Military response to N Korea ‘worst possible option’: UK diplomat

This US Army handout photo shows Air Force and Marine Corps aircraft conducting a mission with the South Korean air force over the Korean Peninsula, on September 18, 2017.  (Photo by AFP)
This US Army handout photo shows Air Force and Marine Corps aircraft conducting a mission with the South Korean air force over the Korean Peninsula, on September 18, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

A senior British diplomat has described any military response to North Korea as “the worst possible option,” insisting that it would likely lead to daunting and inconceivable outcomes, including the killing of hundreds of thousands of people.

Sir Simon Gass, who was the political director of the UK Foreign Office until last year and represented London in the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, made the remarks at a ceremony by British think tank, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), to mark the release of a paper on the persisting crisis in the Korean Peninsula, insisting that Pyongyang has achieved a nuclear capability, The Guardian reported Friday.

According to the assessment of the North Korea situation in the RUSI paper, a potential “preventive war” waged by US President Donald Trump would probably escalate quite swiftly. It further pointed out that resulting combat would “not be surgical or short.”

It said war could be triggered by either Pyongyang or Washington but there was a growing risk that Trump would decide to “resolve” the crisis sooner rather than later.

Gass also underlined that all the options regarding North Korea were now “extremely ugly,” calling for return to talks, facilitated by China.

File photo of an anti-US rally by North Korean Military personnel in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Photo by AFP)

He then insisted that the process “cannot be helped by name-calling and exchanges of ritual insults by the main two parties to the debate.”

In a mocking reference to Trump, the British diplomat also noted that there was a particular difficulty with the current US administration in predicting North Korea’s intentions.

“I have no doubt there is a massive US intelligence community that is specializing in North Korea and knows a huge amount about the country,” he said.

Insisting on the need for return to talks brokered by China, Gass added: In my judgment it is too late to try to stop North Korea’s nuclear capability. It is there and it exists and I see very little likelihood that circumstances would arise in which North Korea would be willing to negotiate away its nuclear capability. There is a further question about ICBMs but in terms of nuclear capability, the toothpaste is out of the tube.”

He also cautioned the US president against tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, arguing that it would hardly send a message to Pyongyang that it was worth signing nuclear disarmament agreements if they were likely to be torn up by a future president.

Further discussing the likely casualty levels in case of a military confrontation between the US and North Korea, Gass said, “If you think that in metropolitan Seoul, just a few tens of kilometers from the border, there is a population of 26 million people and a North Korea artillery capability, even if that capability is suppressed steadily, none of us need to use our imagination tremendously to realize that levels of casualties could very easily run to hundreds of thousands, and in some circumstances be rather worse than that.

He also insisted, “If you add to that, dislocation of global economy, consequences of nationalism in China and for the US role in the Pacific for the next 50 years – all of these are unimaginably heavy consequences of conflict with North Korea.”

Gass noted, however, that the political mood in the US “would change very rapidly if body bags came back to the US in the substantial numbers.”

He also predicted that Pyongyang would be in possession of nuclear missiles capable of striking American cities in two to three years.

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