Korean nightmare: Experts ponder potential conflict

Editor’s Note: Andrew Salmon is a South Korea-based freelance journalist and author who has written two books on the Korean war. Below, he envisages a hypothetical, worst-case scenario of potential conflict on the Korean peninsula. CNN is not suggesting that war is imminent or even likely, but the possibility of conflict is one scenario that military strategists must consider given recent heightened tensions.

Story highlights

Fears grow on Korean peninsula of conflict after North Korean threats

Analysts say outbreak of military war between two Koreas unlikely

Impact of conflict would be devastating, even without the "nuclear option"

North Korea has more than one million troops and world's largest special forces

Seoul CNN  — 

It’s Asia’s nightmare scenario: War breaking out on the Korean peninsula.

With Korea lying at the heart of Northeast Asia, the world’s third largest zone of economic activity after Western Europe and North America, experts say global capital markets would suffer devastating collateral damage, but the catastrophic loss of human life – and potential nuclear fallout – would be far, far worse.

iReport: Have your say about the North Korean crisis

Fortunately, no analysts believe “Korean War II” is imminent; the armistice ending the 1950-53 conflict that buried millions continues to hold, despite North Korea’s nullification in March. And with regime maintenance Pyongyang’s paramount policy, few think it would risk an attack.

But Kim Jong Un’s experience and rationality is being questioned following his recent missile and nuclear tests, his annulment of the armistice and his bellicose vitriol – extreme even by Pyongyang standards.

Read more: What’s in a threat? North Korea’s escalating rhetoric

Despite annulling the armistice, a consistent Pyongyang demand has been a full peace treaty and it also wants direct talks with the United States, which Washington has resisted, preferring instead multilateral discussions.

Agreement with U.S.

Now, North Korea’s actions are fueling concern; so much so that South Korea and the U.S. recently announced they had signed an agreement to firm up contingency plans should North Korea follow through on its threats.

It follows joint military exercises between the allies, which included flights by U.S. B-52 bombers over South Korea.

At the time, Pentagon spokesman George Little said the flights were to ensure the combined forces were “battle-trained and trained to employ air power to deter aggression.”

Military strategists are clearly preparing for all eventualities. And it seems the South’s citizens are also bracing for possible conflict.

The Asan Institute, a Seoul think tank, found that in 2012, ordinary South Koreans of all age groups believed war was mor