N. Korea seen as drawing bead on both Seoul, U.S.

Next provocation apt to be covert

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Moreover, with the North’s shortage of fuel and vehicles, the KPA would lose momentum the further south it penetrated as its supply lines absorbed near constant attack from U.S. air forces.

Yet while U.S. Marine Corps and Army air-mobile forces could — theoretically — outmaneuver the one-dimensional KPA, a U.S.-South Korean victory is not a foregone conclusion, said Mr. Bermudez. KPA special forces, targeting ports, airports and transport hubs, would try to prevent U.S. forces from reaching the battlefield.

“If they can degrade reinforcements, they have a small window of opportunity to overwhelm the South Korean defenses, capture a major portion of the peninsula and force a negotiated peace,” he said.

Even if air-mobile troops do deploy, they would face the North’s bristling air defenses, Mr. Bermudez said, citing the prominence of anti-aircraft weapons in Pyongyang military parades.

And although North Korea has not yet managed to convert atomic materials into warheads, and its missiles are, as yet, unable to reach the continental U.S., its nuclear threat can be delivered closer to home — such as by ship — to strategic effect: Nullifying U.S. Marine deployment.

“What if North Korea tells Japan, ‘If you support the Americans, you become a target?’ and then they pop a nuke in Sea of Japan?” Mr. Bermudez said. “It would cause a great deal of debate and that could paralyze Japanese support for the United States, just long enough to make a difference.”

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