added threat of nukes.
Professor Chalmers spoke as he released a new report, Preparing for War in Korea, which concludes that full-on conflict is now a “real possibility”.
He said: “If there were to be a conflict then the most worrying aspect of the North Korean capability would be their ability to conduct what I call asymmetric warfare.
“It would be sabotage and mine laying, getting behind South Korean lines and American lines and sending special forces over the border to Seoul.
“It would be creating maximum disruption and attacking refugee flows heading south. There are lots of ways just to create as much havoc as possible.”
He continued: “Once they hide out in the cities and the countryside and wait to do damage to invading forces, I think it could create quite a lot of difficulty.
“There would be big challenges for occupying forces to provide incentives for those who were part of the North Korean elite or even middle class to believe that they have a future under a unified Korea.
“That would be a political problem that could turn into a problem of insurgency.
“You could well imagine, as we saw in Iraq, that occupying forces would not be able to get a handle on things like looting and criminality quickly enough.
“And there could quickly be terrorist attacks against occupying forces which could generate a security mentality, which further fuels the insurgency.”
At a briefing today, Professor Chalmers added that the North Korean army reminded him of the Iraqi army, because its conventional warfare capability was poor, despite its size.
He said: “If they face the Americans and South Koreans in the field, they will be destroyed and in very large numbers.
“From the North Korean point of view, why are they going to do that? They are more likely to go for asymmetrical tactics.
“They’ll send special forces and sabotage units into the South, creating as much disruption as possible, using nuclear weapons if they can do and using insurgency to wear down the enemy.”
The report, which is published by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), argues the US and South Korea must therefore prepare to fight “for some time” against resistance in the North.
It also urges the UK to withhold unconditional support for the US in the event of a preventive attack on North Korea.
Professor Chalmers writes: “The UK should make it clear that it had not been asked for its views in advance and that it would not have supported military action even if it had been asked.”
And while it would be unimaginable for the UK to send tens of thousands of troops to Korea, he said today, it was foreseeable that British special forces and air support could be deployed.
He said: “I can imagine a scenario in which the US wanted some small but capable British force out there as a symbol of international solidarity – special forces is possible and air power is possible.”