The U.S. military would take the lead in destroying or safeguarding North Korean weapons of mass destruction should the isolated Asian state fall into chaos, Defense News and the Global Security Newswire reported Nov. 5.
South Korea and the United States have an understanding that U.S. forces on the peninsula would manage that effort even though Seoul is set to regain operational wartime control over its forces from Washington in 2012.
The weapons of mass destruction protocol is a component of the bilateral Operational Plan 5029, which is intended to prepare the allies to deal with the potential collapse of the government in Pyongyang.
"Either" U.S. or South Korean forces would carry out security operations at nuclear and weapons of mass destruction complexes in the North, according to one South Korean military commander.
"Both troops will conduct contingency operations jointly or independently in accordance with emerging situations," the commander said. "The U.S. military will take charge of WMD elimination works if needed."
North Korea has active nuclear weapon and missile programs. It has also been said to possess up to 5,000 metric tons of chemical warfare materials and to have a continuing biological-weapon effort.
South Korean defense researcher Cha Du-hyeogn said it was better that U.S. forces spearhead the removal of weapons of mass destruction because of their superior surveillance technology and greater experience with such armaments.
"Some opponents say the U.S. should not be involved in North Korean contingency situations because that's an issue of South and North Korea concern," Cha said. "That's wrong. The North Korean nuclear and WMD issue has already become a regional or international problem beyond that of the Korean Peninsula."
While U.S. forces could be used to deal with the North's nuclear weapons, the South Korean military could head up destruction of Pyongyang's biological and chemical weapons stockpiles that could be housed in roughly 100 facilities.
"A force of considerable size could be required to secure, search and resolve these sites, plus any other discovered, and move the materials to friendly locations where elimination could be accomplished, especially as long as hostile North Korean forces are controlling or around those sites," stated RAND Corp. defense analyst Bruce Bennett.
"It may take even a large force a very long time to deal with all of these locations. Most of this force would, of necessity, be" South Korean, he said.