North Korea 'could launch nuclear missiles as last act if regime collapses' says former U.S. defence secretary

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is pictured at a farm in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

The North Korean regime could launch its nuclear weapons as a last-ditch act of war if the leaders saw that they were about to be defeated in a conflict, a former U.S. defence secretary has warned.

William J. Perry, who was defence secretary under Bill Clinton, writes in Politico Magazine that if a ‘conventional war’ were to break out between North and South Korea, the North would certainly lose.

But, he warns, the consequences could still be devastating.

Perry says: ‘As the North Korean army was being pushed back to Pyongyang and their leaders foresaw the collapse of the regime and their own death, they might then launch their nuclear missiles.

‘Such an attack could quite possibly destroy Seoul and Tokyo before the North Korean leaders could be stopped, leading to the death of more than 10 million people.’

This undated file photo distributed by the North Korean government shows what was said to be the test launch of an intermediate range Hwasong-12 in North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

Perry writes that America is ‘on the brink of war’ with North Korea, cautioning against the current U.S. approach to relations with Kim Jong-un’s regime.

‘No one can outbluster North Korean leaders,’ he writes.

‘Flamboyant rhetoric from the United States as well as North Korea is heightening the risks.

‘Amid this brinkmanship, it is distressingly easy to imagine scenarios in which miscalculations lead to catastrophic consequences, involving casualties that could climb into the millions.’

A recent report by UK defence think tank RUSI found that war with North Korea involving hundreds of thousands of deaths is now ‘a real possibility.’

Donald Trump cannot ‘outbluster’ the North Koreans, a former U.S. Defence Secretary has warned. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

They found that the likelihood of war has increased markedly, thanks to the rapid nuclear advances achieved by Kim Jong-un’s regime, coupled with the Trump administration’s position that ‘classical deterrence theory’ is no longer working.

But Perry offers a silver lining; he argues that North Korea is incredibly unlikely to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack.

‘North Korean leaders know that if they use nuclear weapons against the U.S. or its allies, their regime will be destroyed.

‘They are ruthless and reckless, but they are not crazy. They are seeking survival, not martyrdom.’

The latest analysis by 38 North, an organisation that monitors events in North Korea, into the outcome of a nuclear attack by Pyongyang against Seoul or Tokyo estimates that an attack could result in 2.1 million deaths and a further 7.7 million injuries.

The estimates are based on expert analysis that North Korea currently has 20-25 nuclear warheads, with yields in the 15-25 kiloton range, plus the ability to arm ballistic missiles with those warheads.

The analysis found that the casualties from ‘a single reliable 250kt warhead airburst over the centres of the centres of Seoul and Tokyo’ would lead to casualties in the millions.

Casualty estimates

38 North echoes the sentiment that the North Korean nuclear arsenal is intended as a deterrent, saying: ‘The goal of the North Korean regime seems to be ensuring the continuation of the Kim family rule by having a viable nuclear deterrent capability against the United States.’

But, like Perry, report author Michael J. Zagurek Jr. cautions that the regime could launch its nuclear weapons if backed into a corner, and could ‘retaliate with nuclear weapons as a last gasp reaction before annihilation.’