The most effective means overall of mitigating Pyongyang’s chemical threat may be to bargain the weapons away ahead of time. If the North could be persuaded to give up most or all of its chemical weapons, it would lessen the threat to civilians and soldiers in wartime, both on the Korean peninsula and abroad.
In recent years, North Korea’s chemical weapons have taken a backseat to her nuclear weapons. They are, however, no less dangerous. The deterioration of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) makes them more essential to victory than ever before. For both practical and doctrinal reasons, North Korea will almost certainly use chemical weapons in wartime, from riot control to lethal nerve gases.
The vast number of delivery systems would make shutting down the KPA chemical threat impossible during wartime.
North Korean Chemical-Weapons Doctrine:
North Korea parses weapons of mass destruction into different usage categories. Nuclear weapons are a strategic deterrent meant to guarantee the security of the Kim dynasty. Northern nukes likely have no operational role in a wartime scenario, since their usage would cause South Korea and the United States to topple the North Korean government.
Chemical weapons, on the other hand, do have an operational role. North Korean military forces train to operate in a chemical environment on a regular basis, and North Korea manufactures its own chemical protective gear and detection systems, some of which have been found bound for Syria.
Chemical weapons would be used in a number of ways, but the primary goal is the suppression of enemy defenses, allowing the KPA to overcome ROK and U.S. forces. Troops fight less effectively when in chemical protective gear, and defenses are dispersed to mitigate the effects of chemical attack.
Given the unpredictability of the battlefield and chemical weapons in particular, North Korean planners will use them as early in the war as possible, when their overall picture of the battlefield is at its maximum. As the war progresses and uncertainty mounts, chemical weapons use will become less productive and even counterproductive.
Types of Chemical Agents:
North Korea has a wide spectrum of agents to choose from, and would be expected to tailor its use of chemical agents to the specific task at hand. The effects of these weapons range from temporary incapacitation to death.
The South Korean Ministry of National Defense estimated in 2012 that North Korea had a stockpile of between 2,500 and 5,000 metric tons of chemical weapons. Annual production is estimated at 4,500 tons in peacetime and 12,000 tons in wartime.
North Korea is thought to have chemical weapons from the principle five categories: riot, choking, blood, blister and nerve agents. Riot-control agents are thought to be Adamsite (DM), CN and CS gases. Riot agents and so-called “tear” gases are meant to disperse crowds and are generally nonlethal to healthy adults.