MOSCOW (Sputnik), Tommy Yang — Facing North Korea’s determined and steady progress in its nuclear arms program, including a successful test of its most powerful nuclear bomb over the weekend, local residents in South Korea are more worried about erratic responses from US President Donald Trump than threats from Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons, experts told Sputnik.
After Sunday’s successful test of a hydrogen bomb, which caused a 6.3-magnitude earthquake in neighboring regions, North Korea started preparations for another intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch, South Korea's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), said on Monday. According to the NIS, North Korea could fire an ICBM on a standard trajectory toward the North Pacific.
Mattis told reporters outside the White House that any threat to the United States or its territories, including Guam, or our allies will be met with a massive military response, which would be both effective and overwhelming.
Trump is the wild-card
The US president’s unpredictable reactions to escalating provocation from Pyongyang have become a major concern for local residents in South Korea’s capital Seoul, which is within the range of about 15,000 North Korean artillery pieces, experts told Sputnik.
"In South Korea, the view is that Kim Jong Un [North Korea’s leader] is a lot more rational than Trump is. The view here is we know what Kim does, we know what he wants and we know what we have seen. But we don't know what Trump could do. Trump is actually the hideous actor in all of this. This is where the fear comes from in South Korea," Jeffrey Robertson, a visiting fellow at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy of the Australian National University and an assistant professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, told Sputnik.
Robertson explained that it is very rare for South Koreans to get concerned about North Korea’s actions.
According to the expert, unprecedentedly, the mainstream press in South Korea started to release commercials and warnings about what to do during a nuclear crisis.
Breach of trust
The Seoul-based expert warns that if Trump decides to take military actions against North Korea, without informing the South Korea government first, it will bring long-term damage to the alliance between the two nations.
"When president Trump met with [South Korea’s] President Moon [Jae-in] before, they always had an agreement that the United States would inform South Korea before any [military] action takes place. If the United States wants to take [military] action without telling South Korea, it would be a major breach of trust. That could lead to the end of the relationship [between the two nations]," Robertson said.
Following Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test, Trump and Moon had a phone conversation on Monday and agreed to strengthen joint military capabilities by approving the purchase of billions of dollars’ worth of US military equipment by South Korea to counter potential threat from North Korea. Trump tweeted on Tuesday that he is allowing Japan and South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States.
"This happened in events leading up to the Iraq invasion and also happened before the military intervention in Yugoslavia. This is the standard step and everybody knows that’s the final step. It’s never just one decision by one person. But Trump has already said that he is not following those procedures," Robertson said.
Heavy casualties in Seoul
Seoul sits within some 30 miles from the North Korean border and the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Glass skyscrapers and apartment buildings in Seoul, a metropolitan area populated with 25 million people, are within the range of about 15,000 North Korean artillery pieces, stationed just about 35 miles away.
The South Korean capital would pay a hefty price and be ready to face massive amount of casualties in case of retaliation from North Korea against any military action from the United States, experts warned.
"In the event of a contingency, there is no realistic scenario where Seoul comes out unscathed. Seoul will be impacted negatively. The losses will be massive. There will be massive casualties here [in Seoul] if we have a conflict. The response from North Korea will be very swift. There will be very little time to respond to the retaliation from North Korea," James Kim, an international relations expert at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, told Sputnik.
Massive US military response
The South Korean expert believes that, if North Korea aims its next ballistic missile test against the United States, it would definitely trigger a massive offensive response from the US military.
"If North Korea aims anything at the United States, it’s not going to be a simple defensive response. The response will be massive retaliation. Pyongyang better think very hard about where they aim their missiles, because the United States is not going to wait and see what they’re going to do next. After they test their first missile near Guam or Hawaii, the United States is not going to say ‘oh, they tested it. Let’s see what they’re going to do next.’ There will be a massive and swift retaliation and Pyongyang will pay a very heavy price," Kim said.
However, the expert added that it’s not just Kim Jong Un making all the decisions in North Korea by himself, but a group of very smart and experienced people who have been very careful when making plans for the missile tests. He doesn't expect anything to be different for North Korea’s next missile test.