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Scenarios for a 2nd Korean War Grim for U.S., South

February 22, 1994|JIM MANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — For years, American and South Korean military planners have studied what they sometimes call the Second Korean War. They have played out the war games and the scenarios aren't pretty.

"The north's plan has two options to it," explains Paul Godwin of the Defense Department's National War College, an expert on Asian military affairs who has played the role of a North Korean in the war games. "One is to take Seoul quickly and sue for peace. The other is to bypass Seoul and kick us out in a blitzkrieg.

"Either way, we won't have the buildup that we had for (the Persian Gulf War). This would be more like a Soviet invasion of Germany. The north comes over, we've got no more than 24 to 72 hours lead time. Once American forces die--and they would die--we're going to go."

That, in a nutshell, is the daunting military problem that would confront U.S. armed forces in a second Korean war. Top military officials insist that the United States and its allies would win such a war, but some defense experts are not so sure. And even if the allies were victorious, their casualties would be enormous.

These war scenarios explain why the United States has gone to such extraordinary lengths to negotiate with and conciliate a Pyongyang regime that has repeatedly flouted international law and stalled on living up to its agreements.

The most recent sign of these conciliatory policies came last Tuesday, when the International Atomic Energy Agency reached a deal with North Korea for the inspection of seven of its nuclear installations.

But Clinton Administration officials acknowledged that even on these inspections, North Korea got special treatment. The inspections, one official admitted, will be "more limited than the routine, ad hoc inspections the IAEA has in other countries." And the agreement merely puts Pyongyang back to where it was exactly a year ago, when the international agency first sought the right to make special inspections of two nuclear waste dumps in North Korea.

If North Korea goes along with the inspections, the Administration has promised to cancel this year's annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises. And if the Pyongyang regime goes along with other inspections and gives up its nuclear weapons program, the Administration has promised other rewards, even economic help and diplomatic recognition.

Why does the United States tolerate North Korea's continuing defiance in a way that it did not with Iraq's President Saddam Hussein? Why doesn't the world's leading military power rely more heavily on threats to use force? Or why not employ economic sanctions, which North Korea has said it would consider an act of war?

Some answers can be traced to the Pentagon strategy in a Korean war, contained in a highly secret Pentagon document labeled U.S. Forces Korea OpPlan 5027. The war plan was revamped in the early 1990s by Gen. Robert W. RisCassi when he was commander in chief of American and South Korean forces in the Korean theater.

Only a few people know the plan's details, but its general outlines are clear. According to interviews with present and former U.S. defense officials, military commanders and diplomats, a Korean war would be an extremely bloody conflict in which South Korean ground forces, especially, might suffer heavy casualties at the outset.

"We would rely on the South Koreans in the initial stages of a war for the ground defense and the ground combat capability," Adm. Charles R. Larson, commander in chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific, told The Times in a recent interview.

"The United States would provide a lot of things that we do very well--such as indications and warning, intelligence, sophisticated systems, air power . . . Navy and Marine Corps power--as we are then mobilizing and shipping heavier forces and ground forces."

U.S. jet fighters, including F-15s and F-16s, would be brought in from bases in the Pacific Rim and the United States. The United States would deploy aircraft carriers and surface ships carrying Tomahawk missiles. And it would send in a rapid-deployment corps, composed mainly of light infantry, along with heavy firepower and some armor, from Hawaii and Ft. Lewis, Wash.

The purpose of a strategic air campaign "would be to try and blind them," says Godwin. "The F-117 (Stealth aircraft) pilots are going to be busy."

North Korea's air force has only some substandard Soviet MIG-21s and MIG-29s. Primarily because of fuel shortages, its pilots train for an average of only 20 hours a year. In any conflict, air superiority would go very quickly to the allied forces, U.S. officials say.

U.S. military planners believe that with American reinforcements, the allies would beat back North Korean forces and drive not only toward but past the capital of Pyongyang--stopping, however, well short of the Chinese border.

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