With North Korean leader Kim Jong-un calling a Worker's Party of Korea Congress—just the seventh in the Hermit Kingdom's history—to begin Friday, speculation is running rampant as to the meaning of the significant development.
At the last congress, convened in 1980, the nation's founder, Kim Il-sung, declared his son, Kim Jong-il—Kim Jong-un's father—as his heir. Jong-il took over in 1994 upon Il-sung's death.
North Korea faces tightening sanctions over its clandestine nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. Even China, its closest ally, signed off on the latest round of withering penalties.
But now, as the secretive nation ramps up its testing and takes an even more aggressive posture with its Democratic neighbor, South Korea, there is growing concern about what the calling of a party congress could mean. Some analysts suggest there may be a new, even bigger, nuclear test approaching, while others think it could mean a shift in the power structure away from the military is coming, or a new economic plan is going to be unveiled.
Others, however, are concerned something even more disastrous could occur.
Victor Cha, the director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council from 2004 to 2007 and an expert on Korean affairs, outlined the possibility of invasion in his book The Impossible State. And with North Korea becoming increasingly unhinged—and the latest reports that it has built a replica of the South Korean presidential palace, the Blue House—his assessment is getting a fresh look.
The invasion would begin with a paratroop assault and short landings, targeting the South's electrical infrastructure in an effort to paralyze the country. Then, the North would unleash its outdated but enormous artillery arsenal, dropping a half-million shells per hour upon the South.
Many of the shells would contain mustard gas or biological agents meant to increase the death toll. Residents in the South would have less than a minute to take cover. Japan would likely be targeted, as well.
Using its network of tunnels, North Korea would then flood in its 700,000-strong army, along with 2,000 tanks. Casualties would number in the hundreds of thousands and the economic toll would be at least $1 trillion.
And with the complicated nature of international alliances in Asia, it could spark a much broader war that could engulf the entire planet.
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