Quantity versus quality as foes square up

North Korea has the world's fifth-largest armed forces, after Russia, China, the US and India and, in military terms, is roughly comparable with Iraq before the 1991 Gulf war. If North Korea is forced into a corner by UN sanctions, it is possible that it would fight, although that is considered unlikely.

North Korea's forces are estimated at 1,127,000 and place heavy emphasis on tanks and artillery. The main difference with Iraq is that the terrain on the border between North and South Korea varies from hilly to mountainous, is covered with scrub and offers opportunities to trap forces. In the event of conflict, North Korea would be outclassed technologically.

Pyongyang is pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles but is not believed to have any workable nuclear devices yet. Even if it did, it would be years before they could be made small enough to put on missiles, which would therefore, like Iraq's Scuds, only be of use as nuisance or terror weapons. The missiles, some developed with Egypt, Iran and Syria, are more significant as foreign-currency earners than as weapons for North Korea's own use. They include the Scud-B (range 300km, or 190 miles), a Korean-improved version, Scud C, range 500km, and the Rodong missile, with a range of 1,000km.

North Korea is assumed to have chemical weapons and, combined with its artillery strength, this raises the spectre of a dirty war.

North Korea's armed forces are almost double the size of South Korea's 633,000, although the South has double the North's population: 44 million against 23 million. The North's 1 million strong army has 3,700 tanks, 4,500 artillery pieces and 2,280 multi-barrelled rocket launchers: the South's 520,000, with 1,800 tanks and 4,400 artillery pieces.

North Korea has 730 combat aircraft against the South's 445, but the North's are mostly obsolete. There are 84 US combat aircraft in South Korea and carrier- borne aircraft from the US Pacific Fleet. The US has 26,000 soldiers and 9,500 airmen based in South Korea.

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