Bruce Klingner, former chief of the CIA Korea division and now senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Washington-based conservative Heritage Foundation, reportedly heard firsthand accounts of senior South Korean officials. He said they unanimously think that even a limited strike would certainly ignite a massive retaliation from North Koreans, CNBC reported.
"Seoul has very strong concerns about the potential for a US 'preventive attack' on North Korea," he said.
"Some are suggesting that the US is thinking of hitting two or three targets, and that North Korea would likely respond proportionately," Klingner said. "Not the all-out artillery barrage on Seoul." A larger response is also possible, he thinks, since there were multiple new reports on the regime’s strong complaints about across-the-board US-South Korean joint military drills.
For instance, the upcoming war games, called Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, are due to kick off after the Olympics and involve American and South Korean ships, tanks and aircraft. Separately, more than 230,000 combined troops are expected to partake.
What adds still further to the anxiety among Koreans, is the recent "nuclear button" rhetoric voiced by Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump as well as reports on the so-called "bloody nose" strike being allegedly prepared by the White House.
Notably, many critics have pointed to the fact that the mixed messages coming from the United States are really misleading: Trump last year chipped in to the debate over North Korea by asking Rex Tillerson "to save his energy", in response to the Secretary of State’s voiced concern that "the threat is growing."
Another issue on the table is what China would do if the US were to conduct a strike against North Korea. Beijing might join efforts with North Korea if Washington launched a pre-emptive attack, last year’s editorial in China's semi-official Global Times newspaper suggested.