South Korea's and the U.S.' attempts to deter North Korean aggression have failed and the threat of armed conflict between the two Koreas is growing, a U.S. expert believes.
Patrick Cronin of the U.S. Center for a New American Security makes the claim in a report released Thursday under the title "If Deterrence Fails: Rethinking Conflict on the Korean Peninsula."
"Kim Jong-un might go to violent new lengths should he think his survival is in jeopardy," the report warns.
"Planning assumptions for responding to provocations or upheaval in North Korea downplay the possibility of escalation and war," it says. "There exists the real peril of near-term deterrence failure affecting South Korea."
Political, economic and military instability in the North could bring armed conflict to the Korean Peninsula in a few years.
"The peninsula has not experienced open war for more than six decades, and the conventional view is that this status quo will continue," the report says. "But it would be a serious, negligent mistake to underestimate the potential risk emanating from North Korea."
"In a somewhat cryptic New Year's message in 2014, Kim Jong-un called for completing the miniaturization of a nuclear warhead. While it is logical to imagine he might have been referring to creating a nuclear warhead to fit atop a missile (and no doubt this remains an important goal), it appears he was talking about creating tactical nuclear weapons," the report speculates. "North Korea may be calculating, however, that using a small-yield nuclear weapon might not trigger a nuclear response."
"It is necessary to stay on guard for the deployment of these systems within the next three years and to further strengthen deterrence to prevent their use," it adds.