NEW YORK, June 4 (UPI) -- Instability in North Korea could seriously strain the U.S. military and the challenges of addressing a potential conflict on the peninsula is a viable reason for reducing tensions, a U.S. analyst told UPI.
Michael Mazarr, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corp., said in a recent phone interview his study indicates lowering tensions is beneficial because of risks.
"The tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and the associated missions the United States might have to perform in the event of war, are incredibly demanding," Mazarr said. "It's very difficult for the United States to have the kind of forces and the strategic lift capability" to get them there at all.
The senior political scientist added the U.S. military does have contingency plans and is well prepared, but "the scope of the missions is so great, it's difficult to imagine they would be performed in a timely way."
Talks between the two Koreas, and the planned summit between Trump and Kim are coming "just at the right time," he said, adding it is understandable that South Korean President Moon Jae-in wants to reduce tensions with Pyongyang.
"A South Korean president would want artillery fire on his capital to end very quickly in the event of conflict," Mazarr said. "You're talking about a North Korean capability of, if they chose, killing thousands to tens of thousands of South Koreans.
"They would have the option of using chemical warheads on some of these artillery shells, which would cause casualties but also mass panic."
Evidence exists North Korea has developed anthrax or at least had soldiers exposed to the acute disease caused by bacteria. Anthrax antibodies were found in one of the North Korean soldiers who defected in 2017.
The Seoul metropolitan area and surrounding towns and villages in Gyeonggi Province are home to more than 20 million people, and North Korea's conventional threats to South Korea -- the amassed artillery in Kaesong -- would pose major challenges to the U.S. military, obligated to defend the South in the event of war.
North Korea's nuclear weapons in the event of instability could also pose serious challenges for the United States.
"Trying to deal with loose nuclear materials in the event of a North Korean collapse or moving into North Korea and trying to find, take control of the fissile material that's up there would be extremely difficult to meet, given current U.S. capabilities," Mazarr said.
"Loose nukes, that's a mission you want to accomplish within days or a couple to a few weeks to make sure you don't leave a lot of time for these materials to leak out of the peninsula," said the analyst, adding it's the "specific demands of some of these missions, and how fast the United States would have to get forces there in order to deal with the situation" that raise concerns.
Asked to comment on the report, Chad Carroll, public affairs director for U.S. Forces Korea, told UPI preparation is key.
The alliance with South Korea remains "steady and ready" for whatever the two nations require from its military, Carroll said.
"Our routine, annual training -- to include the most recent spring exercises such as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle -- demonstrate our commitment to maintain a foundation of military readiness," Carroll said, adding the training comprises "planning and simulated responses to various potential scenarios related to all elements of any crisis or conflict on the Korean Peninsula."
North Korea has continued to express mixed reactions to the joint exercises, claiming the training divides a unitary Korean people, even as Kim reportedly told South Korean government officials he "understands" the reason for the drills.
Pyongyang's passive-aggressive approach is not being taken lightly at the Pentagon.
"North Korea remains our most imminent threat. And a nuclear-capable North Korea with missiles that can reach the United States is unacceptable," Adm. Harry B. Harris, former head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said last week.
Harris, who was nominated U.S. ambassador to South Korea, has experience with commanding the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and was decorated by the South Korean government with the Tong-il medal in 2014 for his distinguished service.
The nomination of the senior military official came after Victor Cha, an adviser on North Korean affairs to President George W. Bush, was ruled out of consideration.
Despite his tough approach to North Korea, Harris' appointment doesn't raise concerns of escalating tensions, however.
"Adm. Harris is someone respected throughout the region. He is someone who knows the region, and has relationships. Beyond that, I think I don't read anything military related" to his nomination, Mazarr said.
The summit in Singapore is scheduled for June 12, but it is unlikely Harris will be confirmed by then.